A little arch-crazy at the time, I planned an ambitious tour of all of the known arches between Pollock and Rattlesnake Canyons in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. It would be mostly off-trail and cover varying elevations.
To access this area, you have to take the Black Ridge Road out of Glade Park. There is an upper and lower road and both are closed between February 15th and April 15th. The upper road opens in April and I called the BLM to verify that it had indeed opened. It had.
So, on this particular Tuesday, I set out early so I'd have all day to work with. The road coming out of Glade Park is a little rough but once you get up on top of Black Ridge, it levels out.
Stacked lenticulars floating off the La Sals in Utah.
Eventually, the road drops down off the ridge onto the tapered layers of the Morrison Formation.
Cell phone pic of the descent off of Black Ridge.
The road meets the gated lower road and then continues north along the ridge line toward Rattlesnake Arches trailhead. There are numerous signs along this road reminding people not to park alongside it, though I did find a couple of pullouts. Just to be safe, I continued all the way to the trailhead parking lot. After all, I would be doing a giant loop which included part of the road in the route, so it didn't really matter where I parked along it.
It was a warm morning as I got underway but high clouds seemed to be thickening. I stopped near the head of Rattlesnake Canyon to take a couple of pictures.
Finger Arch or West Rim Arch on the far side of the canyon.
As I continued to walk south on the road, I could see the breaks of the west fork of Pollock Canyon to my east. My first destination was the Pollock Windows, a double arch in an Entrada fin along the divide between the two forks of Pollock Canyon.
I was navigating by paper map and the GPS on my phone. I had a decent signal here along the ridge line and planned to depart the road at a light-colored knoll and head cross-country to the head of the canyon.
The terrain off-trail wasn't too bad. The Piñon-Juniper was thin and the area seemed to be occasionally grazed. As I approached the edge of the canyon, I soon found myself spending a little more time and effort getting over and around larger rocks.
Another thing I should mention is that there is no trail to this arch. I was trail-blazing. My route required that assumptions I made while studying Google Earth stayed true. The biggest assumption was that I would be able to descend from this higher plateau of Morrison shale down onto the Kayenta bench. I had located a break in the cliffs to allow me to do this, but there was no guarantee I would be able to make that descent.
So, I kept on, finally rounding the main branch of the west fork just above the pour-off down into the cobbled depths lined with Wingate sandstone. After some effort, I was able to ascend back out of the wash and round the corner, which provided a spectacular view of the west fork of Pollock Canyon.
Luckily, I found a game trail which seemed to parallel the sloped cliff. Eventually, I came to the break and was relieved to find I would be able to scale my way down without too much difficulty. Soon, I found myself on the Kayenta bench and moving relatively quickly east along the edge of the canyon.
The west fork technically has two heads and I had to round the second one next. Looking across the second head to the divide between the bigger east and west forks, I became someone unsure that I wouldn't be able to handle the terrain due to its slope, but I had no problems. Looks can sometimes be deceiving.
Here, I was afforded a great view to the north, across the canyon to the second arch I wished to visit, West Pollock Arch. The sun came out for a bit which made it even more photogenic.
West Pollock Arch (note the small sliver of light under the D in the watermark)
Upper West Fork Pollock Canyon
I continued to follow the Kayenta bench north and then around a corner to the northeast. Finally, it was visible!
The Pollock Windows
Excited, I decided to explore the area for a few minutes. To the south of the windows, I found another developing arch. You could probably call it an arch, though it struggles to be completely detached from the cliff face.
Another view and more daylight.
Eventually, I decided to round the fin to the north and view the windows from the other side.
And then I found another hole along the face of the cliff that could be a new arch forming or even part of the other possible arch from the other side. It's hard to say.
As I continued south along the fin, I found another small arch of sorts... more like a pillar. It was hard to tell, but it almost looks like there may have been a man-made structure up in the alcove, but I couldn't climb anywhere near it to tell. Here are a few photos. What do you think?
After that, I returned to the windows and tried to climb up to them but failed. So I returned to the west side and had my lunch. As I was sitting there, I realized that I was already getting really sore. In retrospect, the trail-less terrain was quite difficult at times. Moreover, looking across the canyon, I had no idea how I would be able to continue on the bench to West Pollock Arch. It didn't look like the bench continued all the way around.
In the end, I decided not to take the route I had planned. I figured I'd try and climb back up to the bench above which would give me somewhat easier terrain to work with.
So, as some high clouds moved, I found a route up onto the fin in which the windows are carved. I tried to crawl to the end of the fin near the windows but was unable to safely do so.
The Entrada sandstone fin
Another view of the fin with the windows (left) and the other arch? (right)
Up on the higher bench, I hiked west along the edge of the cliff. The whole time, I could see across the canyon and felt confident that I would not be able to follow the bench around. In the photo below, you can see the smooth salmon-colored Entrada sandstone layer and below it, the flaky-looking Kayenta. I planned to follow the Kayenta around, but due to the debris flows and steep surfaces, here, it looks difficult if not impossible to traverse.
The western head of the west fork of Pollock Canyon
A punchbowl pour-off at the eastern head of the west fork of Pollock Canyon
I realized if I wanted to continue to any of the other arches, I would have to stay on the difficult terrain above the Kayenta bench. This meant climbing into and out of the gulches that feed the main canyon and climbing over whatever rubble lay within. To top things off, my left hamstring was suddenly burning. I started losing ambition and started losing it quickly.
Coming out of the east head, I almost stepped on a baby rattlesnake!
Just a little guy, with my compass for scale.
I used a stick to pick the snake up and place it on a boulder. It wasn't acting aggressively at all but I kept my distance... minus the part with the stick.
While the ups and downs of the terrain were a pain, it did afford me great views of the canyon. Occasionally, the sun would come out and help things a bit.
In the images above you can really get a picture of the canyon. You can also really see the faulting in action. Look into the canyon at about the point where the tall cliffs end on each side. You can see cliffs down in the canyon as well. This is the same layer of rock but it is at a much lower elevation due to the faulting. This is the place in Pollock Canyon where the Precambrian rock is exposed... see both of my waterfall hunts in the two forks of the canyon (WEST) (EAST)
In reality, I was only a few miles (of the 15 planned!) into the hike and for some reason, I was absolutely exhausted. The terrain was rugged and I was having problems with my hamstring which only seemed to get worse. At some point, I made the decision to head back to my vehicle and call it a day. Even this seemed to be an arduous task.
It seemed to take forever to do anything, which was a bit frustrating. I never really did retrace my steps back but eventually ended up right at the knoll where I left the road. Just before that, there were several white flowers on the almost barren ground which begged a picture.
I wasn't really in the mood for much else and continued along the road for the last mile and a half, limping all the way back to the car.
The fun wasn't quite over just yet, though. While driving back, I heard a HUGE clunk in the drive train of the Expedition I was driving. I didn't pay it any mind until I was back up on the flat area of Black Ridge Road. Then, I noticed that when I would accelerate, the speedometer would go up to 60 or 70mph! Trust me, I was only going 20-30. The revs seemed really high as well, like it was in a low gear. I tried to take it out of four wheel drive, but it wouldn't budge.
I found out later that it was stuck in low gear 4x4. I limped along at 20mph for the 30 mile drive home, which I can say was not fun. This was one of the more frustrating hikes I've been on, but the windows were great. Glad to have them checked off the list! But I still have a lot more arches to visit in McInnis.
Here's a useful map: