Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 - April 18th - The Pollock Windows, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area/Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness

I was in need of a warm-up hike.  I had made plans with Stan Wagon, an arch-enthusiast, to hike to Perseverance Arch late in the month.  That would be a 17-mile trek.  Since the longest hike I'd ever completed was the grueling 14.5 mile, "oops I ran out of water" jaunt to the Rattlesnake Arches a year previous, I figured I ought to be ready. 

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. 

Rattlesnake Canyon

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 arch?

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:


Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 - April 13th - Unaweep Tabeguache Byway, Hanging Flume

I was more than a little excited on this particular April morning.  Though I was at work, I was covering the reconstruction of the historic Hanging Flume.  I left a little early to allow time to stop for photo ops off the clock.

The Hanging Flume is located in the relatively remote Dolores River Canyon near Uravan, Colorado.  To get there, I would have to take Colorado 141 out of Whitewater, a road that is known also as the Unaweep Tabeguache Byway.  It is a scenic byway for a reason. 

The road slowly climbs from the Gunnison River up a canyon that actually gets deeper as the elevation gets higher.  It is believed that this canyon was originally cut by the primeval Gunnison or even Grand (Colorado) Rivers.  The area was then raised by the Uncompahgre Uplift and the river changed its course, leaving the canyon high and dry.  It now has a natural divide in the middle. 

The most scenic part of the Unaweep Canyon is the Thimble Rock Point area.  It is awe-inspiring to round the corner and find yourself there. 

 Thimble Rock Point (left)

I stopped here for a minute or two and took some images from the area.  An earthen dam on West Creek floods the meadow with a shallow reservoir, adding to the scenery.

Standing there, it was hard not to notice the roaring coming from behind me.  Though my images are lackluster, the falls on Fall Creek are relatively spectacular.  Unfortunately, access to the falls is on private land, so the highway is about as close as you can get.  There are several other unnamed waterfalls in this canyon as well that are equally removed from access.

Falls on Fall Creek

I only made one stop on the way as I had to make it to the Hanging Flume by a certain time.  I spent an hour or two observing and interviewing those who were working and snapped a couple of images when I was done. 

The Hanging Flume from across the Dolores River

Before I left, the topic of rock art came up with a gentleman who worked with the resort in Gateway.  He gave me a tip on an easy-to-find panel along the highway. 

The entire drive is gorgeous, but my time constraints and the high cloudcover precluded me from stopping much. 

Dolores Canyon overlook

I did take five minutes to stop and take images of the petroglyphs panel, which was pretty neat.  I forget exactly where it is, but it's right off the road.

A parting shot of the surroundings

On the way back, I tried to shoot the falls again, but the light was terrible. 

And finally, here's my story on the Hanging Flume from that day:

Full write-up:


Sunday, August 05, 2012

2011 - July 19th - Family Vacation Day 1 - Early Morning Fog at the Snow Mountain Ranch

July is a "sweeps" month.  In the television industry, that translates to "no vacations"... even though July is largely regarded as the "throw-away" sweeps. 

My extended family (on my mom's side) gets together biannually for a big vacation.  We've done this since I can remember, visiting places from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to Lake Tahoe, California to Oglebay, West Virginia to Depot Bay, Oregon and many places in Montana.  For the last two trips, we've gathered at the Snow Mountain Ranch near Tabernash, Colorado. 

I was concerned that I would be unable to make this trip as it was in sweeps and while I didn't ask for any time off, I realized I would be able to attend a couple of days on my normal days off.  If we weren't gathering in Colorado, it probably wouldn't have happened!

Anyway, I left Grand Junction on a Monday (the 18th) after work, trying hard not to get distracted by a lone (likely) supercell in the White River Valley.  I kept my nose on target even when word of a tornado in Montezuma County reached me.

I would be arriving late at night... close to midnight.  I took the most direct route which may or may not have been the fastest, but probably was the most scenic... a fact that was lost on me since it was dark.

As I reached the high valleys of Grand County, it was actually kind of cold out!  Nearing the resort, I realized that fog was settling into the upper basin of the Fraser River.  The moon made the vistas stunning. I stopped at the entrance and took some images.

Self-portrait with headlamp.

Eventually, I proceeded to the lodge where the family was staying.  They had been there for a day already, so I was arriving late and everybody was asleep  I just couldn't get myself to go inside with how amazing the surroundings looked.  I probably spent another half hour taking images while the fog slowly rolled in and obscured everything.


Moon colors

Back toward the main resort area

Fully entrenched

Aliens landing?

A final shot

Even when I woke up the next morning and prepared to go hiking with some family members, the fog was still there... so I popped off a few more shots.