The western slope of Colorado is truly unlike the rest of the state. Once you cross over the Rocky Mountains, you enter the desert, and the desert holds different, secret places to explore.
I took my first trip out to this area during my June 2020 solo road trip (which you can read all about HERE!) with the main goal being to spend two nights backpacking in McInnis Canyon and camping under the Rattlesnake Arches.
Behind Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, McInnis Canyon holds the second highest concentration of natural arch formations on Earth! Somehow, I didn’t find this out until I had been living in Colorado for two years. This area seems to be overlooked by travelers in general. To me, this meant solitude which means perfection.
When I finally got back on the road to Rattlesnake Arches, it was much later than I had intended.
I had read on AllTrails not to follow the site's directions to the trail, but I had forgotten in the moment and ended up at the wrong location. I was miles from where I needed to be but in the right area. Instead of following Google Maps, I located the trailhead on the map and roughly followed the roads that seemed to lead there. I was essentially using it as a traditional map. Several times, I thought I was lost, because the road into McInnis Canyon is very long and quite scary at some points.
The pavement ended, and the trail alternated from dirt and mud, to gravel, to large rocks. Not only was my 4WD necessary, but my high clearance was too. I actually didn’t make it all the way to the Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead. I stopped just about a quarter mile shy of it thanks to an extremely rocky slope that would’ve been hard to climb back up.
When I finally got to where I was supposed to be, I was ecstatic. I was the only one in the parking lot, and I would have the arches all to myself for the hike and the night. All that excitement faded quickly when I discovered that the arches are a day-use area only.
I had no idea what I was going to do for the next few days, since my plans had been derailed. It was getting late in the afternoon, so I didn’t have much time to think about what I should do. I quickly switched my most important gear to a smaller daypack and set off on the trail.
It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was absolutely beating down. I was highly aware that there is no water on this trail, and I made sure to pack plenty for both me and my dog, Maria. It was easily over 100 degrees when we started.
The entire trail is 11 miles long round trip. It takes 4-5 miles to complete the lower trail and another 3 to do the upper. Either of these routes can be chosen after you walk a mile and half into the trail.
Maria and I only made it about a mile past the trail's split into upper and lower and found ourselves at the bottom of the lower canyon - panting and hot.
It was the toughest decision I had to make all weekend, but our safety absolutely overrules the desire to see some cool formations. Things got a little hairy, but we survived and were fine once the A/C started blowing into in the car.
At this point, I hoped that we could try again the next day or try the nearby Mee Canyon trail which is significantly shorter. I drove out to the edge of the day-use area Rattlesnake Canyon and set up camp for the night.
The decision to leave the trail when I did, set up camp and subsequently also take it down, when I did, might have all saved my life. A major stormed rolled in over night and if I had been camping I might not have made it.
I write all about this entire, wild experience in my extended Solo Western Colorado Road Trip blog post, which you can read all about HERE.
My trip might not have been perfect, but it was an adventure, and it definitely gave me new stories to tell. I’ll always be thankful for this solo experience, and I will definitely be back to explore Rattlesnake Arches on a much safer trip.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.