Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Adventures Around Fruita, CO

Fruita, CO is well known as a mountain biking destination, second only perhaps to Moab, but we didn't even unload our bikes during our week long stay in the area. We're finding more and more that we prefer getting up close and personal with the landscape on foot, the better to enjoy the wildlife, geology and plant life instead of whizzing by it all on two wheels.

Fruita is next door neighbor to Grand Junction, CO, a town that Hans spent several formative years growing up in and we were able to enjoy visits with old friends from his distant past. Jay and Nancy had us over for dinner one evening and gifted us with a bounty of cherry tomatoes that really put a smile on my face!

As usual, hiking was foremost on our agenda and the options available in this area are numerous. Our buddies John and Pam had scouted out a couple of trails during their visit in May and our first hike was a reverse of the Monument/Wedding Canyon hike they had done. We chose to go up Wedding Canyon to get the steepest part over with early (and uphill instead of down) as well as to take advantage of the morning shade cast by the canyon walls...it's been hot in western Colorado!

Almost full moon sinking into the West just before the morning sun hits the canyon walls.

As we neared the top of Wedding Canyon we could see sandstone monoliths struck by morning sun in the canyon ahead of us.

I love the tower at the end of each sandstone bench!

Happy Birthday Hans!

Colorado National Monument lies immediately south of Fruita and Grand Junction, and in fact, our hike had taken us onto Monument land. Now it was time to drive the 23 mile Rim Rock Road to get a birds eye view of the amazing sandstone canyons that make up this national treasure.

Dramatic sandstone canyons are the focus of Colorado National Monument.

Independence Monument...the monolith we posed in front of for Hans' Birthday photo!

McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area was just minutes from our campsite at James M. Robb State Park in Fruita. With miles of trails from multiple trailheads, it is an easy choice for no hassle hiking among colorful sandstone formations. On our first foray into this park we did a great six mile loop from the Devil's Canyon trailhead that took us along the base of the formations and over the top for views into the canyons using the D4 and D5 trails.


For our second hike at McInnis Canyons we hiked Devil's Canyon itself (trail D3). Taking the trail up canyon we chose to return by boulder scrambling through the bottom of the canyon for a challenging seven mile hike that had us climbing rock faces to go around water-filled potholes and tall pour-overs!

Trail D3 starts out in the pretty canyon bottom before heading up on the bench overlooking the canyon.

As the trail climbed out of the canyon bottom the views opened up and we saw figures hiding in the canyon walls.

Making our way down canyon...
several times we had to scale the canyon walls to get around pools of water or steep drop offs.

Coming down the canyon wall after avoiding a water filled hole.

We played the Riverbend Park disc golf course in Palisade, CO one day. This long, narrow park is situated on a strip of land between the Colorado River and one of the many canals flowing through the area. Palisade is a pretty area known for the peaches and grapes grown here.

The course alternated between treed sections...

...and wide open spaces.
Those are the Book Cliffs behind Hans, they make up the northern border of the entire Grand Valley.

Downtown Grand Junction is nicely done, with wide sidewalks full of plants and art and seating.
We especially liked the mountain biking art.

We hiked a second trail recommended by John and Pam, the Liberty Cap/Corkscrew Loop. Parts of this loop are very steep and rocky, those with a fear of heights need to be aware there are some places with extreme exposure to steep drop offs.

From the trailhead we could see Liberty Cap as a tiny rounded point on the left atop the sandstone way above us.

Good use of natural surface for the trail.

That's Liberty Cap behind Hans.

The wind howling through this canyon threatened to blow us off the top!

Great views of the Grand Valley.
Those are the Book Cliffs on the far side of the valley.

We had a fun evening with Hans' childhood friend, Doug and his wife Penny and kids Sarah and Chad. Good pizza and beer at Hot Tomato Cafe in Fruita, then a campfire back at our site. It was great reconnecting with folks from Hans' past, learning about the evolution of this area and their lives over the decades and sharing our adventures on the road.

Hans serenades Chad, Penny, Doug and Sarah.

Campground Review

We spent a week at James M. Robb State Park, once again using the Colorado State Parks Pass that we purchased last spring in order to avoid the $7 per day fee they want to tack on top of your nightly camping fee. This state park has five sections along the Colorado River in the Grand Valley, two of those sections offer camping, we stayed at the Fruita site.

Like all of the other CO state parks we've stayed in this year, this park is very well maintained (that $7 daily fee at work). Roads and sites are paved, picnic tables with ramadas and fire pits at each site. Nice restroom/shower buildings and inexpensive laundry on site. This park has a playground and access to the Colorado River and a couple of small lakes.

We had excellent 4G Verizon signal, no booster necessary. The park is right on the edge of Fruita and minutes from Grand Junction so shopping is plentiful, trails are bountiful and nearby. The only drawback here was some freeway noise as I-70 is less than half a mile away, and occasional train whistles.

Site #38 had excellent privacy.
All full hookup sites at the Fruita park are pull outs.

From the little mound where the previous photo was taken I could see one of the small lakes.

Rosie liked this park very much!

Sunset from our site.

We delayed our departure from Fruita for a day due to rain, so today we're off to Ridgway, CO.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Arches of Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon is said to have the highest concentration of arches in the nation outside of Arches National Park, but is not easy to reach, all three options pose challenges. For one, a short drive from Fruita, CO to the Pollack Bench trailhead begins a strenuous round trip hike of at least 15 miles. Another option is a five mile RT trail that can only be accessed directly from the Colorado River.

We chose the six mile RT hike accessible from the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead...via an 11 mile drive through Colorado National Monument then a 13 mile drive down a narrow dirt road with very few wide places for passing. The last two miles of the dirt road is rough, with big enough boulders and drop offs that we chose to park about a mile from the trailhead and walk the rest of the way.

But first, as we made our way through Colorado National Monument on the way to the trailhead a chance sighting brought us to a screeching halt...

What a way to start the day!

He seems to be watching the sunrise on one side and keeping an eye his harem across the road below.

Can you see the five bighorn sheep in this shot?

As the sun came over the sandstone bluff this beautiful apparition moved on and so did we. The dirt road to the trailhead was had us gritting our teeth, hoping we'd not meet up with anyone coming out and, near the end, hoping we'd find a big enough turn around and parking place when the road seemed too rough to continue.

From our parking spot about a mile from the trailhead we had a great view into Rattlesnake Canyon,
so named for its curvy lines, not its abundance of snakes.
It turns out the arches are in the top layer of sandstone on the right,
we did not have to go to the bottom of the canyon, we hiked on the top bench.

We saw an arch across the canyon, and it wasn't even part of the arch hike!

This beautiful juniper skeleton frames potential future arches across Rattlesnake Canyon.

From the trailhead we hiked about two miles or so before we came to the first of the arches...
well actually three arches at once!

As we walked along the bench arches would appear seemingly around every corner!

From our position on the bench we could look down into the canyon to admire the fragile looking spires below.

Often we could not see an arch until we passed the alcove.

Even without an arch the sandstone formations were amazing.

The last arch was substantial.

I'd read that if you could scale the last arch you could make the hike a loop by connecting with the overlook trail above...
we tried, but there was not a chance for us, it's way too steep!

As we hiked back past each arch we caught a person peering into an arch on the overlook trail above us!

Pinion Pine nuts!

This was a fantastic day on the trail, worth it if you have a vehicle that can make the drive (it's those last two miles that is the problem). We did meet three vehicles on the drive out, fortunately with small places to just barely get past each other! We'd been warned not to drive the road if there was a possibility of rain, this soil turns slick at the slightest bit of water and we were lucky there too...an unexpected cloud burst later in the afternoon could have stranded us out there!

This was our last full day in Fruita, CO, stay tuned for a wrap up of the many trails we hiked in the past week. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we're off to Ridgway CO.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Fantastic First Stop in Utah: Vernal

We love Utah, its unique landscapes draw us to this state time and time again. This time we entered Utah from the north west corner and made Vernal our home for a few nights. From dinosaurs to Native American history to dramatic landscapes, this area has a lot to offer.

I already posted about our fist hike in the area, Moonshine Arch, which got us right back into hiking among the incredible sandstone formations that Utah is famous for. Our next adventure took us into Dinosaur National Monument, where the discovery of a large deposit of dinosaur bones in 1909 planted the seeds for what eventually became the (currently) 210,000 acre Monument.

The Carnegie Quarry houses the dinosaur fossils which were found in the Morrison Formation, laid down here between 147 to 155 million years ago. The fossils found here are of large dinosaurs, probably having been washed into this site in an ancient river bed and quickly covered over with silt.

A portion of the wall of dinosaur bones in the Quarry exhibit.
Many skeletons have been removed from this site and are displayed in museums all over the world.

There is a short trail outside the Quarry where a few bones can be seen in the nearby rocks, including this vertebrae.

Continuing down the Quarry road, we came to the Sound of Silence Trail. This moderate three mile hike took us among colorful geologic layers and huge mounds of petrified sand dunes..

The variety of rock layers here is a feast for the eyes.


Further along the road we came to the Green River.

Petroglyphs created by the Fremont Indians approximately 1,000 years ago.

These petroglyphs are some of the largest we've ever seen, again by the Fremont Indians.

The next day we drove to Red Fleet State Park, just a few miles north of our campsite at Steinaker State Park (our camp fee enabled entry to both state parks). At Red Fleet we hiked 1.5 miles to a dinosaur track site. Hundreds of tracks were laid down here about 200 million years ago.

This track series were some of the most visible tracks, many others are very faint impressions.

This track was likely made by Eubrontes, a 20 foot long dinosaur that weighed up to 1,000 lbs.

After the dino trail we walked across the street to hike among the Red Fleet sandstone formations.

Can you see why they named it Red Fleet?

Walking beneath the front of the ship.

This is the formation just east of the battleship.

Gopher snake.

We drove to a viewpoint overlooking Red Fleet reservoir and got a terrific view of the area we'd just hiked.

On the way home we drove into the campground/picnic area at Red Fleet and got a view of the dino track site across the reservoir. The hundreds of dino tracks were on that red slab!

On our last full day we took a drive to the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery for a hike. After a long drive across the sage and grass covered Diamond Mountain Plateau the road descends abruptly into a canyon lined with steep cliffs.

Lots of "wows" as we dropped into Jones Hole Canyon.

As we drew closer the canyon walls became even more impressive.

The trail follows Jones Creek for four miles until it reaches the Green River.
It's a very gentle descent to the river, probably the easiest 8 mile hike we've done in a long time.

The Fremont Indians left their mark all over this part of the country, pictographs this time.

The sun is just about to crest the East rim of the canyon as we approach the opening to the Green River.

LOTS of trout in Jones Creek.

All along the trail we'd been searching for bighorn sheep, it just seemed like bighorn territory. Soon we saw lots of fresh droppings and even smelled them as we walked through different areas. As soon as we reached the Green River our search was rewarded!

Here Jones Creek meets the Green River.
Out on the rocks next to the river are a small herd of bighorns...

Here's a zoom so you can actually see the seven females and young hanging out on the Green River.

Hi there!
Notice how green the Green River is!

Much to our surprise, walking just a few feet further, we almost ran into this group of males!
About 25 feet from us, they just kept on munching away.

A small plane flying the Green River canyon.

Jones Hole Fish Hatchery sits atop the Jones Creek spring which supplies up to 15,000 gallons of water per minute.
The hatchery captures the water directly from the ground so it is pristine.
About 1 million fish per year are raised here and distributed to the Upper Colorado River System. 

Campground Review
We stayed at Steinaker State Park and would gladly stay here again, though not in the same site. Roads and sites are paved and have picnic tables and fire pits and many have shade ramadas over the picnic table. There is a mix of full hookup and electric only and dry sites. There are restrooms, but no showers. We had good 4G Verizon signal with our booster, having an upper level site helped us get the good signal. Some sites are down at lake level and would have a harder time getting good signal.

We had reserved full hookup site #4 and it was a beautiful site with excellent views to the East and West and good privacy. The only problem with site #4 is the serious slope to get into the site (from a 90 degree angle, no less). We could see that others had scraped the pavement getting in the site. With some effort we made it into the site without scraping our bike hitch (missed it by half an inch, and had to remove a bike tire so it wouldn't hit the ground). The park ranger told us later that he intended to offer us another site when we arrived...but he was away from his post at that time. This was a better site anyhow, and actually worth the effort.

We were a little worried upon arrival that the park would be overrun with noisy ATV 's, especially on the weekend, but that did not happen. ATV's can be ridden to and from the nearby ATV trailheads only, no crazy riding through the campground allowed.

This turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful campground, close to tons of things to do in the area and only a few miles into Vernal for shopping. We easily could have spent a couple of weeks here enjoying the many different sights and trails within a 50 mile radius.

Camping is also available at Red Fleet State Park just a few miles north of Steinaker. Though the Red Fleet reservoir is prettier and larger than Steinaker, the camping area is not as nice. Basically the sites are asphalt rows with very little separation and no privacy.

Site #4.
That slope into the site is hazardous.
Fortunately, once we got up there, the pad was big enough to hold our 35 ft rig.
Though the area outside our door was not great, the patio behind the rig was excellent.

Once we were settled in, this was an awesome site!
Excellent views in two directions and good privacy too,
with afternoon shade from our rig on the back patio in the afternoon.

The lunar eclipse over Steinaker Lake.