Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rabbits and Rattlesnakes

Overlooking the town of Fruita from Colorado NM
Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction is another spectacular geological wonder.  We can't take our trailer into the park because there are short tunnels and we're not willing to have our solar panels and satellite dish ripped off our roof.  So we camp (for free) 17 miles away in Rabbit Valley, so named because of the multitude of rabbits that used to inhabit this part of the desert. 

Marilyn standing on an overhang
We drive the Monument park road, Rim Rock Drive, from one end to the other, some 30 miles of twisting with sheer rock cliffs straight up on one side and straight down on the other - no guard rails!  It's amazing that a road could even be built along this cliff face.

Brad overlooking the canyon
The views of the canyons - red, orange, pink and yellow sandstone formations - are astounding.  Different minerals or chemicals give the rock its hues: iron oxide is red, sulphides are yellow, manganese is pinkish.  It's like geological time travel.  When you learn how the cliffs, mesas and pillars are formed - over millions of years of seas and rivers depositing layers of sediments and millions of more years of wind and water eroding the resulting plateaus into the coloured ribbons of spires we see before us, with rivers carving the winding canyons where fractures form in the rocks - you realize how strong a force nature is and how we are powerless creatures in comparison.  The desert and these brightly coloured rocks always make me feel like this - insignificant and inspired at the same time.

Green and yellow lizard - very colourful!
Near where we camp in Rabbit Valley is the Trail Through Time where, in the summer, there are university students excavating dinosaur bones.  Along the 1-1/2 mile trail there are a few dinosaur skeletons petrified in the rocks and these have been left where found with sign posts explaining which dinosaur they're from and which bones they are.  It's like the wall in Dinosaur National Monument, but these are left in their natural setting, outside.  It's a bit freaky, knowing these bones are from dinosaurs that once walked this area.  But we saw only the dinosaur's cousin, this beautifully coloured lizard in the photo.
The Road!  I'm extracting a suicidal butterfly from our grill!
On our last day in this area, we return to Colorado National Monument to access the worst road Brad and I have ever driven - Black Ridge Road - that will take us to the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches.  It's a four-wheel drive road - you need a high clearance vehicle.  Well, we're okay there, but have you ever traveled 13 miles at about 5-10 miles per hour on a pot-hole filled dirt road?  It's a challenge mentally and physically.  The last 4 miles are the worst yet, with rocks jutting straight up out of the road some 8 or so inches and the truck has to climb up and down the levels.  It's a bit frightening, but Brad does a great job!

Can you find me on top of the arch?
We finally get to the trail, and it's like the road - I swear this is really just a dry creek bed that, at one point, is a dry waterfall down the steep cliffside.  Are we crazy?  We're not 25 years old any more!  Unfortunately, this is not a loop trail because there is a high cliff wall at the starting end which requires climbing experience to scale, and we don't have it!  A side trail takes out to the top of the last arch so that we are looking down onto the trail that we will eventually, after 2.2 miles, hike to.  This arch we can actually walk on top of, although it is not really part of the trail.  But sandstone is very coarse and our hiking boots grip well.  But don't look over the edge - it's a long way down.

The main trail descends part way down into the canyon and we hike the 2 miles around the ridge to the arches.  The tops of the arches are about 200 feet up, and the bottom of the canyon must be over 1,000 feet down.  I'm glad we're not afraid of heights.  There are maybe 7 or 8 arches along this ridge and we are lucky that the late afternoon sun is shining on them.  Each is so different and I am again struck by the sense of awe at nature's landscaping.  We take some time to sit on top of the canyon wall and have a snack.  The quietness almost hurts.  It's a very hot, sunny day (as they have been for the last two weeks) and we are grateful for the occasional breeze that wisps up from the canyon floor.
Brad and I resting near some arches

This arch has a sunroof!
Brad at one of the arches
We head back at about 5:30.  It will be dark by 7:30.  Much of the trail is flat, but the last mile is uphill, some of that straight up!  Our knees and calves are screaming - STOP!  We make it back to the truck as the sun sets across the canyon, but we still have to drive out this horrific 13 miles of hell-road in the dark!  Along the route, we have to stop so I can shoo a bird off the road.  It is either a nighthawk or a common poor-will; I don't get a close enough look to tell (and no, I'm not a bird expert, I have the Audubon book in the trailer!)  We don't have dinner until 9:00 and get back to the trailer just before 10:00.  We have been gone 12 hours and Grady is very upset.  He doesn't like being alone this long and we have to play with him even though we are exhausted and aching.  Another fantastic adventure.

PS - we did NOT see any rattlesnakes, although we did see a few cottontails!

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