This story starts out like a lot of my stories recently, I get a text from a buddy along the lines of “Hey I have this day and that day off let’s go do something.” In this case, it was my longtime friend James and he gave me about a month to plan something epic. Often the planning falls on me, after all, I run this blog and I am without a doubt an adventure junky. Funny thing though, I didn’t plan anything at all, he wanted to hike a 14er but it was late April, early May, and the snow was rotten on any 14er we haven’t already climbed. He also proposed we go backpacking but it looked like rain all over Colorado during the time of our trip and we both wanted to make something happen, but it wasn’t looking too hot.
Our trip got closer and closer and we kicked a few ideas back and forth but now it was zero hour and the trip was in just a few days. James sent me a text about a place he just looked up called Rattle Snake Arches outside Fruita, CO in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, and man am I glad he did. Neither of us had ever been so I checked the weather to find that Fruita was nothing but partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures. Then looked up the hike and it was listed as a, 13.5 miles out and back moderate trail according to AllTrails. I read further to discover that Rattlesnake Canyon is home to the second largest concentration of natural arches in the nation and possibly the world. The first being Arches National Park in Utah. We decided to make a little backpacking trip out of it.
We knew that 7 miles in and 7 out wouldn’t likely take us much time even with an overnight so we started talking about what else we could do. I had been mountain biking in Fruita before and there is a great selection of trails out there to ride so I suggested we bring the mountain bikes and he was game. The plan was to arrive at Rattle Snake Arches trailhead on a Sunday afternoon, backpack in, camp, see said arches, head back out the next morning and then camp and bike off Road 18 in Fruita…tentatively.
On Sunday James swings by my place in his Forrester, backpacking gear packed with the bike rack and mountain bike secured on, we loaded my gear, strapped on my bike, and headed west. We don’t get a ton of opportunities to hang so we were both excited. We rolled across Colorado towards the western edge of the state and exchanged stories of our recent adventures. Mine centered around Moab, Utah where I had been the weekend before to camp and climb. I came to find out that James, the avid mountain biker, had never been to Moab to trail ride. In fact, he had never been to Utah. He had some concerns, which I felt were not unfounded. Black guy, afro, driving a Subaru with Colorado plates. Is it not like Utah is super conservative or run by a religious group of white guys or anything right? I assured him he would be fine though, especially in Moab.
We pulled up to the Rattle Snake Arches trailhead after the heat of the day had started to subside, not particularly by design but more because we both stayed up too late the night before, packed last minute and we just got lucky I guess. We threw on our packs, stashed the bikes inside the Forrester to help deter theft and we started off. We soon discovered that the first good bit of the hike out is uphill, in fact, we ended up discovering that most of the hike out was uphill. As we reached the first real canyon we also discovered that this was not “moderate” terrain…AllTrails. Here we were downclimbing class 4 and even 5 moves with 40 lbs. on our back. Don’t get me wrong I am totally up for a technical backpacking trip, I just wasn’t expecting it…and I was still hung over from the night before.
We went into canyons and out of canyons, again and again, 6 in total if my memory serves me right. Each time the climb out was steeper, after all, we were going to gain 2,400+ feet to arrive at the arches. We were just unaware of how much total elevation change we were going to encounter. All in all, it wasn’t that hard, and it was beyond beautiful! The whole area reminded me of Moab with the red sandstone and snaking canyons. We hiked in about 7 miles and set up camp ½ mile away from Rattle Snake Arch as you are not allowed to camp in the quarter mile surrounding it. We pitched our tent on the edge of a cliff overlooking a canyon and within view of a few of the arches in the distance. We built a small fire, cooked up some food, and got ready for our stay in a million star hotel. By this time James had decided that we should head to Moab the next day to go mountain biking, I thought it was a great idea. I had been to Moab many times, but I had never been mountain biking there. After some grub, we killed the fire and turned in with the sounds of birds and bats on the wind.
The next morning we popped up and took a quick hike to see the arches and snap some pictures. I have to say that they were very impressive. It was like being in Arches National Park, without any people around…so yeah it was amazing, really. After our visual fill of natural rock formations, we packed up and started back towards the car. The hike out was WAY easier than the hike in, there were still those technical scrambles but losing 2,400+ feet of elevation at a steady pace is just nice. That being said, by the time we reached the parking lot both of our legs were trashed. Being the first backpack trip of the season, we were both a little out of pack shape. Our hips, shoulders and knees hurt, plain and simple.
Never the less, we packed up strapped the bikes back on, and started off towards Moab. As we were driving James starts looking up trails near Moab, he starts talking about this trail, that trail, and so on until he finds the Whole Enchilada. Being primarily a downhill rider James liked the idea of a shuttle dropping us off. I asked “Hey isn’t that like, an expert trail?” yes, yes, it is, and I am by no means an expert mountain biker, maybe intermediate at best. Not to mention I hadn’t been on any kind of bike since October, so about 6 or 7 months ago. I tried to subtly talk him out of it a few times to no avail as he was set, and he wanted to do the Whole Enchilada. “OK” I said, “Let’s do it” I mean carpe fucking diem, right?
We pulled into the Moab area on a Monday afternoon and surprise…there were no camping spots up Highway 128. We searched around for a while and discovered that the Sand Flats area had some open campsites still, so we headed up to the slick rock 4×4 and mountain biking area and found a nice little established site for the night. We headed back into the bustling little town of Moab to the brewery to get some of those Jalapeno beer fries, traditions die hard with me. We passed on beers as we both were chugging water and eating calories in preparation for the ride in the morning. I had never camped in the Sand Flats area and I have to say it is really cool, all that slick rock surrounding the campsite with views of the La Sal mountains and one killer sunset.
The next morning came and, in all honesty, I was a bit nervous. The trail was likely pretty far out of my ability, my legs were already worn out, and I was riding a GT bike that was over 10 years old…what could go wrong? There was one saving grace, the top part of the ride was still closed off, so we were really only doing about 4/5th of the Whole Enchilada. This meant we wouldn’t have to climb the very first part to the pass and the dense slippery upper section of trail would go without riding today, which was totally fine by me. We packed up camp and headed to the bike shop to catch our shuttle. Next thing I know James and I were packed into a van with a bunch of Canadians and one guy from Fort Collins headed up towards the La Sal mountains. They dropped us off, unloaded our bikes, and wished us luck.
We started out on a section of the Kokopelli trail and it was fast, like really fast. Already I was smiling ear to ear. We sped down into Castle Valley and onto Porcupine Rim, where the views were amazing but there were several reminders that you could die very easily if you veered off trail. When we hit the Upper Porcupine Singletrack or UPS is when the real fun started. Loads of awesome obstacles to ride over and through and the views didn’t stop either. There were drops, ledges, banking turns, and Slickrock all while cooking through a juniper pine forest. Down, down, down we sped onto Lower Porcupine Singletrack or LPS. Again, the terrain did not disappoint, and the obstacles had me hanging onto my handlebars like the first time I rode without training wheels.
We reached the end of the singletrack at the original Porcupine rim jeep trail and although the singletrack had ended the fun was still in full swing. Beware, there are some super ledgy drops and some great sections as you head further down into the canyon. After skirting the canyon wall a few more times the trail dives left leading you down through a much more desert scene along Highway 128 until you actually reach the road. Once you hit the road you then have a very boring, 9-mile, paved ride back into town. I just remember my ass and my hip where I had ate some serious shit were finally hurting and I just wanted a cold drink and maybe a foot rub.
I had made it! Sure, I walked my bike a few times, ate shit at least 3 times, and I was saddle sore, but I was beyond stoked. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, done something challenging, lived to tell the tale and it was one hell of a better time than sitting on my couch back home. We loaded the bikes and headed back towards Colorado, stopped in Fruita at the Hot Tomato for some damn good pizza and then it was back to Denver.
It is good to take risks and live a little on the crazy side. Get out of your comfort zone and try something challenging, maybe even dangerous. Whatever you do, Don’t Die On The Couch. -MU
P.S. AllTrails.com now rates that hike as hard…wonder why.