There actually are places out west where the mainstream National Park tourists rarely go, which is like a sigh of relief for those who wish to escape from the big crowds. The lack of easy access most often is the limiting factor. For example, the National Conservation Areas of the west tend to only have dirt roads, which can be too rough for an ordinary passenger car. This limits access to high ground clearance vehicles and sometime only a 4x4 is recommended. Since the highest percentage of tourists stick to the paved roads, there is always plenty of room to breathe in the BLM Conservation Areas.
For those who really want to make the great escape happen, McInnis Canyons is one of the most remote National Conservation Areas of them all and the dirt roads are rough enough to limit vehicle access! This Conservation Area is located on the border of Colorado and Utah just off of Interstate Highway 70. The Colorado River runs through McInnis Canyons on its way to Moab and Canyonlands. Points of interest north of the river can be accessed by driving the long dirt roads that start as a series of highway off-ramps. The south side of the river can also be accessed by driving on some very long dirt roads that start in Fruita and Grand Junction, Colorado. Either way the main access dirt roads are fairly smooth, till they start getting into the back country. The further you go, the rougher the roads get, so this is something to keep in mind when planning the trip.
Navigation is challenging in McInnis Canyons. Nearly every point of interest is well marked and there is directional signage, but this Conservation Area covers so much ground that a GPS or paper map will be needed to find the trails that go to specific destinations. Getting lost in this remote wilderness area will result in wasting gas or becoming stranded. Because of the high mileage involved with touring McInnis Canyons and the slow going in four wheel drive, fuel management is critical in this place. Carrying extra fuel is recommended for long ventures in this desolate region.
Rabbit Valley Road is a good choice for a McInnis Canyons primer course. Rabbit Valley offers dispersed camping near the highway and there are several more options way down this long dirt road. Rabbit Valley Road is fairly smooth, till it gets to the McDonald Creek area. The road starts getting bumpier the further you go from here, even though it is maintained. Much of this is due to the terrain, which necessitates driving on bare bedrock and through loose sandy patches. The side roads are a different story, because most of them are designated for ATVs and Jeeps only. As can be imagined, the side trails are challenging to do.
The high desert scenery is as majestic as can be along Rabbit Valley Road and there are several landmarks to be discovered along the way. After passing through the McDonald Creek area, the dirt road runs along the high ground and the views looking south open up to the horizon. When approaching Castle Rock, views of magnificent looking outcrops heading downhill into the Colorado River basin can be seen. This majestic view is worth the trip alone! From Castle Rocks, Rabbit Valley Road continues deeper into the high desert wilderness to several developed campgrounds and overlooks along the river near the Utah Border.
Castle Rock is a landmark worth noting when navigating this territory, because this is where two of the main touring routes meet. Castle Rock is also a campground, so logistically, it does not get much better than this! Castle Rock offers one solitary campsite, but it actually is a medium size group campsite with room enough for several tents and a couple of ATV trailers. There are fire rings and picnic tables under shade trees, which is a real plus. There also is a pit toilet on site and one can expect traveling visitors to make pit stops here all day long, so it is wise to secure the campsite before heading off on a venture. Pit toilets are strategically located throughout this vast conservation area, so there is no need to carry a kitty litter bucket everywhere you go!
For those who are not familiar with McInnis Canyons, spending time in the Colorado high desert may not sound like much, but there is plenty to discover in this place. McInnis Canyons actually most famous for having the highest concentration of natural stone arches in the west, so this alone is good motivation. Finding the natural arches will require careful navigation and plenty of hiking in rough terrain, so the experience truly will be challenging. There is an element of danger as well, because one of the most picturesque natural arches is in Rattlesnake Canyon, which did not earn its name for no reason at all. Survival and self preservation skills will come into play when exploring McInnis Canyons, so it is best to be well prepared for the journey, which certainly will be rewarding!
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