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In Search of Arches
You don’t have to drive all the way to Arches National Park to see, well, arches. Inside McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, which borders CNM to the west, Rattlesnake Canyon holds the second largest concentration of these stone spans in North America. Getting there takes some doing, though. Taking the shorter hike (5.5 miles, round trip) requires slow rolling on the Upper or Lower Black Ridge four-wheel-drive access roads in a high-clearance vehicle for about an hour. You can get there under your own power by approaching from the Pollock Bench trailhead—but you’ll need a lot of energy to cover the roughly 16 miles (round trip) and about 2,000 feet of elevation gain (and then loss) over terrain that requires some scrambling. Your reward either way: a gape-inducing collection of natural arches, some spanning more than 75 feet, set on the edge of the ruggedly beautiful Rattlesnake Canyon.
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While few dinosaur bones have been found inside CNM, plenty have been discovered just outside of it. The short interpretive trails at Riggs and Dinosaur hills (each about a mile long) offer pint-size paleontologists (and their parents) a wealth of adventure. The Riggs Hill Trail, just southeast of Redlands, takes hikers past where a previously unknown dinosaur—Brachiosaurus altithorax—was found in 1900, while Dinosaur Hill near Fruita sits on the site where a 70-foot-long skeleton of what is believed to be a Brontosaurus was discovered in 1901. Gjhikes is an excellent resource for both.