I recently took one of these quick trips about 15 minutes from my house. I travel US 50 from my home in Howard, Colorado to Salida at least three times a week, usually more often. The road in this area travels along the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon. At places the canyon walls rise quite steeply above the river. There is a tiny whistlestop type settlement called Wellsville between Howard and Salida. If you look over the river to the top of the canyon as you pass through Wellsville, at the right angle, you can see an arch. I have been looking at this arch for a while now and wanted to check it out.
I looked on several topo maps of the area and online and found no information on the arch. The only thing I really saw in print of the arch was a homemade postcard sold for fundraising at a local diner with a photo of it with the caption "Wellsville Arch." With no information to go by I decided to explore the area on my own. I checked out the terrain as I drove by looking for my best option to the arch. The river blocked direct access to the arch. My best option appeared to be parking along the road in Wellsville by a bridge over the river, then follow a set of railroad tracks to a point below the arch.
With brutal wind and windchills in the higher mountains, I decided to finally check out the arch. I started at the Wellsville Bridge and headed down the railroad tracks. Much of this area is BLM land though I'm not entirely sure if I was on public land. After a few minutes I spooked a bighorn sheep. I was in Bighorn Sheep Canyon after all. The sheep immediately climbed the near vertical wall of the canyon to avoid me. I have seen bighorns quite often now but this was the first time I have seen one on this terrain. I had to cringe as I watched it navigate the vertical terrain where a fall would have been ugly but the sheep knew what she was doing.
After only 10 minutes from my car I left the railroad tracks and headed uphill. There was no trail to follow. I just headed uphill in the general direction toward the arch. The terrain was quite steep and full of excessively loose scree. Occasionally there would be a short section of solid rock but scree was the norm. About half way up the slope I finally caught a few glimpses of my target. The scrambling was much more difficult than it looked from the road. From what I could extrapolate from a map, I'm guessing I climbed 1200-1500 vertical feet from the river in probably less than a mile. Since I had no information at all on the arch I just made my own path. As I neared the arch I crossed a rough jeep/ATV path no more than a couple hundred vertical feet from the arch.
|A look at the arch from below|
Because the arch was at least 1000 feet above the river there were some good views from the top. Looking up the river valley were good views of the upper reaches of the canyon and the southern Sawatch Range. Across the canyon, the northern Sangre de Cristos stood tall. On the backside of the ridge I could see the road that would have made my trip a lot easier.
|The Sangres in the vicinity of Bushnell Peak, Twin Sisters, and Hunts Peak|
|Sangres close up|
|Looking up the Arkansas Valley|
|Close up toward Salida|
The arch itself was interesting, sort of a small scale arch that you would see in Moab. From below the arch looked quite large as it stood on top of a 100 or so foot ledge. From behind the opening was not that large but became quite a bit bigger in the front as the front opened up to the 100 foot cliff. Looking through the arch was a good framed view of the valley and canyon with the lower Sawatch Range, particularly 14er Mt. Shavano and its neighbors in the view.
|Another look from below|
|Immediately below the arch|
|Looking at the arch from behind|
|View from above|
|Looking through the arch up the Arkansas Valley|
|Close up of southern Sawatch Range through the arch|
|One last look through the arch|
I returned down the steep scree slope to the river. The road would have been easier but quite a bit longer. Keeping control on the loose slope was a little bit of a challenge. From start to finish the entire hike took only an hour and twenty minutes. Heading down the steep slope from the arch to my car only took 20 minutes.
Even though I don't normally write about such short trips, I thought this outing was interesting enough to share. You never know what you'll find when you explore a new area and that's part of the fun. Even though I know there is a road and easier approach to the arch, traveling the steep slope made the trip more interesting. I got to enjoy some time in nature, saw some nice scenery, visited a new place, and enjoyed watching a sheep scramble up the cliff. I'll call that a good outing.