As Grandstaff Canyon and Arches National Park are to Moab residents, so is the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area to our neighbors in the Grand Junction area. The area boasts lovely, easily accessible recreational locales within a stone’s throw of Interstate 70 at the Fruita exit.
Moabites who run errands in Grand Junction might want to consider spending part of a day exploring its venues.
The area, adjacent to Colorado National Monument, boasts numerous trails. It consists of nearly 123,500 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Originally known as Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area, the NCA was established on Oct. 24, 2000, and was renamed in honor of former Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis on Jan. 1, 2005.
Among its unique natural resources are the more than 75,000 acres of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, which includes the second-largest concentration of natural arches in North America, following Arches National Park.
Internationally important fossils have been uncovered during more than a century of excavation. Pictograph and petroglyph sites abound, and the Old Spanish Trail, once referred to as the “longest, crookedest, most arduous mule route in the history of America,” runs through the NCA, according to BLM descriptions.
“Today, the NCA is a recreation destination, drawing visitors to the world-class mountain biking on Mack Ridge and along the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail, which extends to Moab. Twenty-five miles of the Colorado River wind their way through the NCA, attracting boaters who value straightforward floating through spectacular multi-hued sandstone canyons.
“The NCA benefits from the attention of a vibrant network of people, from historic and current ranching families to the active ‘Friends’ group working to protect and support this special place. Traditional land uses such as grazing continue, guided by management to protect the values for which the NCA was established,” according to interpretive materials from the BLM.
There are four off-ramps from I-70 that lead to various areas of the NCA, the western-most being at Rabbit Valley, then east to off-ramps at Mack, Fruita and Grand Junction.
The Fruita access is the closest to existing homes and businesses. But just a couple of miles of road separate the residential from the recreational areas.
Pollock Bench is a popular trailhead, suitable for hikers and equestrians. The trail, just over seven miles long, offers ups and downs, scenic canyon views and broad vistas of Mesa County’s Grand Valley.
Like BLM day-use areas near Moab, there is no fee to park or enjoy the trails. Flume Canyon, Rattlesnake Arch, Pollock Arch and Bridge Arch are popular destinations, as is the Fruita Paleo Trailhead.
The Pollock Trail climbs an old Jeep road to an inclined mesa top where it descends to a bench that looks over the east fork of Pollock Canyon. The trail winds along the bench following the upper rim of the canyon until it loops back to the main trail. Along the way there are connections to the Rattlesnake Arches, Pollock Canyon and Flume Canyon trails.
The average grade for the Pollock Bench Loop is 8%. As visitors hike up the trail, they can expect to gain about 350 feet of elevation for each mile traveled. In comparison, the Mt. Garfield Trail, located near the mouth of the Colorado River canyon as it enters Palisade, gains about 1,000 feet of elevation for each of its miles.
After climbing, the views become much more outstanding as the trail begins traveling along the west rim of the Flume Canyon Area. From the rim, visitors can see the Flume Canyon trail below.
Vegetation along the trail includes juniper trees mixed with a few pinons and various bushes, grasses and wildflowers. Pink flox and Indian paintbrush dotted the trailsides in April, but faded to the reds of claret cup cactus and yellow mules ears by May. The heat of summer has now vanquished most of this year’s flowers.
As the trail continues, the hilltop becomes narrower. Near the upper end the pleasing scenery of the Flume Canyon and Devils Canyon areas come into view to the east and the spectacular spires and canyon walls of Pollock Canyon can be seen to the west.
Because of popular use, there is a section of Pollock Trail that separates hikers from horses. “At the 4.7-mile point the horse route breaks off on the right. The horse route is a little shorter, but more importantly, it avoids a little scrambling that hikers have to do to get up a cliffy section of the trail ahead,” said a BLM advisory.
The website gjhikes.com sums it up as thus, “The Pollock Bench Loop is a favorite with many of the local hikers and horseback riders. There are also a few trail runners that frequent the trail. The trailhead has some long parking slots for horse trailers and just enough room for them to turn around. For great views coupled with a healthy dose of exercise, the Pollock Bench Loop won’t disappoint.”
The name of the trail stems from early rancher William H. Pollock, Jr., who was born in Pennsylvania in 1865. He settled with his family near Fruita in 1882, in the canyon still bearing his name. After his father died in 1898, his mother opened the nearby Park Hotel and William operated a stagecoach that ran from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs and Aspen. He died in 1952, according to the book, “Legendary Locals of Fruita, Colorado,” by Denise and Steve Hight, published in 2016.