Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wellsville Arch- A Quick Outing Close to Home

I don't always write about every outdoor outing that I do.  Sometimes I repeat trips that I already wrote about. Other trips are quick getaways without a lot of scenery to explore an area that doesn't turn out to be too exciting.  I enjoy spending time in nature and will find something close to home just to get a little fresh air or exercise and enjoy some time outside.

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.

Bighorn Sheep 
Bighorn sheep looking at me
The terrain where the sheep climbed
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
Getting closer to the arch
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
Mt. Shavano
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.

Walking along the river at the end of the trip
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.


  1. The road isn't really that long, and definitely the safer and easier way. It's also very scenic.

    1. Now that I know it's there, I would take the road but at the time I didn't know that the road back that gulch got so close to the arch and no map (Nat Geo, Latitute 40, or De Lorme) showed the road/trail right below the arch.

  2. I had a friend go to the caves in that same area. Did you discover them on your way?

    1. On this particular outing I didn’t explore the caves but on later trips I have.

    2. Caves? I knew there were mines around there but didn't know about caves.

  3. I’m curious if you ever found out if this was on private land? I’ve seen it and have been wanting to hike up there for a while now…

    1. It’s been a while since I’ve been in that area. I believe if you drive/walk up the dirt that takes you behind and above Wellsville and access from that direction, it’s BLM land. I think approaching from the tracks may require passage on private land for a short distance near where I started. It seems like all of the private points off that road above the arch are gated and posted.

    2. Cool, thanks. I was also curious about the cave(s) up there. I’ve been in one of them but it was a tight squeeze! I would like to get more info on it so I can explore it safely