elisa jones pointing at culvert arch in colorado national monument winter snow

A Snowy Serpent

“A likely story indeed!” said the Pigeon, in a tone of the deepest contempt. “I’ve seen a good many little girls in my time, but never one with such a neck as that! No, no! You’re a serpent; and there’s no use denying it. I suppose you’ll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!”
“I have tasted eggs, certainly,” said Alice, who was a very truthful child; “but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.”
“I don’t believe it,” said the Pigeon; “but if they do, then they’re a kind of serpent: that’s all I can say.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

So I have this map on my phone.

[In case you didn’t already know this about me: I love maps.]

Anyhoo, this is a PDF map that’s georeferenced so when you’re standing anywhere on the map it shows you as a blue dot. You can use it ‘offline’ and I have LOVE LOVE LOVED to have these maps accessible to me when I’ve been out away from civilization.

Back to this particular map. It’s a trail map of the “Lunch Loops” but also includes most of the Monument and some of the Kokopelli trails. I like this particular map a lot because it was made former business associate of mine who’s stuff I really believed in- and I still do. Seriously, the guy is a genius. Happy to report he’s reformatted his trail map specialties to a heavily-sponsored site: TrailForks.com

Anyhoo, on this map at a certain place on a certain turn on the East Side switchbacks at the top of a canyon there’s an icon showing an arch. And it even has a name so you KNOW it’s legit, right? “Culvert Arch

For months, every time we drive up that way, I look and look for said ‘arch’ and I’m like, “Dude. They ain’t be nuthin hee-ah.”

But on this cold, overcast day I was like, “Dude Matt. We should git our fine selves out the house and hike our sweet asses up Serpent’s Trail and find said hidden arch and such yeah buddy.”

So we did.

We invited along some friends, and John took up the call. His wife, Jo Carole, was hosting an open house all afternoon, so we took him out for a lark and met up at our place post-adventure for a bite of soup and fresh homemade bread.

I shan’t bore you with the details of all our gabbing, so here are some highlights of the hike up:

○ Interesting ice formations on many interesting rocks

○ Snow

○ A view of the valley proving we’re susceptible to temperature inversions [at first we could see the town but not the Bookcliffs…by the end even the town was obscured by the ‘smog’]

○ Snow

○ People hiking up the snow faster [or perhaps just more determined] than us

○ Snow

○ Discussion of what is meant by the dot labeled “dog’s tooth” on the official NPS Colorado National Monument map

○ More snow

Once we reached the upper trailhead, I had a pretty good idea of where the arch was. Blame it on my determination to not only search every website I could, but also low-level zoom on Google Earth. Once we were near enough, it became apparent.

So we marched our way down the road, and I headed down the snowy slope toward the arch.

[Side-note: were this same feature to appear in Arches National Park it would not be called an ‘arch’ at all. Minimum size to be a named/significant arch is 30 feet. This particular hole in the rock was perhaps 10 at the most…]

Can YOU spot the arch?

It wasn’t long before I realized I was about to get into the DANGER ZONE!

I was on a slippery slope that feeds into a hole in the rock with a 50+ foot fall beyond it and the snow was deep enough I couldn’t see where I was stepping.

I, being the wise adventurer that I am [and the morning’s suicidal tendencies abated] stopped in my tracks and headed to safer ground. Where we took some pictures of our query.  The return journey was relatively un-eventful. Here are the highlights:

○ Hooray! We found the arch!

○ Pretty sure the temperature dropped 20 degrees

○ Yup, looking up No Thoroughfare you can see the storm cell coming in

○ “Matt! Matt! Do I look like I’m smoking?”

○ That icicle has more girth, sure, but I think I prefer the length of the other. Either way the ribbing formed by series of freezes makes it a tactile novelty.

○ Holy #)&^!&@ $#!^ it’s cold! Thank goodness I have 2 Loki jackets on!

When all was said and done, we got to highlight Serpent’s Trail on our map, had a workout that included 900 feet of climbing, and had found the heretofore unseen/unnoticed arch.  And yes, the soup and bread were delicious.

The fire and wine afterward even more so.