McInnis: Land of Many Canyons – A Photo Essay

Located in the high desert canyon country of western Colorado, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area consists of approximately 123,430 acres of BLM-administered land near Fruita, Colorado. Originally known as Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area, the NCA was established by Congress on October 24, 2000. 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.

Twenty-five miles of the Colorado River wind their way through the NCA, attracting boaters and rafters who value a relaxing float through spectacular multi-hued sandstone canyons. 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, Utah. 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.

McInnis surrounds Colorado National Monument leading to speculation this entire area may some day reach national park status. Hiking trails are abundant throughout with separate trailhead areas that include Devils Canyon, the Fruita Paleontological Area (FPA), Rustler’s Roost, and Horsethief Canyon among many others. Paula fell in love with the diversity of McInnis during her stay in Loma. Upon my arrival, I would have to agree. I had previously been to nearby CNM a handful of times over four decades, but had somehow missed McInnis. I’m so happy she took me, and shared her love of the canyons with me.

The week before Christmas 2020, Paula and I explored these trails several times, a nearby destination for after work evening exercise. The Fruita Paleontological Area, a small, half-mile square of bentonite just a few minutes from Fruita, particularly appealed to us. This tiny spot between the Colorado River and the soaring uplifts of McInnis Canyons preserves a diverse piece of prehistoric life from the Jurassic Period, dating back 150 million years. The terrain seems otherworldly, generally leaving us in awe. A feature of the FPA is Skinner Cabin, built in 1909.

Devils Canyon is a wildly diverse section of McInnis that has miles of trails through gorgeous canyons and to the river. We followed arroyos along pockmarked canyon walls and discovered red rock hoodoos that seemed like Earth’s natural architecture. A lot of “wonder where this goes” was happening. Wander on.

This gallery includes pictures from Devils Canyon and the FPA taken during several excursions into the area. Enjoy the photos, and please feel free to comment.



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