Colorado National Monument

My husband Richard and I had a unique introduction to Colorado National Monument by participating in the Tour of the Moon Bike ride early last October 2015.    Perfect blue Colorado skies accented against the brilliantly colored plateau and canyon country provided ideal biking weather or an adventure by car or on the trail.

Colorado National Monument borders Western side of Grand Junction near the border of Utah and Colorado and embraces 32 square miles of rugged up and down terrain.

The biggest champion of this park was a kindred spirit of John Muir, a colorful and trail blazing character named John Otto. In 1907,  he wrote, “I came here last year and found these canyons and they felt like the heart of the world to me.  I am going to stay… and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”  After tirelessly campaigning for his cause the area was established on May 24, 1911 as Colorado National Monument, and he became its first custodian and held that job until 1927 for $1 a month!!  He singlehandedly built many of the trails through the area. 

John Otto spearheaded the construction of the first 4 mile road called the Serpents Trail.  It had 52 switchbacks. Thanks to FDRS’s  creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 to advance park development in the US and the combined efforts of  local men from Grand Junction and Fruita skilled in carpentry, masonry and construction, the construction of the 23 mile road referred to as Rim Rock Drive was initiated in 1933 and finally completed in 1950.  The delay in its completion was due to interruptions of work force due to WWII.  A tragic accident at one of the tunnels on the route called Half Tunnel killed nine men when blasting brought the cliff down on them.  This magnificent Rim Rock road winds up the canyon on one side of the park and you stay atop the plateau for many miles and then descend on the other side.

Colorado National Monument was named after the river rather than the state.  The tributaries of the river were responsible for carving through the Uncompahgre Plateau where the park sits.  It contains 4 main canyons and stunning towering masses of naturally sculpted rock.  These cliffs and towers are made of the Entrada/Wingate and Kayenta sandstone layers which are also seen in the more famous Canyon del Chelly in Arizona and Canyonlands and Arches in Utah.  The most iconic and famous of these giant rock forms is called Independence Monument.  Other well named ones are Window Rock, Pipe Organ, Kissing Couple, Sentinel Spire, Praying Hands and Balanced Rock which has a 600 ton boulder perched atop a pedestal.

The towering walls of the canyons provide perfect warm currents for Golden Eagles, red tailed hawks and turkey vultures to soar.

Also home to the yellow headed collared lizard, mountain lions, coyotes, mule deer and the magnificent Desert Bighorn.

The vegetation in the park is primarily pinyon woodland.  With only 12 inches of rain, some of the plants and shrubs that can exist are pinyon pine, rabbitbrush, broom snakeweed, Utah Juniper, Yucca, Mountain Mahogany and Cliff rose.

Every 4th of July park rangers lead climbers up the famous Independence Monument where they raise the American Flag!

Visited in 1919 by 3000 visitors.  In 2015 there were 580,000 people who visited the park.  Rim Rock Road and its 19 scenic overlooks makes it accessible to all and the trails in the park range in length from a quarter mile to more than 14 miles offering opportunities for all skill levels!

This is a special place in Colorado not to be missed.  To see the way the light bounces of the sheer canyon walls and how millions of years of erosion can create such beauty makes it a magical journey!