The Colorado National Monument, although less well known than Grand Canyon National Park, can provide a visitor with similar vistas, but less crowded visitor services. It can be entered through the Colorado towns of Grand Junction or Fruita.
I am giving the victory sign in this photograph, because it was my first time to use my good-for-a-lifetime National Park Pass! And this was a great place to take my pass for its first-ever expedition! Colorado National Monument covers 32 square miles of rugged, up-and-down terrain, and preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West.
When a visitor takes the 23 mile Rim Rock Drive, they will drive a well-maintained highway that skirts the edge of the canyon walls. There will be many opportunities to stop your car, and enjoy the sweeping vistas of the valley below, as seen in this photograph.
In addition to the panorama of deep, sheer-sided canyons, you can also see numerous higher rock towers.
Exhibit kiosks at the pull-outs along the drive, provide information about the natural and human history of the park. The kiosks tell us that the Colorado National Monument is part of the greater Colorado Plateau, which also embraces geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Arches national parks.
The Rim Rock Drive is popular with bicyclists, so automobile drivers need to be especially vigilant and proceed with caution through all sections of the drive
There are numerous places along the drive that visitors can stop for a picnic lunch, but these covered tables at the Visitor's Center are especially popular, because one can enjoy the magnificent views, while sitting at a comfortable picnic table, under the shade of the pavilion.
Some of the pull outs will place you just a few feet from the canyons edge, while at other pull out locations (such as the one showing the people in this photograph), the visitor will need to walk a short distance to be at the canyon's edge.
However, there are longer hiking trails available, for those who want a real challenge. I have highlighted such a trail in this photograph, where you can see the numerous switchbacks in the trail, that takes a hiker from the top of the canyon to the bottom, and out a different exit. The longest hike listed in the park brochure is 8.5 miles.
This is a section of the park called "Monument Canyon", and the three cone-shaped formations are called the "Coke Ovens" because of their resemblance to early structures used to make charcoal. These formations of colorful rock domes were created by the natural sculpting forces of wind, water, and ice.
Differences in the characteristics of the many layers of sandstone, shale, and other sedimentary rocks of the area help determine what form the rocks take. The very photogenic colors--- reds, purples, oranges, and browns---in the stone formations are created by iron and other minerals in the rock.
There are three tunnels along the Rim Rock Drive, so if you have a high-clearance vehicle, you will want to check with park officials to be sure your vehicle will pass through the tunnels.
The first I ever heard of Colorado National Monument was about ten years ago, when I was a guest of the Grand Junction Convention and Visitors Bureau ( www.visitgrandjunction.com ). Their staff member, Barbara Bowman, brought our group to the Book Cliffs View shelter for a picnic breakfast, as the sun was coming up over the horizon. It was a magnificent and memorable occasion, and I have been singing the praises of this location ever since that experience! It is noteworthy that the entire Rim Rock Drive is a National Historic District because many of the early facilities were constructed by Public Works Administration and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).
I took this photo of the placard that overlooks Independence Monument to illustrate an Independence Day tradition that takes place on Independence Monument. Independence Monument is the tallest free standing rock formation in the park, and is the site where the flag of the United States of America is raised each July 4. The tradition started over 100 years ago by legendary early park promoter John Otto. Today, members of the Mesa County Technical Search and Rescue team continue the tradition of raising the flag there every July 4th. The individual rock climbers scale Independence Monument. After the last climber reaches the top, the climbing team will gather to raise the flag. The best places to view this flag raising ceremony are the Independence Monument View Overlook and Otto's Trail. There are other areas of the park that allow rock climbing, and those interested would need to check with park officials and website ( www.nps.gov/colm/index.htm ) before proceeding, to get the most up to date information.
The Colorado National Monument has an outstanding Visitor Center, with information, exhibits, audiovisual programs, and a gift shop. They also carry books, maps, and other publications in keeping with the National Park system. Staff is on hand to answer questions and help you plan your visit. You will also see their schedules of guided walks and talks that are posted in the summer. I had the great pleasure at the time of my recent trip, to watch the little boys pictured in this photo, complete their requirements to become a "junior park ranger", verified with a certifying stamp, on their certificate. It made me wish I was a little younger, so I could be a "junior ranger" as well, and enjoy the applause of everyone in the building, when the award was bestowed!
In the exhibits section of the Visitor Center, you will learn that the 23 mile Rim Rock Drive was built almost entirely using picks, shovels, and sheer muscle strength to remove massive rocks and debris.
Seeing the name of this hiking trail reminded me of a memory verse I am trying to learn in a class I lead at my church ( www.myfbcmh.com ). It is a part of the mental component of a healthy living program you can learn more about at www.FirstPlace4Health.com . The verse is a reminder that when we get the "cold shivers", God is with us: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17
This weathered old evergreen tree along a hiking trail was probably present in 1906 when John Otto first saw the canyon, during a visit to Grand Junction. He made it his goal to have the area accepted as a national park. The following story is told in the park brochure: "...he loved the land so much that he campaigned tirelessly for it to be set aside as a national park. Urged by Otto, the citizens of Grand Junction deluged politicians in Washington, D.C., with letters and petitions in support of the proposal. Meanwhile, Otto built miles of tortuous trails through the proposed park area so others could appreciate its beauty. And he did it all without hope of any personal gain. But in 1911, Otto's dream came true; Colorado National Monument was established. Otto was rewarded by being named the park's caretaker, a job he gladly did until 1927, for $1 a month."
I am hoping these photos will make you want to include a trip to the Colorado National Monument on your "bucket list". It is a place that will give you great delight, quiet you with its loving beauty, make you want to rejoice with singing, and give you MILES OF SMILES!! Tricia