Saturday, August 6, 2016

Visiting Colorado National Monument

Posted By on Sat, Aug 6, 2016 at 9:33 AM

click to enlarge conatlmonsign.jpg


With the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service occurring this year, I’ve tried to make an effort to visit at least one NPS site in Colorado I hadn’t visited before — and more, if possible. You can read more about all the NPS sites in Colorado in my earlier blog

I like visiting Moab, in eastern Utah, and the NPS sites there. Earlier this year I visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab, and visited Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park on the return trip. Hovenweep was new for me, and I had visited the others several times. Hovenweep and the adjacent Canyon of the Ancients National Monument straddle the Utah and Colorado border, near the Four Corners.

When I’ve visited Moab and points west, I’ve seen signs on I-70 near Grand Junction for Colorado National Monument, but being a goal and destination driven person, never stopped to visit there. This, as it turns out, has been a big mistake. I finally visited there and found it to be a wonderful place with much to see and do, and only a stone’s throw from I-70 and the towns of Fruita and Grand Junction, Colorado.

The west entrance to the Monument is a short drive south of Fruita and just over the Colorado River. The visitors center is located at the north end of the Monument, several miles up the winding Rim Rock Drive, that offers great views and a couple of tunnels to drive through. The visitor’s center is small, with nice displays that tell about the history, geology and nature throughout the monument. The staff and volunteers at the visitor’s center are friendly, knowledgeable and enthusiastic to answer questions. I highly recommend stopping there and checking out the various brochures and maps, and talking to the staff and volunteers there before going any further down the road.

The Monument’s hiking guide and map identifies a number of trails of varying length and difficulty, but the staff recommended using the Trails Illustrated Map for more detail, such as contour lines, etc. The map can be bought at the visitor’s center, but I had bought one a few weeks in advance so I could plan my hikes for the few days we were there.

By far the most scenic hike is the Monument Canyon Trail, through the lowest part of the park.  The trail winds through the canyon, passing towering formations that are reminiscent of Monument Valley, a few hundred miles away on the Arizona/Utah border. The Kissing Couple formation, named due to its appearance of a couple entwined in a tight embrace is very striking from ground level. The iconic Independence Monument is a towering monolith of a rock, but only when you’re on ground level do you realize that it’s long and tall, but somewhat narrow, looking more like a huge sailboat sail than a wide rock.

Monument Canyon Trail meets with the Wedding Canyon Trail at the base of Independence Monument, and continuing on either trail will bring you to the Lower Monument Canyon trailhead on Colorado Highway 340, about 2.5 miles away for a 6-mile (one way) hike. For my hike, I turned around at the trail intersection under Independence Monument and retraced my route until returning to the Upper Monument Canyon trailhead for a distance of about 7 miles.
Monument Canyon trail from the Upper Trailhead (at bottom) to Independence Monument (at the top) and back - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Monument Canyon trail from the Upper Trailhead (at bottom) to Independence Monument (at the top) and back

My next hike was over the highest reaches of the Monument, on the Black Ridge Trail. Conveniently starting across the street from the visitor’s center, this trail runs north and south along the western edge of the Monument. A part of the trail leaves the Monument and enters the adjacent McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. While in McInnis, the trail overlooks the remote and wild Rattlesnake Canyon to the west before re-entering the Monument and winding through open fields with expansive views of Monument Canyon to the east. About 3 miles from the north trailhead, the trail passes the “CCC” Trail, which cuts off to the east and ends at Rim Rock Drive across the Upper Monument Canyon trailhead. The Black Ridge trail ends about 2.5 miles later on Rim Rock Drive near the Upper Liberty Cap trailhead.

On my hike, I did the Black Ridge Trail from north to south, and then turned onto the CCC trail on my return, and ending at Upper Monument Canyon trailhead for a hike just over 9 miles.

Black Ridge Trail from the north trailhead, to the south trailhead then back to the CCC Trail and then to the Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Black Ridge Trail from the north trailhead, to the south trailhead then back to the CCC Trail and then to the Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead

I hope to return soon and explore more of the trails there.
click to enlarge Sunrise from the Grand View Overlook - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Sunrise from the Grand View Overlook

Monument Canyon is similar to Bryce Canyon National Park in that you can get nice pictures from down in the bottom of the canyon during mid-day. I found sunrise photos to be best at the Grand View overlook on Rim Rock Drive and Bookcliffs View.

click to enlarge Independence  Monument from the Monument Canyon Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Independence Monument from the Monument Canyon Trail

To get there: Take I-70 west to exit 19 in Fruita, and follow the signs south. Entrance fees do apply.

Happy Trails!


Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for over 24 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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