At the southern end of Grand Junction is Colorado National Monument which extends about 20 miles. The National Park Service employee at the entrance collects your fee or pass at the start of a scenic drive within red rock canyons, sandstone cliffs, and valley floor where the Ute tribe spent many seasons living off the land. I was amazed to see this edge of the Colorado Plateau with all its color and rock formations. There are numerous viewpoints and I stopped at just about all of them.
The sky was clear, sunny and blue. Some ambitious bicyclists were on the road, steep uphills till reaching the top of the plateau, then through 3 tunnels as we all traveled the length of this National Monument. One couple showed me photos of their sighting that morning of 2 bighorn sheep jumping around on the cliff edges. I was ahead of them on the road and did not see the animals, yet I was sure to keep my eyes on the road! Many places had no guardrails.
National Park or Monument; that is the question.
John Otto was the man who came to the Grand Valley (as this area is often called), loved the canyons, and wanted to protect them. He worked for years to encourage President Taft to designate this area a national park. May 1911, President Taft instead designates it a national monument. John Otto celebrated by climbing, with his climbing partner, Independence Monument. Each July 4th, local rock climbers climb “Otto’s Route” and raise an American flag on Independence Monument. Thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corp, young men in President Roosevelt’s time, accomplished amazing road work for visitors to have access to this monument.
The visitor center has an excellent 18 minute film so be sure to check it out. There is a campground and picnic area a short distance from the center. There are longer hiking trails on the valley floor. It was too hot for anyone to be down there on this day. I walked every short trail with viewpoints. A couple trails had interpretive signs with info about Utah juniper, pinyon pine, Mormon tea, water flow, other fauna and flora, and the history of the area.
Other news on this day:
I drove through Fruita, a very, very small town known for mountain biking. (Could not find a laundromat even though the guy who sold me ice thought there was one in this town.) Grand Junction is trying to be a road biking area. I drove the backroads to my campground, rather than the interstate, and discovered an REI!
While talking with various people at the national monument, I think one woman said it best: a person needs to decide if they like western-slope-living. That’s it! I have been trying to figure out why I have been so hesitant in liking this area despite it having red rocks and sunshine. Western slopes lack the trees and green an upstate New Yorker loves. No amount of tree planting in Grand Junction will do it for me.
While I understand my feelings, I do hope to visit here again. Three future stops: one, visit the Grand Mesa (largest mesa in the world, which is the Colorado Plateau), two, visit Black Canyon, and three, visit Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse area in DeBeque, Colorado in the spring or fall when wild mustangs are there. I will certainly visit the Colorado National Monument again and hope to see the bighorn sheep, and maybe even see a white-tailed antelope squirrel and pinyon mouse.
Earlier in the morning, I actually searched out a place to play Pickleball. I did play one game. They only had 4 courts and people were more interested in playing in their little group … it was not a drop-in arrangement … so I drove to the national monument earlier than I first thought. It was a good day. Thankfully I am flexible! Tomorrow I leave for Fort Collins, Colorado.