Part 2 of 2: Hiking at Colorado National Monument

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. 

Colorado National Monument

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.

Colorado National Monument

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. 

From the scenic drive, past Independence Monument to Grand Junction.
Independence Monument; ready to climb?

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.

View from Grand View.

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.

That is what it looks like!
It would be a challenge to find!

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.

Another view
A view before I head down to the valley.

Ready to Leave Colorado!?!

Finally weather I imagined for Colorado, a nice cool morning breeze, yet short-lived as daytime temperatures will quickly climb! I fell back on my sleeping bag in my tent and thought how fortunate I have been to visit my mom and friend, plus others, and to enjoy traveling across the beautiful country I call home. The pandemic did and continues to be of major concern; however, my only wish now is to be home in two days, hug my partner, eat a salad and home-cooked meal, have a glass of wine and sleep in my own bed!

The campsite I was at these last few days has been the best; Fort Collins Lakeside Resort KOA. It is more expensive than other KOA’s with all the amenities; if you have children this is the KOA for you. I loved it, especially because the few tent sites here are all with a lakeside view! They have family restrooms each with toilet, sink and shower behind one door … very convenient.

I was not leaving early this morning to bike ride or birdwatch so I had time to talk with a young woman who is moving from Omaha, NE to Oregon. She hopes to find a teaching job some place in that state. I am sure she will. She told me of a project she is doing. She gutted a tent trailer so she can build a teardrop trailer. Interesting! I have memories of a tent trailer my family used when we traveled from New York State to the Canadian provinces north of the state. That style trailer is nice until the rain leaves them sopping wet and you’re hoping for hot days to dry it out.

Another couple are camping from Arkansas to Colorado to Washington State to see family. This is the first time they are camping and this morning they were muttering about taking time to look at motorhomes. They have been camping each night at a different location and that is tough. To assemble a tent and break all down the next morning does get tiresome. I have been fortunate to be in a place for a few nights every so often and it helps!

I checked out various places today:

Watson Lake: I bike rode here the other day, but on this visit I spent more time walking a good portion of the perimeter of the lake and discovered a trail along the Cache la Poudre River. I saw some birds, enjoyed this beautiful location, and had a nice conversation with locals who gave me the best recommendation for dinner tonight! Birds and scenes of Watson Lake:

Next stop was where I had dropped the pin on my Google map. There are so many places to see that I thought this was one way to narrow them down. So by chance, I visited Bingham Hill Park. A tiny park with plenty of history, overlooking a beautiful valley appropriately named Pleasant Valley. Off in the distance beyond Bellvue I could just see Watson Lake!

Next stop: Horsetooth Reservoir. The reservoir is huge with people in their boats enjoying all the water! I truly do believe I have been here before, from a bicycling trip I had done years ago! The terrain seems so familiar. This was the perfect place for me to cook lunch: my black bean, cheese and tomato tacos as I overlooked the reservoir. I also realized if the dam for this reservoir ever was breached it would flood Pleasant Valley. On the other side of the road one overlooks Colorado State University – the Foothills Campus.

Last stop: Fossil Creek City Park, also known as Poudre reservoir #17. There is no doubt the city of Fort Collins does much work on land restoration and flood control. I walked the area, saw some birds and a new bird for my life list: western grebe. My last day of leisurely travel before I drive for 2 days to get home and I see a new bird, wow!

My treat, a hotel stay and dinner out for tonight! The young couple at Watson Lake recommended “Little”. I thought they would be open when I arrived yet I was 45 minutes early plus had no reservation. The staff were great. They let me sit at an outside table where I could buy a beer, write in my journal and catch up on emails. I ordered medium rare lamb t-bone with salad and potatoes, and a French rosé. For dessert, cherries with meringue … definitely something I never had before, delicious! This restaurant opened 3 months before the pandemic, do share tips with all their staff, and are doing well. Be sure to book a reservation! I asked where they get their mussels, listed on the menu. Apparently a woman in Maine only sends them to this restaurant and French Laundry in CA.

My travel is soon to end. I truly enjoyed the beautiful Fort Collins area. Of course I had more than enough time to travel to all corners of the outlying areas of the city and neighboring towns. I probably spent less than 10 minutes in the historic downtown. Years ago I remember it being quaint; not the case now as tourists flood the downtown. (Another reason I liked “Little” as it was not in downtown.) 

I think the city planning is interesting. There are many natural areas and ponds with some only accessible by people who live around the area. This is nice for those people. Many other natural areas are open to the public. Since the 2013 flood when the Poudre and Big Thomson Rivers inundated many areas around Fort Collins and made it difficult for people to get to the city, projects have been put in place to hopefully manage large amounts of water. I also heard about people who built their home west of Horsetooth Reservoir only to discover there are mountain lions and other wildlife in the area! (Seriously, did they know where they were building!) They felt uncomfortable in that environment with a dog and young children so they moved. Thankfully wildlife is still here and in Rocky Mountain National Park! We need to protect their lands too.

My final post for this travel adventure is in 2 days! And to close with photos from my meal at “Little” in Fort Collins!

Bicycling in Colorado!

Finally took my bicycle out of my car and rode for 26 miles on the Poudre Trail in Windsor, CO area. It was wonderful to ride the bike path and it was hot. I was done with my ride by the time the temperature rose over 90 degrees. I did see other riders out, but I am guessing the majority were out earlier than me today!

I bird-watched during my ride and saw cormorants, swallows, kingbirds and American pelicans. I thought I heard an osprey and I did finally see the bird, actually 2 of them, on my return ride to my car. My bicycle does not allow me to sneak up on birds so I unfortunately flushed 3 great blue herons in 3 different locations from their spot because of my gears.

Last night and tonight I slept at a hotel for much needed ice water for my itchy feet. I was still needing to calm my numerous black fly bites! One knows they are bad when the itch wakes you at night, unfortunately that is what has happened the last couple of nights! I think I would rather have mosquito bites as these bites are simply horrible!