We spent Saturday morning driving through Colorado National Monument. While there are several hiking trails in the Monument, dogs are not allowed on them. They can only be in parking lots and pullouts. We knew we wanted to tour the park and then visit Palisade, so we took Truman along with us, and he mostly sat in the car while we hopped out every now and then to walk short trails at the pullouts. I let him get in some exercise on a few of the pullouts, but the asphalt was not where he wanted to be…
We began at the West Entrance near Fruita and had the road virtually to ourselves. I was worried that our later 10am start meant there would be more people, but we only began to encounter more tourists the closer we got to the East Entrance and noon. We made a steady climb up Fruita Canyon and a few tunnels to reach the plateau’s rim and a couple of spectacular viewpoints of Grand Mesa, the Book Cliffs, and Fruita.
Shortly thereafter we stopped at the Visitor’s Center to pick up some postcards and walk through their interpretive exhibit. Then we continued on our way to the first brief trail I wanted to follow, Otto’s Trail. Named for John Otto, the monument’s passionate advocate and founder, the trail leads a short distance to an overlook of Monument Canyon. We were completely alone. No one else was on the trail at any point. The overlook was spectacular and serene. The best time of day would have been once the sun was in the western half of the sky, but we were able to enjoy the vista without any problem. Only our photographs suffered.
We hopped over to the Grand View overlook where we were able to get better photos. Independence Monument was named by Otto. He arrived in the area in 1906 and lived alone in the canyons, but was enthusiastic about sharing the beauty of the treasures he found inside them. Otto built by hand the first trails to open up the canyons to the public and lobbied the federal government for its protection. Though he was seen as a recluse, he engaged the community in his effort to secure the canyons’ designation. In 1911, when Taft created the Monument, Otto was named the first custodian.
Otto also established an annual tradition. On July 4, 1911, he scaled Independence Monument and flew an American flag from the precipice. Now, each 4th of July climbers carry on his tradition by scaling the monolith to fly an American flag from the top.
We continued along the Rim Rock Drive to Artists Point, a beautiful overlook of the Coke Ovens. Naturally formed, the Coke Ovens resemble the kilns or ovens built to convert coal into coke, a fuel predominately used for smelting iron ore. Though there is a trail to an overlook of the ovens, I thought Artists Point provided a better perspective.
From Artists Point, the landscape shifted as we left the wide canyon floors of Monument Canyon behind and headed toward Ute Canyon and the eastern edges of the Monument. At Upper Ute Canyon Overlook we followed the path to a broad overlook of a more narrow canyon. Here again, we were alone which allowed us to play with the echo off the canyon walls a little more freely.
As we neared the East Entrance, the overlooks became more populated. We stopped briefly at Red Canyon Overlook which offers a view of Grand Junction through the canyon walls, and again at Cold Shivers Point, but overall, the eastern overlooks were my least favorite. I favored the dramatic vistas into Monument Canyon. Of all the hikes we could have done, I would have liked to do the Monument Canyon Trail which leads through the heart of the canyon and passes the giant monoliths we glimpsed from above.
We intended to do the Serpents Trail at the end of our drive as our one hike, but as we approached it we decided we’d rather head on to Palisade. (The Serpents Trail was part of the Rim Rock Drive until 1950. It has 16 switchbacks!) So we made our descent down the nicely paved switchbacks of the (newer) main road and bid farewell to the Monument. Maybe we’ll meet again.