An Unplanned Adventure – Colorado National Monument

After two wonderful days in Mesa Verde, we’d reached the home stretch of our summer vacation. It was time to head back up north. Our first stop, approximately 4 hours north of Mesa Verde, was the city of Grand Junction, CO where my sister would be touring Mesa State College (now called Colorado Mesa University).

We’d planned to spend just one night in Grand Junction before continuing our drive home, and aside from the college tour, we hadn’t done any type of planning. I can’t even remember if we camped near Grand Junction or stayed in a hotel. What I do remember, though, was that the Mesa State campus is very pretty and that Grand Junction street names are very weird. At one point, we found ourselves at the corner of 27 ½ Road and F ½ Road. Apparently the town has expanded greatly since they first started naming streets so they decided to fill in the gaps with fractions. It was very odd, and something I’ve never seen anywhere else.

GJ
Street sign in Grand Junction, CO

Anyway, after touring Mesa State College we found ourselves with a few hours of daylight left and a sign pointing us to Colorado National Monument, located just 6 miles west of Grand Junction. We’d never heard of it but figured we might as well check it out while we were in the area. Boy were we glad we did!

Colorado National Monument is located on the Colorado Plateau, high above the Colorado River Valley. The monument encompasses red rock fins, spires, and cliffs, as well as desert flora and fauna. From the top of the plateau, the view stretches across city of Grand Junction and the Colorado River to the highlands in the distance. Though my sister didn’t end up attending Mesa State, I can definitely see the draw of living in Grand Junction.

Highland View
Grand Junction, CO and the Book Cliffs from Colorado National Monument

We entered the monument from the east entrance on Rim Rock Drive. The 23-mile road up to the northern section of the park (campground and visitor center located here) is steep in places and extremely curvy. There are also three tunnels, through which larger vehicles may not be able to pass. Despite the challenges of driving it, Rim Rock Drive is considered one of the most scenic roads in the US! All along the drive are overlooks and numerous trailheads; we stopped at all the viewpoints, but didn’t have time for any hiking.

Cool View
Grand Junction and Rim Rock Drive far below – Colorado National Monument, CO
DSCN6121-1
Canyon at Colorado National Monument, CO
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Rock spires at Colorado National Monument, CO
Coke Ovens
Coke Ovens – Colorado National Monument, CO
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Rock spires – Colorado National Monument, CO
Random Pullout
View from the top of the mesa – Colorado National Monument, CO

I don’t have much else to say about Colorado National Monument as we were only there for a couple hours. I don’t even have many decent photographs of it because the sun was low in the sky, making the scenery very shadowy. But hopefully this gives a general idea of the incredible landscape and convinces you to spend a day or two at Colorado National Monument. It’s certainly a place I’d like to spend more time exploring!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: The east entrance is located 6 miles west of Grand Junction on Monument Road. The west entrance is located 3 miles southwest of the town of Fruita on CO Highway 340
  • Fees & passes: $10 per car for a 7-day pass; Interagency Annual Pass accepted
  • Camping: Saddlehorn Campground – 50 sites, $20 per night, reservations accepted for B loop, A loop is first-come-first-served; we didn’t stay here so I can’t offer any specifics.
  • Hiking: there are many trails that range from 1/4 – 14 miles in length
  • Other: Things to be prepared for – (1) the road is steep and winding, (2) the top of the plateau is very exposed to the elements, and (3) tiny biting gnats are present in the summer

 

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