Tag Archive | Colorado National Monument

Colorado 2015: Colorado National Monument Afternoon

Canyon Rim and Window Rock Trails

Day 3: August 3, 2015

After lunch, we all hiked the Canyon Rim Trail, and the Window Rock Trail – a 1.5 mile round trip hike when you combine the two trails.  We hiked along the mesa, with stunning views out over Wedding Canyon, with views of Monument Canyon in the distance as well. We saw more rock formations carved by erosion of the Kayenta Sandstone, watched several swifts race in the blue sky (say that 5 times fast!), and marveled at the gorgeous desert landscape. There is practically no elevation gain on this hike and no scrambling on slick rock, so it is a great hike for everyone (provided the kids are old enough to stay away from the edge).

Piddles Photobombing Jon on the Canyon Rim Hike

Piddles Photobombing Jon on the Canyon Rim Hike

The hike ended at Window Rock, a viewpoint with an arch – it took us awhile to find Window Rock because you have to peek over the railing of the viewpoint and look down…

The artistic shot of Window Rock

The artistic shot of Window Rock

Wedding Canyon, with the Book Cliffs off in the Distance.

Wedding Canyon, with the Book Cliffs off in the Distance.

After our second hike, I talked to a ranger and found out where we might see Desert Bighorn Sheep (near the Fruita, CO entrance to the park) and we headed that way with our eyes peeled. We drove very slowly along the road, peering up at the rocks around us.  Sadly, we didn’t see any, but we did find “Balanced Rock,” which of course reminded us of Arches National Park and its more famous Balanced Rock.

Balanced Rock - The Colorado National Monument Version

Balanced Rock – The Colorado National Monument Version

After Colorado National Monument, Jon and his Dad wanted to find someplace with access to the Colorado River.  We found Colorado River State Park – it had no entrance fee that day, due to it being Colorado Day. I had no idea what Colorado Day is. We don’t have a Washington Day at home – what’s up with that? Upon looking it up, I discovered that Colorado Day celebrates Colorado’s entrance into statehood on August 1, 1876. We were there on August 3 though, so it is still a mystery to me… At any rate, the park gave us access to a boat launch where we could sit by the Colorado River (so we could say we did). It moved pretty swiftly though, so no swimming for us!

Relaxing by the Mighty Colorado River

Relaxing by the Mighty Colorado River

We got a quick snack to tide us over for the drive ahead of us – just about 90 minutes to Montrose, Colorado, to be poised for the next day’s touristing.  On the drive, we passed by a long string of train engines all hooked together – there must have been at least thirty of them!  I wonder if they stash them there for the tough trips over the Rocky Mountains.  I saw lots of Prairie Dogs or Wyoming Ground Squirrels, but they don’t really photograph well from a car traveling 60 mph!

A line of Union Pacific train engines.

A line of Union Pacific train engines.

And we had an early dinner at Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen, a restaurant with Indian and Himalayan food – a seemingly odd restaurant to run into in small town Colorado. I had never had Himalayan food though, and we were all excited to check it out.  The place was quiet – there was just one other table seated when we got there (but we were pretty early), and Jon and his Dad were making fun of how my choice would turn out.

We each tried something different: I had the Chicken Sekuwa, Jon had the Chicken Saag, Linda had the Malai Kufta, and Robby had the Beef Sekuwa.  My Chicken Sekuwa was described as marinated overnight in a yogurt sauce and then flash cooked in a Tandoori Oven.  We split an order of the Garlic Naan, which was lighter and crispier than naan I have had in Indian restaurants.  Our meals were fabulous! They had lots of vegetarian dishes for Jon’s mom, and we all loved what we had – those of us meat eaters were able to try all of the dishes too!

My Chicken Sekuwa, at the Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen, in Montrose, Colorado

My Chicken Sekuwa, at the Himalayan Pun Hill Kitchen, in Montrose, Colorado

After dinner and checking into our hotel, we stopped in at a local liquor store to get some local beer and wine. I bought a bottle of the 2012 Plum Creek Riesling from Palisade, Colorado.  Plum Creek Winery sources all of its grapes from Colorado, and has wines made from some grapes I haven’t seen before, Marquette and Freedonia, as well as some fruit wines. The Riesling had a nice, balanced sweetness with floral notes and peach flavor; a good everyday drinking wine – maybe one day we’ll be able to check out their tasting room.

It was a great way to cap off a wonderful day.

Total driving distance on Day 3: 94 miles – Grand Junction – Colorado National Monument – Montrose
Hotel for the night: Super 8, Montrose – clean, but a little dated.  

Colorado 2015: Colorado National Monument Morning

Devil’s Kitchen and Rim Rock Drive

Day 3: August 3, 2015

Wrangling four people into a car every day is like herding cats. But we managed to all get going in the right direction and on our way to Colorado National Monument. Once we got there, we discovered this park is a feast for the eyes in all directions.  It reminded me of a combination of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, both of which are beautiful!

We stopped for our first hike at the first trail head after entering the park – Devil’s Kitchen. It is a 1.5 mile round-trip hike to the “kitchen,” a grotto created by four tall slabs of stone that encloses an area of slick rock on three sides. On our hike to Devil’s Kitchen, we saw two rabbits, several chipmunks, some small birds and several lizards. Jon’s parents hiked with us for part of the hike, and then turned around when we got to the slick rock climb.

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Chipmunk! They were everywhere in Colorado.

Chipmunk! They were everywhere in Colorado.

A slightly scuffed up Peter Cottontail waiting for us to go away...

A slightly scuffed up Peter Cottontail waiting for us to go away…

Lizard! He was pretty big! About 16-20 inches with his tail, I would guess.

Lizard! He was pretty big! About 16-20 inches with his tail, I would guess.

Jon and I got a little off route trying to follow the cairns on the way up, so we actually passed the trail and made our hike a little longer and tougher, but in the end we enjoyed checking out the grotto. I was especially fascinated by the little tree that seemed to be growing straight out of the rock.

 

As usual, Jon hiking ahead...

As usual, Jon hiking ahead…

Devil's Kitchen is on the left side of the photo.

Devil’s Kitchen is on the left side of the photo.

This tree was literally growing out of the rock.

This tree was literally growing out of the rock.

On the way back I came upon a small group of people staring at the ground, so I told Jon to hike ahead to meet back with his parents, and I walked over to see what the staring was about. It was a very National Geographic moment! There was a spotted lizard eating a striped one! Not that I normally get all excited about the gruesome facts of life, but I suppose it has to happen. And if it does, I might as well get pictures. It was pretty cool (in a macabre sort of way, of course) to see.

Lizard vs. lizard

Lizard vs. lizard

After the hike, we drove up Rim Rock Road to the top of the mesa and checked out some of the viewpoints. They offered fantastic views of the canyon below, where you could see riparian areas with cottonwood trees that were fed by seeps and springs. These would have been the areas where Native Americans lived all those years ago. Today you can hike down into the canyon, or start your hike at the trail head before the road winds its way up to the top of the mesa.

Heading up the Rim Rock Drive

Heading up the Rim Rock Drive

The view of the canyon from Rim Rock Drive

The view of the canyon from Rim Rock Drive

I loved the view of the Coke Ovens. They aren’t actual coke ovens, but a rock formation that looks like one. They kind of look like beehives too.

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

We checked out the Kissing Couple rock formation – sadly no photo because someone (me) forgot to charge the camera battery. We also saw Independence Monument – John Otto and his bride were married here in June 1911 – she stayed only a few weeks before deciding she must have been nuts to sign up to live in a tent in the middle of nowhere. They officially divorced in 1912.

If you remember from my last post, Otto was a big reason why Colorado National Monument came to be. He labored by hand for years, building roads through the monument to increase access – the main road he built is now a hiking trail – Serpent’s Trail.

Next we headed to the Visitor’s Center for stamps and postcards, and they were kind enough to let me charge my camera battery too! We checked out the exhibits, and sat at one of the picnic tables outside to enjoy our lunch.  We had to recharge for our next hike!

 

Colorado National Monument History

Colorado National Monument is an area of semi-arid desert and high mesa, with a large canyon running through it. It features several types of rock, including hard gneiss and schist (the gneiss is very interesting because it glitters), as well as softer sandstone that creates impressive rock formations as the powers of erosion do their work. To me the landscape looks like a combination of Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. It has the red sandstone formations, and also the deep canyon with the juniper and scrub pine covered high mesa.

Colorado National Monument Sign

Colorado National Monument Sign

The land on which Colorado National Monument now sits was long thought by residents of nearby Grand Junction to be inaccessible, so there wasn’t a lot going on there until John Otto arrived in 1907. He began building trails through the area, up to the top of the mesa. Otto’s work eventually got the notice of the locals. They decided to lobby for national protection, and Colorado National Monument was designated on May 24, 1911 by President William Howard Taft.

John Otto was named as the first park superintendent and drew a $1 monthly salary for the next 16 years while he lived in the park in a tent – he was an “off the grid” kind of guy. Interestingly, he married a Boston artist, Beatrice Farnham in June 1911 – she only stayed a few weeks before packing up and leaving forever. She just couldn’t fathom living the kind of life he wanted. I wonder if she married him thinking he would change…

Devil's Kitchen in Colorado National Moument.

Devil’s Kitchen in Colorado National Moument.

Visitors today can drive the 23 mile Rim Rock Road, which was begun in 1931 and constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, mostly with hand tools! It starts near the bottom of the canyon at each of the entrances to the park and climbs quickly up to the top of the mesa.

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, several of which descend into the canyon and take hikers to some of the stunning rock formations. The longest hike in the monument is 14 miles. Hikers looking for an easier trek can hike along the canyon rim.

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Wildlife includes several species of lizards, rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyote, squirrels, rabbits, Golden Eagles, swifts, and Desert Bighorn Sheep. Did you know that Desert Bighorn Sheep are actually a separate species from Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep? They have adapted mechanisms to conserve water more effectively than their mountain cousins.

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

The Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

Did you know that Colorado National Monument once had bison? At that point shortly after the turn of the last century, bison were still very close to extinction. John Otto raised money to buy one bull and two cows from Yellowstone National Park in 1925. They multiplied to about 45, and the herd was periodically culled to keep it within a manageable limit for grazing. However, they were fairly destructive to the fragile high desert ecosystem, so they were removed in 1983, and taken to Badlands National Park.

There were 454,510 visitors to Colorado National Monument in 2012, and the park encompasses 20,533 acres, much of which is undeveloped backcountry.

I’ll take you there next!

Colorado 2015: A Trip is Born

August 1-8, 2015

Last year, we had such a wonderful time on our Rogue River, Oregon trip with Jon’s parents that we talked of doing it again. But like any good trip, I always struggle with the decision to return to the same place, or try something new. We talked with Jon’s parents about perhaps visiting Bend, Oregon, but some research revealed very high prices for mid-summer stays. Meanwhile, Jon and I talked about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, and doing a broader Colorado loop. We asked his parents if they wanted to join us, and well, you can guess what they said.

Colorado has several National Parks, and several more National Monuments and other park service sites. Jon wanted to see Pike’s Peak (what he thought at the time was the tallest peak in Colorado). Linda and Robby just wanted to do whatever we did, but if at all possible, Linda wanted to see Leadville, the country’s highest incorporated city, and take a scenic tourist train ride there.

We already had some lofty visions for the trip; Colorado is a big state and these were some big driving distances. I checked to make sure that everybody would be ok with the driving, and making camp in a new hotel every night. Then I mapped.

In the planning phases, Jon started talking about how close Moab, Utah is, but really, we can’t go to Moab every time! What do you want to not do, in order to go back to Moab? Scratched… I wanted to see Dinosaur National Monument, but it was about 2.5 hours north of Grand Junction, and would require a whole day for the detour, so it got disappointingly scratched from the list too.

The route would include Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (somehow fondly renamed by Jon – Gunnison of the Bay), Great Sand Dunes National Park, the St. Elmo ghost town, Leadville, CO, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Pike’s Peak. What a whirlwind in 7.5 days!

The route map of our Colorado Road Trip

The route map of our Colorado Road Trip

A trip was born!