Colorado National Monument

Fruita, CO 81521
(970) 858-3617

Colorado National Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Bold, big, and brilliantly colored, this plateau-and-canyon country, with its towering mosses of naturally sculptedrock, embraces 32 square miles of rugged, up-and-down terrain. This is a special place, where you cancontemplate glorious views that stretch to distant horizons; where you can discover solitude deep in aremote canyon; where you can delight in wild country where desert bighorn roam and golden eagles soar.In the spirit of those with the foresight to create Colorado National Monument in 1911, and the manysince who have sought to protect it, please treat the park with respect so you and others can share in itsgrandeur tomorrow.

The high-country of Colorado National Monument rises more than 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley ofthe Colorado River. Situated at the edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift, the park is part of the greater Colorado Plateau, which also embraces such geologic wonders as the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Arches. It is a semi-desert land of pinyon pines and Utah junipers, ravens and jays, desert bighorns and coyotes. Magnificent views from highland trails and the Rim Rock Drive, which winds along the plateau, stretch from the colorful sheer-walled canyons and fascinating rock sculptures to the distant Colorado River valley, the purplegray Book Cliffs, and the huge flat-topped mountain called Grand Mesa.

In the deep canyons of Colorado National Monument, where vertical cliff walls and great natural rocksculptures tower overhead, the grand scale of the scenery is overpowering. Nowhere is this more true thanin Monument and Wedding Canyons, where the giant rock forms of Independence Monument, the PipeOrgan, the Kissing Couple, Sentinel Spire, and the Praying Hands rise from the canyon floor likeskyscrapers-in-stone.

But the canyons are places, too, where the cascading song of the canyon wren echoes; where small life-sustaining pools linger after summer rains; where cottonwood trees turn golden in autumn. The canyonscan be explored along backcountry trails, on foot, or on horseback. On a slow and quiet journey, youmight encounter mule deer, desert cottontails, antelope ground squirrels, rock squirrels, chipmunks,lizards, or canyon birds such as pinyon jays, white-throated swifts, and rock wrens. Mountain lions,midget faded rattlesnakes, and other rare or secretive members of the canyon community are seen lessoften. In spring and summer, cactus, yucca, and other flowering plants bloom by the hundreds, many nearsprings, along seeps in rock walls, or near canyon pools and intermittent streams. These oases of water are lush compared to the sparse desert scrub life of pinyon, juniper, sagebrush, mountain mahogany, andrabbitbrush that inhabits the more common arid portions of the canyons.

From 450-foot-high independence Monument, the largest free-standing rock formation in the park, to thesmallest detail carved in stone, the grand sculptor in Colorado National Monument has been erosion.Time and lots of it -- has been a loyal ally, for it has taken millions of years to carve the many massiverock spires, huge domes, balanced rocks, arches, windows, stone pedestals, and sheer-walled canyons thatmake up the scenic splendor of the park. The erosive forces of water, wind, and frost work very slowly.Differences in the characteristics of the many layers of sandstone, shale, and other sedimentary rocks ofthe area help determine what form the rocks take. The harder rock layers are more resistant to erosion.One such layer -- the Kayenta Formation -- forms the protective caprock of Independence Monument andother bold, angular rock forms. Once it has been eroded away, rounded shapes like those of the CokeOvens are formed from the less resistant underlying layers. Fractures in the rock also influence erosiveforces. The remarkable colors-vivid reds, purples, oranges, and browns-are created by iron and otherminerals in the rock.

Seeing the Monument

Visitor Center : The visitor center offers exhibits and an introductory slide show. Books, maps,and film are sold at the center, and rangers are on hand to help plan your visit and to answer questions.Schedules of programs such as guided walks and campfire talks are posted at the center. Such programsare given every day in the summer and less often the rest of the year. The center is open every day.

Rim Rock Drive : Rim Rock Drive offers 23 miles of breathtaking views. The road climbs fromthe Grand Valley of the Colorado River to the parks high-country, then winds along the plateau rim. Thedrive is ideal for bicycling as well as motor tours. A guide booklet is available at the visitor center. Youcan park at several roadside overlooks along the way and enjoy panoramas of the parks great rocksculptures, canyons, and distant valleys and mountains. A loop tour can be made by driving Rim RockDrive, Colorado Rt. 340, South Broadway, and South Camp Road. Obey speed limits on Rim Rock Driveand watch for wildlife, fallen rocks, and other hazards.

Camping : Saddlehorn Campground is situated near the visitor center in a pinyon-juniper scrubforest. Campsites are available first-come, first-served. Each site offers a table, charcoal grill, and accessto drinking water and restrooms. A fee is charged. Backcountry camping is free and is permittedanyplace more than 1/4 mile from roads and 100 yards from trails. Other federal, state, and commercialcampgrounds are located near the park.

Picnicking : There are two picnic areas, one near the visitor center and a second near the parksEast Entrance. Both have tables, charcoal grills, water, and restrooms; the second also features a largeshelter.

Other Activities : Hiking and horseback riding, cross-country skiing, rock climbing, andbicycling are other popular pastimes. Wheeled or motorized vehicles are not permitted on trails or otheroff-road areas.

Area Services and Accommodations : Food, lodging, gasoline, and camp supplies are availablein Grand Junction, Fruita, and other nearby communities.

Handicap Access : Some park overlooks, backcountry areas, and other park sites and facilitiesare handicap accessible; check at the visitor center for information.

Safety and Regulations : Check with Monument staff upon your arrival to determine thelatest safety tips and regulations. The climate is normally mild, but beware of extremes. Lightning,high winds, and flash floods can accompany summer storms. During a storm, avoid open, exposed areasand low-lying areas such as canyon bottoms. Removing natural or cultural objects, disturbing wildlife, anddefacing rock exposures are not allowed. Guns and other weapons are prohibited. Watch your step-andyour children-at overlooks and other steep drop-offs. Do not throw rocks or other objects over cliffs;persons below may be injured. Pets must be leashed at all times. They are not Permitted in buildings, ontrails, or in the backcountry.

Hiking Trails

Exploring by trail is a good way to see Colorado National Monument in any season. Choose short trails tospectacular overlooks or backcountry trails into canyons or across mesas. Note all distances are oneway.

Window Rock - Level loop trail through pinyon-juniper woodland to overlook with excellent views of Monument and Wedding Canyon and most of their rock formations, including Independence Monument - 1/4 mile.

Canyon Rim - Level trail following the cliff edge above colorful Wedding Canyon. Outstanding views. - 1/2 mile.

Ottos Trail - Gently sloping trail that leads to overlook with dramatic views of many monoliths - 1/2 mile.

Coke Ovens - Trail descends gradually to overlook above the massive rounded coke ovens - 1/2 mile.

Devils Kitchen - Gradual descent to Devils Kitchen, a natural grotto surrounded by huge upright boulders - 3/4 miles.

Serpents Trail - Called"the Crookedest Road in the World," this historic trail has more than 50 switchbacks. The trail climbs steadily from east to west. Engineered by John Otto in the early 1900's, this route was part of the main road into the highcountry until 1950 - 2 1/4 miles.

Alcove Nature Trail - Self-guiding nature trail on the Kayenta bench - 1 mile.

C.C.C. Trail - Short trail connects the Monument Canyon and Black Ridge trails - 3/4 mile.

Old Gordon Trail - Steadily ascending trail that follows the path of historic lumber and cattle drive road. The parks geologic story as told through the layers of rock is naturally exhibited almost in its entirety along this largely undeveloped trail route. - 4 miles.

Black Ridge - Highest trail in the Park with far-reaching views west to Utah canyonlands, east to Grand Valley, and south to the San Juan Mountains. Follow-up-and-down terrain of Black Ridge. Trail crosses Bureau of Land Management lands. - 5 1/2 miles.

Monument Canyon - Steep 600-foot descent from the plateau into Monument Canyon where many of the parks major rock sculptures -- Independence Monument, Kissing Couple, and the Coke Ovens tower overhead. - 6 miles.

Ute Canyon - Rigorous descent into narrow Ute Canyon from the plateau follows a maintained trail. Undeveloped trail route then follows stream bed with seasonal stream and pools bordered by cottonwoods and willows. A few arches may be seen. - 7 miles.

Liberty Cap - Trail winds across gently sloping Monument Mesa through pinyon-juniper forest and sagebrush flats for 51/2 miles to Liberty Cap rock sculpture. Ideal for horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Last 1 Y2 miles drops steeply to Grand Valley. - 7 miles.

No Thoroughfare - Descent from plateau on maintained trail followed by undeveloped trail route through remote No Thoroughfare Canyon. Canyon walls rise more than 400 feet above floor.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 19 Dec 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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