National Monument – Colorado

Tuesday, May 14th

Up early and checked out of our excellent motel (el Palomino in Grand Junction), quick breakfast and then off to do some hiking at the Colorado National Monument. Of the national parks and forests we’ve visited or driven through, this was the most dramatic so far. Most of the park’s highest points rise a couple of thousand feet above the Colorado river and a twenty three mile paved driving route traces the rims of the monument’s major canyons. Everywhere you look there are towering, sculpted sandstone formations and thousand foot sheer cliffs surround by skirts of erosion debris. It’s vast and breathtaking and a little scary – steep drops and no guardrails.

Bill and I got a flatlander briefing from the very nice (and very young) park ranger at the West gate who answered all our stupid questions about what might kill us if we got out of the car. Quite a few things, as It turns out. The midget-faded (aka pink pigmy) rattlesnake was the most exotic threat. “Super shy but super poisonous” according to our advisor. But she didn’t seem overly concerned about snakes. Or scorpions. Or coyotes. She did tell us not to approach any big horned sheep we might encounter. As if. And briefed us on flash floods and lightning. Then, upon request, she suggested a couple of medium difficult hiking routes and off we went around the rims to find our trail head and pick out grave sites. Because the forecast called for record heat and we were already getting wise to the vagaries of altitude, we planned ahead a little better today. Despite the summer weather, we wore long pants and long sleeved shirts. We pre-slathered with sunscreen, packed a couple of litres of water each and drank more before we left. All smart moves, as it turned out.

We drove for a couple of miles, parked at one of the many viewing turnoffs, saddled up and started out on one of the recommended routes. It dropped us quite quickly down to the canyon sub floor and then wound back and forth along stunning bluffs, turning three major corners to reveal whole new views. The entire Grand Valley region is pretty arid and the plants were all of the short, hard to kill variety – like Scanlans. Juniper, cottonwood, some kind of hardy pine, dwarf ash, sagebrush, greasewood and all kinds of weird cacti and spiny grasses. Also, improbably, lots of beautiful, vibrant yellow and white and lavender flowers. And not a drop of water anywhere to be seen.

As for animalia, we saw several different types of little llizards including the Collared which is quite beatiful. We got buzzed at one point by a big, dark green hummingbird which scared the crap out of me. I was looking down for rattlesnakes and she came out of nowhere. I was not expecting death from above and in my surprise I think I may have shrieked. For morale boosting, several huge buzzards circled overhead all day and enormous ravens flew air cover for them and produced an alarming noise. The swallows and swifts who nest in the cliffsides darted overhead constantly and kept up an I’m-really-busy song all afternoon.

The hike was steep, long, hot, scary and thrilling. On the return we were spurred by the threat of a looming storm and made double time most of the way. We covered about seven total miles and eight hundred vertical feet up and down in around four hours. My knees were so sore they didn’t even bother to hurt very much. Just a dull, happy ache. I also may or may not have taken some amazing pictures.

With Bill at the wheel, we finished the drive around the canyon rims, got back on good old I-70 West and made the Utah border. We then followed the Colorado river South to our overnight in Moab and, tomorrow, the Arches. And more hiking. Excellent.

Random notes from today: Yesterday I-70 dumped us out onto this enormous, semi-arid plateau which is a cross between desert and mountains. It’s beautiful and foreboding. And vast. Bill has a morbid and (I think) irrational fear of mountain lions. I’m afraid of heights. We’re a neurotic team on the trail. Some of this blog’s followers have asked about our rental car. Bill has an installment brewing on that topic (more soon). We turned over three thousand total trip miles today. Drove by the Grand Jct. High School graduation this morning at the local minor league ball field. Better turnout than the Whalers used to get.

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2 thoughts on “National Monument – Colorado

  1. One of the things I noted in this vicinity was WPA signs. Turns out many of these National Park roads and amenities were built during the Depression. Look for many of their trademark WPA signs in various locations, including that harrowing and beautiful road through the park you describe.

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