When we decided to spend four months in Colorado our intention was to visit as much of the state as possible. We knew as we moved around this fairly large state the scenery and vegetation would vary depending on our elevation and location, but we didn’t expect to discover an area of that looked like this!
What a contrast to the jagged mountains and dense forests where we’ve spent most of the summer. It’s looks a lot more like Utah than Colorado over here. There’s a good reason for that. The very western edge of Colorado is located within the Colorado Plateau, a vast land of high desert and scattered forests that stretches around the four corners region including northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, and northern Arizona. This red rock wonderland full of canyons, cliffs, arches, and pinnacles contains ten national parks, including a few you may have heard of such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Mesa Verde. It also contains 17 national monuments such as Grand Staircase-Escalante, Sunset Crater, Canyon de Chelly, and of course, the Colorado National Monument.
The Colorado National Monument is located near the Utah border next to the city of Grand Junction. Over millions of years tributaries of the Colorado River carved through the edges of the high plateau bordering the river, creating a stunning area of colorful maze-like canyons, sculpted spires, pinnacles, and other jaw dropping sandstone creations.
We began our exploration of the monument with a trip on the 23 mile historic Rim Rock Drive. This narrow and winding road follows along the top of the plateau past the towering red rock cliffs and sculpted rock formations.
We stopped at several of the scenic overlooks to take in the expansive views.
We also spotted a group of Bighorn sheep by the side of the road.
The monument contains over 40 miles of hiking trails. The heat at this time of year, combined with all that around the house stuff we completed during our visit, meant that we only managed to fit in one hike. Someday we’ll have to come back either later or earlier in the year when the temps are cooler for some more hiking. The trail we picked was the Corkcscrew Loop. This 3.5 mile hike started with a trek up a steep rocky hillside which then flattened out and meandered alongside a tall cliff before heading back down.
Our new friends Todd & Russ joined us for the hike. Since we rarely get the opportunity to hike with other people, it was fun to have some company. This was also their first time hiking among scenery such as this, and their excitement was quite infectious.
The Colorado National Monument was another one of those unexpected gems that we knew very little about before visiting. I read about it on a few blogs, and on a whim decided it would be a good way to round-out our journey through Colorado. We’ve now visited seven national monuments around the country and have really begun to appreciate their smaller size and lack of crowds as compared to the often zoo-like feel of many national parks. There are a total of 109 national monuments scattered around the U.S. and as we continue to explore new states I am excited to visit more of them.