Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 3, 2016

Colorado Monument: A Spectacle Not to Be Bypassed

One of a series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

Crossing the expanse of the American West, even the most curious, avid travelers can be lured by the hum of the pavement and the expanse of interstate highway stretching ahead: “If we keep going two more hours we’ll be there … I’ve heard it’s not worth stopping for … maybe we’ll hit it on the return trip. Drive on!”

You keep driving and pass whatever it is. Events arise, life goes on, and you never return.

As you zoom along interstate 70 in western Colorado, bound westward for the canyons of Utah or eastward for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Rockies and Denver, you’re in such a place. That insidious voice tells you, “Keep going; let’s make some time.” If you have some native curiosity and take my advice, you’ll exit 70 at Fruita, about 16 miles east of the Colorado/Utah border.

colorado-monument-map-marked

Fruita is flagged near the center. Denver’s circled in red on the right, Cheyenne, Wyoming in black, due north of Denver. Salt Lake City, Utah is in the upper left.

Less than 2 miles from the highway exit, is the entrance to the Colorado Monument.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9561 (640x480)

Wind and water have carved sandstone bluffs along the broad Colorado River valley into hoodoos, mesas and spires.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9534 (640x480)

If you truly are determined to get somewhere else, you can see a significant portion of the park from 23-mile Rimrock Drive, which, mile-for-mile, may be one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S.A.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9559 (640x425)

If you have more time, there are trails of varying length and degree of difficulty. The NPS site has some basic information, and you can find trail guides at the park office. Rock climbing? Take a look at this mesa.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9548 (640x480)

Now take a much closer look.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9544 (640x554)

Colorado Monument is a big attraction for climbing. Details on the NPS site.

I had the good fortune to reach Fruita late one afternoon, see the park in the lovely sunset light, stay in Fruita that night, then travel the 23 miles of the drive again in early morning light. Ideal for photography. (To see larger images, click one and use the arrow to advance to the second.)

As seasoned backcountry travelers know, evening and morning are your best opportunities to spot wildlife, like this Desert Bighorn Sheep we encountered.

Bighorn Sheep Brad Nixon 9580 (640x480)

Before movies, radio, TV and the Internet, there was only nature and the inventiveness of human beings for amusement. Our penchant for naming things was a major pastime in the picturesque frontier, like these domed hoodoos, named the Coke Ovens, because they look like larger-than-life industrial furnaces.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9588 (640x412)

Here’s Balanced Rock.

Balanced Rock Brad Nixon 9532 (640x480)

And Sentinel Spire:

Sentinel Spire Brad Nixon 5545 (640x456)

Every season has its appeal, wherever you roam, and we were there in mid-October. The aspens in the canyons were blazing gold.

Colorado Monument Brad Nixon 9612 (640x480)

Once you’ve seen it, then it will be time to travel on. The Black Canyon’s not far away, south on route 50, and then? It’s up to you.

For more articles about U.S. National Parks, click on the listing in “Categories” in the right-hand column.

Several photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017

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