Monument Canyon Trail
By the lack of people we saw at last visit to Colorado National Monument, we developed a theory.
We got to thinking people from the Front Range driving west all too often keep driving west through Grand Junction and Fruita, onward to Moab. Those red rocks are indeed marvelous in Utah. But perhaps too overlooked are these great formations in Colorado.
The monument occupies the same plateau as Arches and Canyonlands national park — but here, the people are much fewer. And while the 23-mile point-to-point cruise on Rim Rock Drive is the most common way to experience the preserve from above, not to be missed is the spectacular venture below.
From the road's sweeping overlooks, the way down looks daunting. But the Upper Monument Canyon trailhead serves as an approachable half-day portal.
Especially in the heat of summer, you'll want to bring plenty of water. And you'll want to make sure those knees are limbered up; the 600-foot descent is steep going down and harsher on the way back up.
It is a stunning drop through 50 million years of geologic wonder. You'll feel enveloped by the red gorge early, close to the left turn at the signed trail junction.
We found the route to be well-maintained and -marked, but at some rock sections, you'll want to pay close attention. That's especially as the way back up won't look quite the same as the way down. General rule of thumb: Look for the clearly defined steps.
At the valley floor, we met a trickling creek and spotted several early-season wildflowers. We were fortunate, too, for the colorful presence of the collared lizard.
More prizes are ahead: closer perspectives of towers called Kissing Couple and Independence Monument.
Trip log: 3½ miles one way to Independence Monument, elevation changes from 6,140 feet and 5,289 feet
Getting there: On Interstate 70 west through Grand Junction, take exit 19 for Colorado 340 toward Fruita. At traffic circle, take exit for 340 east toward Colorado National Monument. Upper Monument Canyon trailhead is 4 miles past visitor center.
FYI: $25 entrance fee for vehicle. Hiking only on trail. No dogs on trail.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE