The Coke Ovens Overlook lies on the east side of Rim Rock Drive, a spectacular 22-mile-long scenic drive in Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction. Park at a paved pullout (with room for six to eight cars) about 3.5 miles from the visitor center. While there are great views at the parking area, follow a short trail that begins on the left side of the parking lot down to a fenced overlook above an airy cliff. The viewpoint looks south at the Coke Ovens, a row of rounded sandstone domes that resemble old charcoal or coke ovens in upper Monument Canyon. The domes are a great example of weathering. They are composed of Wingate sandstone, which is capped by white, erosion-resistant Kayenta sandstone. As the harder caprock erodes away, the softer underlying Wingate sandstone is quickly attacked by erosion, smoothing its contours.
- If you want to take the best hike at Colorado National Monument, drive another quarter mile up Rim Rock Drive from the Coke Ovens Overlook to the Monument Canyon Trailhead on the east side of the road. The 6.3-mile-long Monument Canyon Trail begins on the right side of the parking area. It descends 600 feet to the canyon floor, then twists below towering cliffs to 450-foot-high Independence Monument. Continue down to the Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead off Broadway/CO 340 and have a buddy pick you up.
- The 0.5-mile (one-way) Coke Ovens Trail also begins at the Monument Canyon Trailhead just up the road from Coke Ovens Overlook. This easy path crosses a sloping terrace above cliffs and below Rim Rock Drive to a scenic viewpoint above the Coke Ovens. The popular overlook is fenced, but keep an eye on small children. Return back to the trailhead for a one-mile hike. Don’t forget water in summer.
- Bighorn sheep are often seen along Rim Rock Drive between the monument visitor center and Highland View past Coke Ovens Overlook. They’re used to people, but don’t get too close to take photos and remember that they are wild animals and could charge and injure you. Close human contact also stresses the sheep, so keep your distance.
- Stop at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center before you begin your Colorado National Monument adventure. The center, four miles from the Fruita entrance, has interpretative exhibits about the park’s natural history, geology, and human history, as well as two 12-minute movies. An information desk is staffed by a park ranger who can answer all of your questions and suggest activities and hikes. A bookstore operated by the Colorado National Monument Association sells books, postcards, and memorabilia. Daily ranger-led programs are held every day in summer.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green