Sights to see at Colorado National Monument

Article & photos by Maryann Gaug

Piñon and juniper trees at the overlook I can’t remember, but makes for some interesting photos

Piñon and juniper trees at the overlook I can’t remember, but makes for some interesting photos

In the last RMOWP newsletter I wrote about my experiences in the ancient world near Colorado National Monument. This article with give you some ideas of what to see in the Monument while you’re at conference in May. While I haven’t explored every nook and cranny, I have seen some great places. Several short walks take you to some spectacular views, interesting places, and flora.

From the west (Fruita) entrance, head to the visitor center but make sure to stop at the various overlooks along the way. You’ll pass Redlands View (I saw the desert bighorn near here) and Balanced Rock. The road goes through two tunnels blasted through the rock walls. Three more scenic overlooks provide nice views and historical information. Just before the visitor center, turn left to check out the quarter-mile Window Rock Trail. In addition to Window Rock, the view includes Wedding and Monument Canyons and Independence Rock. The campground is one of my favorites and the picnic area provides a nice spot for a snack or a meal.

Indian paintbrush nestled against twisted juniper trunk along the Alcove Nature Trail

Indian paintbrush nestled against twisted juniper trunk along the Alcove Nature Trail

Head back to Rim Rock Drive and the visitor center. Colorado National Monument celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011 and new exhibits were installed. Take some time to read the displays about geology, the evolution of this edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau, flora and fauna, and very interesting human history. The park movie is great, too!

Across from the visitor center is the Alcove Nature Trail, a half-mile easy walk next to some short cliffs to a pour-off (always been dry when I’ve been there). As you enter the cozy confines of the dead-end of the trail, look in the sand for little holes made by antlions. When ants or other insects fall in the antlion pit, they can’t escape due to the mini-landslide of sand and the grasp of the antlion. Along the way you can photograph various flowers and interesting twisted juniper trunks.

The little upside down tree on the Upper Monument Canyon Trail just below junction with Coke Ovens Trail

The little upside down tree on the Upper Monument Canyon Trail just below junction with Coke Ovens Trail

Another nice walk not far from the visitor center is Otto’s Trail (a half mile one way), which overlooks Wedding Canyon. About six miles from the visitor center is the Coke Ovens Trail and the Upper Monument Canyon Trail. The trails start out together and gradually descend the top of a cliff. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s pretty cool, wide, and easy. After 0.2 mile, the trails split. The Coke Ovens overlook is another 0.3 mile. If you like unusual trees, head left and downhill about 60 feet, and look up the cliff to your left. A small tree is growing upside down, its roots above it clinging for dear life in little rock crevices – a photo opportunity or just a jaw-dropping sight.

Eleven viewpoints between the visitor center and the east entrance make for frequent stops. Although I have not hiked it, the Serpents Trail is part of the original Rim Rock Drive and is 1.75 miles one way. Grab a few friends and set up a car shuttle, then decide whether to hike up or down this twisty trail with a 770-foot elevation change (roughly 8% grade). Near the east entrance is the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area, in case you’re hungry after all that exploring.

Each viewpoint has its own interesting features. I can’t remember which stop has the juniper and piñon pine trees right next to each other, but they make for some interesting photography, especially if the berries are thick on the juniper tree. The west entrance lies at 4,690 feet while the high point on Rim Rock Drive is 6,640 feet. Make sure to bring a jacket just in case. And of course – the camera!