Colorado National Monument: A gem on the Western Slope

March 20, 2013 — 5 Comments

Several weeks ago, Ryan and spent a weekend in Grand Junction. This was a true adventure because we’d never been to Grand Junction before. We’d driven through, but never stopped to smell the roses, or rather, the perfume of wine.

Colorado National Monument March 2013 HeidiTown

I’m going to highlight our foodie and wine adventures in Grand Junction in another post, but here I want to concentrate on our morning at the Colorado National Monument. First, like many of you, we thought the Colorado National Monument was an actual monument, and we were a bit startled and overjoyed to discover that it is a gigantic park with rock formations that rival those we’ve seen just across the border in Utah.

CO National Monument jutting rock March 2013 HeidiTown

We entered the park via the Fruita entrance on the recommendation of several people, including our helpful hotel shuttle driver from The Clarion in Grand Junction. Even before we entered the park, we spotted a beautiful bird hanging out in a dead tree. The lighting was such that we couldn’t identify the bird, but we treated the sighting as an omen of good things to come – and it was.

Entering the park through the Fruita entrance is an excellent choice because you are immediately surrounded by spectacular views and huge rock formations that rise unexpectedly from the ground. At first, we were stopping at every overlook to snap pictures and take in the incredible view of the mesas.

The view from the Mesa at Colorado National Monument March 2013 HeidiTown

By the time we reached the visitor center we were in a cheerful mood. This place wasn’t a tourist trap with some old boring monument – this place was a gem and we felt as though we had just discovered it. Of course, we weren’t the first to discover it, and the people of the Western Slope are well aware of their treasure.

In fact, there’s a movement afoot to give the park National Park status, but there’s also a group opposed to such a move. They don’t want the crowds that come with having a National Park in your backyard, but I think that the Colorado National Monument shouldn’t be a secret. I think it should receive National Park status and be added to our state’s impressive repertoire of national parks.

Inside the visitor center we were greeted by two young female rangers who quickly pulled out photos of the park’s most recent addition; two baby big horn sheep. We knew there were bighorn sheep in the region, but we had no idea that we had come during lambing season, running February through April.

For those who do not know me, I’m a huge freak when it comes to baby animals. Puppies, ducklings, kittens, kits, calves, foals, eaglets, chicks, goslings… if it’s a baby animal of any sort, I’m a fan. So when we found out about the baby bighorn sheep we were determined to find them.

Dead tree CO National Monument March 2013 HeidiTown

We struck out on a hike with a purpose – my favorite kind of hike. We started from the visitor center down a small and easy trail with enormous views and then veered through the campground. The rangers had given us some useful tips on finding the bighorn sheep.

They like to hang out on the outcroppings above the roads around the park and one way you can tell that they’ve been in a certain location are rocks on the road. They scatter the rocks as they scramble up the mountain. You can often hear the bighorns kicking around rocks before you actually spot them.

The rangers told us we might find them on a rock outcropping we’d driven under earlier, so we backtracked, by foot. Peering through binoculars towards the specific location, at first Ryan saw nothing, but then JACK POT! We had found them. Two bighorn sheep lambs and their mothers, right where the park rangers said they might be.

They were still pretty far away from us, and couldn’t be seen without binoculars, but there they were and we marked the hike a grand success. We snapped some pictures, hoping we could zoom in later to find the little guys.

baby big horn sheep at Colorado National Monument March 2013 HeidiTown

They are really difficult to see, but there are two baby bighorn sheep in the middle of this photo.

Back at the visitors center we were accosted by a juniper titmouse. The bird spotted us walking through the parking lot and fluttered over to land on a tree limb directly in front of my face – I could have reached out and touched him. When we told the park ranger of this encounter she said it’s not because people feed them, it’s because the juniper titmouse is a friendly little bird with a big attitude.

juniper titmouse at CO National Monument March 2013 HeidiTown

We managed to get a photo of this Juniper Titmouse before he flew off looking for some other park visitor to chat with.

The rest of our drive through the park was uneventful. The scenery was still breathtaking but to my disappointment we had no more wildlife encounters. I was hoping to spot a male bighorn walking on the road, as they tend to do quite often.

The Colorado National Monument is a treasure and should not to be missed when visiting the Grand Junction area. Within 15 minutes of Grand Junction, it makes for an easy morning excursion, or you can make it a longer adventure by hiking, rock climbing or camping in the park. 

Learn more about the Colorado National Monument HERE.  Check out everything Grand Junction has to offer by going to VisitGrandJunction.com and following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Balancing Rock at CO National Monument March 2013 HeidiTownTips for visiting the Colorado National Monument:

1. Stop at the Visitor Center to see what animals have been spotted in the park recently.

2. Bring a good camera, not just your phone. This place deserves high resolution photos.

3. Bring a water bottle. The park will no longer be selling water. To reduce waste they are installing a water bottle refilling station at the visitor center.

4. Bring binoculars.

5. Pack a light coat. It can be a bit chilly atop the mesas on a spring day.

This trip sponsored by Visit Grand Junction.

5 responses to Colorado National Monument: A gem on the Western Slope

  1. Great article and tips.

  2. Your beautiful photos made me catch my breath and your article really captured the magic that makes our beautiful and majestic Colorado National Monument so worthy of the designation to national park status. John Otto first found these canyons in 1906 and wrote, “I found these canyons and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay here and build trails and promote this place because it should be a national park.” He then put out the first petition to create a national park. President Taft made it a national monument in 1911 and Otto dedicated the rest of his life writing letters to elevate it to a national park. The opportunity to create a national park comes around once in a lifetime and I hope your readers won’t miss the chance to join our effort at http://www.gjforparkstatus.com. Thank you for a wonderful article and we hope you’ll visit our beautiful valley again soon!
    Terri L. Chappell
    Grand Valley Region Citizens for a National Park
    Don’t forget to like us on FB!! ;)

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. A delicious, two-day Grand Junction & Palisade itinerary | - April 3, 2013

    [...] We got up early, had the free breakfast buffet at The Clarion and then headed to Powderhorn Resort for a morning of skiing. The resort is about 45 minutes from Grand Junction. However, if you’re making this trip during the spring or summer, head to the Colorado National Monument to some morning hiking and bighorn sheep hunting. Hunt with your camera, of course. I wrote about our experience at the Colorado National Monument in a previous post here. [...]

Leave a Reply