Colorado National Monument protects 20,500 acres of canyons and giant rock formations in western Colorado. The most famous of these formations is Independence Monument, the largest free-standing monument in the park at 450 feet high. It was named by the park’s champion and founder, John Otto, who almost singlehandedly worked to gain the park National Monument status in 1911.
Independence Monument is the result of a wall between two canyons that eroded away over millions of years leaving just this free-standing portion of the wall. To honor its name, every year on 4th of July, professional climbers scale Independence Monument and fly an American flag on top. It’s a very technically challenging climb because the last 20 feet at the top requires the climber to hang upside down to scale over the “lip.”
We’re certainly not professional climbers, so we scrambled up only about 100 feet to the base of Independence Monument and enjoyed our lunch and terrific views of the surrounding canyon.
We camped in the Colorado National Monument that rises over 1000 feet above the valley below, which includes the city of Grand Junction. Our campground had a terrific view of the valley, city, and Book Cliffs behind it. On the day we arrived, a winter storm blew in and dumped some cold rain and light snow on us.
The weather forecast was showing a winter storm threatening to dump a couple inches of snow on our next planned destination at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Since snow and RVs don’t mix too well, I pulled out the roadmap and discovered this hiding-in-plain-sight gem known as the Colorado National Monument. That’s one of the many great things about our country: it’s full of amazing natural lands. In addition to all the well-known national parks, there are hundreds of lesser known but still spectacular national monuments, forests, etc., like this one.
Monument Canyon runs through the center of Colorado National Monument. The famous Rim Rock Drive hugs along the top of the canyon walls for a thrilling cliff-edge drive with very few guardrails. You certainly don’t want to nod off or take your eye off the road for even for a moment, else you might find yourself plunging 500 feet down to the canyon below.
We hiked down into the canyon, dropping 600 feet in just a half mile. This is an example of what we like to call a “pay me later” trail, as we had to climb back up that steep trail at the end of our hike. The monument sits at over 6,000 feet elevation, so it was a challenging hike with the steep climb in the thin air.
This rock formation is known as the Kissing Couple. Get a room!
The altitude and fresh air made us sleepy, so we found ourselves a nice flat rock upon which to enjoy a quick nap.
These large rock hills are known as the Coke Ovens because they resemble the dome-shaped ovens used to turn coal into coke–the fuel, not the soda pop.
Here is a panorama of Monument Canyon. Click on the image above for a larger view. From this perspective you can see Independence Monument on the left and the Kissing Couple on the right.