A&A Travel Review of Grand Junction, CO & The Colorado National Monument
Earlier this fall, in late September, we spent 4 nights in the greater area of Grand Junction, within the Colorado National Monument. It was a beautiful area that I would love to get back to again some day!
Grand Junction, CO
A city in Mesa County, and Colorado’s central-western slope, it is also known as the hub of Colorado’s wine country. From here you can access mountains, red stone monoliths, the Colorado River, hiking, biking, wildlife, museums and so much more.
Grand Junction felt very home like and had everything you could ever need in terms of conveniences for stores, grocery stores, fast food, and whatever else. There is also a University here and a lot of college students!
The area is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of public land and appears to be a populated valley in between the Monument, the Continental Divide, and the Grand Mesa. The location is mostly in between Moab, UT and Denver, CO and seems to be a really great place in Colorado to live and explore!
The Colorado National Monument
The Colorado National Monument is oe of the greatest landscapes of the American West. It is preserved in big, bold, brilliantly colored landscapes, amongst the greater Colorado Plateau. This canyon country has towering masses of sculpted rock that embrace 32 square miles of super rugged terrain. The highest areas of the Monument rise over 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River.
[The Colorado Plateau stretches over Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and includes other geological wonders like the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches national Park, & Canyonlands National Park.]
When you are on top of the Monument, you can soak in glorious views of the entire surrounding area of Grand Junction and beyond. The distant horizon stretches into the Grand Mesa and additional mountains around Grand Junction. It’s remote, but yet it’s amongst the city. It’s solitude amongst excitement. The area is a mix of high semi-desert wild country, red rocks, green brush, and so much wildlife. There are bighorn sheep, golden eagles, a plenty here. This is the land of pinyon pines, Utah junipers, ravens and jays, coyotes and sheer rocks!
What I liked most about this Monument is that it is both a mix of common exploring area and backcountry canyons. This offers the best of both worlds in terms of exploring and suits both the first timers and the experts alike. Atop the Uncompahgre Plateau there is a Visitors Center, hiking trails, a campground, winding roads, and incredible jaw-dropping views. Throughout the backcountry there are vertical cliff walls, deep canyons, and opportunities for overnight hikes, rock climbing and full on off roading experiences.
[If you’re an extreme adventurer up for a backcountry exploration you are bound to encounter mule deer, desert cottontails, antelope, ground squirrels, rock squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, and canyon birds. Just be sure to be on the watch for mountain lions, bobcats, rattlesnakes and other secretive and possible dangerous members of this community. The amount of wildlife here is truly something special!]
The entire area reminded me a lot of the red rock wonders of Sedona, AZ and gave a really great sense of comfort and “home”. There was so much more there to explore that we didn’t even get a chance to see at all and this is an area I can really see myself coming back to!
The Colorado National Monument was declared in 1911 with the help of John Ottos and others with the foresight to protect this land.
“I came last year and found these canyons and they felt like the heart of the world to me,” John Otto wrote in 1907. “I’m going to stay… and promote this place because it should be a National Park.”
John Otto was a wild frontier man who lived in a desolate canyon southwest of Grand Junction. He loved this area so much and did a lot to campaign for it. He urged citizens of Grand Junction to send letters and petitions to those in Washington, D.C with the power to make it happen. He really wanted everyone to be able to appreciate the beauty here and everything he did was not for an agenda of any personal gain. When his dream did finally come true, Otto was declared the parks’ caretaker, a job he did until 1927 for just $1 a month!
All of the rock formations and sculptures here are masterpieces of erosion over time, from water, ice and wind. It has taken millions of years to carve the many massive rock spires, huge domes, balanced rocks, arches, windows, stone pedestals, and sheer-walled canyons that make up the Colorado National Monument park. All of these erosion forces work very slowly together, to erode away the many different layers of sandstone and other sedimentary rocks that make up the land.
At one point in time, the entire area was a massive rock wall that seperated one canyon from the next. But eventually over time, this wall was narrowed and weakened and collapsed giving way to massive rock formations.
Where Did We Stay
There is a campground right inside the park, called Saddlehorn Campground. It is a first come – first serve, or reservation based system, depending on how you want to do it. We made a reservation online but when we got there we moved to a different spot that was more secluded and larger to help accommodate our travel trailer. They do have limits on the size of your rig – and it can not be larger than 40 feet. This place is not super big rig friendly, and the drive to get up the mountain to the campground is full of sheer cliff switchbacks and a rock tunnel – so you will want to research ahead of time to make sure this will work for you!
The sites had picnic tables, trees, charcoal grills and there were water spigots and nice vault toilet restrooms nearby. This was boondocking for us, but we did not mind with the nice accommodations they had onsite.
I think this was one of my favorite campgrounds we have been at to date – the views were really quite incredible up there and I loved the semi-dessert feel with the tree coverage mixed into things. The sunsets were phenomenal and the campground itself was walking distance away from many hiking trails and killer views!
What Did We Do
My number one favorite thing to do while adventuring is definitely to HIKE!
As I mentioned above, it was nice that we could walk from our campground to nearby hikes in the Monument. The trails we checked out were:
- Window Rock Trail – 0.5 mile (roundtrip) level loop through pinyon juniper woodland to an overlook. Super views of the Monument and Wedding canyon.
- Canyon Rim Trail – 1.0 mile (roundtrip) along the edge of the colorful Wedding canyon.
- Otto’s Trail – 1.0 mile (roundtrip) down a narrow stretch of rock to view the infamous Independent Monument and Pipe Organ.
- *Serpents Trail – 3.5 miles (roundtrip) of historic trail built in the early 1900’s and once referred to as the “Crookedest Road in the World.”
RV Maintenance Check
During our travels through Utah, Adam had noticed some cracking in the caulk on our roof and wanted to find a Grand Design dealer to check it out. It worked out that there was a dealer in town in Grand Junction, so one of our full days there we packed up and hauled ourselves, our home, and the cat, in for a maintenance check.
The RV dealership kept our previous cargo for about 4 hours while we drove around town running errands and hanging out with the cats in the van. We even took the Bengals to a park where we went for a long walk to try to tire them out and calm them down.
They completely re-caulked our roof and we were good to go. The service was good, despite how busy they were, and we were glad we had the opportunity to have things checked into!
We were fortunate enough to get to spend a day with someone very near and dear to me – my Manager from my position on campus during college. This woman was like a mom to me and I was very close with her over the years. Out of random cosmic timing, she had moved to Colorado over the summer to start a new wonderful life of retirement, and it just so happened we were planning to cross through her town as we made our way into Colorado from Utah.
First we met up for a hike on *Serpents Trail on the far side of the Monument and then we later got to meet up at her house in Grand Junction for pizza and beer. Driving through Grand Junction was very homey and comfortable and we know we will be back to see them again.
If you can make your way to this Monument, you won’t be disappointed!
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