The Colorado National Monument is conveniently located next to Interstate Highway 70 in Fruita, but one would be surprised to see just how many people speed on by while hardly even noticing the sign. This section of Highway 70 is fly by traffic zone for tourists that are in a hurry to get to Rocky Mountain National Park or the majestic National Parks across the border in Moab, Utah. For most travelers, Fruita and Grand Junction are just places to fuel up and keep on going, so the Colorado National Monument is often overlooked. For those who take the time to smell the roses along the way, plenty of peaceful elbow room can be found at this destination on any given day of the week!
The touring route that goes through Colorado National Monument is easy to navigate, because it is a long two lane loop that has two separate access points on State Road 340 in Fruita. The west access point is the best choice for starting the tour, because the visitor center is closest to this entrance. Another reason why the west access is best has to do with paleontology. The Dinosaur Journey Museum is located nearby and this additional stop is definitely well worth checking out!
The west entrance road into the park zig zags its way up the mea and the roadside views of the valley are spectacular. After passing through the red rock tunnel, it is as if a whole new world opens up before the eyes. The red rock landscape in this place is far removed from what most people picture as being Colorado. There are no lush green forests and mountain streams. There is only the majestic barren high desert red rock landscape that is also found not too far away in Utah. This is an awe inspiring landscape to see upon a first visit, so be prepared to spend some extra time taking in the picturesque views.
The Colorado National Monument Visitor Center is the best place to start, because maps of the landmark locations can be found here and there sure are plenty of unique landmarks to look for in this park! One of the most popular is Independence Rock, which is one of the most famous red rock spires in the entire west. This towering eroded red rock spire stands separate from the rest and the green valley backdrop is like pure eye candy. This is one of the most photographed landmarks in the west and it is a rock climber's dream come true. Annual organized rock climbing events take place at Independence Rock and those who have done the extreme vertical climb say there is nothing that compares to standing way up top on Independence Rock!
For the rest of us, just taking a few photos of Independence Rock is more than enough and in this same canyon the Coke Ovens landmark can also be viewed. There are several good vantage points along the road and even more lies in store just ahead. Some of the most magnificent red rock canyons in the entire west can be found in this area. The cliff overlooks certainly are intimidating, because it is several hundred feet straight down from the edge. Powerful winds can gust through these canyons with little warning, so it pays to be careful when viewing from the edge.
There is literally one great scenic overlook after another along the Colorado National Monument touring loop road. Several hiking trailheads and picnic spots can be found along this road too. The majestic views are endless, so be sure to bring a good camera along for the ride. This is a place that the raptors call home and gazing into the deep canyons will certainly result in a sensation of flying. Colorado National Monument is one of the most beautiful places on earth, so be sure to slow down to smell the roses because the memories will last a lifetime!
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