Colorado National Monument

May 29, 2014

Colorado National Monument
The Colorado National Monument isn’t a two-sided canyon like the ones most of us are familiar with—Zion, for example, or the Grand Canyon. It’s more like Bryce Canyon, a monocline as geologists call it: a one-way slope. The Colorado River, though it flows along the valley at the foot of the slope, didn’t create this canyon by cutting its way through a plateau. The plateau was here before the river, created by a forcible elevation of the earth’s crust called the Uncompahgre Uplift, which happened about 250 or 300 million years ago, give or take a bit. The uplift forms part of the Colorado Plateau, which the river does cut through farther along to the west, in Utah, but here it flows along the edge. The monocline canyon was sculpted not by the Colorado, but by eons of erosion: windblown sand, rain, winter ice expanding in cracks,, and scouring by now-vanished rivers as they washed broken bits of stone into the valley where the Colorado now runs. Today, it’s 2,000 feet below the canyon rim, and the difference in elevation was probably even greater at times during those long ages.

Grand Valley is its name now, and that’s not just chamber-of-commerce hype. Well into the 20th century, this section of the Colorado River wasn't called Colorado at all; its name was the Grand River. That’s accounts for the name of Grand Junction, where the Grand was joined by its important tributary the Gunnison. Thus enlarged, the Grand River continued west into Utah, where it merged with the Green River coming down from the north. That confluence was considered the beginning of the Colorado.

But In 1921, Edward Taylor, a Colorado congressman, took umbrage at the fact that no part of the Colorado River was located in his own state, despite sharing the name. Urging Congress to put an end to this “abomination,” he succeeded in getting the Grand River officially renamed the Colorado. So that river now begins in the state where Representative Taylor felt it ought to begin, and I presume he lies easy in his grave.

The park owes its national monument status to a man named John Otto, whose role the Wikipedia article about him describes this way:
A self-professed trailbuilder described as a "benign but enthusiastic eccentric", Otto arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1906, helped construct a municipal waterline between Pinon Mesa and Fruita, Colorado, and acquainted himself with the neighboring topography. In 1907, Otto wrote, “I came here last year and found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me. I'm going to stay and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

Because of his efforts to promote and protect the area, others took notice, and by 1909 the local newspaper was lobbying to make the area a national park. On May 24, 1911 the area was designated the Colorado National Monument. Otto was hired as the Monument's first custodian, in which capacity he earned one dollar per month until leaving the post in 1929.
The main difference, politically at least, between establishing a national monument and a national park is that a park requires congressional action, but a presidential declaration is sufficient to create a monument. Maybe President Taft was easier to persuade than the Congress in 1911.

Although the park has campgrounds, picnic grounds, and hiking trails, we stuck to the main road, Rim Rock Drive, justly described in the National Park Service’s brochure as “23 miles of breathtaking views.” The eastern entrance is near Grand Junction, where we were staying, but we chose to drive about 20 miles to the western entrance in a small town with the sort-of-Latin name of Fruita. Although we would have received a copy of the NPS brochure (which includes a good map) at either entrance, on our previous trip in the west we had formed the habit of stopping at a park’s visitor center at the beginning rather than the end of our visit, and the only way to do that here was to use the Fruita entrance.

Photo Notes

Juniper with berries
Although we didn’t try to find out the names of the flowers we saw and photographed, another form of vegetation that you see in the pictures we took (not only here, but in the three parks in Utah that we would soon be visiting) are gnarled and ancient trees that have been bent by the weather into picturesque shapes. Only two kinds grow in this environment, juniper and piñon pine (and you often have to get pretty close to figure out which kind you’re looking at).
Piñon pine with new cones
However, I took these two pictures near Rim Rock Drive for documentary as well as esthetic purposes. Juniper is the tree with the blue berries. (Alas, I have no idea whether you could use this specific variety to flavor gin.) The piñon pine is covered with tiny new cones. I didn’t see many that were blooming like this one, but it was the only one I really stuck my nose into.

When you see old or young trees in our pictures from Arches, Dead Horse Point, and Canyonlands, they’re bound to be one or the other of these two varieties.
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Colorado National Monument
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Colorado River Valley
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Arches National Park
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Dead Horse Point State Park
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Canyonlands National Park
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Lake Powell Boat Trip
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Canyon de Chelly, Inside
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Canyon de Chelly, North Rim
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Canyon de Chelly, South Rim
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Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
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Garden of the Gods
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Site Map
Home
    Navigation and Display
    Where We Went

Colorado National Monument
    Gallery       Notes

Colorado River Valley
    Gallery       Notes

Arches National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Dead Horse Point State Park
    Gallery       Notes

Canyonlands National Park
    Gallery       Notes

Lake Powell Boat Trip
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, Inside
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, North Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Canyon de Chelly, South Rim
    Gallery       Notes

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
    Gallery       Notes

Garden of the Gods
    Gallery       Notes

Faces