OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes December 27, 2009
Have fun skiing on Rim Rock Drive
Snowplow drivers are our friends. I’ve waxed poetically about the virtues of those Patron Saints of our Highways for years. I must admit, however, that when I heard the snowplow was broken down and Rim Rock Road was closed on Colorado National Monument for a few hours last week, I smiled.
The road was plowed to the Visitor’s Center from the Fruita Entrance of the monument, but from the Visitor’s Center to the Glade Park turnoff, traffic was blocked and vehicles were non-existent.
Daughter Bridgette, wife Glenda and I planned to take buddy Nick Massaro, only two weeks from having had arthroscopic knee surgery, on a short cross-country ski down Liberty Cap Trail. Physical Therapist Britt Smith told Nick he was nuts, “but the doctor said it was OK, so let’s go,” Nick stubbornly insisted.
We chose Liberty Cap since it was close, offered a shorter drive, and thus would be easier on Nick’s knee. Also, Liberty Cap Trail is, for the most part, a gentle Nordic glide. Besides, Nick was going to ski somewhere, somehow. We figured if he cratered, we could call for help quicker, rather than just leaving his sorry carcass out in the snow.
Yet, when we couldn’t make it all the way to Liberty Cap, we were encouraged, rather than discouraged. We parked at the Visitor Center and skied Rim Rock Road – a new adventure.
We glided for a little more than a mile to Ottos Trail, then skied out and viewed the Pipe Organ and Independence Monument up close and personal. It was drop-dead gorgeous and we discovered we enjoyed this entire winter wonderland all by ourselves.
As Nick noted on the way out from the parking lot, “The pole plants are a little iffy.” The further we skied, however, the better the snow conditions got.
Good thing Nick didn’t fall, though. There was nothing but hard pavement under those 6 or 8 inches of freshly fallen snow.
At times, we skied in the road, at times we skied on the side. At about the one-mile mark, we heard the snowplow coming. It had been fixed, and the driver passed us going very slowly, smiling. We waved, yet were a little disappointed it was up and running so quickly.
A few hundred yards further, we came to Ottos Trail, and skied down that for another half-mile to the overlook that provided a fabulous view of the Pipe Organ, Independence Monument, Wedding Canyon and a beautiful view up Monument Canyon. The Pipe Organ and Independence Monument are two of the more spectacular giant rock forms that tower over the canyon floors “like sky-scrapers-in-stone,” as the monument’s own literature describes.
We enjoyed glorious views, spectacular snow and intense solitude, all mere minutes from downtown Grand Junction. The quickest way to reach the Visitor’s Center is to go west on Interstate 70 to Fruita Exit, No. 19. At the top of the ramp, circle the roundabouts and head southwest on Colorado Highway 340. Travel across the Colorado River and past the Kings View Estates for another six-tenths of a mile to the West Entrance of Colorado National Monument. It’s six miles from there to the Visitor’s Center along a twisting, winding road that offers breathtaking views as you climb above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River to the park’s high country. The Visitor’s Center is situated at 5,787 feet (1,764 meters) in elevation.
The drive is normally a favorite with bicyclists as well as motorists, but it was really special to ski since that opportunity doesn’t present itself very often. After all, the patron saints of our highways make sure that road is cleared so we can all motor along and gawk at the gorgeous scenery.
Those guys are heroes in every sense of the word. Without them, commerce would stop, the ski areas would go broke, and we’d all be in a major funk, stuck inside with nothing else to do except shovel our own walks and look out the window, pretending to enjoy the harsh, cold reality of winter in the high country.
Snowplow drivers are saviors of our sanity. They are saviors of lives. They keep our roads open so we can enjoy skiing, boarding, and visiting relatives.
They’re out there in the middle of the night when we’re snuggled up in our warm comforters.
They’re out there in the middle of the day, in the middle of the blizzard, clearing our path.
And, while we were somewhat disappointed that the snowplow on Rim Rock Drive got fixed so quickly, the patron saints of those snowplow drivers are their mechanics. I’d have to say good job to them, too, but I wish the road was closed more often during the winter!