Haggerty Hikes: November 22, 2009
Alcove Trail a good place to impress your guests
How many of your out-of-town Thanksgiving guests know more about the Colorado National Monument than you?
It’s amazing how much people from around the world know about this national treasure in our backyard, but we never bother visiting unless or until someone comes to visit us and we’re obliged to show them around.
Well, you’ve only got a couple of days to cram before everyone arrives for Thanksgiving. Here’s your chance to appear knowledgeable about the history, geology, flora and fauna of this magnificent area.
You’ll need less than two hours of time and two brochures… one is free and produced by the National Park Service, the other costs a whopping 50 cents and is produced by the Colorado National Monument Association in conjunction with the national monument.
You get the first one when you enter the monument and pay the nominal fee of $7 per vehicle ($20 for a yearly pass — that’ll make you look especially knowledgeable!) This brochure thoroughly discusses the geology and history of the area. It talks about the wildlife found here, outlines the trails throughout the monument and includes a map.
The second brochure is found at the trail head for the Alcove Trail, a self-guided nature trail directly across the road from the Colorado National Monument Visitor Center on Rim Rock Drive.
This quick, easy little hike (one mile round-trip) with 31 marked spots along the trail provides an excellent opportunity to bone up on information about the monument.
To reach the Alcove Nature Trail, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River to Monument Road. Turn left and go through the east entrance of the Colorado National Monument. You’ll need to pay, of course. That will take you along Rim Rock Drive to the Visitor Center, a drive with breathtaking views all along the way. Take your time because there are still a few icy spots along the road from last week’s snow.
You can also find this area from the west entrance of the monument two miles south of Fruita on Colorado Highway 340.
The Colorado National Monument Association (CNMA) runs the bookstore at the Visitor Center. The main building is under repair right now, but there’s a trailer in the parking lot so you can still find all the neat stuff tourists need to find in such a store.
CNMA is a non-profit organization with a mission to assist the National Park Service (NPS) in scientific, educational, historical and interpretive activities at Colorado National Monument. Through operation of the bookstore, membership dues and other fundraising activities, the association raises money to publish interpretive materials and to help fund NPS activities and projects in the monument, as well as outreach activities here in the valley.
CNMA donates proceeds to a variety of projects in the monument, including publication of a teachers’ guide to the monument and its “Walks and Talks” programs, a series of lectures and hikes aimed at the general public. This series has proven to be very popular.
CNMA also produces the nifty Alcove Nature Trail Guided Tour brochure. (If you don’t have the 50 cents, you can borrow a copy as long as you put it back at the end of your hike!)
With one of those brochures, you’ll discover that red color of the Entrada sandstone comes from iron oxide, just like rust on a piece of metal. According to the handy self-guided tour brochure, “Iron oxide has saturated the cement between the sand grains to create varied hues of reds, oranges, and browns in the Entrada sandstone.”
You’ll also learn about the single-leaf ash, Kayenta sandstone, rabbit brush, sagebrush and dark, lumpy microbiotic soils on your walk along this “enchanting avenue through a pygmy forest of pinon pine and Utah Juniper trees, leading to a delightful box canyon.”
You’ll see a plant called Mormon tea, named that because Mormons who settled the area learned from Native Americans how to boil the stems to make tea. You’ll find out what skunkbrush is and why it’s called skunkbrush. You’ll also discover that a “midden” is the name for a bushy-tailed woodrat’s nest. It’s made of twigs, leaves, seeds, bark and anything else they can find. “Such woodrat ‘middens’ accumulate, layer upon layer, for centuries,” according to the brochure.
This week, when you have out-of-town visitors, you’ll sound like an expert when you take them on the scenic 23-mile tour along Rim Rock Drive over the Colorado National Monument and the short self-guided tour along Alcove Trail. It’s quick, it’s easy, and you’ll certainly impress all the relatives with your extensive knowledge of this treasure in our backyard.
If they read the same brochures as you, however, the jig is up!