Riggs Hill, Watson Island perfect places to remind us to be thankful in Colorado

There’s a massive backbone marking the discovery of where paleontologist Elmer Riggs found the first known Brachiosaurus in 1900. At the time, it was thought to be the largest dinosaur in existence.


Riggs Hill

Drive time and distance: 10 minutes, 5.1 miles

Length: .75 miles

Hiking Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy, with some climbing

Pets: OK on leash

Watson Island Section of Colorado River Trail

Drive time and distance: 3 minutes, 1.2 miles

Length: 1 mile (maybe)

Hiking Time: 20 minutes (maybe)

Difficulty: Easy, paved, handicap accessible

Pets: OK on leash

While waddling through the kitchen last Thanksgiving with a piece of pumpkin pie in one hand, in search of a turkey drumstick for the other, my sister related the story of her purchasing the main dish for the family dinner.

She was at King Soopers and a woman next to her was frantic, picking over the last few turkeys, looking for a larger one. Apparently, she was expecting a very large family for dinner. In desperation she hollered at someone behind the meat counter, “Excuse me. Do these turkeys get any bigger?”

“No, madam,” replied the clerk, “they’re all dead.”

“Really?” I laughed, nearly dropping the pie.

“No,” said sister Kate, “Cousin Brigid just told that one in the living room. You were asleep!”

I miss a lot on Thanksgiving. Mostly because I’m more stuffed than the turkey, and as in years past, I dutifully fell asleep to the Detroit Lions (early game), and Dallas Cowboys (late game) on TV.

Nonetheless, I apparently needed to sleep since I ate so much.

Thankfully, someone woke me up at the end of the first game, so I grazed with the rest of the family before falling back asleep on the floor in front of the TV for the second game.

This year, I was prepared — I got a couple of brisk hikes in last week. And, I didn’t have to travel far to enjoy the splendors of another beautiful, yet chilly day in the Grand Valley. I had only to step out my door.

I really like Riggs Hill for weeks like this past week. I don’t have to travel far (it’s only 5.1 miles from Fourth and Main in Grand Junction). I don’t have to hike far (the trail is only three-quarters of a mile long).

Yet, there’s a little climb and it’s strenuous enough to get the blood pumping. It also provides a very nice view of the Grand Valley, with the Bookcliffs and snow-covered Grand Mesa magnificently framing the valley on the north and east.

This site is the historic dinosaur quarry where paleontologist Elmer Riggs found the first known Brachiosaurus. There’s a marker dedicating the discovery in 1900, and a big honkin’ backbone of what at the time was thought to be the largest dinosaur in existence.

By hiking along the trail on South Broadway, you’ll discover this partially exposed dinosaur backbone embedded in greenish-gray bentonite. Bentonite is the clay-like substance that can easily swallow any motorized vehicle when it’s just a little wet. It was also apparently sloppy enough to trap big old dinosaurs 140 million years go.

To reach this short hiking trail, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River where it turns into Colorado Highway 340. Continue on this until you come to the Redlands Parkway. If you turn right, you’ll go back over the parkway and the river to the mall. Don’t turn right. Turn left, and take old South Broadway. The parking area for Riggs Hill will appear on your right, about .2 miles past the left turn for South Camp Road.

A Colorado Riverfront Trail sign for the Riggs Hill section is displayed at the parking area of this property, which is actually owned by the Museum of Western Colorado. There are also bulletin boards at the trail head.

Unfortunately, there’s no information on them right now.

You’ll also find, as you take the section of trail that actually parallels the road, a number of posts that mark a self-guided tour. Again, there are no brochures for the self-guided tour, but you can call the Museum of Western Colorado, that helped build this trail, or call Dinosaur Journey at 858-7282, if you’d like more information.

The other brisk hike (walk?) I enjoyed last week was along a section of the Colorado River Trail near the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens at the end of South Seventh Street and the Riverside Parkway, “Where Seventh Street Meets Nature.”

Now nearly complete from Riverbend Park in Palisade to 24 Road in Grand Junction, and soon to extend to Fruita, the Colorado River Trail began in 1987 with the Grand Junction/Mesa County Riverfront Project. And, it began right here, adjacent to The Gardens, at Watson Island.

This stretch of the Colorado River Trail was the first piece built by those dreamers who, back in 1987, began turning the largest junkyard in the valley into a riverfront trail system offering countless opportunities for people interested in the natural world.

One of the greatest things about this particular stretch of River Trail is that, on cold days, you can slip into the Botanical Gardens Rain Forest and Butterfly House and warm up.

It’s a wonderful place to contemplate the many reasons we all have to celebrate Thanksgiving.

After all, it’s not just about pumpkin pie, drumsticks, long naps and lame jokes.


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