A dream ride
Cyclists from around the state aspire to pedal through Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is known for its majestic beauty, its spectacular views and its astounding rock formations.
For cyclists from around the state and beyond, Colorado National Monument remains one of the most coveted rides in the state.
A great climb, fast descent, splendid asphalt, and of course the views, are a few things that lure thousands of cyclists annually to the monument.
As George Daniels pulled over near the Glade Park spur, he gulped water straddling his sleek road bike.
“Man, that climb kicks my butt,” he said with a chuckle.
The 43-year-old Denver man was waiting for two friends that he “dropped” on the climb from the east entrance.
“I love this ride. It’s got the big climb, which is tough, but I love it, and then it’s a fun cruising ride now that I’m on top,” he said.
Daniels and his two buddies were making the loop ride, which goes up the east entrance across the monument and down the west side, then back on Colorado Highway 340 to Grand Junction. It’s a little more than 40 miles.
The climb to the top is close to 2,000 feet, topping out around 6,450 feet.
The Grand Junction area is known to many far and wide as a mountain biking destination, but road biking and the monument is a draw, too.
“Grand Junction is a big draw for both mountain biking and road biking,” said Mistalynn Lee Meyeraan of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau.
Colorado National Monument is a hugely popular cycling destination. According to the National Park Service, since 2009, more than 54,000 cyclists pedaled through the monument’s entrance stations.
The fee for cyclists without an annual pass is $5, and it lasts for seven days.
Janet Kelleher, supervisory visitor-use assistant at Colorado National Monument, said the numbers aren’t 100 percent accurate because they are taken only when the entrance stations are staffed.
The total number of cyclists counted were 13,347 in 2009, 14,137 in 2010, 9,830 in 2011 and 13,532 in 2012. A total of 3,767 cyclists have cruised through the entrances through May of this year.
Chris Brown, owner of Brown Cycles in downtown Grand Junction, said the monument ride is known to road cyclists around the state.
“A lot of people come over from the Front Range to ride the monument,” he said. “It’s got a huge climb, it’s so different, the roads are really good, and there’s solitude within the miles.”
Annual statistics from the National Park Service show some interesting trends.
In 2010, the number of cyclists saw a huge jump in June because of a Ride the Rockies route going over the monument that brought around 2,000 riders through the park. The June total of 3,904 was the largest one-month total since 2009.
In 2011, rider numbers dropped below 10,000. Kelleher said she doesn’t have a theory on the dramatic drop.
In an email, Kelleher said the spring of 2009 was the first time the National Park Service started enforcing the mandatory light and tail light requirement. She said enforcement data is not currently available, adding “the local cycling community has been very gracious in working with our regulations, and we have high compliance.”
She also said Brown Cycles has donated lights for cyclists to check out on a first-come-first-served basis at the entrance stations.
Other than June 2010, there were two instances when rider numbers topped 2,000 in a month — June 2009 (2,306) and in October 2012 (2,948).
The large number of riders in October 2012 was due mostly to the Tour of the Moon one-day ride, which had 1,866 registered riders come through the east entrance.
Scot Harris, co-event director for Tour of the Moon said last year was a tremendous success, and they expect another great turnout for 2013.
“We’re almost certain we’ll meet or exceed last year’s numbers,” he said.
The National Park Service evaluates the permit on a year-to-year basis, Harris said.
Two of the stipulations of the permit are the ride is capped at 2,000 riders, and the event can’t take place from April 1 to Oct. 1.
This year’s event will be Saturday, Oct. 5.
The immediate popularity of the ride was because of the appeal of riding the monument, he said.
“I think, No. 1 is the scenic part. It’s such an interesting place to ride a bike,” he said. “The twists and turns and the tunnels, it has everything that a cyclist wants.”
For events such as Ride the Rockies and Tour of the Moon, the $5 fee is worked into the registration fee and paid to the National Park Service by event organizers.
The big change for Tour of the Moon this year is the ride will begin at the west (Fruita) entrance.
According to National Park Service statistics, a much larger number of cyclists enters the monument from the east entrance.
The difference between entering the east side and west side was 1,365 in 2009, 3,069 in 2010 and 3,509 in 2012.
Again, 2011 was the anomaly with 5,447 cyclists entering on the Fruita side and 4,933 from the Grand Junction side.
Local cyclists tend to agree the climb from the west entrance is a little more difficult.
The Tour of the Moon is a 41-mile loop, and Harris said it provides a good economic boost for Grand Junction.
Using rider surveys from last year, Harris said most of the 1,866 participants were from out of town with 1,599 spending at least one night in Grand Junction and half of those spending at least two nights in town.