Coloraodo National Monument celebrates a century of majestic scenery
Colorado National Monument will soon undergo a noticeable change.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the monument’s establishment as part of the Antiquities Act, and officials plan to commemorate the occasion with improvements, updates and special activities.
“This is a showcase of the valley,” said Michelle Wheatley, the monument’s chief of interpretation and visitor services.
Easily visible from most places in the Grand Valley area, the monument is 20,500 acres of sandstone cliffs, unique monoliths, wildlife and recreational opportunities. It is the only national monument within a 90-minute drive in any direction and a popular place for locals and visitors, alike.
Although special events began months ago, the most dramatic improvements and updates to the monument will appear by July.
New visitor center exhibits will debut this summer, the result of three years of research, Wheatley said. The exhibits will focus on six themes: the Colorado Plateau, geology, monumental challenges within the monument, John Otto’s mission to protect the monument, the area’s indigenous people and the monument’s pinyon-juniper woodlands.
The new exhibits will be interactive for people of all ages with audio and video capabilities.
For example, visitors can listen to a canyon wren song, view a history of the Ute Bear Dance and see new artifacts.
The updated exhibits will replace the original displays from 1963, the year visitor center opened.
“It was something long overdue,” Wheatley said. “(It is important) to have exhibits to have people see things and learn things that they wouldn’t figure out themselves.”
The visitor center is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sept. 30, when hours shift to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The visitor center also has information, maps and gifts available for purchase.
In addition to updated visitor center displays, this summer visitors will notice some other improvement, many of which were paid for by user fees.
Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo eyed 2011 as the perfect time to make significant upgrades because of the anniversary.
Updates recently completed or near completion are:
Fourteen new trailhead signs to mark the most popular hiking trails. The signs will include Global Positioning System, or GPS, coordinates and more information about the trails.
The creation of the Ute Canyon Overlook Self-Guided Trail adjacent to Ute Canyon View to give visitors the chance to take a tour closer to the monument’s east entrance.
More directional signs along Rim Rock Drive, the 23-mile paved road that runs through the monument.
The summer installation of 36 new displays at the 19 scenic overlooks along Rim Rock Drive. Those signs will better translate to monument guests the geology, ecology and history they are looking at. Every overlook will have at least one new sign. Wheatley and a few other people worked on this project for two years.
A renovated restroom in Saddlehorn Campground.
The Fruita Canyon overlook was enlarged. It is one of the few overlooks close to the west entrance of the monument.
In 2010, more than 730,000 people visited the monument for a variety of reasons.
Whether a person drives along Rim Rock Drive, hikes Monument Canyon Trail, or signs up to become a Junior Ranger as a child, the monument is meant to be enjoyed and used, Anzelmo said.
“It’s an inspirational setting,” Anzelmo said.
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Colorado National Monument has 46 miles of hiking trails with 14 marked trailheads for hikers of all abilities.
From the relatively short Coke Ovens Trail, which is less than a mile, to the 8.5-mile trek through No Thoroughfare Canyon, visitors can hike as much, or as little, as they choose.
Most of the shorter trails stay on the canyon rims. Many of the longer trails drop into canyon bottoms.
Perhaps the most famous trail is Serpents Trail, a moderate-to-strenuous hike, best accessed from the monument’s east entrance. It is 1.75 miles long and was part of the original road built in the early 1900s to reach Glade Park.
The old road was closed to motorized traffic after Rim Rock Drive’s completion and converted to a hiking trail in 1960.
A comprehensive guide to the monument’s trails is available at the monument’s entrances or at nps.gov/colm/planyourvisit/hiking.htm. Also check the website for ranger guided walk and talks.
Don’t forget that pets and bicycles are prohibited on the trails.
RIM ROCK DRIVE
Perhaps the most popular way to see Colorado National Monument, Rim Rock Drive is 23 miles of paved road that climbs and descends from one end of the monument to the other.
Be prepared to share Rim Rock Drive with vehicles and bicycles.
The drive has three tunnels and 19 scenic pullouts for visitors interested in taking photographs or just stopping to look at the sights.
Admission to the monument is $10 and lasts for seven days.
Saddlehorn Campground is the primary campground inside Colorado National Monument and is conveniently located near the visitor center.
Saddlehorn has 80 sites and is a first-come, first-served campground with a nightly fee of $20.
Each site has a table, charcoal grill (wood fires are prohibited) and access to rest rooms and drinking water.
Each site has room for seven people, three tents and two vehicles.
Backcountry camping is free and is allowed anywhere more than 1/4 mile from roads and 150 feet from trails. A permit is required and can be obtained at the visitor center.
Check out or re-registration for a campsite is required by 11 a.m. daily. There is a stay limit of 14 nights per calendar year.
Although areas near Colorado National Monument are prime mountain biking turf, mountain biking is prohibited inside the monument.
Bicycles in the monument must be on Rim Rock Drive. Cyclists are required to ride single file at all times and must have a white light visible from the front of the bicycle that can be seen from at least 500 feet, as well as a red light that can be seen a least 200 feet from the rear.
Cyclists are expected to stop at the entrance stations when staffed. There is a $5 cycling entrance fee.
Rock climbing is not the most popular activity, but it can be one of the most fascinating to experience in Colorado National Monument as a climber or spectator.
The most popular climb happens on the July 4 when veteran members of the Mesa County Search and Rescue ropes team climb the 450-foot Independence Monument to erect an American flag at its summit.
The flag is flown at about 10:30 a.m., and spectators can watch the morning climb, which begins about 7 a.m., from scenic pullouts along Rim Rock Drive.
Those interested in actually rock climbing in the monument should know that climbers can’t install new permanent hardware in any fixed location. If something is unsafe, it may be replaced only after consultation with monument staff.
Essentially, climbers can’t disturb the monument’s natural state. If something is going to be altered or damaged in an effort to climb, it likely is forbidden, including the destruction of lichen or plants.
There are three picnic areas in Colorado National Monument: near the visitor center, near Saddlehorn Campground and the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area.
The Devils Kitchen and visitor center picnic areas have shaded shelters.
Have mosquito repellent handy, and don’t feed the wildlife, even the birds.
ODDS and ENDS
Here are some tips for a visit to Colorado National Monument:
• Check nps.gov/colm for the possible answers to any questions that arise.
• Always bring plenty of water, no matter the activity.
• Make sure sunscreen is handy. The sun’s rays are intense in Colorado, particularly at altitude.
• Be prepared for adverse weather, which happens at a moment’s notice pretty much anywhere in Colorado. Lightning, high winds and flash floods can accompany thunderstorms. Avoid exposed areas and canyon bottoms during storms.
• The best rest rooms in the monument are at the visitor center, which is about 4 miles from the west entrance.
• Don’t take rocks from the monument. Don’t drink water from springs, pools or streams. The water can look clean, but likely isn’t safe.
• Pets must be leashed at all times and are prohibited from buildings or trails.
• Fee free days for the remainder of 2011 are: June 21, Sept. 24, and Nov. 11–13.