See Colorado National Monument via the professionals

Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument.


Independence Monument in Colorado National Monument.

Devils Kitchen in Colorado National Monument.


Devils Kitchen in Colorado National Monument.



As Colorado National Monument Chief of Visitor Services, Michelle Wheatley works full time at the Western Colorado landmark. However, given the chance to spend a morning anywhere in the area with an out-of-town guest, she would head back to the “office.”

Wheatley said her favorite thing to do with a guest is hike to the base of Independent Monument early in the morning as the sun rises over the monument, but before the heat of the day sets in.

Her suggestion? Hike the 2.2-mile Lower Monument Canyon trail off Colorado Highway 340 toward the Independence Monument base.

The hike “helps you appreciate the power of erosion,” Wheatley said.

Colorado National Monument is among the most popular destinations in western Colorado for its ample recreational opportunities, but there is more to this attraction than meets the untrained eye.

Those wanting to learn about the people, places and things that make the monument unique should take several hours and hop off their bikes or get out of their vehicles to join an interpretive park ranger in any of this summer’s Walks and Talks programs.

The free programs — park entrance fees still apply — are for all ages, and they’re just the tip of the monument’s guided or interpretive offerings.

“Ranger-led programs are an optimal way for visitors to better connect with the cultural and natural resources of the area, and with the National Park Service personnel who are providing these opportunities,” said Michelle Wheatley, chief of visitor services for the monument.

Ranger programs range in duration and activity level from a short, sit-down program on the Visitor Center’s back porch to a 90-minute hike along the Canyon Rim or Alcove Nature trails.

Either way, visitors are welcome to ask questions and learn more about the monument through the eyes, ears and mouths of professionals devoted to the research of the landmark.

An informative ranger hike intrigued a young Nick Myers so much that when he turned 23, Myers became an interpretive park ranger with the monument. That was 12 years ago.

Myers educates visitors about the wonders within the monument and particularly enjoys the Saturday Nights with a Ranger program at 7 p.m. every Saturday at the Book Cliffs View Point near Saddlehorn Campground.

The monument is a great spot for stargazing, Myers said. “This is a chance to answer questions or introduce new things.”

Those looking for daytime activities could join rangers on the Rock and Stroll guided hikes at various times Thursdays through Sundays leaving from the Visitor Center. The hikes are nearly a mile long and last more than an hour.

“It’s such a pleasure to lead people who have never been to the monument before and also rewarding to be out with people who have hiked the monument a lot” but never been on a guided hike, said Briana Board, one of the seven interpretive park rangers the monument employs to help inform summer visitors of the geological, natural, cultural and historical value of the monument to western Colorado.

“It’s a service we provide to the public,” Wheatley said.

To learn about the monument’s summer educational programs, go to

Although all programs are free, monument entrance fees may apply, and some programs require advanced reservations. Call 858-3617, ext. 300, for information.

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