Vacationland: National Parks

National parks and monuments are often the impetus for many summer vacations, especially to the beautiful state of Colorado.

The nationally designated areas in western Colorado and eastern Utah offer a variety of landscapes from sandy red deserts to coniferous forests.

One of the newest national parks is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which gained its status in 1999.

Located not far outside of Montrose, the Black Canyon is a 2,000 foot plummet from top to bottom. The canyon walls are steep and often encased in black shadows, giving the park its name.

It can easily be enjoyed via a car ride along the upper rim. Various day-use sites are available for picnic and photo opportunities.

The South Rim Visitor’s Center is open year round, providing maps and campground information. The North Rim entrance is closed in winter.

Find information about the park at profile-black-canyon-gunnisonnational- park.

The national park lands closest to the Grand Valley can be found in Colorado National Monument.

Not yet a national park, the monument has a long history of lobbying for parks status. Starting in 1907, trailbuilder John Otto became the leading voice in park advocacy. He helped obtain monument designation from President Taft.

A number of the monument’s formations still have the names Otto gave them — Independence Monument is one — and the red sandstone monoliths that reach up from the canyon floors still stand as a symbol of independence and freedom among locals.

During a visit to the monument, drive Rim Rock Drive up and over the monument, stop at the designated pull-offs to view Independence Monument, Coke Ovens Overlook and the Upper Ute Canyon Overlook.

The monument’s entrance fee is $10 per vehicle. For information, go to

After visits to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Colorado National Monument, continue exploring National Park lands at these locations in western Colorado and Utah.

. Arches National Park: Experience one of the most photographed desert landscapes in the nation at this park, about 115 miles west of Grand Junction and just outside of Moab, Utah.

The moderate hike to Delicate Arch is a must for visitors. During the hot summer months, plan to hike in the early morning or late evening. A sevenday vehicle pass cost $10. ( arch/index.htm)

. Canyonlands National Park: Just west of Moab, this park covers 337,598 acres overing one-of-a-kind views of monoliths, mesas and arches carved by the Colorado and Green rivers.

This park is popular among 4-wheel enthusiasts, mountain bikers and whitewater rafters. Jeep rentals and guides are available for those seeking a sandstone adventure.

The Island in the Sky Visitors Center is open daily. Consider purchasing a Local Passport entrance fee which enables vehicles to enter Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments. ( index.htm)

Hovenweep National Monument:

The stone masonry and cliff dwellings found at this mounument have stood since A.D. 1200. Reaching Hovenweep can be a tricky, but it’s well worth the drive time to see the ruins of the ancestral Puebloans. Rely on a map, not GPS as Hovenweep’s location is in a remote part of Utah. ( index.htm)

Dinosaur National Monument: This is the year to visit Dinosaur National Monument. The monument marks its 100th anniversary with events April through October. Visitors can view nearly 1,500 fossils along the rock cliff of the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, located inside the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall. (

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