Ute Canyon from Rim Drive, Colorado National Monument
There are wonderful lesser-known natural wonders in Colorado, including the splendid Colorado National Monument, which lies west of Grand Junction. The monument just happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with a number of special events.
Amid 32 square miles of rugged terrain, you’ll find towering monoliths like the Independence Monument, balanced rocks and sheer red-walled canyons. Unlike the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the geology here is reminiscent of the great canyons found in Utah and Arizona, carved over millions of years by wind, water, and the processes of freezing and thawing.
The twisting Rim Rock Drive offers breathtaking views of this plateau-and-red-canyon marvel from 19 interpretive viewpoints along its entire 23-mile length. While in the Grand Junction area, your group will surely also want to tour the beautiful Colorado Wine Country. One of the most charming and picturesque places to stay is the Wine Country Inn, situated among the vineyards in nearby Palisade.
Finally, 325-square-mile Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Colorado/Utah line, can be reached by two fine scenic routes, either north from the Grand Junction area via CO 139, or west from Rocky Mountain National Park on U.S. 40 via Steamboat Springs and Craig. From the Colorado side, you’ll surely be thrilled (and I mean that literally) to see incredible views of the extensive Echo Park Canyons.
Planning a picnic lunch in the park at the end of the road will allow all but disabled travelers to take the easy, one-mile round-trip hike on the Harpers Corner Trail. This is one of the most spectacular short hikes in the American West, affording almost unbelievable views of the canyons surrounding the juncture of the Green and Yampa Rivers. In fact, Via Magazine, published by the California State AAA Club, recently included Harpers Corner among eight “Thrilling overlooks and vistas” singled out as being truly exceptional.
On the Utah side, you’ll find the brand new Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center, as well as the reconstructed Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall, site of the original visitor center, which are both scheduled to open to the public this coming October 4th. The original structures were closed for safety reasons in 2006 due to earthquake damage, so visitors for the past five years have been unable to view the protected canyon wall from which gigantic dinosaur bones continue to be excavated. Nearby also is the Fossil Discovery Trail, impressive Split Mountain Gorge on the Green River, and yet another great scenic drive to the historic Josie Morris Cabin at the end of the Utah park road. Visitor accommodations are readily available in nearby Vernal, Utah.
Independence Monument, Colorado National Park
View towards Echo Park from Harpers Corner Trail, Dinosaur National Monument
New Visitor Center under construction, Dinosaur National Monument