Colorado National Monument is less visited than Arches National Park but no less stunning. Still classified as a Monument but seeking Park status, Colorado is a 23,000-acre escarpment high above the snaking Colorado River just west of Grand Junction and roughly 90 miles east of Arches.
Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2011, Colorado National Monument resulted from 2 million years of falling, flowing water on a plateau getting only 10 to 12 inches of rain each year. A 23-mile, high-altitude Rim Rock Drive is how most visitors experience it today, but those with more time hike its 14 short and backcountry trails. In summer, biting midges can be a problem, so take insect repellant containing Deet if you visit then.
When I asked Colorado ranger Bonnie Spehar the difference between a Park and a Monument, she said there really isn’t much difference but visitors often ask her where the monument is and she points out the window, sweeps her hand, and says, “There.” She thought over her answer about the differences and explained that Congress names Parks but that Monuments result from Presidential proclamation. “We’ve actually done the work and are petitioning Congress for park status,” she told me. This involves citizen groups, Senators, hearings, paper work—a process that takes time and resulted in Arches reclassification from Monument to National Park in 1971.
When I asked if there were any other classifications in the system, she mentioned conservation and wilderness areas like McInnis Canyons, a wild area adjacent to Colorado National Monument. Protected places like it are managed by the US Bureau of Land Management, not the Park Service.
“Will McInnis ever be added to Colorado National, uh, Park?” I asked.
“Not if locals have any say,” she frankly admitted since McInnis, similar to CNM but less restrictive, is like their own personal wilderness area to enjoy without the hassle of National Park rules and tourist traffic. Its visitors can hunt, horseback ride, camp, and cruise a 24-mile stretch of the Colorado River.
CNM’s foremost mentor was John Otto, first official custodian, whose efforts resulted in it becoming the National Park Service’s 25th unit in 1911. “Some folks thought John Otto was crazy,” notes CNM’s official handout, which explains that he lived alone in desolate canyon country and was said to be, well, abrasive. Beatrice Farnahm learned this the hard way. She married Otto, but the union lasted only a few weeks. “I tried hard to live his way, but I could not do it.” Beatrice explained.
Unlike Beatrice, Ruth and my experiences on our second trip to Colorado National Monument have inspired us to re-explore the vast desert and canyon Colorado Plateau.