Colorado National Monument, (Grand Junction, CO)

http://www.nps.gov/colm/index.htm

From Denver we headed west again along I70 to Grand Junction, CO.  It was rather a short drive at about 4 hours.  Shorter drives are nice because they allow us to find the camp site and get settled before it gets dark.

Most of our overnight stops are relatively far away from civilization so we are normally on our own for dinner (grandma refuses to come with us to be our camp cook).  Anytime, you plan to prepare food while camping, it seems to take longer than it does at home.  I will post a page that shows our tips and adventures in cooking while camping.

Getting There

At Grand Junction and Fruita, we drove south of town and up into the high cliffs of Colorado National Monument.  This was our first taste of high cliffs and unobstructed views.  We were absolutely amazed!  We took the shorter route through the West (Frutia)Entrance.  The tunnels along this route were a little exciting at about 11′ on the edges.    Needless to say we honked the horn and drove down the center of the road as the camper is 10’6″.  The road is also steep and has plenty of curves.  For a less exciting route, the East Entrance is less steep but longer.

We soon arrived at Saddlehorn Campground and were very surprised at it’s location and beauty of the views surrounding it.  The campground is located just off the cliffs that overlook both Grand Junction and the Colorado River.  During the day, we hiked down to the overlook and took in the view as we sat on the edge of the cliff.  At night we enjoyed the lights of the city below.

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Camping

Saddlehorn is a superb campground and is one of our favorites.  It is remote and getting there takes work so as a result, it’s not crowded.  It also doesn’t have electricity or showers so that keeps most people away.  Our site had great views but if you don’t feel comfortable about camping near the cliff’s edge, the campground does have sites further back although the views aren’t as good.  All the sites are spread out, this and with the lack of any large campers, makes this campground very relaxing.  Shade is not in abundance even though there is a great amount of vegetation.  Simply, the junipers do not offer much protection.  The kids’ though loved building forts and playing among them.  The weather was nice.  By then we were a little tired of the cold and rain so seeing the sun was a nice experience.

Setting up the camper was an adventure in itself.  The site, as are all of them, was small so we had to make sure we weren’t blocking the road.  It also was very slanted, which causes challenges in getting the camper level so that the propane is able to pass through the gas lines.  The other interesting part was just setting up camp on the edge of a cliff.  It is a little unnerving, (the kids didn’t cry out of fear but they were close).  We made it and boy was it worth it!

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The Park

The Colorado National Monument was championed by a man named John Otto.  He lived alone in the area and worked tirelessly to have it established as a national park.  Eventually in 1911, he succeeded along with the residents of Grand Junction.  Otto was named the park’s first caretaker and did his job for 16 years at $1 a month.  He was responsible for establishing most of the park’s trails.

The highcountry rises over 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River.  It is part of the Colorado Plateau that includes the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches national Parks.  The ecosystem is semi-desert and consists of pinyon pines, junipers, ravens, coyotes and bighorn sheep.  Storms came quickly and violently at times.  Winds at the top of the cliffs were significant and were something to be considered when camping.  After all, no one wants to lose an awning.

We stayed in the park for two nights.  We took in the visitor center and drove down to Grand Junction via the east route.

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Next up; Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

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