I’d attempted a visit to Colorado National Monument in early September 2017 (link), but it was too smoky and too hot for hiking. I was excited to give this place a second chance.
Almost immediately upon entering the park I saw this sign.
Lucky me, a couple of turns later and I had my first and only sighting over the week I spent visiting the park.
I entered the monument from the Fruita entrance (west) and after stopping at the visitor center and most of the wayside displays to reorient myself, I started hiking near the east entrance.
Hike #1 – Devils Kitchen Trail
There are a lot of unmaintained, well-used and defined trails in the area so it’s pretty easy to find yourself heading up the canyon rather than exiting at this monolithic formation (yes that’s what I did).
Looking down on Devils Kitchen, due to my navigation error.
Hike #2 – No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail
A view of the first pool. Midday light is not the best for capturing this pool and cascading waterfall, nor the next waterfall. This is a seasonal pool and stream. It was such a delight to hike along a stream after recent hiking in more arid environments and suffering from the heat.
You can see here the size of the stream in places.
Kudos to the trail builders. It looks like the tread could use a little maintenance.
I met a couple groups who said the first waterfall was not flowing but after finding it myself, it seems they didn’t hike far enough. The location matched my Gaia map. Tip: if you don’t see this sign, keep hiking.
It was challenging to capture the waterfall with the sun shining at a less than optimal angle.
Bonus: First collared lizard sighting. He ran to the shade and said this is the best you’re getting.
Hike #3 – Upper Monument Canyon to Independence Monument
The trail descended but thankfully not all the way to the canyon bottom. There are a few named formations along the way including this one called Kissing Couple. I guess a lot of imagination is required.
Independence Monument is probably the most famous in the park.
From each angle it looks a bit different.
I’d stopped at some of the viewpoints along Rim Drive to view Independence Monument from different angles.
There was a tiny bit of water in a few places but as per LNT expectations it’s to be left for the critters.
On my return hike, I was a little frustrated waiting for a group of about 60 kids, on a field trip, plus another group of about 10 adults to pass going in the opposite direction. It probably only took 10 minutes but I could hear them for a long ways. It was near noon and the kids were expressing their feelings of being hungry, tired and hot. But my reward was finding my second collared lizard, this time it was resting in the sun making for a much better photo. I can now check this experience off my bucket list!
A good view of the some of the switchbacks to help with the transition between the canyon rim and bottom.
Hike #4 – Coke Ovens Trail
As I climbed back toward the trailhead and canyon edge, it was tempting to skip the short hike to view the coke oven formations, but I knew I’d regret it so onward I went.
An interesting perspective of the coke oven formations.
Hike #5 – Upper Liberty Cap Trail to Otto’s Bathtub
There were several of these bench-like structures along the trail. They were all quite tall but this one was the tallest nearly reaching my chest. I forgot to ask about them at the visitors center.
The “route” to Otto’s Bathtub is not a maintained trail nor marked on maps. This junction was evidence it’s a very well used path.
Otto must have been a big guy! I’d call this a bathtub suitable for sasquatch.
There was even a little water in the bathtub’s drain.
The views were WOW WOW WOW! I enjoyed looking back into Upper Monument Canyon were I’d begun my hike to Independence Monument.
There had been a little rain the previous night which nicely filled the pot holes, much appreciated by the wildlife I’m sure. I loved walking this slickrock ramp. This view looks toward Black Ridge which I’d hike the next day.
The ridge below the snow-covered mountain is the one that houses Otto’s Bathtub and the slickrock I so enjoyed traversing.
This little guy said don’t forget about me. You like those colorful collared lizards but hey I’m the much more common variety.
Hike #6 – Otto’s Trail
It only made sense to hike Otto’s Trail after hiking to his bathtub. Who is Otto?
He pioneered many routes in the canyon including a climber’s route to the top of Independence Monument.
I was fortunate to see climbers on top one day.
Hike #7 – Black Ridge Trail
This trail provided more distant views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.
I found one of the original signs from this historic trail. I enjoyed walking along thinking about how this was a cattle drive route, something still done in my home town.
For those with ambition and interested in both a good workout and some technical hiking, you can start in the valley and hike up the old route which runs along the second level in this photo. I plan to explore on a subsequent visit.
This is a fertile valley with the Colorado River running through it. I was impressed with the miles and miles of agriculture country.
I really liked the variety of this park. The landscape was beautiful offering so much more than a canyon. I liked the options of hiking along a creek, past waterfalls, scrambling on rocks, walking ridges, etc. I left many hikes for future visits. I’ll return for certain. I’m always happy when expectations are exceeded!
Yes there were blooms!
- First warning about Tularemia I’ve ever seen.
- The 19-mile road is a slow drive as it has speed limits from 15-35 mph.
- LNT is a problem with this being in the middle of two urban areas. Bring along a trash bag and help clean up the park. The biggest offenses I saw though was graffiti on the sandstone, plus bikes and dogs in areas prohibited.
- There always has to be one that say’s “rules don’t apply to me!”
- Beware of the biological soil. It takes a long time to form and easily crushes. It’s the foundation for plants and restoring desert health. DON’T BUST THE CRUST! It makes finding a backcountry campsite a bit challenging.
- The port-a-potty requirement is becoming a bit of a standard for dispersed camping in popular desert areas.
- Love’s and Pilot Travel Centers are good options for showers while in the area.