Towering cliffs and scenic vistas fill my mind as I recollect a recent family trip to Colorado National Monument. I knew very little about the park before visiting and wished we had planned more time. A short drive outside of Fruita, in Southwest Colorado, looms a park unlike any other. 23-mile Rim Rock Drive traverses through the cliffs and rock outcroppings, climbing almost 2,000 ft. to the summit before descending the other side. Along this narrow, winding road are three tunnels carved right through the rock, eliciting my son’s excitement at each one we approached. “Another tunnel”, he would yell from the backseat as we would enter, knowing full well that I was about to beep the horn to let the echo reverberate in our heads. At the top of some of the mammoth cliffs lies the visitor center, where hands-on exhibits offer children a chance to learn about the history and wildlife of the area. Here is a great spot to stop and spend some time with the family. Allow your children to work on the junior ranger booklet, designed to reinforce the important lessons of the area. Take a short hike to view the canyon below and point out the wide array of various plants and birds. Have lunch at a nearby picnic bench and sit back to enjoy the breathtaking views.
As you leave the visitor center, you will pass many scenic overlooks. Two of the best, must-stop points are Independence Monument View and Upper Ute Canyon Overlook. At Independence Monument, you can hear the story of the original climbers of the famous rock and the many that have followed. If your timing is right, a park ranger will be there to explain the history and possibly have displays on hand as well. This is a great spot for that holiday card-worthy family photo to trigger your excuse-making friends’ jealousy. A short walk at Upper Ute Canyon, while tightly holding your child’s hand, leads to an overlook that exemplifies the grandeur of the area as you peer down into the canyon below. The sheer red cliffs dotted with tufts of green foliage are a sight to behold.
Colorado National Monument is a park that few outside of Southwestern Colorado know about, but one that is worth every minute spent in the awe-inspiring landscape. Your children will be able to better appreciate the grandeur of the world and realize in it just how small they really are. Just make sure to plan more time to spend in the park with your family then I did.
Next Stop – Southern Idaho