A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. — Lao Tzu
Colorado NM/Fruita, Tuesday 23 May 2023
One more day for this trip, a little park, a lot of driving. Fruita lies just outside Colorado National Monument, so I scheduled a morning there, stretching my legs before tackling the five-hour drive to Denver.
Justin encouraged me to try the 'best hike in the park', to Independence Monument. Once I looked at a park map, though, I dropped that idea. From the rim, it was a 3.5-mile jaunt each way with a loss (and gain on the way back) of 840'; coming from below would take 2.5 miles and a gain of 500'. Have to save that for when I come back to hit the other Colorado parks!
I dawdled getting out the door, working on my blogs and prepping for the long day. A short drive to the park followed. Up, up, up the road wound, executing switchbacks with viewpoint pullouts as it climbed out of the valley.
Many of the viewpoint pullouts offered a short walk through the desert terrain to scenic vantage points.
The vistas spread across the Grand Valley to the Grand Mesa far to the east.
Atop Monument Mesa, I stopped at the Visitor Center to ask about short hikes. The ranger suggested the Rim Walk - less a trail than a wide promenade across slickrock and through the pinyons, junipers, and flowers
to overlooks into Wedding Canyon.
To the south, clouds built, threatening rain.
The promenade - choose your own path across it, since the slickrock doesn't easily show where other people have trod - ran about a half-mile from the Visitor Center. Another quarter-mile took me to a far point on this arm of the mesa. As I worked my way back to the car, I noticed my right ankle feeling a tad weak. Take it easy, no rush here.
Down the road, another pullout featured a short stroll to an excellent view of Independence Monument.
In the early 1900s, John Otto named many of the features in the park as he pushed tirelessly to have this land protected as a National Monument. When President Taft did so in early 1911 (and named Otto its first superintendent), Otto decided he needed to commemorate that action. On July 4, 1911, he became the first person to scale Independence Monument - and every Independence Day since, climbers have repeated his climb, unfurling a flag at the top.
The next few pullouts treated me to more views of the monument and beyond to Grand Junction and the distant Grand Mesa.
Still more scraggly arid vegetation dotted the mesa.
The more I took the short strolls, the more concerned I grew over my ankle. Good thing I didn't try the hike to Independence Monument!
With the time nearing noon, and given the sketchy ankle, I figured I needed to start heading east. I stopped at a couple of pullouts to admire the canyons on the south portion of the park,
seeing from the wet roads that it had rained here. The road then took me out the east entrance to Grand Junction for a quick lunch.
With the car and myself fueled up, I dove into the four-hour drive along I-70 to Denver. From living in Colorado for 30+ years, the road was familiar to me, but I had forgotten the beauty of the scenery in the 15 years since I'd left. Driving through Glenwood Canyon, I recalled the engineering challenges it took to build this stretch - one of the most difficult stretches of Interstate Highway ever built. Heaven forbid an accident or weather would close the canyon, because it takes a four-hour detour to drive around it!
On the cruise through the canyon, I watched the tumultuous waves racing down the Colorado River, mentally reading them for a viable rafting route through the whitewater, comparing it to Cataract Canyon. Would I ever look at a raging river with eyes of innocence again?
In Denver, I connected with my brother for dinner, then headed to the airport for my red-eye flight - and to consider my options. For the first time in well over a year, I didn't have a plan for what parks to hit next. The anticipation of rafting had crowded out other thoughts. Now I knew I'd have to turn my attention to an epic Alaskan trip, to find out what reservations I could still garner for this summer at this late stage. The task daunted me - but I had to tackle it before seeing how to fit in the other remaining parks...