While many of the units of the US National Park system are frequently visited and very busy, there are also a few less crowded places. Colorado National Monument (known to locals as "The Monument") falls into the latter category. Situated just south of the city of Grand Junction in western Colorado, it's part of the high desert lands of the Colorado plateau. The Monument is know for its colorful sheer canyons and unusual rock formations, carved by wind and water from the red rock sandstone so characteristic of Utah and western Colorado. The Monument is not large by American Park standards, just 32 square miles (20,500 acre), but there's a lot of great scenery packed in. Besides the red rock, there are forests of pinion pine and juniper and a wide range of wildlife that inhabits the region, including coyotes, desert bighorn sheep and golden eagles (though much of the wildlife is inactive during the day, so best to be on the lookout around dawn and dusk).
The most popular activity for visitors is to drive through The Monument on Rim Rock Drive, stopping frequently to take in the great views. The drive winds through the monument, runs east to west, and can be accessed from either end. There's a visitor center along the western part of the drive, with a small natural history museum and gift shop. The visitor center provides great access to memorable views of Monument Canyon and is a source of good information about hikes and the like.
Activities, besides car or motorcycle driving, include hiking (ranging from short walks to 14 miles), horseback riding and road bicycling. Daytime temperatures can be very hot with temperatures reaching 100° F (38° C), so be prepared for heat in the summer. Winter days are cool to cold, with snow blanking the desert on a few days (and providing even more amazing scenery, but dangerous driving conditions).
If you're making the journey between Las Vegas or Salt Lake City and Denver, you'll likely be passing through Colorado Springs. (Note: we've previously discussed the beautiful scenery along the Grand Army of the Republic highway, making this drive worth going out of your way to see). It's very worth your time to exit the freeway and wind your way through The Monument.
More photos of The Monument follow. For the legend to any photo, scroll and hold your mouse over the image, or click on the thumbnails below: