Western Colorado: Explore the Region's Dramatic Natural Beauty
Wander among the rugged red-rock canyons and towering monoliths of Colorado National Monument.
Located near Grand Junction, Colorado, the monument is a must-see when exploring the state. Western Colorado native Zebulon Miracle, the “Curator of Curiosity” at Gateway Canyons Resort, explains the many reasons why.
Zebulon Miracle’s job is to take visitors out into the wilderness of western Colorado, including Colorado National Monument, and help them discover its natural beauty. “Even if you know nothing of the science behind it, you can’t help but be captivated,” he says. “These amazing geological features were formed over billions of years, and this massive time scale is laid out like chapters in a textbook.”
Zebulon Miracle, native of western Colorado and “Curator of Curiosity” at Gateway Canyons Resort
The history of Colorado National Monument as a park goes back more than 100 years. Zebulon enjoys telling the story of pioneer John Otto, who first explored this stunning region near Grand Junction in 1906. Otto fell in love with its craggy beauty and was determined to protect it by turning it into a national park. He toiled for years, carving trails and surveying its first road (Trail of the Serpent – 6.5 kilometers with 52 switchbacks). Finally, in 1911, he was successful. Modern-day visitors can see where Otto’s wife started carving the Declaration of Independence into the sandstone more than 100 years ago.
Rim Rock Drive
These days, visitors to the park are encouraged to get an overview of the park from the 38-kilometer-long Rim Rock Drive, a Civilian Conservation Corps project that took 20 years to complete. All of the overlooks are well worth stopping at, especially Independence Monument, Coke Ovens and Cold Shivers Point, where you can look straight down into the canyon.
“Monument Canyon Trail is my favorite because you start at the bottom and get to look up at Independence Monument from the canyon floor, giving a different perspective than you get from the Rim Rock Drive,” Zebulon says. “And I almost always see bighorn sheep from the trail.”
One of the park’s iconic features, Independence Monument rises up more than 180 meters from the canyon floor. “I had the opportunity to climb it using the footholds cut into the rock by John Otto nearly 100 years before,” Zebulon says. “It really makes you think about his life and how rugged the area was back then.”
“My favorite time of year to explore the park is in winter, after a rare snowfall. The dusting of snow on the pinyon pine and juniper trees makes the canyons extra special, revealing subtle contours in the land and making the park even quieter,” he says. "Colorado National Monument is one of the less-visited parks, which is a good thing. In winter, after a snowfall, you can feel like the only person in the park."
Long Human History
“In addition to learning about the park’s geological history, I think it’s also important to remember the area’s very rich human history,” Zebulon says. “People think of the West as newly populated, but humans have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. The Saddlehorn Visitors Center does a great job of describing the various cultures that have called this area home over time.”