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Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado is a hidden gem. I had heard of it my first summer working in Bullfrog, but I knew literally nothing about it until maybe a week before I went. Turns out, I love it! I won’t lie, I don’t really like Grand Junction. I don’t hate it, but I certainly don’t love it, either. The food options aren’t great (Pablo’s Pizza is the best though). It doesn’t really have charm. There is a cute downtown area, but the rest of it is rather unimpressive. And whoever named its streets did a horrible job. Here are some examples: E Road. 24 3/8 Road. G.2 Road. and E 1/2 Road. Like, what is that? (Update 2020: I still can’t get over the road names.)
Now that we have my distaste for Grand Junction out of the way, I’ll tell you about how much I love Colorado National Monument and how surprised I was by it. Colorado National Monument is technically in Fruita, but the east entrance is in Junction so you can get there from either place. The visitor center is on the Fruita end.
We headed out from Fruita and, as always, made a stop at the visitor center for postcards. Just outside they had a little garden thing with all kinds of desert plants labeled so you can learn about what you’re seeing all over the park. Of course, I had to stop and look at all the cactus.
We made stops at all the scenic overlooks. Well, not all of them, but most of them. The first was Independence Monument. In the first picture, it’s the rock formation sticking up all by itself. This can be climbed, so if you like climbing, consider doing this on your visit. After a quick stop here, we headed to the Coke Ovens Overlook.
There is a trail that goes all the way down into the canyon and you can see that trail from this stop, but I think you have to go a little farther down the road. We didn’t do this hike, but it looks like a cool one. A set of switchbacks take you down from the canyon rim into the bottom of the canyon.
From here we made a few more stops at overlooks, but the main attraction of the day was the Devils Kitchen on the east end of the monument. This is the last hike before you leave the park. If you’re going from west to east, the trailhead will be on the right side of the road and the Devils Kitchen picnic area will be on the left.
This is a short, relatively easy hike. The beginning is pretty flat, with little elevation change, but eventually, you start to climb up a bit to get to the actual kitchen. All along the trail, I was taking pictures of cactus blooms of varying pinks and yellows. You would think one of each is enough, which is what I’m sharing here, I’ve spared you the rest, I just couldn’t help it. Some had all kinds of pollen, others were full of bugs. Turns out I love cactus blooms.
Not only did we see tons of cactus blooms, but we also saw bighorn sheep right when we got into the park and then we even saw an adorable, bright collared lizard! He’s the blue and yellow guy in the pictures. We saw him on the same rock on our way in and out of the Devils Kitchen. He was very patient letting me take his picture.
Once you get to the bottom of the kitchen, the trail is kind of hard to follow. I think there are just random cairns that may or may not form a trail. We went past it a bit, then up and back over to it, but you can climb up pretty much anywhere around it.
Once we got to the kitchen, we hung out inside of it for a bit. There were only two other people in it and they left after a few minutes. We saw four other people on our way in and out, so it’s not a super packed trail. This is just a cool hike near Grand Junction and a great place to spend an afternoon.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Colorado National Monument and would love to go back and do a lot more hiking in the park, maybe even camp there now that I’ve been enjoying that more and actually have good camping gear. It’s an awesome little park with plenty of cool things to do and if you’re ever in the area, make sure to stop in.
Tips for visiting Colorado National Monument:
- If you have a national park pass, which I would highly recommend, that will work here. If not, the entrance fee is $15.
- It can get really hot here, so be prepared. As always, wear sunscreen and drink lots of water.
- Keep an eye out for wildlife! We saw bighorn sheep, tons of lizards (as usual), a collared lizard, and we heard a few canyon wrens.
- If you can only do one hike, I would do the Devils Kitchen. It’s right after the west entrance.
- There are quite a few hiking trails in Colorado National Monument. They tend to be short (less than two miles) or long (more than four) though, there isn’t much in between. Serpent Trail is just under two miles one way and I think Devils Kitchen is around three round-trip.
- You can enter the park from Grand Junction or Fruita. The scenic road is around 23 miles.
Have you been to Colorado National Monument? What is your favorite hike there? Do you want to go?