On the Trail: Monumental seduction | AspenTimes.com

On the Trail: Monumental seduction

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Fallen Rock, a section that has dropped away from the walls of Ute Canyon (note the vegetation and rocks on top matches the top of the mesa) as viewed from the south end of the canyon, at an overlook on Rim Rock Drive. One can drive to the overlook, or hike up to it from the canyon bottom. (Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times)

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. ” It’s easy to think of the Colorado National Monument as one of those drive-by, stop-and-gawk experiences.

It’s canyon country on the edge of Grand Junction in far western Colorado, delivering a taste of Utah without crossing the border, and with a paved road winding up and over the mesa that’s been carved into high-walled canyons replete with massive rock buttresses and impossible columns of stone, there are plenty of opportunities to see it from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. Just pull over at one of the many pull-offs, snap a few photos and amble along a well-marked trail in flip-flops. It has those qualities.

But, there’s more to be experienced than what can be seen from the admittedly scenic, 23-mile Rim Rock Drive.

There’s room for what I like to call a death march in the 32-square-mile national park. These desert excursions usually involve an Aspen Times colleague who will remain unnamed, since Saturday’s outing was my own doing.

Ute Canyon, a trail that can be accessed from outside the Monument (i.e. no park fee), offers a long canyon hike with plenty of solitude and the sorts of desert wildlife that a small, intermittent stream ensures. Lots of towering, sculpted walls, sparkling rocks, cacti, blue skies and pleasant temperatures made for a seducing hike that drew us onward. A friend and I finished the seven miles, including the steep, final climb to Rim Rock Drive inside the park without batting an eye.

After a snack and a brief respite to admire the view, it was time to retrace our steps back to the car.

It was a whole different seven miles. The day grew hot and windy, which was better than hot and stifling, I guess. Unaccustomed to 14-mile days, our feet screamed inside our hiking boots and I drained the water bladder in my pack. I tried to imagine the hike in July, in 100-plus-degree heat. I tried to imagine a cold beer waiting at the rippling mirage of the trailhead parking lot, though I knew there were none in the truck. I tried to imagine how much easier the hike would be with trekking poles for that last, steep descent on loose dirt and rock.

Finally, I tried to imagine rising early on Sunday for another of my favorite hikes in the Monument. I couldn’t imagine that. I couldn’t do it, either.

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