On the Trail: Monumental seduction
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
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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