Colorado National Monument And Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Images And Prints

Colorado National Monument sits just west of Grand Junction high atop the Colorado Plateau. West of this park is McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and Rattlesnake Arches and Canyon. First, in Colorado National Monument, the main feature of this desert landscape, locally referred to as The Monument, is Monument Canyon. As part of the National Park system, this diverse and arid land covers over 20,000 acres. Pinion and juniper pine trees are abundant, as are desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, jays, and even elusive and rarely seen mountain lions. The main attractions of the park include Independence Monument, Coke Ovens, Ute Canyon, the Kissing Couple, and Artist Point, just to name a few. 

Colorado National Monumen5 came into existence on May 24, 1911, thanks to the tireless offorts of John Otto. As one of the first to explore the area west of Grand Junction, Otto saw the beauty in this desert landscape. Early in the 20th century, he began building trails that led from the plateau down into the canyon. Previously thought of as inaccessible by the locals, the canyon slowly became available to adventurous tourists. The Ggrand Junction caught word of Otto’s work. The local newspaper lobbied the US government to make the canyons a national park. Finally, then president William Howard Taft used his power to protect the area by declaring it a national monument. John Otto became the first park manager and worked for the next 16 years for one dollar per day, building and maintains trails while living out of a tent.

In 1933, Rim Rock Road’s construction began with men from the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), and these workers were eventually replaced by Works Progress Andministration. Despite a work hiatus from 1942-49 because of WW2 and the draft, Rim Rock Road and it’s 22 miles of ups, Dow,s, and curves opened in 1950, replacing Otto’s Serpent’s Trail as the main road.

Prior to the white man’s arrival, the Ute Indians spent winters in the canyons of the Monument. The Ute people were nomadic, though, and did not leave behind many traces of their presence. Still, there are places within the canyons that display their rock art, but park rangers keep those locations highly secret for fear of vandalization.

The geologic history and rock formations of the Monument seem like a geologist’s dream. The oldest rocks are thought to be 1.7 billion years old, and the monolithic formations rising from the canyon floors are mainly comprised of schist and gneiss from the Precambrian Era. 

While Colorado National Monument sees relatively few visitors compared to other national parks, another beautiful area sits just west of these canyons and is almost unknown – Rattlesnake Canyon. The area is accessible mostly by 4WD, high clearance vehicles and leads to Rattlesnake Canyon, arches, and trails and is part of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, which in turn is part of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area in western Colorado. A hiking trail to the arches is an option, but the hike is over 15 miles round trip and 3,000 vertical feet in elevation gain. The 4WD drive road, alternatively, is brutal, requiring a sturdy, high clearance 4WD to withstand the beating given out by the rocks, boulders, and craters on this road. The last mile took nearly 30 minutes to traverse! But with arches such as Cedar Arch, the iconic Rattlesnake Arch (also known as Centennial or Akiti Arch), and Hole in the Bridge Arch, the effort to arrive at this unique Colorado location is worth the effort. (I should note here in researching arch names, it seems each arch as several names, so I don't claim to be an authority of the officialness of each named arch!) Rattlesnake Canyon contains 9 arches, the second highest concentration of natural arches in the United States – second only to Arches National Park in Utah.

From my perspective, I enjoy exploring and photographing the reds and oranges of the rocks in contrast with the greens of the Pinion and juniper pine along with morning and evening skies. The ever changing light makes every outing a bit different.

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If you have any questions about these photographs from Colorado National Monument and Rattlesnake Canyon, please do not hesitate to contact me.