We were scheduled for a 110 mile transit from Gunnison CO to Grand Junction CO on June 3…so that’s exactly what we did. Since it was a short day we didn’t start as early as we usually would…but ended up hitting the road about 1020 or so…heading west…again…on US-50.
There were a couple of grades on the way…we had to get up on top of Blue Mesa which is just past the reservoir I posted the shots of the other day, then through a skinny little canyon getting down off the mesa…then another two…well, the road signs called them summits but they were typical slightly curvy grades up and down through some decent sized hills…no worry for us, we just got in the right hand lane on the way up and let Big Red and the Cummins diesel do what they needed to do to get to the top…then just downshifted a couple gears and coasted down on the engine brake. Once we were past Montrose it was a pretty flat 4 land limited access road all the way to Grand Junction.
We pulled into the KoA there…and quickly got checked in and parked in site C8…a really nice pull through gravel site. The only out of the ordinary thing was when Neil put the rear jacks down there was a lot of clunking as the relatively large gravel pieces shifted when the weight went onto the jacks…we were momentarily concerned until we figured out where the noise was coming from. Once we were leveled we had lunch then finished setting up and Neil ran a regeneration cycle on our water softener. Essentially you put two pounds of salt in it, let it sit for 10 minutes, and then slow flush it for 30 minutes and fast flush it for 10 minutes to let the salt remove all the original minerals that it had taken out of our water and prepare it for another run. We normally do this every 6 weeks or so…the benefit is soft water no matter where we are. He has a little connector jig that lets him connect the discharge during the flush to our sewer hose connection so that the flush water runs down the sewer connection in the site rather than on the ground…that would (a) make a mess and (b) dump a bunch of salt out on the ground which would kill the grass between sites.
Meanwhile…Connie resolved the issue we were having with our DirecTV receiver from the other night…essentially she just let the dish lock onto the birds and then rebooted the receiver to make it happy…DTV has a lot of user unfriendly copy protection stuff built into their service and their system really doesn’t expect receivers to move like they do when in an RV.
Tuesday morning we were up early and out the door about 0830 for our Fun Stuff© for Grand Junction…a day trip to the Colorado National Monument. None of us had ever heard of it before we started doing our route 50 research…Connie noticed the green spot on Google Maps that means some sort of park, wondered what it was, found out what it was, and put it on the schedule.
I gotta tell ya…we’ve discovered another hidden gem in the National Park Service system…it was way cooler than any of us thought it would be…so lemme get right into it.
We had one intermediate drive-by stop before getting to the monument…and on the way there we spotted this road sign. I was going to leave it for the “interesting things found on the net” section…but then it wasn’t found on the net…so I debated starting a new section named ‘interesting things found on the road” but decided there wouldn’t be too many entries so I’ll just put it here.
What is it with these people coming up with these road names? It crossed the road we were on at this traffic light…and was named Unaweep Road on the other side…so why they didn’t they just use the same name…I dunno.
We continued on down the road to Fruita CO to see the memorial statue to Mike the Headless Chicken…yes, he was born and raised in Fruita CO. You can check out the full story here…but essentially Mike (April 20, 1945 – March 17, 1947) lived on a farm in Fruita. Owner Lloyd Olsen went out on September 10, 1945 to get a chicken to feed his mother in law. He selected Mike, chopped his head off with his ax…but unfortunately old Lloyd sorta missed…the ax removed most of his head but missed the jugular vein, leaving one ear and most of the brain stem attached. Mike jumped up from the stump…started running around…and didn’t die. The story on wikipedia doesn’t say what Lloyd did for dinner…but he decided to feed Mike and let him live. Lloyd took Mike to the University of Utah to establish that Mike (a) didn’t have a head and (b) was still alive. Mike lived another 18 months and made Lloyd quite a tidy little sum being photographed, appearing in slide shows, and the like. At the height of his career…Mike was bringing in $4,500 a month…or $50,500 in today’s dollars. Here’s an actual photo of Mike that I got from wikipedia.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, Mike…being the only thing ever to happen in Fruita…is now an institution and has such things as the annual Mike the Headless Chicken Day…which includes a festival with Pin the Head on the Chicken games, a 5K race, and Chicken Bingo…which involves putting a bingo board under some chickens in a cage and letting them choose the numbers with…well chickenshit is the appropriate term.
Turns out that Connie found a statue to Mike in downtown Fruita right off of US-50…and since the whole point of this journey is to “take the road less traveled by”…we were off to visit and document this truly Only-in-Small-Town-America event.
So…here he is…in all his glory…I especially like the touch of the Christmas lights wrapped around the sculpture.
After the photo…we were getting back into the car when Neil noticed we were right outside of Aspen Street Coffee and Pastries…score!!! We quickly popped in and 2 scones for tomorrow’s travel day breakfast and a slice of pumpkin bread which we determined would be most excellent warmed up for dessert and covered with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Then…off to the Colorado National Monument.
We headed off another 7 or 8 miles to the monument…flashed our senior pass at the entrance station…I gotta tell you we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of that pass…it cost us $10 each (we needed 2 since sometimes we are in 2 vehicles) back when we turned 62 and it gives us free admission to every site in the National Park Service system as well as half price discounts at any campgrounds we use in their system or that are run by the Corps of Engineers or any other site that reservation.gov provides reservations for. Anyway…after flashing our pass we headed up to the top of the monument to take in the rim drive.
The monument is located in the Colorado Plateau region…which amazingly enough is located mostly NOT in Colorado. It’s a roughly oval shaped area about 300 miles north to south and 200 east to west centered on the 4 Corners area…heck, instead of describing it lemme just show you a picture.
Here’s a slightly blown up version with NPS places marked on it.
The Colorado Plateau has the highest concentration of NPS units of any place in the country outside of the Washington DC area…located within it are 9 National Parks…we’ve been to 7 so far and will knock out Capital Reef, the last of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks later this week and Petrified Forest is too far south of Grand Canyon to get to this trip. It also contains 18 National Monuments…of which we have been to 8. There are several different regions that make up the plateau…but when you look at the topography from the 10,000 miles away level it’s pretty clearly a single high desert area.
Here’s an image from Google maps that you can see how the region became defined. The orangey section in the middle that’s sort of bounded by the four state names is pretty much the boundary.
The Colorado National Monument is located on a section named the Uncompahgre Uplift and it looks out onto Monument Canyon which is where the city of Grand Junction is located. I don’t know why they call it a canyon…it looks more like a 20 mile wide valley to me rather than a canyon…but what do I know. There are many other features that actually look like canyons in the monument…and one end of them does open out to Monument Canyon/valley…but to our eyes there’s a clear difference between the canyons in the monument and the flat grassy area further away from the mesa. I googled it and while both are formed by water…it appears that “most geologists” say that a canyon is deeper, narrower, and has steeper sides. I’ll point out in some of the photos later where the Monument Canyon is…see if you agree that it should really be a valley instead. Most geologists also believe that a canyon is a special subcategory of valley…the real trouble is that there is no official definition and somebody way back when called it the Monument Canyon…and the name stuck I guess.
OK…on to photos.
The first sight you get to is Balanced Rock. It was really early in the morning and we’re looking almost due east here…so it was extremely backlit and almost completely in silhouette. Here are two different HDR treatments of the images Neil shot…first one was done with Lightroom and the second with Aurora HDR 2018. Lightroom is a lot faster but you get zero ability to affect how the images are consolidated…Aurora is slower but you can adjust just about anything you want. Personally I think the Aurora one is far superior as you can adjust various parameters to bring out a lot more detail, color, and realistic rendering of the image.
Notice in a lot o the there are different layers in the rock very similar to what we saw at Black Canyon NP earlier…not surprising since it’s all part of the same Colorado Plateau…and all of it was underwater in the distant past. Some of the layers were laid down by sea, some by volcanic activity, and some by ash from distant volcanic eruptions.
Back in the day…before the road to the top was built by the CCC during the Great Depression…the only way to the top of the mesa was the ‘road’ on the ridge opposite. Imagine trying to drive cattle up and down that road…the ranchers brought the herd to the top of the mesa for the summer and back down to the valley for dinner. You can barely see the goat track…road is too kind of a word…in a few places in this shot.
Looking down on Fruita CO…which is located in Monument Canyon…the mountains in the rear are 20 miles away…so does this really look like a canyon to you…or is valley a better description as discussed above?
A Pińon Pine…or as we chefs would say…pine nuts on the hoof. This is the source of pine nuts used in cooking…which are almost worth their weight in gold. We no longer buy them because we’re too cheap…roasted sunflower seeds are a decent substitute…real pine nuts cost $15 to $20 for an ounce…which means a pound of them is between $240 and $320…and a pound would fit in a teacup. That’s why we don’t buy them any longer. The other common tree in the monument is the juniper.
One of the 3 tunnels we passed through on the drive…blasted by the CCC through solid rock. Literally the only option as the fins they blasted through were 70 or so feet here and the other two were hundreds of feet tall…and there was no way for the road to get around them.
Rock actively engaged in falling off the side of the mesa…as long as you consider actively engaged to mean sometime in the next millennia or three. The freeze/thaw cycle has produced the cracks seen here…they were about 20 feet deep. Once they get deep enough…along with the cracking of the rock under the base…they will either fall forward into the canyon or slide down as Fallen Rock did further down the photos.
Looking down the canyon we took to the top of the mesa. The road from Fruita starts back in the right rear, curls around the right side ridge, up through the canyon and then around the back of the ridge to the left. After a series of switchbacks on the back of that ridge it ends up coming into this overlook viewpoint from the left side.
Wide pano looking down on Fruita…again does this really look like a canyon in the medium distance?
Another view of Balanced Rock…this time from the mesa top. The previous photo was taken from the viewpoint just out of the frame to lower left.
Whip tailed lizard…this one was about a foot long and the ranger said they maxed out at about 15 inches or so.
Howard Payne Memorial Dead Tree photo.
Cool looking log…it’s a Pińon Pine
Looking down at the “Window”…near as we could tell it’s not a window as in a hold through a fin but the hold between the formation to the left known as the Island and the next one over. Both of them were originally connected to the mesa…there’s a better shot of this from the other side later.
This is the side of the fin that forms the free standing portion of the Window in the shot a few back…the fins are really thin compared to height and length.
The Window from the other side. The earlier shots were taken from a viewpoint at the top of the dark brown ridge just left of center. Way back in the day…like millions of years ago…the “Island” on the far right and the freestanding fin just right of center were connected to the mesa at the far left behind the tree.
The kissing couple…we’re looking here from behind over the left shoulder of one of the couple.
Another shot of the Window from this side.
Another pano shot from Grand View…we thought this was the second best shot we got today…the one way back with the road snaking up through the canyon we thought was the most impressive view. This shot is just about 180 degrees wide.
These formations are named the Coke Ovens based on their shape.
Although Neil thought the formation in the right rear behind the Coke Ovens was better looking…it’s got cracks forming in it both in the direction of view as well as perpendicular…at some time in the future it will just be a bunch of needles aligned in a grid pattern.
Artist’s Point is probably the most famous view here…I put this shot in just to show you the New Zealander on the lower left…he ran down there barefoot. Connie didn’t go down to the viewpoint as she was tired and it was about 100 feet down in elevation. When Neil passed this guy…he volunteered that his boots were hurting his toes so he went barefoot instead. Takes all kinds I reckon.
Neil had to take this flower shot since Connie wasn’t with him…this was about 2/3 of the way down to the overlook.
Another pano from Artist’s Point…we thought it was the 3rd best view of the day…about 150 degrees wide.
Coming back up from Artist’s Point overlook…he spotted this cave being eroded into the rocks…it is about 7 feet high under the ledge and 3 feet in the dark back center.
This is Fallen Rock. It was originally…a long time ago…little farther back and to the left and the top was even with the top of the formation behind it. The freeze/thaw cycle had two effects on this piece of rock…which is about 150 or so feet by 150 feet at the top and maybe 300 feet tall. First…a vertical crack gradually developed behind this piece of rock. Second…the base under it was gradually eroded until finally the remaining stone wasn’t strong enough to stay attached and it broke loose. Instead of falling face forward and turning into rubble at the base…that rubble forms the 45 degree pile of rock around the base of an eroding mesa or cliff. At that point…the rock slide feet first down the rubble pile to the current position.
Distant view of the Fallen rock…you can see the rubble pile around the base formed by previous small falls. Usually the rock erodes and cracks off in relatively small pieces rather than the huge chunk that formed Fallen Rock. This is likely because there was a seam of softer and more readily eroded rock behind Fallen Rock when it was in position at the top of the formation.
Ya know…I like a women in a dress and high heels as well as the next male…but look at this woman’s outfit and where she is walking to and see if you agree that it isn’t really the thing to wear on a drive along the rim of a canyon when you’re going to walk out on uneven rock and take photos.
With that…our day was done…and our work here at Grand Junction is finished. So we headed for the rig, caught up on some chores in the afternoon and then went out for dinner to the Goat and Clover Tavern…the local Irish and British pub…for dinner.
Neil really, really thought about ordering the soup.
Connie had a couple pints of Kilt Lifter…a Scottish ale made in Colorado. Neil had Guinness…naturally…it is the world’s finest beverage of course…and it was mighty tasty. Dinner was salmon glazed with apricots for Connie and a Steak and Ale pie for Neil…it also had mushrooms, onions, leeks, and carrots and was topped with puff pastry. Both dinners were excellent…afterwards we got back to the rig.
Tomorrow we’re off about 100 miles to Green River UT for 3 nights…Capital Reef National Park plus some other stuff is on the menu for Fun Stuff©.
Interesting things found on the net.
I too laughed at the first time I visited Grand Junction and found myself at the intersection of F 1/2 Rd and 27 1/2 Road 🤣
Ya gotta wonder sometimes about street names…Coral Gables FL has one named Ah-We-Wa Street.
Yup, it’s a valley. Geologists can be just SO indefinite.
I agree with you…but the darned map says canyon.