Date hiked: 06/22/16
Mileage: 4.5 miles; 1hr 45min
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups
Whenever a nasty storm system settles in over Colorado, it’s hard to come by a good hike that doesn’t bring with it the threat of thunderstorms. With Grand Junction looking to have missed the brunt of it this time, I thought I’d give Colorado National Monument a try, but the clouds giving me a farewell sendoff from the trailhead indicate I may not be completely out of the woods even here. But with an hour’s drive, I’m not going home empty-handed.
Leaving the trailhead, the intersection between Monument Canyon and Wedding Canyon comes fast. These two trails form a nice the loop around a mesa known as The Island. Taking a right, I begin my loop on the unimproved Wedding Canyon trail. This trail is unmapped on the Colorado National Monument page of the National Park Service website, but it is drawn in on the trailhead map.
Starting out, the trail winds through open fields of sagebrush, dropping into the canyons before wrapping around to the backside of The Island. At this point, the last turnoff towards Lizard Canyon meets the trail. Stay left here.
The elevation climbs a slow ascent towards the amorous Independence Rock. A wall once used to separate Monument Canyon from Wedding Canyon, but today, all that remains is the red sandstone pillar which stands as the park’s signature formation. Following John Otto’s – a major push behind the creation of the park – lead, every Fourth of July, climbers and hikers alike converge onto this monument to hoist the American flag from its flat rocky head. John Otto also carved some of the words of the Declaration of Independence into a boulder which sits close to the base. The tradition keeps the name of the monument going, but the true source of the name is still a topic of debate.
Independence Rock marks the true half point of the trail. Return to the trailhead either by doubling back on Wedding Canyon to views of Fruita and the Book Cliff Mountains, or by turning left and following Monument Canyon Trail on its circuit around The Island.
With a deep rumbling gaining steam overhead, and a few wet sprinkles pelting my shoulders, the storm finally stared to settle in on my return trip along Monument Canyon. As Independence Rock drops out of view behind the sandstone cliffs, the trail hugs the last gentle curve of The Island, and Mount Garfield and the Book Cliffs now make up your vantage.
The trail rides a gradual slope back to Grand Junction, where it skirts a neighborhood of beautiful Southwest inspired homes, finally ending up back at the trailhead.
(From Grand Junction): From I-70/Highway 6/Highway 50, take the Redlands Parkway South exit. Follow Redlands Parkway for about 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Highway 340/Broadway. After 4.4 miles, turn left onto Fawn Lane. If you look carefully, a small wooden post drilled into the gravel on the side of the road says Monument Canyon Trail. The trailhead is .1 mile beyond this point.
6.2 miles; 10 min