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Colorado National Monument (Grand Junction CO) and Arches National Park (Moab UT)

[I’m posting these next couple of entries at the time they would have been posted if we were online. For the last two days we’ve been visiting National Parks in Utah, well out of reach of the Internet, electrical power, and most cell phones.]

We left off coming from our evening campsite at Colorado River – Island Acres SP near Grand Junction, and I promised you some photos. Wow, did I get photos. Bright yellow aspens, variegated cliffs, the Colorado River running just a few feet from our door, and a beautiful park.

Co River SP.jpg

I would highly recommend Colorado River – Island Acres except for one thing: the park, a rail line, I-70, and the Colorado River are all squeezed into a small canyon in parallel. So freight trains run along the opposite side of the river at night (which doesn’t bother me, but some people can’t stand it), and the entire park is necessarily very close to I-70, which means a nearly constant rumble of highway traffic. With our windows closed against the 30-degree overnight temperatures, we didn’t notice the highway noise until the next morning.

Not far away, on the other side of Grand Junction, is the Colorado National Monument. This park is basically a “Rim Road” which runs up, through, over (and sometimes under) magnificent canyons and bluffs for 19 miles, from east to west. The drive takes about an hour in a car. We had no idea what we were getting into until we arrived at the East Entrance, and then one quick look at the numerous switchbacks on the park map told us that the Rim Road was not a place to be towing a 30-foot Airstream.

So we took SR 340 to Fruita, where we went in the West Entrance. From that point it is still a harrowing climb up the canyon, but only four miles to the Visitor Center. We stopped at scenic viewpoints along the way, and were well-rewarded with views to the valley below at every turn. Built in the 1930s ostensibly for ranchers to use twice a year (but really a typical 1930s make-work project), the road is so unbelievable as to be a fantasy. In most places there are no guardrails or walls to protect the careless driver against a 500-foot sheer drop.

Co Natl Mon view.jpg

We also encountered two tunnels carved out of the red sandstone. At this time of year, traffic was so light that we were able to stop for a few minutes in each one and take pictures.


At the top was a campground and a smallish Visitor Center. We were tempted to stay the night but Arches National Park was calling us, and so we stayed only long enough to browse for books for Emma and renew our annual National Parks pass ($50, well worth it if you visit more than 3-4 National Parks per year).

Arches is, of course, spectacular. As a travel-hardened five-year-old, Emma was casual about the Utah scenery off I-70, not even looking up from her crayons as she muttered, “I know, more rocks. That’s all we’ve seen, is rocks, rocks, rocks!” But as we twisted through the 17-mile road to the center of Arches and Devil’s Garden campground, passing impossible red formations, even she had to admit they were impressive.

We drove in the park road at 4:30 pm yesterday, advised by the rangers that there was no way to know if there were empty spaces in the tiny 24-site campground at the end of the twisty 17-mile road. If we got there and the campground was full, we’d have to turn back, and by then it would be dark.

Fortunately a kind ranger gave us a special dispensation to park in the Group Camping spot if all other spots were full. So here we are, high atop a mesa with a spectacular 360-degree view. Later this morning we will have to move to one of the unoccupied spaces, when someone leaves. In the meantime, I think we will have oatmeal for breakfast, since the dawn has broken gray and cool and it promises to be a bit of a chilly day in the desert.

The wind rose up in the middle of the night and rocked the Airstream, and battered the tents camped nearby. I have suffered too many times from the fierce high desert winds at night, unable to sleep from the unstoppable flapping of the tent, and chilled to the bone. So I was glad to wake in the night and feel the gentle rocking of the trailer and hear the wind howling outside and know I would get up in the dawn well-refreshed rather than feeling as if I’d just survived an ordeal.

I was also glad to see Emma sleeping soundly in her bed. She is still sleeping as I type this but I know we will soon enough be out to hike a few of the many trails, and look for rabbits and other creatures that live here. She’ll have a full day.

By the way, Arches NP offers no hookups. For $10 per night, you get a place to park (if your rig is not too large: our 30-footer will only fit in about 1/3 of the sites), and the opportunity to fill up with water at the campground entrance. No dump station, no electricity, no Host this time of year, likewise no Evening Programs, and the distinct possibility of snow. We have been lucky in the snow department and for the rest we are fine with our Airstream and some imagination. One doesn’t really need an Evening Program here – the stars at night are spectacular and by the time of the 5:30 sunset we expect to be exhausted from hiking.


Howdy Folks -

Another great desert stop (maybe on your route back west to east?) is Chaco Culture National Monument in Northwestern New Mexico. The Anasazi Indian ruins are fantastic (large, complex, and still somewhat of a mystery to archaelogists), and the star gazing is nearly unmatched. Chaco Culture NM is in the least light poluted spot in the Continental lower 48 and they hold many night-time astronomy programs. And there is very good evidence that the Anasazi were careful Astronomers as well.

Check it out ( if you get the chance!


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