Ute Canyon is one of the three longest canyons located in the Colorado National Monument and splits the monument in half. Once known as the Lime Kiln Canyon, Ute Canyon has changed its name at least once throughout history. There is a steep 1,000 foot loss, 950 foot gain ten mile loop starting at Liberty Cap that you can hike.
Colorado National Monument is a part of the National Park Service near the city of Grand Junction. Spectacular canyons cut deep into sandstone and even granite-gneiss-schist rock formations in some areas, this is an area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau, with pinion and juniper forests on the plateau.
The park hosts a wide range of wildlife, including red-tailed hawks and golden eagles, ravens, jays, desert bighorn sheep, and coyotes. Activities include hiking, horseback riding, road bicycling, and scenic drives; a visitor center on the west side contains a natural history museum and gift shop. There are magnificent views from trails and the Rim Rock Drive, which winds along the plateau. Nearby are the Book Cliffs, and the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa. Its feature attraction is Monument Canyon, which runs the width of the park, and includes rock formations such as Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, and Coke Ovens. The monument includes 20,500 acres, much of which has been recommended to Congress for designation as wilderness.
The area around the Coke Ovens, and Monument Canyon was first explored by John Otto, a free spirit who settled in Grand Junction in the early 20th century. Prior to Otto's arrival, many area residents believed the canyons to be inaccessible to humans. Otto began building trails on the plateau and into the canyons. As word spread about his work, the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Junction sent a delegation to investigate. The delegation returned praising both Otto's work and the scenic beauty of the wilderness area, and the local newspaper began lobbying to make it a National Park.
The area was established as Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911. Otto was hired as the first park ranger, drawing a salary of $1 per month. For the next 16 years, he continued building and maintaining trails while living in a tent in the park. In the 1930's, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps and other agencies chiseled Rim Rock Drive from cliff sides and dug three tunnels. Nine workers died in a rock slide just before Christmas 1933.
The park became better known in the 1980's partly due to its inclusion as a stage of the major international bicycle race, the Coors Classic. The race through the park became known as "The Tour of the Moon", due to the spectacular landscapes the race passed through on Rim Rock Drive.
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Image copyright 2023 Jon Burch Photography
December 16th, 2023
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