Highcountry - Western Colorado
Saturday June 26, 1999
We left Dinosaur National Monument traveling southeast on U.S. 40 to Dinosaur, CO. Outside of town, we made a brief stop at the Visitor Center (southeastern entry for Dinosaur National Monument). As soon as we committed to driving into their parking area, we found the driveway turn was a very tight squeeze. We scrubbed through -- adding our own black mark to a well-established collection, but did not have to unhook the toad. Our best advice in such situations is to stop and survey the location, if you decide to proceed take it slow and easy (Our choice this time!), and unhook the tow vehicle if needed. One other time at a Forest Service Visitor Center in the Medicine Bow Mountains (WY), we had unhooked the explorer and took the motorhome on through a circle turnaround drive. This is the first time that we had encountered the problem at a National Park Service facility.
From Dinosaur, CO we headed southeast on route 64 to Rangely, then turned south on highway 139. The arid valley landscape was mostly empty except for oil wells, pipelines, and equipment. We encountered very few other vehicles or people. Not until we reached the White River at Rangely and proceeded south along Douglas Creek did we see a few widely scattered ranches. Eventually we climbed out of the river bottoms and ascended the Roan Plateau, finally crossing the mountains through Douglas Pass, elevation 8,240'. The road was narrow, sometimes in rather poor repair, and under construction in some slide areas. This was not quite as high an elevation as we had encountered at Summit Pass in Uintas (8,428'), but here the grade was sometimes 7.5 to 8%. This was steep. We would not attempt it without the assist of the diesel exhaust brake. We took it slow, enjoyed the fantastic views, and had no problem venturing on to Fruita, CO, where we camped for the night.
June 27th

Immediately south of Fruita, CO across Interstate 70 is the Colorado National Monument. The thirty-two square mile park sits on the edge of the Umcompahgre Uplift, a part of the larger Colorado Plateau that extends on westward to Arches, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. We entered the national park through its west entrance and began climbing up over 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. This was the start of a spectacular 23 mile highcountry rimrock drive. Even though we knew the tunnels here exceeded our 1l.5' vehicle height, it was still hard not to duck as we proceeded on through.


On our way up, we caught glimpses of the old 'dugway trail' up the cliff sides. It was built before the turn of the century, that's the nineteenth century, to run a pipeline for bringing fresh springwater from the Pinon Mesa down to Fruita. It was also used by cattleman to move their herds up to high grazing for the summer. In places it is about a cow's width wide, barely allowing a wagon to pass. The old trail is now a hiking route, as is the first road into the park that was built by John Otto, the Serpent's Trail (On the east end of the Monument). On top, the drive winds along the plateau rim. It should be taken leisurely with several stopping points, constant scenic views, and numerous hiking trails.


You have to take it easy, because this CCC constructed roadway has a 35 mph (56 km) speed limit. Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps workman built the road up and around these shear limestone cliffs with sledgehammers, drill, pick and shovel plus dynamite and dumptrucks for thirty-five to forty dollars a month, most of which went home to their families. Blasting was the first step in this solid rock landscape, then the men would finish up with hand tools. The CCCers were housed and fed on the Monument. In December1933, nine road workers were killed in a tunnel blasting accident just before Christmas. In the winter of 1936, water lines to the camps froze and it took all winter for the line to be thawed.


This area was declared a national monument by President William Howard Taft, May 24, 1911. John Otto was the early proponent for making the area a national park and became its first caretaker, holding the job until 1927 for the wage of one dollar a month. Otto live alone in the then wild and desolate canyon country southwest of Grand Junction. This is high desert country, winters bring freezing weather and summers are hot and dry. Some thought he was crazy. His main companions were burros. A brief few-month marriage to a New England artist ended on her abrupt departure from their tent-home. As caretaker he built miles of tortuous trails so that others could enjoy the park.

We left the park by its eastern entrance (near Grand Junction, CO). This was a great place, deserved more time than we gave it. This was a good time of the year to visit; it was not too crowded nor extremely hot -- probably even better in May-June. There's lots more hiking and biking trails. But then it was time for us to drive south on U.S. 50 through Montrose and past Cimarron, CO. East of town, we found and camped at what came to be our favorite campsite of the summer.
Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 1/99.
Updated, 2/00
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