Since our return to Grand Junction, Colorado a week ago, we’ve been getting in plenty of hiking in and around the Colorado National Monument. Our time here in the area is soon coming to an end. Fall is in the air.
While sitting at the picnic table at James Robb State Park, we observe a flock of Canadian geese flying overhead. The cool nights and honking geese are a reminder that it’s about time for our migration south. But…..there’s one more hike I must do before moving on.
In the past I’ve attempted this hike twice, but never went far enough, never rounded that last corner to have the iconic Independence Monument come into view. Mind you, in both cases I was eager to continue the hike, but hiking partners were not. I understand, especially since hiking in the Colorado National Monument is rather rugged and remote. It’s best to be safe and also acknowledge one’s limitations.
Ah, that illusive monolith keeps calling to me. Oh, how I long to stand at its base taking in all of its 450 foot height. Independence Monument is probably Colorado National Monument’s most well-known rock formations. Every Fourth of July, rock climbers scale this unique monolith and erect an American flag on top. However, that’s not the only time climbers are seen scaling this rock. On any given day one might see climbers.
I read about the Word Press 5K. A 5K challenge and my innate desire to hike to Independence Monument….count me in. So for the Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5K 2013, I enlist my sister-in-law (sil) as my hiking partner and Tuesday, September 24, 2013 she and I set off on the Lower Monument Canyon Trail in the Colorado National Monument.
We park at the Monument Canyon trailhead off Broadway/Hwy 340 just 2 miles west of the Fruita entrance to the Colorado National Monument. It’s a sunny, beautiful day in western Colorado. The heavy drenching of rain we received on Sunday has the trail nicely packed keeping dust at a minimum.
Its 2.5 miles to the base of Independence Monument from the trailhead with a 500 foot elevation gain. The trail starts out gentle and wide enough for sil and I to walk next to each other while chit chatting. After about ten minutes the trail narrows and I take the lead. It’s a moderate, steady uphill climb with some technical hiking in spots. Sil brought her walking stick to steady herself in some of the tricky spots.
We are walking in silence, taking in the surrounding beauty. We admire the vibrant red rocks and their various shapes and sizes. We breathe in the scent of pine from the pinyon trees and listen to the birds overhead.
We’re about thirty minutes into our hike when I hear a rustling in the brush and quickly come to a stop. I glance around. Finding the source of movement, I point to the valley below alerting sister-in-law of the group of bighorn sheep. It was all I could do to keep sil from screeching in delight. She and my brother have lived in Grand Junction almost nine years and every year they set off on hikes in search of bighorn sheep. This was her first sighting and she was excited beyond all. We stood there watching these magnificent animals before reluctantly pulling ourselves away. We have a 5K to complete after all.
We continue on our hike with a new-found spring in our step and smiles from ear to ear. It wasn’t long before we rounded a corner and there it was in all its glory….Independence Monument. Our pace quickens and soon we’re standing at the base of this monolith looking up.
This sandstone rock sculpture looks different from each angle. When we approach the rock from the east, we see the narrow side giving the impression it is tall and slender. As we walk around to the other side, it widens and we see the path and wall rock climbers use to climb.
I made it to the base of Independence Monument…..finely 🙂 However, to this point we’ve hiked only 2.5 miles. I need to hike 3.1 to equal that 5K. Sil and I also need to decide if we want to return to the trailhead back through Monument Canyon, the way we came, or complete a loop by taking the unimproved Wedding Canyon Trail. Sil is unfamiliar with Wedding Canyon Trail and is a little concerned with the word “unimproved”.
I’m feeling great. I feel adventurous. Bighorn sheep and accomplishing a long desired hike, who wouldn’t be. So I say, “Let’s go for it”. At the base of Independence Monument we pick up Wedding Canyon Trail. Just before we round the mesa, I figure we’ve hit that 5K mark. Yeah!
The trail leads us around a mesa. This huge mesa, plateau, rock, mountain whatever one calls it, blocks the sun on the trail giving us some wonderful shade to hike in.
Wedding Canyon trail does have some steep up and down moments requiring us to focus on our footing. We also enjoy stopping along the way to stare in awe at the majestic scenery. Once we round the mesa, we’re greeted with bright sunshine and a somewhat flat trail.
“Are we there yet?” We’re about ready to end this hike and thinking the trailhead can’t be too far off. That’s when sil and I notice the trail going up. In unison we comment, “Oh, no. You gotta be fricken kidding me!” We have one last hill to climb or at least we hope it’s the last. We’re really tired at this point.
Finally we make it to where the two trails, Monument Canyon and Wedding Canyon, meet and our car sits just a little beyond. We climb into the vehicle, but not without uttering a few grunts and groans. Yep, we’re feeling it, but in a good way. We hiked 5 miles in 2 hours. 5K or 5 miles? With scenery like this, who’s counting?