“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this park”
John Otto, 1907
It was an ambitiously crazy dream and it pretty much took a crazy man to pull it off. John Otto was the character to do it. Flamboyant, eccentric, and obsessive, he was locked up three times in his life for “acute mania”, but when he saw the canyons in Fruita his energies found new focus and he knew the rest of his days would be dedicated to them.
And that’s exactly what Otto did. He lived, breathed and fought for these dramatic red cliffs, living alone in the canyons, building backbreaking trails by hand, petitioning relentlessly and eventually getting the place set aside as a National Monument in 1911.
He was of course not the first to set foot on these red rocks of beauty. The entire Western Colorado plateau is a veritable multi-hundred-million year history book. Much of the Morrison Formation, as it’s called, was laid down in the Late Jurassic period and remains a rich living source of fossils and prehistoric discoveries. In fact if you’re a paleo-lover it really doesn’t get any better than this, and you can bask away in dinosaur dreams all through the 512-mile Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway that winds through Colorado and Utah. If we weren’t on our way to OR that’s exactly what we’d be doing, but thankfully we got the chance to get a good taste right here in Fruita/Grand Junction.
And what a taste it is! The Colorado National Monument is a stunning tribute to the prehistoric plateau. Red sediment rock eroded by water, wind and ice has created dramatic spires, domes and sheer-walled faces that tower several thousand feet and go back several hundreds of millions of years.
I honestly can’t believe we missed seeing this when we came through Grand Junction last year. It’s so accessible and yet so drop-dead gorgeous. These are the red rocks of Colorado and they’re truly a hidden gem. You can drive the Rim Road, gawk at the views, hike the trails, and even explore the surrounding BLM areas. We did the drive, but missed doing any major hikes due to the heat (yeah, it’s been hot here), but it’s a stop we’d gladly come back and explore again. Gotta give thanks to Otto’s crazy dream!