Slowing down and Exploring the Colorado National Monument  

A few weeks ago we had a panic moment when we realized that we hadn’t booked a camping spot for 4th of July weekend. While we don’t usually have trouble finding spots at the last minute, the big summer holidays have been a problem ever since we bought the Alpha Uno in early 2015. Our favorite state parks would be close to empty most weekends, but come Memorial Day, Labor Day, or the 4th of July and everyone was suddenly out camping.

We spent  a couple of hours (while hiding from the heat in Santa Rosa, NM) scouring the Internet for any open spot in the state of Colorado for 4th of July weekend. We kept coming up short until Brandon stumbled upon the James M. Robb State Park outside of Palisade, Colorado. They had a spot open for the entire week! We would also still be heading in the right direction (north) and not backtracking.

The James M. Robb State Park is really a series of five different parks along the Colorado River in far western Colorado. The parks are also very close to the Colorado National Monument, which features hiking, river-rafting, and the stunning drive along Rim Rock Drive through the park.

So for the next week, the James M. Robb State Park would be our home. We were staying in the Island Acres section of the park, which is the farthest from the Monument but very close to Palisade, Colorado. Palisade is a quaint little town that is mostly known for farming. They grow lots of fruits and also have a few wineries.

Overall, this entire area is strikingly different from the small mountain towns we have been visiting. When we left Ouray we dropped significantly in elevation and the aspen, cedar, and pine were replaced by red sandstone cliffs and cottonwood trees. It felt like we were back in Northern New Mexico.

IMG_1858It’s been a while since we stayed at a state park and we found we really missed them. State parks are generally more peaceful than commercial RV parks. Just about everyone there is on vacation or a long weekend. They just want to relax and have a nice time. State parks are also more spacious than RV parks so we tend to spend more time outdoors in the evenings. We’ve been wanting a little down time so being a ways away from the nearest city sounded pretty darn good.

This was going to be the longest stop we’ve made since leaving Texas. One full week. It’s difficult not to move too fast when there is just so much to see, but we’re finding that sometimes we need to slow down. This trip is a marathon, not a sprint.

With all that in mind, our stay at James M. Robb was perfect. Our first day there we took the time to fully set up camp, which we don’t always bother with when. We put out our outdoor rug, our lawn chairs, took our bikes off the rack and set them up to ride. We even put out our little bits of yard art. It was nice. It felt homey.

Once camp was all set up we drove into the tiny town of Palisade to look for a hardware store. We needed rope to hang our hammock. We found an Ace that was small but more than adequate for what we needed. I find that small town hardware stores are often pretty decent. No matter how small the community is, they still need a place to buy nails, paint, and shovels. Feeling positive about Palisade we went looking for a grocery store. The only store in town was tiny and hidden behind another building. We had to stop for directions before we found it. Thankfully we only needed ice and drinking water because the grocery store was not nearly as good as the hardware store. Everything was nearly doubled in price and some of the perishables looked like they had already gone bad. If you ever stay in Palisade I recommend bringing in our own groceries (or driving to nearby Grand Junction). However, if all you need is produce, the plentiful roadside fruit and veggie stands are great.

Another reason we needed to slow down for a bit was so we could be stationary long enough to receive mail. I was waiting on my new passport and our new Jeep window would be arriving at a UPS store in Grand Junction.

Our stay was a mix of relaxation and taking care of small projects. We slept in, lounged in our new hammock, rode bikes around the park, and Brandon cooked us some really delicious steaks. Actually, Brandon did almost all of the cooking while we were there. I told you he’s a keeper!

I spent a couple of afternoons at the local library while Brandon was driving to Grand Junction to pick up our Jeep window and then installing it. By the way, the new Jeep window was installed without much problem and the Jeep is now good as new! Plus, the new window came with a new lower seal so we should not have the same problem happen again any time soon.

One day we made a trip to the Target in Grand Junction to buy new rugs for the RV. After nearly a year of camping trips, mostly with Rudy (who really likes to roll in the dirt), our rugs were looking less than stellar. Also, we were never able to get the sesame oil smell out after the incident in Taos, NM. We ended up buying the exact same rugs, mostly because they were the only rugs that came in the size we needed for our living room. Most household rugs are too big, but they carry RV sized rugs in the “decorate your college dorm room” section of Target.

Our big adventure of the week was a day spent at the Colorado National Monument. Once again we were retracing a trip I went on when I was younger. My dad’s nephew John married his wife Liz at a lovely scenic overlook inside the park. We flew to Colorado to attend the wedding when I was in high school. They held the reception at a local brewpub with a jam session after-party at their house. It is still one of the most unique and fun weddings I’ve attended.

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The primary route through the park is a driving tour along Rim Rock Drive. The road is a well-paved two-lane road that goes from one end of the park to the other (28 miles), up and over the sandstone cliffs with gorgeous views of the canyon below. There are also a number of hikes within the park, some short day hikes and some longer more strenuous hikes. I also heard that there are river-rafting trips through the canyons but I did not look into it to verify. And if you’re in really good shape, you could also ride your bicycle along Rim Rock Drive.  I’ve been seeing these long-distance road-cyclists all over Colorado, going up mountains that we struggle with in the motor home. They continue to impress me and I’m certain they have the most well-defined leg muscles I’ve ever seen.

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For our tour of the park we decided to drive the entire length of Rim Rock Drive, beginning at the western entrance, with a stop for a short hike near the visitors center. You can enter the park from either side. There will be a pay booth at either entrance. If there is no one at the booth when you enter (we arrived during lunch hour and even park rangers gotta eat!) just continue on through and pay when you exit.

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This was our first visit to a national park or national monument so we made sure to purchase the Annual National Parks Pass for $80. I’ve been told that on a trip like our’s it pays for itself very quickly. The pass is much like the annual pass you can purchase for your state park system. You still have to pay for overnight camping but your day-use fees are free. And day-use fees add up quickly. For example, entrance to the Colorado National Monument is $10 per car. The Rocky Mountain National Park is $30 per car. Just visiting those two parks once pays for half of the annual pass. We also plan to visit Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, so the pass will pay for itself very soon.

For what it’s worth, we have also purchased annual passes for the Colorado and Texas state park systems, though we haven’t managed to break even on either of those passes yet. We’re only two days short of breaking even on our Colorado pass and quite a few days short of breaking even on our Texas pass. We purchased our Texas pass when we stayed at the Balmoreah State Park in west Texas, on our way down from Oregon. We were planning to spend a few weeks at Lake Bastrop so the pass made sense. However, when we got to Lake Bastrop we learned that all parks run by LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) are separate from the state parks system. The annual pass is not valid at any of the LCRA parks. Oh well, it did get us into Enchanted Rock for free and paying for the pass helped to support all of the awesome state parks in Texas.

Whether you are on a long-distance trip like ours or just passing through, the Colorado National Monument is worth a visit. You can see most of the park in an afternoon so this could even be done as side trip while en route to somewhere else. It really is spectacular, and like so many places we’ve been, the pictures will never do it justice. But we gave it our best shot.

Standing on the fault line that created the cliffs and canyons.

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Gunner, waving his freedom flags. Probably the most patriotic thing we did to celebrate the 4th. Those of you that know us personally know that Brandon puts on one hell of a fireworks show but, unfortunately, fireworks were banned in the state park where we were staying.

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Art. Presented to you by Mother Earth.

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The following shots were all seen on the short hike we took from the visitors center. I don’t remember the name of the trail (or if it had a name) but there were some lovely views and it was easy enough for just about anyone.

The entire hike Brandon kept saying how he needed to get a remote-controlled toy Jeep so he could take cool perspective shots in places like this (i.e., photos where the joy jeep looks like a full-size Jeep). I laughed, but just wait, a few weeks from now Brandon is probably going to come home from a store run with a remote-controlled Jeep.

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Yep, that’s a loooong way down.

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The trail we were on followed along the edge of the canyon.  But unlike the trail we took in Ouray, the edge was a comfortable distance away. You could walk to the edge if you were so inclined but everyone except those with extreme vertigo would feel perfectly safe. The trail was also marked with these little rock towers. If you thought you had lost the trail you could just keep an eye out for the next rock tower and find your way again.

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He says he’d move mountains for me, but boulders seem to be a bit of a struggle . . .

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Brandon Smash!

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The way these cliffs were formed is really astounding. There are so many interesting nooks  and crannies. While it is true that you can technically see the park in an afternoon, you could also spend weeks or months here exploring all of the excentricities of the rock formations.

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This little lizard seemed very used to people and not at all concerned with how close I was. But I guess even animals can take naturally to the limelight. Strike a pose, little dude!

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Our 4th of July stay in western Colorado really was everything we wanted it to be. We got to see some beautiful sights but also took a little time to slow down and relax a bit. The state park was pretty full over the holiday weekend but by the time we left on Wednesday we practically had the place to ourselves. My only complaints about the area were just facts of nature and the seasons: it was relentlessly hot and the mosquitos were vicious. We were really close to the Colorado River and the park had a number of fishing ponds that surely contributed to the mosquito problem. It almost made me question my aversion to DEET-filled bug sprays, but not quite. I still managed to get by with my all-natural sprays and citronella candles.

Up next is a tent camping trip in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Yep, we’re actually going to do some “real” camping! Stay tuned!

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One thought on “Slowing down and Exploring the Colorado National Monument  

  1. Joyce and l spent a week in grand junction when we were first married. I remember Palisade. We drive the monument road. Later we drove east along IH 70 through Glenwood Springs and up to Carbondale and Basalt where the brother Schwallers live

    Like

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