Fruita Colorado, Colorado National Monument, Rabbit Valley
March 29 – April 3, 2021
Yes, we’re back at it after our 3 week hiatus. We left Golden with some sadness in our guts as we said goodbye to friends, familiarity, and, of course, modern comfortable working fixtures. But knowing full well the journey was calling with Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again playing on repeat in my head and to Lysette dismay, sometimes out loud.
The drive took us through Clear Creek Canyon, Eisenhower Tunnel, Vail Pass, Glenwood Canyon, north of Grand Mesa, and into Fruita, CO. Saddlehorn Campground was our home for the first two nights. The campground sits on top of the Colorado National Monument. The set up was a bit clumsy, being somewhat rusty, especially with the smaller details, but in the end we were successful. The site on the B Loop has a small, slightly uneven base and sat right along the loop road so that our door faced the road which was weird. The site extended down into a natural area in the center of the loop with a metal picnic table and pedestal metal grill. As we were finishing our set up Lysette ran into friends from Golden who we hadn’t seen during our staycation. They walked by our camp and as it turned out, were just four camp sites down. We chatted for awhile then decided to meet up later for a beer which we did. These two have amazing stories full of adventure and are a great source of information for us along our journey through this area.
The Colorado National Monument is an amazingly beautiful place. One that gets passed by as many speed up at the sight of Grand Junction as they motor west to the more well known and busy town of Moab and the featured parks of southern Utah. But this park provides spectacular views, red cliff walls, natural rock features, hikes, and a wonderful road to bike (remember to bring lights for the tunnel or they won’t let you in) or drive.
On May 15th last year we left Golden carrying the weight of fear and unknown of traveling through the pandemic of a lifetime that, as of the typing of this blog entry, would take more than a half million lives in the USA alone. The media on the subject was incessant and most watched it daily if not hourly, worried about the rising numbers, searching for the plateau on the graphs like the shoppers searching for toilet paper and bleach wipes at the grocery stores. Our first night in an RV park back then was at the Dakota Ridge RV park in Golden where they had posted a sign stating they had removed all paper products from the bathhouse because people were stealing it. But today in Grand Junction Colorado, 11 months later, we may use wads of toilet paper with no fear of running out, we don our masks which we are accustomed to doing in public places, and we enter the Grand Junction Convention Center to receive our first Moderna COVID vaccine shot. Something of a historic event that hopefully is the start of the end of this pandemic and not the beginning of a new season of Walking Dead.
We chose this spot to get vaccinated as it is located on the west side of the state and would allow us to play in the desert for a few weeks before having to come back for our booster without having to cross all the way to Denver. The event was well managed with many volunteers directing folks to the proper place, queuing us in the correct short lines, and moving the process along like an efficient manufacturing process. The volunteers were all friendly and the professional giving me my shot was great. She said they don’t give us much choice in the process but she would allow me to choose which arm, so I went with my left. We were required to wait 15 minutes after the shot to make sure we didn’t react adversely to the vaccine. The process was easy, we got a sticker that said we were vaccinated and a small white square card that had the type of vaccine we received and the date and time so we would be eligible to get our second shot, now scheduled for April 29 at 10:05. The feeling of living history overcame me while there, an excitement that those born after this is over will look back on without any real wisdom of the event, sort of like me and polio, measles and mumps.
With my left arm feeling like it’d been frogged by a hard knuckle from the shot, we drove from Grand Junction about 30 miles west to exit 2 just before the Utah state line to a place called Rabbit Valley. We have heard of this place from many friends but never stopped, mostly passing it on our jaunts to Utah. The valley is part of the McInnis Canyon National Research Area and provides well signed roads, access to the Kokopelli Trail, free camping, and some hiking trails. We drove down as we wanted to see what the fuss was about and also to get some exercise. The drive turns south from the exit and the valley pretty much runs along the same path but is mostly tucked into a quiet valley. There were rigs pulling ATV’s and dirt bikes staging for the day, campers set up along the campsites, and few cyclists on gravel bikes. We eventually turned into a parking area for Rabbit Ears Trail. We got out, donned backpacks with a bottle of water and then gave Toohey his fill of water. We read the well marked sign that said the loop is 4.8 miles. The shape of the trail was more a lollipop than a loop but that didn’t really register so we thought, Toohey can do a 4.8 mile loop which is NBW (No Big Whoop). In the end, this wasn’t such a great idea for the dog. Apparently the 4.8 mile loop was accurate but didn’t include the 1.2 miles to get to the loop. By the time we realized our mistake we simply had to make it through. This would tax our old dog physically, but he did it, and it was great having him with us again on the trail.
The trail climbs up for the first mile and a half then splits. At around mile two you begin seeing the “gold” which are amazing views looking down into a valley cut by the Colorado River. Red cliffs curving, meandering along the river. It was quite amazing, a show stopper, a real zinger. The ridge that provides the view lasts about 2 miles then turns away, north, and drops you back to the split in the trail with the final run down to the car. The pooch who we trust daily to protect our assets, drank two bottles of water and collapsed into the back of the truck. When we got home, he ate, drank, and collapsed pretty much for the night and for the next few days. I guess protecting the assets isn’t a bad place for him most days and a job he probably comfortably enjoys.
The next morning we had to move from the Saddlehorn Campground in the Colorado National Monument and thought we had reserved a spot at the state park, pretty much next door. We pulled into the state park ranger station to see if we could get an early check-in only to learn that we had made the reservation for the state park under the same name about 30 miles east. Bummed, we quickly went to work to find a spot in Fruita. We were up against this being a holiday weekend with fabulous weather forecasted. Lysette checked some other local state parks which were full and I went to the RV park just across the street from the state park which had space for our back in ready rig. We secured it but still lost a night’s rent at the state park which was okay but a penalty.
After a quick restock of provisions at the grocery store in Frurta, we went to the Monument RV park to check in and set up. We lounged a bit, ate some food, then decided on a bike ride out towards Horse Thief Canyon along a wide gravel road. The afternoon was bright and warm. The road was wide and a few cars passed in either direction. The area was the east end of the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area which is located in Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness. There were trails that jetted off in both directions along this road and which were lightly used based on the few cars in the parking lots. We took one of the trails that didn’t forbid bikes for a short distance where we found a small overlook of other hiking trails and red rock cliffs. The place is just begging for some more play time.
We returned just in time to feed the dog, shower, and cook dinner for an easy night at camp. We also tried to do some planning but we didn’t get that far as travels plans were complicated with scheduled spots and possibly meeting up with family along the way.
Our last full day here started with an early run up the Lower Monument Trail inside the Colorado National Monument to the base of Independence Monument. This red rock structure is a main event inside the park from the high ridge drive along the canyon. The trail head for us was a few miles north from Fruita, past the entrance gate to the park and beside a residential neighborhood. The trail begins with a gradual climb out of the parking lot and after the first mile or so, follows steep red cliff walls, maneuvers through large boulders that were once a part of the large steep red walls, and over step-ups along natural rock formations. It follows along the canyon as it rises and curves with the walls on one side and views across the valley on the other side of rolling hills filled with green junipers and red soil until it meet the sheer red cliff walls on the other side.
You begin to get a first glimpse of Independence Monument as it pops over the horizon of one rock hill. This happens until at last it comes into full view which requires a stop, a few photos, and discussions of how someone could possibly climb it. The trail turns left as it continues through the valley for another 3.5 miles where it reaches the drive along the rim. We opted for a right turn along the unimproved Wedding Canyon Trail that loops us out a separate but equally beautiful canyon. This canyon with the rim rock and hikes along the rim on the other side dips up and down, moves along edges, over rocks and whatnots until it dumps you into the desert landscapes that surround the monument. The run from there is equally as interesting with varying colors of ground from reds, browns, to grey. You eventually climb back up to a plateau that is mostly rocky trail that takes you back to the main trail from the parking lot where we found Toohey happily lying in his bed, protecting the assets.
We headed back to camp for a nice big breakfast before deciding to take a drive back up the monument to explore a bit. About halfway around the rim drive on top is a gravel road off to the right. We took it. We pass what appears to be a trailhead parking lot off to the right. We keep going and after a mile or so the road turned to pavement and then at around mile 5 we entered the intersection community of Glade. There wasn’t much here other than a small general store and some other structure of which we weren’t certain. We drove back towards the parking lot that we had first past when we initially turned onto the road to check it out. It turned out to be a four wheel drive road back into the McInnis Canyon Research Area. We followed the narrow road as it switched back and forth with a steady climb. We reached and intersection then continued along the upper Rattlesnake Canyon Drive until the road reached a three-way fork. At this point we turned around and followed it all back out. Definitely an interesting place to return to for a gravel bike or four wheel drive adventure. I would later talk to the RV park owner who indicated there were arches down there somewhere improving the intrigue of this place even more.
Earlier in the day we had seen on social media where another friend of ours from Golden was in the area mountain biking so we reached out to him. On our way home he phoned and we scheduled a meet up at our camp in the RV park. He showed up admitting that he was really there to see Toohey. We had a great time sitting a talking about everything. He is a good soul of a human and a friend with whom we greatly enjoyed spending time.
Fruita was a fun place, a place that grew on us and where we left so many things undone. Many folks talk about it for the mountain biking but there is way more to do in Fruita including trails, gravel biking, and road biking. Also, the natural beauty of the Colorado National Monument is well worth the time as is the McInnis Canyon Natural Research Area.
Our direction from Fruita is south to the Natural Bridges National Monument. We know little about the area and are heading there with no reserved campsite but with knowledge that there is lots of boondocking.
Update: We are currently leaving Homolovi State Park outside of Winslow Arizona which was such a fine sight to see. It’s a quiet little desert park with several ruins. The Homol’ovi left loads of pottery which is now really old, broken in pieces, and scattered all around the ruins. We also enjoyed the Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, and the warm park showers. Today we are heading west and north through Flagstaff where after a laundry stop and a night at the Flagstaff KOA, we have a few nights scheduled at the Grand Canyon south rim. From there, our loose plans have us boondocking (hopefully) around the north rim, then Kanab and back up through the National Parks of southern Utah before returning back to Fruita where we’ll get one last punch in the arm by the vaccine needle on April 29th. Until then.