On Saturday, approximately 1,800 cyclists descended on the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction to tour a moonscape of sandstone towers, deep canyons and sheer-walled redrock. The annual Tour of the Moon bicycling event traversed the 23 miles of Rim Rock Drive, winding through the 31-square mile reserve that is said to be a concentrated version of the nearby parks in southern Utah that draw millions of visitors each year. The Colorado National Monument attracts more than 750,000 travelers annually. The ride began in Grand Junction and took riders either 64 or 41 miles, through the preserve and surrounding areas. Those who rode 64 miles toured through the town of Fruita, but both distances finished with the 23 spectacular miles through the Monument.
The Tour of the Moon was made famous in the 1980s Coors Classic bicycle race. Cyclists in yesterday’s ride traveled the same breathtaking scenery featured in the 1985 cycling movie American Flyers, starring Kevin Costner. The Monument is a unit of the National Park System, although it has not been designated as a National Park. It offers a variety of activities including daily ranger guided walks and talks, Junior Ranger programs, bicycling, hiking, camping and picnicking, in additional to neck-breaking sightseeing.
The park features dramatic eroded red rock formations and lies along the northeastern flank of the Uncompahgre Platue, a large topographic feature extending from Ridgeway, Colorado, northwestward to near the Utah border. The original champion of the Monument was John Otto, who came to the area in 1906 and began campaigning to protect the area. It was designated as national monument in 1911 by President Taft because of its “extraordinary examples of erosion.”
After millions of years the different degrees of erosion have left exposures of sediments forming deep canyons, bold escarpments and high plateaus. The various colors in the rock – blues, greens, browns and yellows – are due to minerals found in the clay mudstones. Potholes and basins form naturally in the sandstone and provide additional moon-like features to the surface.
Rim Rock Drive has 19 overlooks that offer views of canyons and spires, including Independence Monument, a freestanding tower of soft, red sandstone that soars 450 above the floor of the canyon and is recognizable to many people, even those unfamiliar with the park itself. The spire is a regional favorite for rock climbers, offering several challenging technical routes. Each year on the Fourth of July the National Park Service celebrates with a climb to the top of the monolith to raise the American flag, a tradition that started more than 100 years ago.
Independence Monument is all that remains of a continuous ridge that once was a wall between the Monument and one of the area’s canyons. A cap of more durable rock has protected the monolith from the relentless erosion that has formed so much of the park.
Construction on Rim Rock Drive began in 1931. It was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and local experienced men. The roadway greatly helped accessibility to the Monument. Cycling is a popular way to tour the Colorado National Monument today, as it allows time to view features and stop for the multitude of photo opportunities. Many of yesterday’s Tour of the Moon participants stated that it was one of the best days of cycling ever.
By Beth A. Balen