Another winter too quickly over means it’s time to harness all that cabin fever and plan another big family expedition for Spring Break. To top the 2015 and 2016 editions, we’d have to go really big this year… and somehow we just couldn’t muster the logistical where-with-all to plan it. So we dialed it down a bit but still had a dandy time; a nice balance of adventure, relaxation, recreation, and rejuvenation.
Whenever we’ve driven out to Utah, we drive through Grand Junction and Fruita and say to ourselves “Hey, this looks cool. We should stop here sometime.” Fruita markets itself as the Moab of Colorado and really this is an okay description; they’ve got rock climbing, mountain biking, rivers, canyons, and (somewhat remotely) arches. Most importantly, they have half the number of tourists and no Jeep Week to again collide with our plans. So 2017 was the year to finally do it and spend some time getting to know Fruita!
We booked campsites along with two other families at the Saddlehorn Campground up on the rim in Colorado National Monument. We’d driven through the Monument a couple of times and sort of knew what to expect, but camping right on the rim was definitely a new experience. Unlike our times camping in Moab, the campsites (at least ours) was immense with enough room for at least a dozen tents. As it was, the two adjacent campsites were barely within shouting distance! Furthermore, if you wandered a hundred feet farther from the car, you came upon a 500 foot drop-off down into the canyon. We spent quite a while out there on the rim jumping around, exploring, and contemplating the canyon country (and ourselves) in our various moods.
The weather wasn’t great for much of our three nights at Saddlehorn, but we made the most of it. In particular, Monday night suddenly became gusty with spitting rain and sleet. The forecast called for 50 mph gusts and our site was the most exposed of all. We’d pitched the tents anticipating westerly winds, but these gusts were coming from the south! On bedrock with a thin layer of sand on top, there’s not much use in tent stakes, so 9 pm on Monday saw all three dads out there guying tents to rocks, trees, and fallen logs as best we could while moms comforted concerned children. The winds never really materialized, but Tuesday rained off and on and the lighting wasn’t very good for photos.
Inclement weather didn’t stop the adventuring, though. On Monday, six kids and six adults hiked all the way down from the rim to the bottom of Monument Canyon on a rather impressive trail winding through various geological strata. I was dreading the whining on the inevitable climb back out, but it never happened. Ellie in particular hiked under her own power the entire way — a not insignificant 4 miles and 1000′ of elevation gain!
Tuesday featured a drive out to Rabbit Valley and the Trail Through Time. We spent many hours “micro-hiking” a short loop looking at fossils. The show pieces of this loop are the camaratasaurus and diplodocus skeletons obviously visible in the rock outcroppings, but there was ubiquitous fossilized evidence of the Jurassic swamp terrain they lived in; fossilized sticks and logs, leaf imprints, and more. It was fascinating.
So, despite not venturing farther from home than ever, we still broke new ground in exploration. Colorado National Monument is really pretty neat and, while lower key than the nearby National Parks, still holds a huge variety of adventure possibilities. I’m eager to return and check out a few other spots as well: No Thoroughfare Canyon, the Devil’s Kitchen, Rattlesnake Canyon, and, well, I’m sure there are lots more as well. It was nice to not deal with the hubbub and commerciality of Moab.