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Colorado National Monument, Colorado

(NPS) The geological formations of Colorado National Monument.

“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they felt like the heart of the world to me. I'm going to stay…and promote this place, because it should be a national park,” said John Otto in 1907. Otto's faith and persistence paid off in 1911 when President William Howard Taft set aside 19,926 acres of steep canyon walls and giant rock formations carved over millennia by the forces of nature to establish Colorado National Monument because “extraordinary examples of erosion are of great scientific interest” (Proc. No. 1126).

Miles of trails, some forged by Otto himself, wind through deep canyons some 2000 feet above the Colorado River Valley, passing rock sculptures such as the 450 feet high Independence Monument, the park's tallest free-standing rock formation, and Balanced Rock where a 600-ton boulder maintains a precarious perch atop a pedestal rock. The park's historic Serpent's Trail, with more than 50 switchbacks, is often called the “Crookedest Road in the World.” Old Gordon Trail traces an historic lumber and cattle drive route. Black Ridge Trail, the park's highest trail, offers vistas of red canyon country, mesas, and valleys beyond the park's boundaries.

The magnificent scenery, the character, and the beauty of Colorado National Monument are the result of geological processes, including erosion, landslides, rock falls, and flash floods. Many of the Colorado Plateau's physical and biological features are found along the park's 23 miles of panoramic views and overlooks, including endemic plants, hanging gardens, biological soil crusts, wetland ecosystems, native grasslands, and sagebrush lands. Visitors on foot or horseback can explore the park's 32 square miles of wild country where desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, and desert cottontails make their home. Canyon wrens, white throated swifts, and violet green swallows are just a few of the many birds who raise their young here. Golden eagles are often spotted soaring in the skies above the Rim Rock Drive. Cactus, yucca, and other flowering plants color the landscape near canyon bottoms, rock walls, and the park's occasional streams in spring and summer. Hardy pinyon, juniper and sagebrush grow in the canyon's parched desert soil.

More than 275,000 visitors a year come to Colorado National Monument for the park's spectacular scenery, for hiking, cycling, rock climbing, picknicking, and camping.

In 2005, visitors to Colorado National Monument responded to the question, “In your opinion, what is the national significance of the park?” with these comments:

  • “I am glad that they preserved this area. We need to do more of this before we lose it to development.”
  • “This place is better than the Grand Canyon.”
  • “The canyons are truly amazing.”
  • “We camped here and the night sky was spectacular.”
  • “This is Colorado's best kept secret.”


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