Camping and Hiking in Colorado National Monument: A Beginner’s Tale

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Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Sep 8, 2005
Hiking, Canyoneering
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Camping and Hiking in Colorado National Monument: A Beginner’s Tale
Created On: Feb 6, 2007
Last Edited On: Feb 6, 2007

An Idea...

An idea was conceived… go camping in Colorado National Monument to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We’d just moved to Colorado in June, 2004 and had spent the past year exploring as much of the state as we could. We thought this would be a great experience to add to our repertoire. Too bad it didn’t go exactly as planned!

The Arrival

Maybe we should have taken the thunderstorm brewing as an omen. But the sky was beautiful; full of ominous dark clouds backlit by the dying evening sun. We were entranced. The weekend stretched before us in all its grand, red towered majesty, and…we were optimistic.

Because of the storm we decided that we wouldn’t backcountry camp that night. We figured we’d get caught in the deluge and have to hike and set up camp under some pretty rough conditions. So we picked a spot in the park campground for the first night. As we pulled out our tent and began setting it up, a soft drizzle cast its mist over everything we touched. The thunderclaps were fierce, but they didn’t amount to anything. By the time we were done pitching the tent and dragging our belongings to the camp site, the rain had passed.

Or so we’d thought…

Dinner and a Movie

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m kind of a reformed city girl. Before I met my husband I was pretty much a dinner and a movie kind of girl. I never thought much about the outdoors. I didn’t have any experience. But then I met my “Knight in Shining Gore-Tex” and he changed my mind forever.

Now I love the smell of fresh air. I worship the simple beauty or awesome grandeur of the places we’ve gone to. I’ve come to need the sound of crunching ground underfoot, or the feeling of my lungs protesting for every breath as we climb higher and higher in elevation. So I was more than ready for this trip. I was a city girl no more…

But still, I eyed the fire ant hill with a little trepidation. I mean, what if they got in our tent? A little obsessive, I checked and rechecked the tent to make sure the little buggers weren’t hiding out in my sleeping bag. Hubby tended to dinner and I walked the perimeter of our campsite to see what other dangerous creatures lurked around. I was still hopeful about the weekend. With the scenery around us who wouldn’t be? I was excited (and a little apprehensive) about my first backcountry experience. Everything was going to be great!

Hey, babe, dinners ready. Want to get the plates and stuff?


Okay, so maybe we’d forgotten to bring plates or any kind of utensils. But as we ate our nasty chicken flavored rice off the tip of hubby’s utility knife I told myself this was roughing it. I thought back to the nights when I sat in relative luxury and I laughed. This was like an adventure! No, it was an adventure!

Gnarled tree

After “dinner” we went exploring around the park and in the dry river bed canyon at the foot of our campsite. The trees were twisted gnarls of their former selves. The ground was rust red and looked like it had never seen a drop of rain. I thought back to the “storm” we had had and felt sorry for the animal inhabitants of the area. Dirt, dirt, everywhere and not a drop to drink!
Colorado National MonumentOverlook

It was getting dark as we explored; the advancing night morphed everything into spooky shadows. I called to hubby, who had wandered off, and didn’t hear any kind of reply. I thought about mountain lions or some strange, as of yet unidentified man eater lurking around the area. But then I heard him crashing back through the brush and I saw the inky black outline of him ahead. So he was fine. I was fine! We got back to the tent and prepared to settle in for the night.
View during our exploration our first night

Night Night. Sleep Tight!

  • Here’s a bit of advice: Never pitch your tent on an incline.

  • After repeatedly sliding downhill in our sleeping bags (maybe for an hour?) we decided to move the tent. Too bad it was pitch black outside! I’m sure we made an interesting sight wandering around in the dark, carrying our tent this way and that, the only illumination the headlamps on our heads. Yes, it’s a little difficult to pick out a campsite in the dark. I thought of the fire ants again…maybe we’d bunk down right on top of them! That would be an adventure!

    After maybe fifteen minutes we found a site that was suitable enough. I spent a little time trying to slide the razor sharp rocks out from underneath my back and praying to the camping gods that nothing else would go wrong, and then, eventually, we settled in. We laughed a little bit. It wasn’t so bad. Kind of funny. Think of the stories we could tell.

    Night, night. Sleep Tight!

    The Deluge

    I had no idea how long I’d been asleep. Ten minutes? Two hours? But when I woke up I swear the world was coming to an end. The fabric of our tent was slapping so furiously in the wind I figured we were in the vortex of a tornado. It was raining so hard the sound of the water dropping over our heads ceased to be a sound and transformed into an emotion: fear. I know, even now, that I’ve never heard rain falling so hard. I also know that I, as a reformed city girl, have never seen water rise so fast inside a tent. I thought of the possibilities: the tree above us cracking and falling on our heads, or it raining so hard and so long that we would be swimming in our sleeping bags. Lightning crashed around us so many times the air around us was cracking. Crazy with fear, I decided that I would sleep in our X Terra. There was no way I was staying out in that mess!


  • Here’s another bit of advice: X-Terras aren’t big enough to sleep in if you’re over five feet tall.

  • The Morning After

    I woke in the morning, and to be honest, I was quite surprised I was still alive. I spent the night dodging weird dreams and the certainty that one could be hit with lightening and cooked in their submerged tent like human soup. I saw through our little mesh window that we’d crossed over from our campsite into the neighboring one. The campsite’s real “owners” stood around their tent and stared at ours, quite confused. Their expressions were the ones you reserve for those weird relatives that show up at the last minute to your family reunion. Dismay mixed with a little bit of confusion.

    And then I moved.

    Let’s just say, I was a little unfamiliar with how one’s back could feel after sleeping on desert packed earth for a night. I pretty much couldn’t stand up straight for about an hour. I stooped as a brushed my teeth, I winced as I stared at the morning sun. I thought about sleeping in that damn tent again and my mind went numb with dread.
    Colorado National MonumentMonument Canyon

    The Real Reason We Came

    I’ve got to say, I’m in love with the Colorado Plateau. I’ve never seen a place with so much vegetation be so sparse. I could walk around and explore that area forever. We’ve driven on highways banked by cliffs of blood red stone and I’ve just wanted to get out on the side of the road and stay there. So beautiful!

    On our hike, the spires of the Monument sandstone towered over us. I’ve never felt so small but so empowered before. The view stretched as far as I could see. If I’d been blindfolded and left in this place, I would never have known that only a few miles away I-70 runs pretty much parallel to the Park.
    View on the day of our hike

    The ground is a mixture of cream, orange and rust colored rock. The trees don’t really look like trees- they’re just little bushes hunkering low to the ground looking desperately for something to drink. We didn’t see any animals; I wasn’t surprised. I can’t imagine anything could live out there very easily (we sure hadn’t!) and what animals there were surely wouldn’t be crazy enough to hike around in the blazing sun like we were.

    We hiked all day and whatever strength the storm hadn’t sapped out of me the brutal sun finished off. I wasn’t exactly out of shape before that trip, but I’ve never felt more weak and out of sorts in my life. Blame it on my aching back! Or the fact that I really didn’t get a good, restorative night’s sleep. But still I pressed on, probably stopping to rest more than my husband would have liked.

    We ate lunch in the shadow of a ledge of crumbling red rock. We walked to the base of the sandstone behemoths and I touched the rock that had been around for millions of years. Being surrounded by such power and grace made us introspective. We talked about what we wanted out of the future. We talked about the family we wanted to have. We imagined the adventures that still awaited us, and hoped that our future sons or daughters would have the opportunity to become part of the same places we had.
    Sandstone MonolithBlotting out the sun

    And we hiked, and we hiked. Until the water ran out and I was bone tired. Then we checked into the Grand Junction Holiday Inn.

    Okay. So maybe I’m not so reformed after all.

    Our Hiking Route

    Map of Our Hiking Route


    Post a Comment
    Viewing: 1-3 of 3
    Dan Dalton

    Dan Dalton - Feb 6, 2007 4:05 am - Voted 10/10

    Nice TR...

    very Fox like. Great story and fun to read, glad that you enjoy camping and being in the outdoors. We are all going to have to go to the San Juans this summer and do some camping/mountaineering! Nice pics too,


    Mark Doiron

    Mark Doiron - Feb 19, 2008 10:40 am - Voted 10/10

    I Hate Lightning

    I hate lightning when camping. It scares me to death. I know someone who was struck after lightning hit a nearby tree, then traveled through it to a root that was under his sleeping bag, getting him in the process. He was a mess for about a week after, and still retreats to shelter at the slightest bit of thunder in the distance. I'm not that bad, but . . . Anyway, enjoyed reading your report. We all start somewhere and learn along the way. I'm still learning and probably have more than a thousand nights of camping. So much to learn. Such a great experience. Thanks for an interesting read. --mark d.

    p.s.--Saw a photo of yours from Great Sand Dunes. I have a mountain page for High Dune. If you climbed that, please feel free to sign the climber's log.


    foxylady - Jun 20, 2008 4:04 pm - Hasn't voted

    Re: I Hate Lightning

    Thank you Mark.


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    Camping and Hiking in Colorado National Monument: A Beginner’s Tale

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