Yesterday I blogged about the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which Pat and I explored the day after Labor Day. We still had plenty of daylight left after that adventure, so we figured we'd check out Colorado National Monument before heading home. It's only about a 60-70 mile drive between the two National Parks but the topographies are vastly different. Whereas the Black Canyon has towering granite cliffs, Colorado National Monument has red and golden sandstone. They are each beautiful in their own way.
There are two entrances to Colorado National Monument: one via Grand Junction, and the other via Fruita. We went in through Grand Junction. That was a mistake. What we didn't realize was that we had just signed up for 23 miles of sheer terror. Oh sure, it was pretty. We were initially lulled into a sense of complacency by the natural beauty. "Gee, this place is pretty and not nearly as scary as the Black Canyon!" Right. Before long, we found ourselves driving on a narrow switchback road along the edge of an endless, very steep cliff, with no guardrails. There's only one road, one lane each way, no shoulder, and we had the dumb luck of driving the direction that put us on the outside edge rather than hugging the cliff. Did I mention that there were no guardrails? There were no guardrails. We did stop a few times at the designated scenic overlooks, and it was comparatively a lot less unnerving to view things on foot, which was exactly the opposite experience we had just had at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (see yesterday's post). But once we got back in the car to continue driving, the terror ratcheted right back up again. I was behind the wheel for a good part of it. You have never seen anyone drive so slowly. I basically went down the middle, straddling the yellow line, because driving 100% in the right lane was terrifying. Poor Pat was clutching on to his armrest for dear life! TWENTY THREE AGONIZING MILES OF THIS. Sweaty palms, white knuckles, adrenaline, the whole bit. At one point (after letting Pat take over the wheel), I actually got a little hysterical. It was horrible!
Lesson learned, my friends. If we ever go back to Colorado National Monument, we're going to take it from the Fruita side, because at least we'd be hugging the comforting cliff wall for most of the drive. Also, I will take a bunch of Valium first. Now please enjoy these pretty pictures because I swear I nearly died taking them.
The road hugs the edge of this for 23 excruciating, guardrail-free miles. Not even a shoulder. If you are afraid of heights like we are, this may not be the National Park for you.