Dark-eyed Junko hanging out somewhere in the Grand Valley of Colorado.
October 15 – 23, 2020.
We headed south after our visit to Dinosaur National Monument. The cold was catching up with us once again and we had a list of things to do. Grocery shopping, laundry, blog posts to write, and more fossils to hunt down.
I knew from social media that there were some dinosaur trails near Grand Junction Colorado. And it looked like a good place to check the rest of the things off our list as well. What I didn’t know was how amazing the area around Grand Junction is.
We ended up spending two weeks in the Grand Junction area along a stretch of the Colorado River known as the Grand Valley. The Colorado, once called the “Grand River” snaked through a National Conservation Area where we camped and took a couple of hikes taking views of its flowing water. We hiked past giant rock spires in a National Monument and took in views across its plunging canyon. Of course, we hunted for dinosaur fossils. We went on two free guided walks, one led by a geologist and another by a paleontologist. We spotted lots of birds. And we finally got the chance to make another tic on my life list when we saw Big Horn Sheep up close and personal grazing along the road.
McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area
McInnis Canyon NCA is 123,430 acres of land including 25 miles of the meandering Colorado River administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The majority of these acres (75,000) consist of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. Here the second-largest concentration of natural arches in North America can be found.
We didn’t see any arches and really hardly made a dent in the wonders to be found in McInnis. Much of the NCA is down sandy rutted roads that were impassable for us and we simply didn’t have time for many of the most popular trails.
We did take advantage of the convenient designated free camping in the canyon and did get a chance to hike a few trails.
Our first trail in McInnis Canyon was the McDonald Creek Trail. The road getting there was pretty rough so we drove as far as we could, parked, and walked the rest of the way to the trail.
The trail followed an old stream bed. We had to find an alternate way around the bed here.
The trail ended at this railroad track along the Colorado River. We could see rafters as they journeyed down the river.
There were supposed to be petroglyphs on the trail but we never found them. The scenery was pretty nice, though.
Butterfly on the McDonald Creek Trail.
The Rabbit’s Ear Trail was a short drive from our campsite. It didn’t look like much on the Google Maps Satellite view. But I didn’t realize that it had a 700-foot climb. Once we were high on the ridge we had some pretty nice views of the Colorado River.
On the Rabbit’s Ear Trail. A train came snaking around the corner along the river right after I took this pic.
The Grand Valley is known for its dinosaur fossils. Dinosaur Journey, a Grand Valley museum located in Fruita, CO houses over 15,000 fossil specimens, has exhibits, interactive displays, and a viewable paleontology laboratory. We didn’t get a chance to visit the museum but I did find lots of resources for dinosaur and other activities in the area on their website. We signed up for a free geology tour and I download this great brochure about the different dinosaur trails in the Grand Valley.
View of Rabbit Valley, the area where we were camped in McInnis Canyon from Trail Through Time Hike.
The Trail Through Time winds through the exposed Morrison Formation, which was laid down around 150 million years ago.
Camarasaurus vertebrae on the Trail Through Time.
Trail Through Time. The X shape is a fossilized Jurassic bone.
After our free guided geology hike, we found another guided hike on the Colorado Canyons Association website. Here, Rob (leaning on a sign) a paleontologist with the CCA, leads an evening walk through the Fruita Paleontological Area.
Fruita Paleontological Area. This ridge is what remains of a 150 million-year-old river bed. It is rich with Jurassic fossils. Three distinct species have been named after Fruita.
Fading light at the Fruita Paleontological Area.
Large Jurassic femur at Fruita Paleontological Area.
Dinosaur Hill Trail. In 1901 Elmer Riggs of Chicago’s Field Museum dug up one of the most complete Apatosaurus skeletons ever found. Apatosaurus has also been called Brontosaurus.
Rigg’s Hill Trail. Brachiosaurus skeleton discovered by Elmer Riggs in 1900.
Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument was established in 1911 due chiefly to the efforts of John Otto. When Otto had arrived in the Grand Valley 5 years earlier he was immediately smitten with the red rock canyons overlooking the city of Grand Junction. He raised funds, filled petitions with signatures, wrote newspaper articles, and penned innumerable letters to Washington asking for recognition for the canyon. Otto spent 20 years of his life literally living among these red rocks. He used a pick and shovel to carve out the trails. He became the monument’s first caretaker, a job he did for 16 years for just $1 a month.
Colorado National Monument. Canyon Rim Trail.
Alcove Nature Trail.
Colorado National Monument. Black Ridge Trail.
Colorado National Monument. Lower Monument Canyon Trail.
Colorado National Monument. Lower Monument Canyon Trail.
Colorado National Monument. View from Wedding Canyon Trail. John Otto married Beatrice Farnham in 1911 at the base of the large pillar (Independence Monument) center-left in the photo. The marriage lasted a few weeks. Beatrice left, saying “I could not live with a man to whom even a cabin was an encumbrance”.
Colorado National Monument. View of Coke Ovens.
Big Horn Sheep – with big horns!
Independence Monument viewed from above. Climbers scale the pillar every Fourth of July and plant a flag on the top. Enlarge this photo and look towards the top of the pillar and you will be able to see two red dots – the t-shirts -of a couple of guys summiting the top. You can see the city of Grand Junction in the background.
Colorado National Monument view from Rim Rock Drive.
Colorado National Monument. Coke Ovens Trail.
Birds of The Grand Valley
And, of course, like everywhere else, there were birds in the Grand Valley. Here is a small sampling of a few we caught on “film.”
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a red crest which is raised when it’s excited. Females lay a clutch of up to a dozen eggs. These guys act like they have a broken wing to lead intruders away from their nests. If that doesn’t work they will gather together and mob the intruder.
Spotted Towhee at McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.
The White-crowned Sparrow breeds in northern Canada. It can stay awake for up to two weeks while migrating. It’s a new world bird, but has been seen in northern Europe.
House Finch Colorado National Monument