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.
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.
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.
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.”