Rambling Through 23.65 Miles of Colorado National Monument Park

April 28, 2012

One of my running goal this summer is to spend more weekends in new, unknown locations. Just throw a tent and some shoes in the back of my Jeep, drive somewhere and spend a weekend running.

This weekend I put my plan into action, conscripting Todd to come with me out to Fruita in far western Colorado (about 15 miles from the border of Utah). We found free backcountry camping in Colorado National Monument Park, which happened to be a recommended spot for a run. So after a 4:30am shove-off from Boulder on Saturday, we arrived in Fruita, got to the park, hiked a mile down into Monument Canyon and set up camp.

Looking down into Fruita Canyon from Rim Rock Road.

Pretty sweet site.

Todd took off to bike the 18 Road paths up in north Fruita (which was supposedly sick), while I set off on the Monument Canyon Trail that ran right by our site.

I started off running east, down the length of the canyon. The first 4 miles were gorgeous. Soft, red dirt travels that twist and roll along the canyon floor. Burnt cliffs, the towering Independence Monument, flowering cacti and Desert Paintbrushes, scattering skinks. It was pretty unreal. I kept asking myself if I was really there.

Rock gates.

Gnarly arches.

More monuments out to the south.

A totally square rock in the middle for the trail.

Insanely mean-looking cacti.

Canyon soarin’.

At the base of Independence Monument. (Because it looks like the Statue of Liberty?)

Headed back up the canyon.

Penstemons by the trail.

Unfortunately, I felt like utter shit. Maybe it was the early wake up and long drive, but I was miserable. I couldn’t seem to get enough water in to satiate my mouth or body, and I started getting a crushing headache. Luckily I was reaching the end of the trail and had to turn around and head back towards camp. I stopped off to change my shoes (to my 110s with a rock plate as I was headed up out of the canyon and onto the mesa), grab a few Ibuprofens and glasses and get my bottle of Perpetuem. It was almost instantly better.

I took the switchbacks up the canyon and ran a quick detour out to Coke Oven Overlook before climbing the final way out via the CCA trail. Now I was on top of the mesa and ran south on Black Ridge Trail until I hit Liberty Cap Trail. I wanted to actually see the Liberty Cap (an old petrified sand dune), but it was already getting late, and that would’ve made for about a 29-mile day, which was just too much. So I turned around after 2.5 miles and headed back to camp.

The dramatic view from Coke Ovens Overlook.

Either Perky Sue or Bahia Aster.

Desert paintbrush.

Twisted Juniper on Liberty Cap.

Cactus and flowers.

The whole section on top of the mesa was kind of bland, flat and gray and lots of scraggly junipers. But for some reason, I find that the middle 3/5 to 4/5 of a race or run are always like that. I don’t know if it’s a mindset thing or just the fact that you natural start at the most beautiful/interesting points in a course and move out from there, so by the time you’re getting to the middle-end of a race or run, you’ve reach some section that’s probably less interesting.

Anyway, I grabbed some jugs of water out of my Jeep at the top of the canyon and ran down to camp about 700 feet below. That night, we feasted on some baked beans, veggies and sausage and conked out, 23.65 miles behind me.