Although the distance through Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park to Grand Lake is just 48 miles, it took us the better part of the day. When we exited the park at Grand Lake we continued on two-lane roads until we returned to Interstate 70 at Silverthorne, then drove 263 miles further to Grand Junction, Colorado for the night. The total miles logged for the day was just over 300 but we saw plenty of scenic beauty at a fairly leisurely pace.
Dinner at the Ale House was a real treat for Jim featuring elk and a treat for me featuring outdoor seating plus fish tacos and sweet potato fries. The place was busy– a good sign– and the food was well-presented and tasty.
We were up and out of our hotel early the following morning and made straight for the east entrance to Colorado National Monument. Rim Rock Drive is a 23-mile paved road through the park from Grand Junction in the east to Fruita at the west entrance with many stops along the way to enjoy majestic awe-inspiring canyon views.
Immediately inside the east entrance, we stopped to hike a portion of historic Serpent’s Trail, dubbed the crookedest road in the world when it was completed in 1921. With 16 switchbacks, it was part of the main road until it was replaced in 1950 by Rim Rock Drive. Today it’s strictly a hiking trail, but I bet in its day the drive struck fear in many a heart.
We encountered few vehicles on Rim Rock Drive and even fewer people on the trails. If you seek a spiritual experience without human interruption or just want to get “far from the madding crowd,” this place is for you. Each scenic overlook and trail offered inspiring views of red rock canyons, towering rock formations, and contrasting colorful vegetation that soothed and fed the soul.
A herd of about 40 desert bighorn sheep live within the confines of Colorado National Monument. Seeing them is a rare experience because they avoid human contact. We were surprised and gratified to spot this group on the side of the road. Jim believes they didn’t hear the Prius because the electric engine was engaged so the vehicle was silent.
As we left Colorado National Monument, we had a conversation with a ranger that changed our entire trip through Utah. The result was a sublime experience. She suggested we get off I-70 and take Utah State Route 128 on the east side of Arches National Park rather than SR 191 on the west side of the park. That began our adventure along the back roads of Utah that were far more scenic and interesting than the interstate highways. We didn’t take another freeway until we reached Kansas on our way back to Iowa.
Jim was doubtful when we first exited I70 and saw this. He feared I’d misguided him but we were indeed on the right road.
I assured him we had taken the correct road and we soon saw the Colorado River.
Many of the old western movies from the 40’s and 50’s used these canyonlands as a film location. SR 128’s designation as the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway is definitely deserved.
Based on events of September 2015.