Colorado National Monument, CO (USA)

October 18, 2016

Colorado National Monument is situated in a geological region known as the Colorado Plateau.

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An extraordinary amount of weathering and erosion has taken place here.

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Freezing and thawing, running water, and wind sculpted the steep cliffs and dramatic rock features over millions of years.

The resulting landscape is not only a beautiful escape but also a window into the past.

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Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock, a 600 ton (550 metric ton) boulder, has been left perched on a pedestal while most of the rock that once surrounded it has weathered away.

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The Earth's continents have not always looked the way they do today. Over the millennia they have risen, fallen, collided, and drifted apart.

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Just over 200 million years ago the Colorado region was located in the tropics north of the equator.

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Millions of years later, it was in a desert belt the same latitude as today's Sahara Desert.

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Eventually, the area drifted to its current position, on a more temperate zone.

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The sedimentary rocks that formed during these different times varied with environmental conditions.

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Independence Monument

John Otto (the monument's founder and promoter) started a tradition which continues to this day by climbing 450-foot Independence Monument to fly the American flag on July 4, 1911.

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Independence Monument

As the Colorado River eroded the Grand Valley, small tributary streams, which are usually dry, struggled to keep up.

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Pipe Organ

Over the millennia, these streams cut through the sandstones to create steep-walled canyons.

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When the stream beds reached the hard igneous and metamorphic rocks, downward erosion almost stopped.

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The Bookcliffs Mountains

Monoliths are the most dramatic features of the Colorado National Monument.

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In the distance, on the north side of the valley, the Bookcliffs rise from the floor of the Grand Valley to make the north boundary of the valley all the way to Price, Utah.

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Erosion produces unusual shapes on the landscape. As the protective Kayenta Formation layers erode from the ridge before you, the softer Wingate Formation beneath it is exposed and responds in a unique way.

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Early visitors thought these shapes looked like man-made structures called coke ovens.

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Desert bighorn sheep

The area's natural beauty was invisible to most people in 1911, the year President Taft designated it as Colorado National Monument.

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That's because the monument, rising nearly 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley, was only accessible to hardy souls on foot or horseback.

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That began to change in 1933 with the Great Depression when young men were hired to build Rim Rock Drive, a spectacular testament to American ingenuity and hard work.

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Driving Distance from Vancouver: 2,015 km (22 hours)