Colorado National Monument – After Action Report

Colorado National Monument
Monument Canyon at Sunset – Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument is a area of dramatic red rock canyons and steep cliffs, located a few miles Southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado.

I had been plotting a photography trip to Colorado National Monument for a little over a year for late May of 2022. I had to postpone this trip twice due to unforeseen circumstances, however, I finally made the journey there on June 14th.

I booked a hotel on the West side of Grand Junction and it was about a 20 mile drive to the Monument from where I was staying. Fairly easy access, the Monument is open to the public 24 hours a day. Traffic and activity was low, so there wasn’t much congestion in the park, which made for a pleasant visit.

Colorado National Monument isn’t difficult to access by vehicle. There is one main road through the park called Rim Rock Drive, which runs mostly north-south. Along that road are numerous pullout and overlooks which provide dramatic and beautiful views of the canyons and the Colorado River as is flows through the nearby town of Fruita.

All photographs on this trip were made using a Nikon D850 and/or the 24-70mm f/2.8 VR or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II.

I arrived at my hotel mid-day, before check-in time, so I made my first run through the Monument in the early afternoon before checking in. The light was good, coming from the west and it lit the canyons and distant scenery quite well.

I made a second run through the Monument later in the afternoon and stayed until about 10:30 pm so I could get photos of the rising Strawberry Super Full Moon. A valiant effort that didn’t really pay off due to convection heat rising from the valley below, distorting photos of the moon. But it was still a beautiful experience watching the full super moon rise from the top of the mountains.

Looking East Towards Fruita and the Colorado River

I woke early on the second day and made another run through the Monument. Most of the views from Rim Rock Drive were to the East and the sun rising made for a totally different light on the canyons. I would say that from a photographic standpoint, afternoon light is better as the sun will be behind you when looking out over the canyons from the road.

There was a wildfire burning in Arizona, called the Pipeline Fire, and the smoke from that fire had carried into the Western Slope of Colorado. The thick haze hanging over the area ruined the quality of images I was going to get so I finished up my morning run and broke the trip off to make the four hour drive back home to Denver.

Wildfire smoke is becoming a common problem during the summer months here in Colorado. Geography and bad luck have smoke coming into the state from the South and West all summer long the last few years.  It’s getting worse too. One never knows if the smoke is going to interfere with photography. Personally, when It’s smokey, I generally don’t attempt to photograph the landscapes. Nobody want’s photographs of beautiful landscapes that are full of smoke haze. Disappointing, but unavoidable.

Still, I wasn’t disappointed with the trip. Colorado National Monument is a worthy visit and can be thoroughly viewed in one full day of easy travel. I was able to get quite a few very nice landscape images in just three passes through the park.

I’ve been through Grand Junction many times but I’ve never really spent much time there. I finally made this trip and I’ll probably return again. Colorado National Monument is a beautiful place and very easy to get to. I can check it off my list of scenic Colorado locations I haven’t visited, but I’m never happy with just one visit. I’ll be going back again. I’m thinking it would look fantastic in the Winter.