Day 17 - Grand Junction to Moab  
    An ancient face watches over the canyons at Colorado National Monument    
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

David and I awoke in Grand Junction, Colorado, to another bright sunny day, and one that for me at least, promised to be very exciting. I was excited because later today I was going to finally see the world famous Arches National Park, something that I had been keenly anticipating for all the months of planning that had gone into the trip.

Grand Junction was founded in 1881, and is most famous now as the centre of the United States richest deposits of dinosaur remains, and for its proximity to the Colorado National Monument. The monument is a mesa that rises from the soil of the plain adjacent to the town, and for us would provide the first glimpse into the type of country we would see for the next week.

After breakfast we headed off to see what the Colorado National Monument was, because in all of my planning for the trip I had never heard of it. Boy were we in for a pleasant surprise!

A view from Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument.
Minolta X-570 with 17mm f/4 MC W.Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The Colorado National Monument was designated as a National Monument on 24th May 1911, and it is not hard to see why. Rising from the plain floor, this enormous mesa covers approximately 20,500 acres, and features cliff faces, monolithic rocks and wildlife from lizards and big-horned sheep through to coyotes, mountain lions and eagles. Best of all for the visitor it features a spectacular 23 mile road that runs around the rim of the mesa, with walking paths leading off into beautiful wilderness for the more adventurous.

Upon arriving at the mesa we got out at one of the carparks and went for a walk to explore a little. We followed a trail up past an old creekbed, and climbed up into the heights of the mesa. From there we could look down a long canyon and see Grand Junction like some tiny dolls' village down far below. The path had petered out long ago, and we were walking over the rock of the mesa, seeing lizards and birds, and surrounded by untouched wilderness.

It was at this stage that I discovered that David was uncomfortable with heights, and had been a little disconcerted by our journey that had taken us near unprotected sheer drops. While David relaxed for a few minutes I walked a little further and took some photos, before we headed back to the car in in a more circumspect manner.

Independence Monument, with Grand Gunction in the background.
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The high country of Colorado National Monument rises more than 2000 feet above the valley of the Colorado River. It was created millions of years ago in the same upheaval that formed the Rocky Mountains, and after the forces of erosion over thousands of years have worked upon the rock the result is what we see today, an incredible vista of cliffs and canyons.

The driving force behind the creation of the Colorado National Monument was a man named John Otto, who in 1906 was passing through Grand Junction and fell in love with the canyons and amazing wilderness. He stayed in Colorado, living alone in the canyon country, and over the years built miles of paths through the canyons, so that others might visit and appreciate their beauty. Finally, in 1911 after the citizens of Grand Junction had deluged the politicians in Washinton with letters requesting it be made a National Park its future was protected by being named a National Monument. John Otto was appointed as the first park caretaker, a job that he did until 1927 at the pay of one dollar a month..

The famous Balanced Rock, with an estimated weight of 600 tons.
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

We stopped at many of the dozens of viewpoints around the Rim Road to admire the scenery, and to capture the incredble sights on film. It is certainly worth a visit for anyone travelling along the I-70 through Colorado.

We left Colorado National Monument and continued on our way, entering into Utah. The country that you pass through along this road, and then down Route 191 to Moab is very spectacular. I think David was getting a little frustrated after my continuous requests to stop to take pictures, but to his credit he put up with my demands, and we stopped regularly to capture some incredible sights.

View from beside the I-70 - what incredible country.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

The Colorado River follows along beside the I-70 for the first part of the journey between Grand Junction and Moab, and that is where some amazing shots featuring the contrast of the lush riverside vegetation and the deep red cliffs can be taken. As it was now later in the day the colours that had been flat and washed out from the harsh sun at Colorado National Monument were starting to come alive. Next time I travel to Colorado I have promised myself to visit the Monument again in much better light.

Visiting western Colorado is a must-do experience for the keen landscape photographer.
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC W.Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala

Finally, and with much anticipation we arrived at Arches National Park just as the sun was setting. With only a few minutes of light left we pulled over at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint, and I threw a roll of Velvia in my trusty XD7 and set up. Before us the last rays of the sun slipped quickly over the petrified dunes, and I realised that I was finally achieving my long held dream of photographing in Arches National Park.

The last light of the day on the mountains behind the Petrified Dunes, Arches NP.
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Velvia

The light departed very quickly from the sky, and I shot a number of long exposures to try to capture the most of the moment. It wasn't really necessary, as I will remember it forever, I felt like I had made the photographer's equivalent of a journey to Mecca. The best shot of the night was taken turned back towards the sunset, using a neutral density grad filter to get the most from the radidly diminishing illumination.

Arches NP, Utah
Minolta XD7 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Velvia

Following my brief evening photo shoot, during which David had waited patiently by the car studiously ignoring nature's glory, we headed into Moab and to our accomodation. We weren't expecting much from a town in Utah, but Moab was a real surprise. With such close proximity to Arches NP and Canyonlands NP the area is awash with tourists, and so there was some good nightlife to be had. After he had put up with my photography all day I decided to accede to David's request that we visit a local bar for dinner - after all, what are best friends for, if not to help out their good buddies when they are thirsty?

Much to our delight, we happened upon the Moab Brewery, in short walking distance from our hotel. Let me say that this was an exceptionally pleasing discovery, particularly when we found that they had an extensive beer tasting menu. Suffice it to say that a good night was had by all!

Click below to see day 18 of my journey, spent exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

To Day 18 - Arches and Canyonlands NP
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