Colorado, Cycling, National Parks/Etc., United States

Desert Escape Part 1: Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur Hill, and Desert Gravel CO2UT

A lack of adventures makes Heidi a dull girl.

To say I was long overdue for a vacation is an understatement. Luckily I had my perfect escape moment – a gravel bike race in Fruita, CO, which would land me in proximity to one of my favorite desert getaways, Moab, UT. Vacation requests in at work, adventuring gear loaded up, and finally I was escaping!

Taking me to Fruita was the brand new bike race, Desert Gravel CO2UT. After a couple of reschedules due to the pandemic, it was finally slated for May 22nd. I left Laramie on May 21st, taking my special secret way to the Western Slope that skips the I-25 and I-70 madness through the Front Range of Colorado and tourist hoards that do not know how to drive on mountainous interstates.

Back roads are the best!

Arriving in Fruita, I picked up my friend, Tom, and we headed up to Colorado National Monument. Back in 2016 I pedaled my road bike through the monument, which was a great adventure. Now I wanted to stop and grab a Parks Passport stamp at the visitor’s center and just kill time before hotel check-in, dinner, and resting up for 100 miles on the bike the next morning.

Colorado National Monument was established in 1911 as a unit of the National Park Service and helps preserve some iconic southwest scenery of towering red rock cliffs, canyons, and sandstone formation. Rim Rock Drive is a great way to travel through the monument by car or bicycle (the famous Coors Classic race took place here in the 1980s… if you’ve seen American Flyers, you’ve seen a lot of the iconic road). There are also hiking trails, camping, and a visitor’s center.

After showing my American the Beautiful federal lands pass (the best $80 I spent in 2020!), we headed up Rim Rock Drive. Almost immediately we saw several desert bighorn sheep, which left me scrambling for my Nikon. What a special treat!

We then wound up the road and through some of the tunnels found on Rim Rock Drive. (Side note, if you are bicycling through here, you will need to have front and rear lights on your bike, and the entrance station will check for them – safety first!). The visitor’s center is just four miles up the road and is located by the Saddlehorn Campground. There is a store (the best things ever, once again I had to avoid buying all the geology books) and an exhibit.

Is it even a blog post if I don’t include a photo of Mr. Fozzy?!
View from the overlook behind the visitor’s center

Overall, it was a quick visit, but sometimes that’s all it takes to have an adventure! After leaving the monument, Tom pointed out the road to Dinosaur Hill, and I screeched and turned off. I love dinosaurs, what can I say? Dinosaur Hill is the site of one of the most complete brontosaurus fossils found (long necks are my fave!). There is a 1-mile walking path and some interpretive signs. It was super windy, so we snapped a few photos and I dragged out all of my Adventure Dinos to pose for a photo before carrying on.

Dinosaur Hill’s hiking path
Why yes, I AM an adult. I swear. #nevergrowup

The next day was race day at Desert Gravel CO2UT. Several distances were offered at this gravel race, and I chose the “Triceratops 100 mile.” Yes, the race had a dinosaur theme. Yes, that is why I registered for it! I have a complete race report found here if you are interested in reading more about the race. I really really enjoyed the race, and definitely would be back. Pedaling for 100 miles along the Book Cliffs, North Fruita Desert, and Utah border was awesome!

Desert Gravel CO2UT (Photo by Ned Mataraso)

Coming up in Part 2 – my friend, Sarah, and I head west to Moab for mountain biking, off roading, and exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks!

2 thoughts on “Desert Escape Part 1: Colorado National Monument, Dinosaur Hill, and Desert Gravel CO2UT”

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