By Kristen Lummis (enjoy her blog Brave Ski Mom, like her on facebook or follow her on twitter @BraveSkiMom)
Colorado is full of classic bicycle routes, many of which can leave you breathless at a high altitude.
The Colorado National Monument ride is different. Located in western Colorado, just shy of the Utah border, Colorado National Monument offers cyclists never-ending vistas of stunning red rock canyons, pinyon-juniper forests, three seasons of wildflowers and a musical accompaniment of canyon wrens on almost any given day.
The ride isn’t easy. No matter which way one rides the Monument (as the locals call it), it involves a significant climb. But with a top altitude of only 6,640 feet, a total vertical gain of 2300 feet, and a round-trip distance of 33 miles, this ride won’t leave you gasping for air.
The Tour of the Moon
For eight exciting years, between 1980 and 1988, the Monument was the location of the “Tour of The Moon,” a popular stage of the Coors International Bicycle Classic. During its heyday, the Coors Classic was the largest men’s and women’s pro-am race in the world, attracting the top teams and top cyclists.
In 1981 and 1985, cycling legend Greg LeMond won the Coors Classic. Other famous participants included speed-skating legends Eric and Beth Heiden, with Beth winning the women’s division in 1980. The 1984 film American Flyers, starring Kevin Costner was inspired by the Tour of the Moon and filmed on site in Mesa County.
Since the late 1980s, cycling on the Colorado National Monument has been limited to amateurs, enthusiasts and just plain crazy people. We fit into all three of these categories. We are certainly amateurs. We are most definitely enthusiasts, and my husband is sometimes considered crazy. How to else to explain why he would choose to ride up and down the Monument three times on one firecracker hot 4th of July? He didn’t ride the entire 33 mile circuit each time. But he did ride the difficult climbing section three separate times — in a row.
The USA Pro Cycling Challenge
In late August 2011, professional cycling returned to Colorado with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The Monument wasn’t one of this year’s stages. However, with a landscape like no other in pro cycling, USA Pro Cycling Challenge organizers are hoping to resurrect the Tour of the Moon for the 2012 race. The National Park Service may have other ideas. Citing concerns for protection of the park’s natural resources, an application by the Local Organizing Committee has so far been denied.
Local organizers have a number of alternate routes in mind for 2012. But it won’t be the same. Until the Park Service changes its mind, cycling on the Colorado National Monument will be limited to amateurs. This means that while most of us can’t ride with the pros, we can ride somewhere they can’t. And if you haven’t ridden over the Colorado National Monument, you should. It truly is a classic ride.
When You Go
Colorado National Monument is located approximately 250 miles west of Denver, between the towns of Grand Junction and Fruita. The East entrance to the park is located approximately 5 miles from downtown Grand Junction on Monument Road.
Just past the East Entrance station is parking at the Devil’s Kitchen trailhead (on the left) or the Devil’s Kitchen picnic area (on the right, complete with bathrooms). Both areas have parking and are good places to begin your ride. Please note that all cyclists must have a steady white light on the front of their bikes and a flashing red light on the back. Cyclists are also required to ride single file (for more information on park requirements, click here).
From Devil’s Kitchen, the road switchbacks up about four miles, through a dark tunnel before plateauing at the Cold Shivers viewpoint. Traffic can be heavy along this portion of the road, but just about 1/2 mile past Cold Shivers is a turn off to Glade Park, a ranching community. After this point, cyclists pretty much have the park to themselves.
From here, it is another 5-6 miles of rolling uphill terrain to the high point of the Colorado National Monument. After the high point, the descent begins, with only one more significant uphill climb, at Black Ridge.
The Visitors Center (at mile 19) is worth a stop to refill water bottles and check out the new interpretive displays. Leaving the Visitors’ Center, the road descends rapidly through two shorter tunnels to the West Entrance of the park.
Leaving the park, cyclists ride east along Broadway, turning right onto South Broadway for about 4 miles. Another right turn onto South Camp takes riders back to Monument Road and back to their cars.
Back at your car, you’ve completed one circuit of the Tour of the Moon. That’s what the pro women rode back in the ’80s. The pro men did two back-to-back circuits.