Photos: Colorado National Monuments and Parks you can't visit because of idiot politicians
It's day three of the partial federal government shutdown, and at this writing, thousands of workers assigned to what are regarded as nonessential gigs are off the job -- including everyone assigned to Colorado's seven National Monuments and four National Parks, which will remain closed until the situation is resolved. What are potential visitors missing? Only some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. Look below for photos and Colorado.com text celebrating all eleven of these sites. Reading about them is likely to make you even angrier at our nation's politicians. Colorado National Monument
Why Go?: Picturesque Colorado lives here. Don't blink, because with colorfully striated cliff walls, rock arches, high mesas and ample wildlife, there's a magnificent sight everywhere you look in the Colorado National Monument.
Don't Miss: The geology of the site appeals to rock hounds and landscape lovers alike. View the varied formations by taking the winding 23-mile Rim Rock Drive along the plateau, where wind and water-sculpted sandstone greet you around every turn.
Around the Park: The Colorado National Monument is a gateway to the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway. Prehistoric rock art is found along this route, as are many dinosaur excavation sites where museum-quality bones have been extracted.
Nearby Cities: Grand Junction, Fruita
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Why Go?: Culturally rich Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds the distinction of having the highest density of archaeological sites in the country. Come for the Ancestral Puebloan history and stay for the unspoiled land of Colorado's high desert. It's not everywhere that culture, history and pure nature can mingle so well. This monument is perfect if you want to get away from it all and be enveloped in the quiet of the outdoors.
Don't Miss: The Lowry Pueblo is the only developed recreation site within the monument. With interpretive signs and brochures on-site, you can take a self-guided tour of a historic Ancestral Puebloan structure.
Around the Park: Drive the areas that Ancestral Puebloans once explored on foot, on the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway that circles Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Make sure to visit the Anasazi Heritage Center, a nearby stop that will help shed light on the history and legend of the people who once settled the area. Full of informative displays and cultural facts, a visit here gives people a greater respect for those who came centuries before.
Nearby City: Cortez
Why Go? Colorado's newest national monument (as of Sept. 2012), Chimney Rock, once home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, is of great spiritual significance. More than 200 homes and ceremonial structures built by the Chaco people 1,000 years ago near the twin rock structures that give the monument its name. From mid-May through September, guide walking tours are available of the 4,100-acre archaeological site. Starting at the visitor center, you'll head to Great House Trail to learn about the site, its excavation and the people who settled there so long ago.
Don't Miss: This one's easy to miss. Every 18.6 years, a lunar standstill takes place at Chimney Rock. During the winter solstice, the moon rises perfectly between the rocks, framing an amazing scene that can only be seen from the Great House Pueblo. Researchers suggest the pueblo's builders constructed it where they did for this reason. The next predicted alignment is in 2022.
Around the Park: Chimney Rock is located west of Pagosa Springs in the San Juan National Forest. Navajo State Park, with its beautiful boating and fishing waters is located just 40 minutes south of the archaeological area.
Nearby Cities: Pagosa Springs, Bayfield
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Why Go?: Tourists have been visiting the fossil beds here since the 1870s. Groves of petrified redwood forests and thousands of fossilized insects populate this national monument. Although the Florissant Fossil Beds are lush and green today, roughly 35 millions years ago, volcanic eruptions covered this area in ash and lava, encasing plants and animals in preserving stone. Up to 1,500 different kinds of fossil insects have been found here, making it one of the most diverse insect fossil sites in the world.
Don't Miss: Easy hikes to petrified forests are great for the whole family. Take the Walk Through Time (1/2 mile) and Petrified Forest (1 mile) trails to see some of the largest petrified sequoias in the world.
Around the Park: The Gold Belt Tour Scenic and Historic Byway begins near the park. Take this 135-mile route through areas that were once integral to Colorado's gold rush. To the east, just outside of Colorado Springs, is the Garden of the Gods, where paved hiking paths weave through a giant natural rock garden.
Nearby Cities: Cripple Creek, Colorado Springs
Why Go?: Images of dinosaurs feed the imaginations of children of all ages, and Dinosaur National Monument is where our dreams of unearthing these goliaths become real. The Green River also flows through this area, and wildlife abounds along its banks. You can even drop a line in and tease a trout out of the river with a perfectly placed cast. An inspiring look at the monument can be found on a drive along Harper's Corner Road, a scenic tour that leads travelers to a grand overlook above the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers.
Don't Miss: While the fossils themselves are the big draw, don't let the name of the park dissuade you from other "must do" activities in the area. In fact, a novel way to see the monument is aboard a raft. Companies take visitors through the park's two river systems, the Yampa and the Green. Watch for wildlife along the banks and marvel at the canyon walls as you float down the oxbowed rivers.
Around the Park: To the south of the monument is the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway. This scenic highway showcases Fremont Indian rock art and is spotted with dinosaur dig sites.
Nearby City: Dinosaur
Hovenweep National Monument
Why Go?: Remote and often uncrowded, Hovenweep National Monument includes a bevy of structures, namely a series of stone towers built by the Ancestral Puebloan people. The site is famous for its square, oval, circular and "D"-shaped towers. Square Tower site is easily accessible, with a nice hiking trail and visitor center.
Don't Miss: Head out to one of the remote outlying sites, including Cajon, Cutthroat Castle, Goodman Point, Holly and Horseshoe/Hackberry. Each is reached by a half-mile or less hike and offers quiet reflection at the structures built so many years ago.
Around the Park: For a completely different experience, take a tour of the Ute Tribal Park. Full-day tours of this primitive area are led by Ute Indian guides who share their knowledge of both Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures, sites and rock art.
Nearby City: Cortez
Yucca House National Monument
Colorado's seventh national monument is another Ancestral Puebloan valley pueblo near Towaoc, but it has not yet been excavated and there are no facilities. Hopefully in years to come, it will yield many exciting discoveries.
Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwest Colorado near Cortez, is home to some of the most unique Ancestral Puebloan dwellings in the world. Well-preserved and well-studied, these dwellings have been inspiring interest in this ancient culture for more than 100 years.
Tucked securely into cliff walls, the adobe-constructed homes are a novel sight to visitors who crane their necks skyward to see them. Ladders give guided groups access to the cliff dwellings, and park rangers offer glimpses into the daily lives of Ancestral Puebloans.
What You Can't Miss: One-hour walking tour of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park and home to multiple living enclaves and buildings. You can expect to do a bit of mild climbing and walking, as the route first descends roughly 100 feet over uneven steps and ascends a series of eight-foot ladders to access and exit the site.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Nowhere else in the United States do mountains of sand stand higher than in the Rocky Mountains at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. The tallest dune towers 750 feet high at an elevation of 8,700 feet above sea level. The entire dune field itself, located near the town of Alamosa, encompasses 30 square miles within the 150,000-acre park.
Aside from the dunes, you'll find abundant hiking opportunities, as well as a four-wheel-driving trail along the challenging Medano Pass -- an off-road route that stretches roughly 25 miles from within the park to the town of Gardner.
What You Can't Miss: Regardless of the season, park visitors on skis, snowboards and sleds carve their way down the dunes much like they would on the famous Colorado ski slopes. If you want to give it a try, just look for the steepest part of any dune, point yourself down it, and let gravity work its magic.
Sheer black walls plummet up to 2,700 feet on this 53-mile stretch of narrow gorge near Montrose, which reveal millions of years of natural history. Since its documented European discovery in the 1700s, the gorge has been renowned for its dramatic scenery and recreational opportunities.
Not to mention its history: the Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad once traversed the mouth of this fissure that plunges into the Rockies. Today, the train is paid homage by an informative railroad museum and ranger talks throughout the park.
What You Can't Miss: This national park provides an array of outdoor activities, which means there is truly something for everyone. Auto touring, wildlife viewing, camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and stargazing...they're just the beginning of your many options.
Rocky Mountain National Park
As a tribute to the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains between Estes Park and Grand Lake, this park encompasses the pure and natural beauty of the region. With high-mountain lakes and streams, peaks more than 14,000 feet, thick evergreen forests and thousands of acres of wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park conjures up what most people imagine when they think of the Rockies.
This Rocky Mountain National Park finds its way onto most visitors' travel itineraries. And with so much to see and do within its 415-square-mile boundaries, there's no wonder its popularity endures. It would be difficult to find a better place to experience the geographically defining Rocky Mountains than in a park dedicated to them.
What You Can't Miss: Open from Memorial Day to late autumn, Trail Ridge Road -- topping out at 12,183 feet -- is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. Get an unforgettable look at the top of the Rockies while taking this one-of-a-kind drive.
More from our Things to Do archive: "Photos: Ten best parks for doing just about anything in Denver and beyond."
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