Road(s): Paved = straight in the lowlands; curvy up to the pass and in the national monument
Round-trip from Denver: 927 miles
Length of Byway: 486 miles (including the Utah portion)
Vehicle types: Car, sport bike
Elevation change: 4,514 feet to 8,268 feet
Location: West/Northwest Colorado
Everything Old is New Again
I took my youngest daughter on this tour, because of the dinosaurs that used to roam the area millions of years ago and have since been unearthed in various quarries along the byway. She’s never seen this part of Colorado, so it was all new to her. It was good to have her enthusiasm along the way as we saw some of the BLM protected pictographs north of Douglas Pass in Canyon Pintado along the byway.
A Bittersweet Tour
Two years earlier, I was out west in Fruita, Colorado visiting a friend and enjoying the views from the Colorado National Monument. The visit with my friend was well worth the five-hour drive out west. This time around, I did not have the chance to see my friend, since she and her family were out of town. My daughter and I did make the best of things as we chose to stay in a very nice Marriot hotel in downtown Grand Junction, the Fairfield Inn and Suites.
The last time I was out west, I took a long route to drive home and took all day to see some Colorado mountain countryside which I had never seen before. This time around, the drive going to Grand Junction was the long route. I had been dying to see Dallas Divide again for several months. My aim was to drive along Last Dollar Road in the late afternoon to see the changing aspen against the backdrop of the jagged mountains of the divide. While Dallas Divide and the Last Dollar Road are almost 90 miles south of Grand Junction, this “side trip” was well worth the diversion on our way to Grand Junction. I will let the photos speak for themselves…
This particular byway is yet one more byway in Colorado which actually goes into another state. In the case of Dinosaur Diamond, the byway extends into Utah. The landscape along the byway is quite spectacular, mostly because of the red hues of the sandstone all along the drive. Had I had enough time to take more days off from work, I would have extended our tour into Utah to see Arches National Park in Utah. My daughter loves that area as well.
Another downside to traveling the byway was the fact that the US government had been shut down, so we weren’t able to see some of the points along the way, like the Colorado National Monument and the heart of Dinosaur National Monument, as well as the quarry. That being said, the drive up to Dinosaur to see part of the monument was still worth the trip. There was still plenty for us to see and the weather was cooperating quite nicely.
On the way to Dinosaur Ntl. Monument from the south side, you can visit the Colorado National Monument, as well as the dinosaur quarry on the northern edge of the Colorado Ntl. Monument to see where dinosaur fossils had been unearthed in the early 1900s – Dinosaur Hill, Fruita.
Heading north from Fruita, you end up on a very straight and what seems desolate stretch of highway 139. Before you, lies the Book Cliffs, which look like tall sandcastles of different colored layers, but are actually made of colorful sandstone. You don’t see the green pinyon and colorful scrub oak of what ends up being the foothills before Douglas Pass until the road reaches the cliffs and they give way to the green mountain valley which leads up to Douglas Pass.
Soon though, the road begins to twist and curve as you begin to gain altitude and the temperature takes a quick dive as the pass looms above you in what seems like a very steep incline. And then…after a few very sharp hairpin curves, you’re there…at the top of the pass. While there is a pull-out at the top, you will notice that the route in getting there on either side is quite steep and you realize how special this mountain pass really is considering where it is located…at the western edge of Colorado’s semi-arid high country dessert.
On the northern side of Douglas Pass, you quickly descend into Canyon Pintado and soon find yourself surrounded by low sandstone cliffs and all along this part of the drive; you find BLM signs of the Kokopelli Pictographs which have withstood the test of time for several hundred years. This is where my daughter came alive. She was not only curious about the origins of the pictographs, but thought about how the artists created their art to withstand the weather for so very long.
Although these off-road sites were part of the BLM though, we still were able to get close enough to take photos and wonder about the art work, mostly because they were so close to the road and no locks, or chains blocked our path. Still, I was disheartened to see that at one of these sites, there were people who thought it was necessary to try and deface these ancient pictures by carving their names into the cliff-sides alongside the images.
Dinosaur National Monument
As you continue driving northward, the landscape becomes stark and desolate after passing through Rangely and continuing north to the town of Dinosaur. At this point, you can head west into Utah, or go east for two miles to the entrance of Dinosaur National Monument. After stopping at the visitor center in Dinosaur to find out if we were going to be able to see any of the monument, we headed east to the monument entrance. What I had learned at the visitor center was that although the middle point of the monument was inaccessible due to the government shut-down, the road getting there was still open.
I was pleasantly surprised as we drove north along this road to find that it climbed in elevation and we soon found ourselves on a plateau with views as far as the eyes could see (at least as much as the haze would let us see) in all directions. The landscape wasn’t as barren as I had imagined and the layers of colored sandstone were nearly outdone by the colors of the vegetation which include not only pinyon pine, but scrub oak and aspen as well.
As we drew closer to the closed end of the road, we also passed over the Utah state line and came to a fork in the road, which is also known as “The Center of the Universe”, or in other words Echo Park. At this point, I wanted to continue forging along any road that was open, but because this road is a one-way dirt road and I couldn’t tell whether it was going to be open all the way down, I erred on the side of caution and headed back south to Grand Junction and dinner with my daughter at her favorite place, Johnny Carinos.
The End of the Byway Tours
Driving home the next day was only a little bittersweet. While this was my last byway tour over the past two years, I know I will be coming back for more. And in the future, it won’t be as quickly, but rather, I will find a way to spend more time along each byway and find more out-of-the-way nooks and crannies along these byways to add to my ever expanding wealth of Colorado Byway knowledge.