This image of a dead juniper tree, “Sunset Sentinel,” was captured during a warm summer afternoon, cliffside, at Coke Ovens Overlook inside Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colo. Located on the Colorado and Utah border, this beautiful national park, one of 12 in Colorado, reminds me more of a place you might see inside Utah or Nevada with almost blood-red earth and a rugged desert trail system. Most of Colorado National Monument rises more that 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. Entrance to the park is accessible from the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita. You can drive straight through the 32-square-mile park along Rim Rock Drive, stopping along the way at the overlooks for expansive views from sheer cliffs of deep canyons, the Grand Mesa and the cities below. Many of the more picturesque views, such as that of Independence Monument, the impressive 450-foot sandstone monolith, can be viewed just a few steps from your vehicle. Many couples have been known to hold wedding ceremonies at Book Cliffs Overlook, featuring a stunning view of Wedding Canyon and the entire Grand Valley.
Colorado National Monument is great to explore during all four seasons, but expect extreme weather conditions. Summer temps reach up to 110 degrees F. Be sure to pack lots of water if you plan to do extensive hiking on the sprawling trail system. Don’t expect relief from the hot sun in the shade either. There are few trees with adequate foliage for shade, so sunscreen and head coverings are an absolute must. During the winter months, temperatures can fall below freezing. On
average, 38 inches of snow accumulate per year, usually between January and February, with an annual average rainfall of 11.03 inches. The moisture is typically spread throughout the year, with the wettest months being August through October.
Some of the best photographs of Colorado National Monument are taken cliffside during low-light conditions, when slower shutter speeds are required, so a sturdy tripod is essential for a sharp image. Though a tripod may slow you down, this change of pace is helpful for setting up and composing your shot. This image was taken while the camera was firmly secured on a Manfrotto tripod, and a shutter release was used to eliminate camera shake. A wide-angle lens, such as a 17-50mm, is a must in order to capture the open spaces and deep canyons. The vast array of wildlife, such as snakes, coyote, foxes, cottontail and squirrels, can be seen scampering about the area, so you’ll also need a fairly long zoom lens to catch them in action.
The park is best photographed early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. During summer, morning light casts interesting shadows into the canyons and onto the enormous rock formations. Stick around for sunset, as the warm afternoon light brings out the red color of the earth. A magnificent image of Independence Monument can be captured after sunset with the city lights of Grand Junction and Fruita in the background. Winter also is especially beautiful at Colorado National Monument. I visited the park at dawn one winter morning, just as a dusting of snow finished covering the park. The contrast of the beautiful white snow on the deep red rock made for striking imagery.
Contact: Colorado National Monument, www.nps.gov/colm, (970) 858-3617, ext. 360.
Ballhead tripod heads are ideal for nature shots because they aren’t restricted to horizontal and vertical panning. Slik’s Professional SBH-550 ballhead features a freely moving rotational ballhead that’s attached to an encasing that also can turn on its base for a level pan when you need it. The single-knob operation is oversized for comfort and ease of use, and the ballhead is strong enough to support up to 22 pounds, more than enough for most medium-format cameras and large telephoto lenses. Contact: Slik (THK Photo Products), (800) 421-1141, www.thkphoto.com.