Colorado National Monument Ride

Back in the ‘80s, there was a world-class cycling race in Colorado called the Coors International Bicycle Classic, and one of the favorite stages of the race for many of the competitors was found just outside Grand Junction. The route was called ‘Tour of the Moon,’ and passed through the majestic pillars of red rock and massive stones poised on needle-like precipices found in the Colorado National Monument. While no longer used for competition (though there is a Tour of the Moon Grand Cycling Classic held here each year), Colorado National Monument remains one of the most otherworldly experiences on two wheels, as long as you don’t mind working for the celestial views. "It’s a moonscape," says Rondo Buecheler of Rapid Creek Cycles, who rode here multiple times per week when he lived at the base of the Monument in Fruita.

"The best time to do it is in the morning, starting at around 7 a.m. It’s super peaceful. You see bighorn sheep, snake, deer—all kinds of wildlife. You’ve got your shadows in the morning and evening, views of the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa. It’s spectacular," Buecheler says.

The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive stretches from one end of the Monument to the other, and you can start in either Grand Junction or Fruita. Best suited for fit cyclists with some climbing experience (or at least those up for a challenge), the ride involves about 2,300 feet of climbing. From the Grand Junction side, the climb is a little tougher (over about four miles), whereas the climb is a bit more gradual (over six miles) from the Fruita side. "When you’re on a bike, you can easily stop at every viewpoint, whereas in a car, you might not want to stop for all of them," Buecheler says. “Some people get intimidated by the climbing. It’s not a hard climb, so you should enjoy the peace of it. We need to slow down and look around. It’s a must when you’re riding the Monument.”

The viewpoints open across a series of deep canyons to sandstone and granite rock formations that resemble castles, animals, planets and trippy, massive shapes. Throughout the ride, expect an overwhelming feeling of awe at how nature could possibly create such structures. All are aptly named—Devils Kitchen, for example, with its bulbous towers and tables, does indeed look like a place where an unearthly being might prepare a gourmet meal. Kissing Couple embodies an unmistakable intimacy between cartoonish figures that you cannot help but stare at, and Pipe Organ is primed for a concert starring some twisted giant. Independence Rock, a towering pillar standing all alone amid the surrounding red and green canyon backdrop, is a hypnotic sight, especially on the Fourth of July.