Wonders of the Western Slope: Serpents Trail
The crookedest road in the world
The landscape on the Western Slope can be challenging to overcome and that's exactly what early ranchers in the Glade Park area faced.
Between Glade Park and the Grand Valley is the area now designated the Colorado National Monument, noted for its steep cliffs and sandstone monoliths.
I met up with one of the Monument's rangers, Annie Runde, for a hike up the famed "Serpents Trail".
She was leading a group of visitors on an educational hike.
“The cattle needed to get down to the Grand Valley, so they started making routes between the two areas," said Runde of the the need to transport cattle from Glade Park.
But these were little more than crude trails hewn into the cliffs.
“The main problem with all of these routes was that they were very rough," explained Runde. "And once the automobiles came into the picture, they weren’t feasible for cars to drive on. And so the idea for the Serpents Trail came about because they needed a better road to get up to Glade Park but they also wanted to be able to bring tourists into the area.”
That's when John Otto came into the picture with his grand plan to share the wonders of the area with the world.
“He was always trying to convince people that this needs to be a National Park, so that can everybody can see it, so it will be protected, but also to bring tourism into the valley.”
Otto began a project to build what would become Serpents trail in 1918 but work moved slowly. Otto's vision of a road connecting the Monument to Moab and then beyond was a little too grand and Mesa County ended up taking over the project, finishing it in 1924. With all of its fifty four switchbacks, Serpents Trail became known as the "crookedest road in the world."
Eventually, though, Rim Rock Drive was built which ended up making Serpents Trail obsolete for automobile travel. The trail of the serpents was not forgotten, however.
“We allowed folks to hike on it in 1962, I believe it was converted into a hiking trail. And so it is on the historic register as a historic trail," said Runde.
On any normal day (even the cold ones!), you'll find area residents and monument visitors taking in the incredible views along the trail or even using its steep slope for exercise. In fact, that may be its most popular use-- a fact not lost on anyone who joined the hike as we huffed and puffed to the top.
“It is a wonderful trail… certainly it could be considered one of the ‘wonders of the Western Slope’. It is so accessible to both city and wilderness.”
Our hiking mates were not shy on sharing their feelings of the trail.
“It is a wonderful trail… certainly it could be considered one of the ‘wonders of the Western Slope’. It is so accessible to both city and wilderness," said Fruita resident Dan Ford.
Most would agree that the accessibility of this trail, its closeness to the Grand Valley, not to mention the engineering feat that it took to build this trail into the cliff-side make it one of the Wonders of the Western Slope.
Serpents Trail is located just inside the east entrance to the Colorado National Monument, a few miles southwest of Grand Junction.
It is 1.75 miles from the bottom to the top with 700 feet of elevation gain. It is only open to hiking, so no bicycles or pets are allowed.
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