BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York and a journalist who has covered fracking and the environment in Colorado and New Mexico since 2001. 

Colorado National Monument: What's in a name? Not necessarily (just) the state

The people who run Colorado National Monument on Colorado's Western Slope near Grand Junction once fretted to me about the name of this unsung little unit of the National Park Service. When people speeding through the Grand Valley on Interstate 70 see a sign pointing to Colorado National Monument, they can very easily assume it's a big granite obelisk memorializing someone or something prominent in the history of the state of Colorado.

Of course, that's not it at all. Colorado National Monument, named after the nearby Grand River in 1911 in anticipation of it being renamed the Colorado River, is a 20,000 acre tract of some of the most dramatic redrock canyon country in all of western Colorado.

The monument forms the towering red sandstone southern skyline of Grand Junction, something you just can't miss when you're driving through the area.

I once mentioned in a story for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that the monument was named for the river and not the state, and someone from the National Park Service called me up disputing my claim. But it's true, the monument is named for the river even though the river was called the Grand River in 1911 when the monument was created by President William Howard Taft.

Colorado National Monument is an oddity in the strange saga of the naming of the Colorado River. Briefly: In the early 20th Century, the Grand and the Green rivers met in what is today Canyonlands National Park to form the Colorado River. Colorado politicians, however, thought it was only apropos for the Colorado River to originate in the state of the same name, so they lobbied hard to change the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River even though the main stem of the Colorado River system is the Green River. Hence the names Grand Junction, Grand County, Grand Lake, Granby, etc. One of the politicians involved in boosting for Colorado National Monument was also one of the chief proponents of changing the river's name. It was his wife that came up with the name "Colorado National Monument" because the river into which all the monument's drainages flow would soon be known as the Colorado River and because the state of Colorado had no national monuments at the time.

Perhaps it could be argued that because the monument was named after the anticipated name of the river, and the river was soon renamed for the state that the monument was also named for the state. But what was the state named after? The state's red-running rivers and red rocks, of which Colorado National Monument is an excellent example.

Read the monument's fascinating history here.

Meanwhile, I got my regular canyon country fix this weekend on a trip to Grand Junction. The light was fairly lousy for stellar photography and we hiked some canyons I'd visited a dozen times before, but it reminded me how lucky I was to have lived in Grand Junction.