The Colorado National Monument (Near Grand Junction, Colorado)

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This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Come with us today as we visit a national park in the western state of Colorado.

We also tell about one man who made sure the beautiful natural area would be protected for all time.  He did this by working to make it part of the National Park System.  Today we visit the Colorado National Monument.The Colorado National Monument is not as famous as some other national parks.  It does not get as many visitors as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or the Yellowstone National Parks.  However the Colorado Monument has a strange and exciting beauty all its own.

It is similar to a great painting drawn by nature onto living rock. Minerals in the area helped nature create a painting that is black, light brown, dark brown and many different colors of red.  Often the colors seem to change as clouds block the sun.  At other times the sun makes the many different colors seem to burn brightly.

The Colorado National Monument is an area of great extremes.  The ground rises very sharply from the surrounding flat desert area.  The mountains here are part of the western Rocky Mountains.  It is an area of huge rock formations created during more than 1,000 million years.  Volcanoes, great rivers, wind, rain, ice and the birth and death of huge mountains formed this beautiful area.

It is not possible to see this extremely beautiful area and not feel the power of nature.  Giant mountains seem to have been cut sharply with a huge knife.  Their sides are smooth and clean.  Other areas of the same mountain seem to have been torn apart in some violent struggle.  These areas are filled with huge piles of broken rock.

Walls of rock are twisted and have huge holes pushed into their sides. There are tall finger-like rocks that reach far into the sky. Other parts of the same area seem to have long, straight lines cut into the rock.  It is possible to count these lines.  Each line represents a time long ago when these mountains were at the bottom of an ancient ocean

Each line was formed by dirt, mud and sand that gathered at the bottom of the ancient ocean.  Then, as time passed, the bottom of this ancient ocean floor was pushed high into the air by huge pressures deep in the Earth.

Scientists have found seashells high in these mountains and the fossil remains of ancient ocean creatures.  Near the Colorado National Park researchers have found the huge fossil remains of ancient reptiles called dinosaurs.  One fossil skeleton found early last century was the largest fossil dinosaur ever found at that time.

It was huge and surprised scientists around the world.  Scientists are still busy looking for remains of these creatures that died millions of years ago.

However, not all of the animals found in or near the park are fossils. Because the area is desert, it is easy to believe that nothing is living here.

But if you are very quiet and stay very still you can see much life in the park. Mountain lions live here.  It is very difficult to see them.  However, visitors sometimes see the foot marks these big cats leave in the soft sand.

If you look closely, you can see small rabbits searching for food or water early in the morning.  On hot days you might see deer resting in the shade of the juniper trees.  The deer are protected from hunters.  Often they show little fear of people.

Visitors must be careful not to surprise a small reptile called the midget faded rattlesnake.  The bite of this snake can be very painful and make a victim very sick.

At first, the Colorado National Monument seems to be nothing more than huge and very colorful rocks shaped by nature.  But if you spend a few hours walking slowly on its many paths, you soon learn that it is very much alive.The forces of nature created the Colorado National Monument.  But a man named John Otto was responsible for making sure this beautiful area became part of the United States National Park System.  John Otto recognized the great natural beauty of this place and wanted it to be protected.

John Otto was an unusual man.  He lived alone much of the time in what later became the park.  He did not build a house.  He moved from place to place and lived in a temporary cloth home

In a letter written in 1907, Mr. Otto told a friend the area made him feel like it was the heart of the world.  He told his friend he was going to stay and build paths and work to inform people about this beautiful work of nature.  Some people thought he was insane.

But John Otto began his campaign to protect the area by writing letters.  He acted as a guide for people who read his letters and came to see the great natural beauty for themselves.  He asked everyone who visited for their support in his campaign to have the federal government protect the area.

In 1911, President William Taft signed the documents making the area a national monument.  It would forever be part of the National Park System and protected by the government.

President Taft also appointed Mr. Otto as the new park's first top official.  John Otto was only paid one dollar a year for this work.  He was not expected to really work at the park, just deal with administrative duties, which were few.

However, John Otto did work in the park.  By 1921 he had finished building one of the first major paths.  This made it much easier for people to visit the area.  He built it using simple tools and without much help.  It is called the Trail of the Serpent.  He was also very careful to build the trail without damaging any of the area's natural beauty.  It was one of the first roads into the park that could be used by an automobile

High up in the Colorado National Monument is a steel sign that honors John Otto.  It has been placed into the wall of a rock formation that John Otto loved.  The marker says: "In recognition of John Otto, trail builder, promoter, and first custodian of Colorado National Monument, established May 24, 1911."  John Otto would have liked that.The Colorado National Monument is almost 8,300 hectares.  It is near the city of Grand Junction, Colorado, not far from the state border with Utah.  The area is known for its mountains and the beauty of the desert.  It is also here that the last of the Rocky Mountains begin to drop away to flat land

Although the Colorado National Monument is smaller than most national parks, about 500,000 visitors come each year.  Most visitors drive on the Interstate Highway System

Interstate Highway Seventy is only a few kilometers from the park.  When a visitor leaves the road, the path becomes much smaller and begins to rise into the mountains.  Signs urge safety.  Other signs urge the driver of the vehicle to slow down

The small road begins to turn left, then sharply to the right, then left again.  At the same time it moves up and up many meters at a time with each turn.

At first, mountains surround the road on both sides of the car.  Then, without warming, the little road moves into the clear and visitors can see hundreds of meters down into the valley.  For a little more than six kilometers the road twists and turns high into the park.

At the top of the little road visitors reach the National Park Visitors Center.  The modern building provides information about the park.  It has a small store where visitors can buy gifts.  The Visitors Center also includes a small museum with fossils, photographs and the story of John Otto.

When visitors have collected the information or gifts they want, most continue through the building to an observation area in back of the building.  Slowly they walk to the very edge of the mountain.

In this great open space, the finger-like rocks seem to reach for the sky.  Far below is the great natural beauty that took more than 1,000 million years for nature to create

And, it is here they can begin to understand why John Otto loved this place so much and why he worked so hard to protect itThis program was written by Paul Thompson.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.