Colorado Road Trip: Rest Stops, Historical Markers, National Monuments, & More

June 25, 2014

to by Sebastian Bergmann, via flickrIf you want to know about all of Colorado's roadside gems, national parks, or off-the-beaten-path diners and dives, Colorado PERA's field education staff has more collective knowledge than any traveler could hope for. We  trek across the state -- from Sterling and Grand Junction to Briggsdale and Rangeley -- all year every year. In fact, in 2013 alone, we conducted over 1,600 meetings in a number of towns, educating over 36,000 PERA members about their benefits. Now that's impressive (if I do say so myself).

So when it comes to knowing where to stop on your next Colorado roadtrip, we've got you covered.

Historical Markers & Rest Stops 

Let’s start off with a number of roadside historical markers.  After mind-numbing driving, a causal stop at one of the many roadside historical markers offers a chance to get your brain reengaged and to stretch those legs and backs.

Waymarking.com has a really neat website which includes pictures of historical markers.  Any legitimate historic marker commemorating a historical event located inside the state of Colorado can be listed in this category. This includes markers placed by historical societies, counties, cities, federal agencies, Native American groups and other civic groups.

There you are in the western reaches of the Glenwood Canyon and are coming up on the No Name exit.  Well, don’t miss the No Name rest stop.  You can find interesting information about the construction of the road through the canyon and the engineering feats that were required.  Stop, read, and listen to the mighty Colorado River as it heads west.

Roadside Attractions

One of my teammates, Rick, recommends Roadsideamerica.com.  This is one of my all-time favorite websites for stuff readily accessible by vehicle along the way.  They are currently featuring the Movie Manor Motor Inn  just west of Monte Vista, Colorado.  (I listed this motel in this quirky list: Colorado Charm: Hotels with Character and Characters).  Who can resist a stop in the San Luis Valley at Colorado Gators Reptile Park in Mosca? This gem is also listed on the Roadside America home page.

Rick also likes what is happening at Exit 115 on Interstate 70, where you can access the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool, Lodge, and Spa.  After the long drive from wherever, a dip in the 104 degree waters are a welcome opportunity for a quick de-stress.  Jump back in the car - with a very relaxed back - and head about a mile west to the Glenwood Caverns and Adventure Park.  There are caverns, a tram ride, and thrill rides among other attractions.

National Parks & Monuments

For those who really need to stretch their legs, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a rewarding experience for both the casual “get-out-of-the-car-for three-minutes” person or the “I-want-some-real-elevation-change-hiker.”  In either case, you can see scenery that rivals the Grand Canyon National Park and hiking that will test the best cardio-fit person at the same time.

Team member Kirsten recommends the Museum of Colorado Prisons in Canon City.  The museum housed in the former women’s prison building has a collection of the bizarre, if not interesting, paraphernalia of prison life (and death) from the early days of Colorado’s confinement history.  You can check out a noose used in hangings as well as confiscated homemade weaponry taken from inmates.

“The Castle of the Plains” is Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site outside of La Junta, Colorado is a trip down history lane.  You can get a flavor of what life was like on the old Santa Fe Trail 175 years ago.  It’s a great place to learn plains history in the actual place it happened.

Personally, I love anything archeological.  Chimney Rock National Monument lies between the towns of Pagosa Springs and Bayfield Colorado.  Unfortunately, the ancestral Puebloans did not leave us with a written record of their constructions and life in the Four Corners area.  However, it is believed that they were well-versed in astronomy, construction, water conservation, communication over long distances, and agriculture.  Yet we don’t know definitively why they up and left one fine (or not so fine) day.  This site is an archeological treasure not to be missed as one of the northeastern most of their settlements.

What Colorado attractions or scenic stops top your list of favorites? Leave them in the comments section!