Grand Junction, Colorado, must be the luckiest city in the western USA. On it’s very doorstep — close enough to walk there with coffee before it gets cold — are soaring redrock canyons that others less fortunate drive hours to see. The sandstone towers and cliffs of Colorado National Monument give nothing away to more famous places on the Colorado Plateau such as Zion, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Park. It even has a beautiful stretch of the Colorado River at its feet. But more like Grand Canyon National Park, its main vistas are from the rim, looking down, where one feels expansive — rather than from the bottom, looking up, where diminutive is the word of the day.
The monument’s proximity to Grand Junction — a small city of 60,000 — may work to its disadvantage, too. It is very easy to sleep late in a cozy home or comfortable hotel, have a leisurely breakfast, and visit the park in midday and thus never see it at dawn. That is not my way, however. Few things are more revealing about a landscape than to see it unfold from darkness as the sun comes up and shows an infinite variety of moods. This sunrise photograph, despite the proximity of 60,000 people, is a work of lonely isolation, with virtually nobody around to witness the beauty. At dawn, it might as well be hours away in the wilderness. (Pricing schedule D)