After Work Adventures | Wednesday, September 6, 2023
Even though it was a little bit warmer out today than yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to head out after work so I could drive and hike to the top of a couple easy highpoints and overlooks located in the desert between Grand Junction, Delta, the Grand Mesa and the Gunnison River, and maybe even catch the sunset before heading home. This is an area that longtime locals affectionately (or maybe it’s not so affectionate) call the Stinking Desert. I’ve heard stories from long before my time living in Grand Junction about how an official-looking sign for the Stinking Desert National Monument would show up along the highway during holiday weekends, and I’ve always thought that would have been funny to see, so I’m going to honor that unofficial National Monument with this little Trip Report. Welcome to the Stinking Desert!
I’ve driven past this highpoint along the highway south of Grand Junction too many times to count, and I always seem to think to myself that one day I should stop and hike to the top. Well, that day has finally come!
A danger sign I passed as I drove across the Delta Range. Seems like a perfect fit for a place known as the Stinking Desert.
Stinking Desert Two-Track
Looking south to PT 5470 as I hiked towards the summit of PT 5684.
There was a very large cairn on top.
Distant views of the West Elks, Cimarron Range and Sneffels Range were constant companions on the horizon this evening.
My next destination was PT 5460 on the other side of the highway. This one had a faint trail along the ridge to the summit.
For some reason my camera stopped working while I was on PT 5460 and I wasn’t able to get any other photos from the ridge, but it started working again when I was driving back down…
Of course, I stopped at the West Slope famous Stinking Desert Christmas Tree after roughly following the route of the old Salt Lake Wagon Road over Fools Hill. This is another iconic landmark that I have driven past countless times but never actually stopped at before.
I had a nice view of the Dominguez Rim as I drove out to PT 5551 above Wells Gulch and the Gunnison River.
PT 5551 Overlook
I made it out to Tunnel Point just before sunset and had a great view over Dads Flat.
This is the view the other direction towards Bridgeport.
The light was pretty nice, so I guess I timed my visit well.
Tunnel Point Sunset
Before heading back home I also stopped by the nearby RB-18 Benchmark.
Last Light on Tunnel Point
Stinking Desert Sunset
If anyone out there reading this has some information or maybe even a photo of the original Stinking Desert National Monument sign that was put up, please feel free to leave a comment below, I’d love to see it. I’ve looked all over but haven’t been able to find much about it online.
Update 9-8-23: That was quick! My friend Jackson dug up a couple articles from the Daily Sentinel about the Stinking Desert National Monument that I’ll add below. This first one entitled ‘Stinking Party’ from September 1, 1985 includes a photo of the sign, although it’s hard to see. You can click on the image to download a PDF copy of the entire article.
Update 9-8-23: As Bill mentioned in the comments below, there was a fourth annual Stinking Desert Square Dance in 1987.
Update 9-11-23: Jackson dug up another article from September 3, 1979. This looks like it might be the origin of the Stinking Desert National Monument.
The ‘Stinking Desert’ new area attraction
By Valerie Sullivan
First there was a Christmas tree and now there’s – well, the Stinking Desert actually.
The Stinking Desert National Monument, for your information, is headquartered at a rest stop about 17 miles north of Delta on Highway 50. The rest stop sits several hundred yards away from a holiday-weekend safety stop and a lone evergreen, known as the Christmas tree, which is decorated every December.
A Stinking Desert National Monument pamphlet is available at the rest stop. The pamphlet says the monument is not sponsored by any branch of the state or federal government. It I sponsored by “Friends of the Desert” and was named after Father Francisco Dominquez who, according to the pamphlet, is purported to have said “No one in their right mind would live in this stinking desert.”
“Do Not Hike Alone – You May Neser Be Seen Again” the pamphlet warns. “Never Throw Rocks Unless You Want Them Thrown Back At You”
The Stinking Desert was established by a “non-act of Congress” April 1, 1979, according to the brochure.
“The lack of spectacular scenery and geology have already set this land apart. You can help keep it that way by leaving as soon as possible.”
The monument presumably was erected over the weekend, by persons as yet unknown. The vast, dry, yellow expanse of “national monument’ land officially begins about six miles south of Whitewater for travelers coming from Grand Junction.
There, a green and white sign, which looks remarkably like an official highway sign, informs travelers they are entering the Stinking Desert. Several miles down the road, another sign beckons travelers into the rest stop with an arrow: “National Monument headquarters.”
“I can’t imagine any place being called that” said Jim Webster, a seasonal park ranger for the Colorado National Monument.
Webster said national park signs are usually brown with white lettering. “It’s 100 percent spoof, I would say,” he said.
“I think this is just a big spoof, myself” said Carolie Helmick, one of several Odd Fellow and Rebekah Lodge volunteers to pass out cold drinks and cookies to weary travelers Sunday, “But it’s kind of cute, isn’t it?” she asked.
Mrs. Helmick said only one person Sunday had asked her about the new ‘national monument.’ She just handed him the brochure she had found, she said. “There wasn’t too much we could tell him because we didn’t know too much about it.”
“It couldn’t be the same person who decorates that Christmas tree, could it?” she asked.
Bob Hopping of Grand Junction was on his way to Olathe Sunday when car trouble forced him to stop at the rest area. There, he noticed the national monument sign.
“I think it’s weird, whoever’s done it” he said. “It’s kind of a weird practical joke.”
James and Paula Chervenka of Corpus Christi, Tex. stopped to change their child’s diapers and get a cold drink. “I’d never heard of it. It’s not on my map.” said Chervenka, who said he noticed the sign outside the rest stop.
“Is it environmentalists or something?” asked one puzzled traveler.
Nobody knows who exactly is behind the Stinking Desert. But at least one group of tourists stopped at the sign at the entrance of the new monument, presumably to have their picture taken beside the funny-looking name.
Another tourist, Mary Bellar of Sudan, Tex., said she had never been to Colorado before.
She and her husband were on their way to Las Vegas when they stopped at the rest stop and noticed the sign. “I was wondering where it got its name.” she confessed.
Mrs. Bellar was surprised to learn Coloradans were asking the same question.
“In other words, that’s not the name of this?” she asked. “Well. I declare.”