"The Nationalization of a Cañon": The Local Park Movement: 1906-1911
Local interest and involvement in the area of the Colorado National Monument entered a new phase between 1906 and 1911, when the park was finally established. During those years individuals and organizations worked to set the area aside as a scenic attraction. Because the National Park Service was not in existence until 1916, there was no federal agency to lobby for the park's creation. As a result, local efforts were necessary to establish the proposed "Monument Park."
The passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906 facilitated local park movements by providing a legal mechanism for the creation of national monuments. In effect, it enabled the President to protect unique scenic areas by proclamation. The idea of national monuments first appeared in legislation introduced to protect archaeological ruins in the American Southwest. Widespread vandalism and "wholesale commercial looting" of ruins in places such as Mesa Verde commenced soon after their discovery.  Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Smithsonian Institution, the Bureau of American Ethnology, the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association, the Geological Survey, and the Office of Indian Affairs actively sought protection against vandalism. Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa, chairman of the House Public Lands Committee, was instrumental in introducing and passing a number of bills concerning conservation. While his early bills related to the protection of wildlife, he also pushed for the protection of ruins. In 1900, Representative Jonathan Dolliver of Iowa introduced a bill authorizing the President, the Secretary of the Interior and the General Land Office Commissioner to set aside, among other things, "monuments" for the purposes of "a public park or reservation." 
With the passage of the Antiquities Act on June 8, 1906, a new level of land use and protection commenced. Emerging at a time when the idea of national parks was relatively new, and the Park Service was not yet created, the Antiquities Act anticipated problems with people either not familiar with, or simply not interested in, the idea of preserving land for park purposes. Section one imposed a fine of $500 or a ninety-day prison term on anyone responsible for the destruction of any "prehistoric ruin or monument or any object of antiquity" on government land.  Section two enabled the President by proclamation to set aside land "to be national monuments."  Section three allowed for the "examination," "excavation" and "gathering" of objects on these lands by authorized institutions for the purpose of expanding knowledge. 
Despite this type of criticism, the Antiquities Act and the idea of national monuments achieved immediate success. In September, 1906, Devil's Tower, the first national monument, was established in Wyoming. In December of that same year, El Morro in New Mexico, and Montezuma Castle and Petrified Forest in Arizona, were set aside. At the same time, however, Westerners began to realize that setting aside many of these areas posed "a threat to the economic 'development' of their states."  Several bills were introduced to amend the Antiquities Act, including some that attempted to eradicate the President's ability to set national monuments aside. Although none of these bills passed, it was clear that Westerners felt threatened by this new act. Between 1906 and 1978, however, ninety-nine areas became national monuments. Presently, about 20 percent of all National Park Service sites are national monuments. 
Colorado National Monument was established by a proclamation of President William H. Taft on May 24, 1911. As with many national parks and monuments of this time period, local economic conditions and the work of individuals and civic organizations influenced the park's creation. Not all local residents were involved. In fact, there was a clear distinction between ideas of land use expressed by local ranchers and those espoused by park promoters. Noticeably absent in the park movement were those local residents for whom national parks were the most threatening. With little knowledge of, or interest in, national parks or the ideas behind their creation, many Grand Valley ranchers and farmers did not actively support the campaign to establish Colorado National Monument. Years of unrestricted use of the area led many ranchers to believe that they could continue those uses even after the park was established. Local park promoters developed a different attitude toward the region. They were interested in using the park's scenery to promote their cities and to attract tourists. As they became more involved in the campaign to establish the Monument, park promoters began to believe that they had earned a certain amount of authority over the proposed park.
The most memorable, and certainly one of the most colorful, promoters of Colorado National Monument was John Otto. Otto was a powder monkeyhe worked with explosiveson the Fruita water pipeline around 1906. While working, he became intrigued by the sandstone canyons near the town. When his work on the water line was completed, he moved into Monument Canyon, the best known and larger of the canyons in that area.  Current speculation focuses on whether Otto was a visionary or a crackpot. Most people concede that he was a little of both. Those who actually knew him admit that he was happiest when be was in the canyons, building trails. 
Prior to his arrival in Grand Junction, Otto lived in Denver. Even then he led a peculiar life. In 1903 he was accused of harassing Colorado Governor James H. Peabody with a series of letters and of trying to harm him with a candlestick he insisted was not a weapon. In their investigation, the Pinkerton Detective Agency discovered that Otto had previously spent brief stints in asylums. Instead of incarcerating him, however, Denver officials sent him back to his family in Illinois. 
Despite his problems in Denver, Otto returned to Colorado in 1906 to work on the Fruita pipeline. Soon his unusual behavior led people to believe that he was crazy. A hearing was held in Grand Junction to determine his mental state. The Daily Sentinel described him as "the man who lived alone for several years in Monument Cañon and who is mentally deranged."  The newspaper concluded its coverage of the hearing, by stating that, although Otto was "given his freedom," he was "not strong mentally."  Nevertheless, Otto managed to gain local support for his efforts to set aside Monument Canyon as a park. Over the years, his reputation earned him folk-hero status in the community.
The publicity over Otto's insanity trial did not seem to influence local opinion negatively. The Grand Junction City Charter recognized him as the "pathfinder of Western Colorado."  He was also considered the "original booster of the Monument Canyon as a park," whose work was "noble and self-sacrificing."  The Daily Sentinel contributed to this image. Very often it described Otto as "heroic," a "hero of nature," and a "patriot to the core."  The perception that he was patriotic was supported by his efforts to celebrate the Fourth of July in Monument Canyon. In 1909, he planned to fly a flag on the Liberty Cap summit. In 1910, he organized the Independence Day celebration in Fruita. There was also a celebration at the base of Independence Monument, the 550-foot monolith on which he planned to plant a 6 x 12-foot flag. 
At the same time, Otto's admission"As you know I'm up in the Monument Park. I live in a tent and pay no rent"made him a somewhat mysterious figure to many people.  There was something distinctly unusual about this man who lived in tents and spent all of his time building trails and promoting the Monument Canyon. Those who knew him remember him as a "virtual pest," who stopped people on the streets to discuss the Monument and annoyed the editors of the Daily Sentinel with endless letters regarding the park proposition, as well as other local and national events.  He was most notable for the eccentric side of his life and was often referred to as "the hermit of Monument Cañon."  In one of his many letters to the editor of the Daily Sentinel, Otto rejected this label:
Otto was also involved in the original land withdrawals for the park. By 1907, he and the local community submitted petitions requesting a national park. Although Otto collected 300 signatures, it is not known to whom he submitted his proposal.  In June, Mesa County Judge Walter Sullivan submitted a petition asking the Department of the Interior to "set aside certain lands for a public park" in Mesa County.  Within a week, the petition was submitted to the General Land Office in Montrose, Colorado for review. By mid-July, temporary withdrawals for nine and a half sections of land had been approved by the General Land Office in Washington, D.C.:
On December 24, 1909, more land was temporarily withdrawn in accordance with public land laws, "pending action by Congress to reserve the lands, with other lands withdrawn by this Department on July 15, 1907, as a national park."  These land withdrawals encouraged local promoters to focus on the park's money-making potential. The Grand Junction City Charter of 1909, for instance, recognized the rewards of a national park in the area. It noted that "Grand Junction has the national Monument Park, set apart by the Government and regarded as one of the scenic wonders of the great West." 
Otto also promoted the Monument area with an energetic letter-writing campaign to the local newspaper and government officials in Washington. Otto's letters reveal that his motivations for creating a national park fluctuated between the economic benefits and the inspiring scenery. As early as 1909, he wrote to President Taft, inviting him to visit the Grand Valley and the "Monument Park" as it was then called.  Taft attended the Valley's Peach Festival in September 1909, but he made no further response regarding what Otto often referred to as his "park proposition."  The majority of Otto's letters were written to the editor of the Daily Sentinel. One of these, dated October 17, 1910, revealed that the development of the park was an economic venture that was important to the growth of the Grand Valley:
Otto indicated the Monument's economic potential again when he stated that he wanted "to not only make Monument park a local play ground, but to make it a world's famous place. Such was my intention from the start..."  Another letter to the Daily Sentinel editor reflected Otto's personal investment and his increasingly proprietary attitude toward the Monument:
While Otto's letters to the Daily Sentinel heightened awareness of the park proposition, his trail building in the canyons provided people the opportunity to explore the region. More adventurous visitors to the park, such as climbers, still rely on Otto's foot and hand holds when scaling the 550-foot Independence Monument. Although the work was difficult and dangerous, Otto drilled holes and placed short pieces of pipe into the rock of the monolith. He then moved up and built a "pipe ladder" on which to climb. At one point, he nearly fell to his death trying to climb over the cap rock of Independence Monument, and frequently drilled holes at the same time that he tried to grasp the slick sandstone surface of the monolith.  Few people were as daring as Otto.  In 1907, when he began collecting names for a petition to set aside the area as a national park, of the 300 people that signed, only Otto had ever been to Monument Canyon, and the only way to reach that area was by foot. 
Otto began building the first trails in Monument Canyon in 1909. County commissioners and members of the chamber of commerce often came to watch him work and marvelled at some of the impossible feats he accomplished. His "trailwork extended through the rock walls, getting through places many sceptics deemed impassible."  One of the more publicized of Otto's efforts, known as the "Corkscrew" or "Otto's Trail," was visited by local businessmen who were impressed by the "grandeur of the scenes which met their eyes."  The work that they observed was of "the self-sacrificing hermit who, they say, has performed the work of five men since he began the building of the winding, twisting, and rugged trail."  This particular trail was costly. Otto requested a dollar from subscribers to a "trail fund" that eventually totaled $154.  Local responses to Otto's plea for funds were an encouraging sign that some people were willing to support development of the Monument. Another trail completed in July of 1909 led to the Liberty Cap and consisted of "five miles of his remarkable and beautiful scenic roadway." 
Road building was another of Otto's activities. From the very start of the park promotion, mad building was a mutual interest for ranchers, farmers and park promoters. Part of Otto's "great cause" in Monument Canyon was his desire to build a "road around the rimrock of the canyon."  Otto was actually the first to suggest a scenic route through the park, an idea that coincided with the local effort to build a road to Glade Park.  Just as he collected money for his trail fund, Otto also mustered support for his road building by asking one dollar of each member of the Fruita, Palisade and Grand Junction chambers of commerce to aid in construction costs. Otto even did some of his own "crude survey and engineering" of the canyons for the purpose of "marking out rude lines and courses for a foot trail and also for a wagon road."  Believing that Grand Junction would eventually be the "hub of the West," Otto proposed that all the nation's roads be built so that they ran through the Monument. 
On April 26, 1910, the Daily Sentinel reported local efforts to build a scenic road:
This road was supposed to start in Grand Junction at the Main Street Bridge, proceed up to the "granite bench in Monument Cañon," follow the rimrocks past Liberty Cap to "Big Park" (Glade Park) and skirt the rims of the "forks" of Monument Canyon. The road would end with a connection to the Fruita road.  Not surprisingly, the economic potential of the road was disguised as a "scenic driveway." Efforts to build a road intensified after the park's establishment in May, 1911. Until then, there were more road proposals than actual construction.
Conflict over road building was inevitable, especially since roads served more than one purpose. In the context of the community, roads fulfilled business and residential needs. When Otto's "road fever" was first publicized in the Daily Sentinel in 1910, local communities were interested in improving roads throughout the Grand Valley.  Fruita's interest in a road to Glade Park for the purpose of building a business relationship, and Glade Park's interest in improving its route to the Grand Valley, characterized the local road campaign. All parties involved in road promotion were equally enthusiastic about the possibility of connecting their communities to one another via the Monument. For Otto and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, this enthusiasm translated into more than a local endeavor to improve transportation. Their interest in building a road through Monument Canyon was yet another step in the process of making their proposed park accessible to visitors. Outside interest in the development of a park road emerged as well. In 1910, Senator Simon Guggenheim introduced the first of two bills for "Creating the Monument National Park," which included a section proposing a $20,000 appropriation for the construction of a road "to and through" the park. 
The Grand Junction chamber of Commerce was an equally important element in the success of the "park proposition," and like Otto, it soon developed a proprietary attitude toward the Monument. In December 1908, Otto approached members of the chamber, hoping to interest them in a tour of his "Monument Cañon proposition."  They declined due to bad weather. In June, he again extended his offer and was once more rejected because the weather "was rather too hot."  Otto was still hopeful when he expressed these sentiments:
Once the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce finally agreed to "work together" with Otto, the promotion of Monument Canyon acquired a new energy and a voice that most people probably trusted more than that of Otto. Part of the chamber's initial involvement in the promotion came in the form of "inspections" and "investigations," which usually resulted in flowery write-ups in the Daily Sentinel about Otto's tireless devotion to the Monument Canyon. One such headline illustrated that the chamber's primary interest in Colorado National Monument was economically motivated:
Each of the chamber's inspections were described in terms of the "possibilities" for Grand Junction, a city that the chamber of commerce believed had "a golden opportunity to be nationally known for the scenic wonders that are at its door as well as nationally known for its fruit and its climate."  Referring to the Monument as "a wealth of scenic beauty so near the city," also reinforced the idea that the scenery could somehow translate into an economic gain for the city. 
While descriptions of the chamber's trips to Monument Canyon were certainly important in building interest in the area, public access was the key to serious development of the park. In April of 1909, the chamber began its campaign to advertise the Monument Park's scenic wonders. Part of this effort included a meeting between Secretary Mahoney of the chamber of commerce and an agent from the Colorado Midland Railroad. The chamber wanted to convince railroad agents of the scenic beauty of the area. Colorado Midland promised to have an official photographer take pictures of the area and to provide a unique publicity opportunity for Grand Junction. Soon thereafter, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad expressed an interest in photographing and inspecting the Monument as well.  With Otto serving as a guide to these photographers, the chamber of commerce hoped to advertise the Monument Park as "one of the most popular scenic sections in Colorado."  Another part of the promotional campaign included a visit from Enos Mills who was known for his support of national parks. In 1911, he visited the valley to boost Monument Canyon and to create an interest amongst his "friends in Washington to get the park set aside as a national playground."  Reference to national and local playgrounds indicated that revenue generated by tourism was a high priority for many park promoters.
The relationship between the chamber of commerce and Otto was important. In May, 1910, the Daily Sentinel reported that the chamber of commerce had proposed the creation of a national park and Otto "made known the scenic wonders" but had only "assisted the Chamber of Commerce in every possible way."  This is only partially true. While Otto provided the inspiration and the physical labor to develop the park, the chamber of commerce used its credibility to garner the community support and political assistance necessary for withdrawal of the land. In either case, because both Otto and the chamber were the primary local promoters, they naturally felt that the Monument was there for the local community. The chamber saw its economic potential; Otto saw it as his personal project. When the National Park Service's ideology that parks were "national treasures" was established six years later, local residents still felt that the park somehow belonged to them.
Some of the chamber's early efforts to draw attention to the park proposal involved writing letter and sending resolutions to the Governor of Colorado.  Gradually, Colorado politicians became involved in the park movement. In November, 1909, the Daily Sentinel reported Congressman Edward Taylor's interest in introducing a bill that would set aside land in various cities in Colorado "for park purposes." One of these cities was Grand Junction. Taylor commented that its businessmen were anxious to have the bill passed to set aside the Monument Park. During the following month, the land office in Montrose received a resolution from the chamber, along with a letter from Simon Guggenheim, proposing withdrawal of the lands.  By January, 1910, these lands had been set aside under the direction of Secretary of Interior Richard Ballinger. The Daily Sentinel attributed the land withdrawal to the "dream" of Otto and listed the Daily Sentinel, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Senator Guggenheim and Congressman Taylor as "enthusiastic champions" of Monument Canyon. 
The local media also had a hand in the Monument's creation. The Daily Sentinel was the local newspaper that reported the park promotion with regularity, although it had originally printed plenty of stories on Otto's earlier problems with "insanity." In addition to providing coverage of Otto's and the chamber's efforts, it chronicled local responses to the park, and became what John Otto referred to as the "official paper of our national park proposition."  Through the use of descriptive language, the Daily Sentinel created a mental picture of Monument Canyon's landscape. The Monument was known as "a world of natural beauty," a place of "sublime grandeur and awe-inspiring massiveness," and a "marvelous scenic Beauty Paradise."  In reference to the monoliths, the paper stated that there was "an almost endless array of magnificent masterpieces of nature that make the world-famed Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs sink into insignificance when a comparison is made."  While most of the descriptions did very little to accurately portray the landscape, they made the area sound especially attractive to potential tourists.
The Daily Sentinel also chronicled local efforts to support and establish the park. The newspaper once printed the names of people who contributed to Otto's trail building efforts with the headline, "Is Your Name On This List?"  Another article described local support to the Otto Trail Fund, and commented on the "continuation of local interest" in Otto's work for "present and future generations."  In numerous ways the Daily Sentinel enlivened and perpetuated the efforts to establish the park. The text of Senator Guggenheim's April 6, 1911 bill, "creating the National Monument Park," was published in full.  Numerous articles about Representative Taylor's interest in local and regional national parks were printed as well.
Once the local commitment to the establishment of a park was evident, state politicians joined more seriously the movement to create a park. In 1906, Simon Guggenheim was elected to the Senate, where he served on mining, agriculture, forestry, conservation of natural resources and public lands committees.  He was responsible for initiating two bills regarding the Monument park. The first of these, "A Bill Creating the Monument National Park," was, introduced on January 6, 1910 to the Public Lands Committee during the second session of the 61st Congress." 
Although the bill did not pass, it outlined expectations for the development and management of the park, and provided a definition of the park's role as a public attraction. The first section of the bill listed the 17,000 acres already withdrawn to be "set apart as a public reservation or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."  Section two of the bill stated that the "park shall be known as the Monument National Park."  It would be under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior who would establish and enforce the rules for the area. The bill further stated that the Secretary could "grant leases for building purposes," sections of land that might be necessary for the construction of buildings for visitors, and that the revenues from such land leases would go toward "the construction of roads, bridges, and bridle paths therein."  Section three outlined punishment for anyone found guilty of destroying property within the park. The crime would be considered a misdemeanor and if convicted, the defendant faced a fine of no more than $1000, a jail term of no more than 12 months, or both. Section four requested an appropriation of $20,000 for the purpose of constructing "roads and bridges from Grand Junction, Colorado leading into and through the said park."  Senator Guggenheim introduced the exact bill again on April 6, 1911, which was, in turn, referred to the Senate Committee on Public Lands during the first session of the 62nd Congress.
Edward T. Taylor's involvement in the establishment of the Colorado National Monument was important as well. First elected congressman for Colorado in 1908, Taylor was re-elected in 1910 and 1912. For his first 12 years in office, he was a member of the House Public Lands Committee and was involved in water rights issues in Colorado. He was also a member of the Interior Department Subcommittee that appropriated money for the Interior Department and all bureaus under its jurisdiction. These included the "public Domain, reclamation projects, national parks, and all western matters." 
Taylor had a strong interest in national parks. In November, 1909, he wrote to the mayors of 100 towns in the hopes of creating an awareness of the park idea. He also pledged to introduce a series of bills in Congress for the purpose of securing park lands for various Colorado cities.  In 1909, he expressed his beliefs regarding the importance of parks in an interview with the Denver Post reprinted in the Daily Sentinel:
In February, 1911, Taylor wrote to President William Howard Taft, enclosing a petition for the "establishment of the Monument Park in Mesa County" signed by 300 citizens of Grand Junction and the surrounding areas. In his letter, Taylor described the Monument as a "picturesque cañon" whose formations are like those of the Garden of the Gods. He then explained the process by which he and the community worked to create a park:
Both Guggenheim and Taylor initiated some of the earliest legislation toward the creation of Colorado National Monument. In doing so, they supported the idea of setting aside and protecting large portions of public lands, an ideology that conflicted with the way in which local residents were already using the area: for stock drives and water lines.
On April 26, 1911, two mineral inspectors from the General Land Office, Charles L. Duer and J. Golden, submitted a report to their commissioner regarding the location, geology, and history of the proposed Monument National Park. The report reflected how closely local needs influenced plans for the park. Focusing on both the transportation needs of the local population and the park, the report proposed that a bridge and a road were necessary to reach the park from Grand Junction. The existing wagon road from Grand Junction was such that "eight miles over rough hilly roads is necessary in order to reach the Park."  Construction of a bridge across the Grand (Colorado) River would decrease mileage so that a "straight road from Grand Junction" could be built to access the park.  Because the Colorado River separated the Colorado National Monument from Grand Junction, a bridge would serve several purposes. For residents of Grand Junction, a bridge would provide an easier route to the Colorado National Monument. For Glade Park residents, the bridge would create an easier route to the Grand Valley.
Transportation to the park was important, but the report's geologic descriptions reinforced the original purpose of the park. The name "Monument Park" derived from the presence of the "great monoliths of sandstone" in the Monument and Shackleton canyons.  The most imposing of these monoliths, Independence Rock, was described as follows: "500 feet high, 250 feet long and 100 feet wide at the base" with a cap rock resembling "a gigantic rock like the hat on a man, it forms one of the features of the entire Park."  The Liberty Cap, another of the monoliths, was not as large as Independence Rock, but showed "the wonderful effect of Time's Erosion upon the massive beds of sandstone."  Finally, the report explained that the "magnificent views" from the rim rocks afforded views of the Grand Valley a "thousand or more feet below and extending for about thirty miles."  After it described agricultural lands deemed unnecessary "to preserve the monuments," the report made its recommendation:
Not long after this report was submitted, a controversy over naming the park developed. The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce suggested "Hooper National Park" in honor of Major S.K. Hooper, who for 30 years had served as the head of the passenger department for the Rio Grande Railroad and was instrumental in attracting tourists to the state.  Residents of Fruita vehemently opposed this name on the grounds that it was "not sufficient in its scope" and failed "to comprehend the intention to make it a great national reserve."  The Fruita Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint with Congressman Taylor, suggesting "the National Monument Park" or the "Centennial Monument Park" as possible names.  In response, the secretary of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce wrote that "there is no controversy here over the matter. We are more interested in having the place set aside as a National Park or National Monument than in selecting the name for it."  His letter further stated that the "Fruita people" could easily have suggested a name, and that John Otto should be consulted before a choice was made.
Once again, the chamber of commerce supplied a list of suggestions for Congressman Taylor. Included were 18 potential names. Among them: "Otto National Monument," "Dinosaur National Monument," "Grand River National Monument," "Escalante National Monument," "Mile-High National Monument," and "Mesa Rojo National Monument."  Otto, whose bizarre sense of humor puzzled many people, suggested "Smith National Monument Park," as that would account for the many Smiths living in the Grand Valley and around the country.  Eventually Congressman Taylor's wife suggested "Colorado National Monument"; by then no national monument existed yet at all in Colorado, and Taylor reasoned that, because he was also planning to have the name of the Grand River changed to the Colorado River, this seemed a fitting name for the park.  Taylor submitted the name to the Secretary of the Interior and, upon approval, the presidential proclamation presented "Colorado National Monument" as the official name for the park.
On May 23, 1911, Secretary of the Interior Walter L. Fisher, a man "devoted to park preservation," submitted a proclamation "creating the Colorado National Monument" to President William H. Taft.  The Secretary described the Monument's unusual landscape, and referred to the General Land Office's report, which explained that the lands were "not valuable for agriculture, and in part only produce a very scant growth of native grasses which are of little value for grazing."  He also stated that the "people of Colorado" were "unanimous in their approval" of the "permanent reservation of the tract."  On May 24, 1911, William Howard Taft signed the proclamation setting aside approximately 13,883.6 acres for the purpose of establishing the Colorado National Monument. The introductory paragraph of the proclamation detailed the reason for the park's establishment, recognizing the importance of the park to the community:
At last the efforts of individuals and organizations in the Grand Valley made what the Daily Sentinel referred to as the "nationalization of a cañon," a reality.
Last Updated: 09-Feb-2005