It was a surreal scene along the park’s cliff faces and monoliths on New Year’s Eve as Colorado National Monument held a centennial celebration to usher in a new year and a new century for the park.
People gathered together on the canyon’s edge in a place where the basement rocks are two billion years old. And in the freezing darkness of the New Year’s Eve night they looked skyward with awe at the bright bursts of light above the ghostly landscape as the clock struck eight.
The park staff had worked non-stop during the preceding 36 hours to plow, sand, shovel, and illuminate pathways with 500 luminaries and the visitor center and entrance stations with twinkling lights. Temporary construction light towers were added at key locations to spotlight staff directing cars and buses and create lighted roadways for visitors. The blizzard the day before brought eight inches of fresh blowing snow and immensely complicated the detailed preparations to bring in more than 1300 people in darkness along a section of precipitous Rim Rock Drive and keep staff and visitors safe.
The entire park staff gave up their holiday working very long hours to complete preparations and staff the event. Michelle Wheatley, the park’s chief of interpretation, planned every detail, coordinated efforts across division lines for several weeks, and served as the incident commander during the event. Park staff were joined by Colorado National Monument Association staff and several dedicated volunteers. Alpine Bank underwrote the fireworks with a very generous donation. During the event, each staff person and volunteer carried out a vital role and staffed their assigned post without complaint in temperatures hovering near zero degrees.
The safety of park staff, volunteers and visitors was paramount in executing this event. The meticulous planning and focused work of the staff yielded a completely safe event with no staff or visitor accidents or injuries.
Colorado National Monument will hold several events to mark the centennial throughout 2011, though none as complex or magical as the New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza. Check out the park’s website for details on the centennial and to see more fireworks photos. www.nps.gov/colm