John Otto, A Monumental Man, Part I | TheFencePost.com

John Otto, A Monumental Man, Part I

Colorado National Monument has been described as a “pocket-sized Grand Canyon” with its 32 square miles, three tunnels and 23 miles of roadway running through some of the most spectacular canyon country in the West. It is in western Colorado’s two cities of Grand Junction and Fruita’s backyards, with the East entrance in the Redlands section of Grand Junction and the West entrance outside the rural town of Fruita.

John Otto is credited as being responsible for being the first trail builder who surveyed, planned and carved out the roadways across what is currently called, “The Colorado National Monument.” And it was John Otto who, against some local opposition, doggedly pursued his goal to have the whole country recognize the beauty and worth of this land. He wrote letters in pencil, sometimes outlining portions of his letters in red or blue pencil because he said the bottles of ink would freeze in the winter or get spilled. Meanwhile, he diligently worked every day with pick and shovel on the trail.

He was a patriot and thought everyone should be as proud of his country and the flag as he was. His sometimes rambling letters went to individual politicians and local clubs. The local Grand Junction paper, The Daily Sentinel, by publishing his writings in the “Letters to the Editor” section, which everyone read, had a major part in advancing his proposal.

Walter Walker, publisher of the paper, editorialized, “He is a peculiar, yet fascinating, a strange yet splendid fellow. He was put down as a dreamer. Perhaps he is a dreamer, but his dreams have a wonderful degree of materiality and substance.”

Some citizens opposed the idea with their own letters saying “It would bring crowds of outsiders into the area, and we like it the way it is.” From 1907 to 1909, Otto barged into meetings of the Grand Junction and Fruita Chambers of Commerce, asking for their support. He explained his ideas of raising money for the dynamite and supplies needed. He wanted the land accessible to all so he explained his plans for building the necessary roads. He talked about future plans for fencing and having a bison herd established within the park area. He wanted everyone to work towards getting it national park status.

Finally, in 1909, the land was withdrawn from public domain to be studied. On May 24, 1911, 100 years ago, President Taft signed the Bill designating the area, “The Colorado National Monument.” John Otto was hired as the first custodian of the Monument at a yearly salary of $1.

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But, the critics were right about the designation bringing people to our area. Park Superintendent Anzelmo reported that 720,000 visitors toured the Colorado National Monument in 2010. Undoubtedly, many of these are local people from the area who love to show off our splendid backyard area to their visiting friends. The entire area is a photographer or artist’s dreamland. People say that it is impossible to take a bad picture in Colorado. That is doubly true of the scenery in the Colorado National Monument.

The best physical description of John Otto was done by Daily Sentinel owner, Walker Walker, as written on page 2 in the Introduction of the book, “John Otto of the Colorado National Monument” by author Alan J. Kania, as follows:

“John Otto is a young man of not more than 37 years, tall, lithe, black-haired, a strong, good-looking face, well versed in current events, and possibly considerably more than an ordinary amount of education. This is John Otto, the hermit and trail builder.”

Some admired him and his ideas. Others thought he was a crank who rode his mules building trails, and was simply a hermit who lived in the canyons. Some admired his bravery when he climbed to the top of the 450-foot Independence Monument every 4th of July to raise the American flag, “Old Glory,” on a flagpole he’d carried up there. Others thought he was crazy to pull such a stunt. The Mesa County Technical Search and Rescue Team continues the climbing tradition every 4th of July. (www.NPS.gov/colm).

The Daily Sentinel’s early newspaper read, “People of Grand Junction. Wake up to the wonderful possibilities afforded to make Monument Canyon and its sister canons one of the widest known scenic wonders of the West.”

***

Watch for Part II … Read about his wedding, his bride and his Grand Junction and Fruita friends. Read about his life in Colorado and his death in Yreka, Calif. Read about those who lost their lives in 1933, building the roads on trails that Otto had outlined. Read about how our community and other Coloradans can today champion the cause to make the Colorado National Monument into America’s newest National Park.

Colorado National Monument has been described as a “pocket-sized Grand Canyon” with its 32 square miles, three tunnels and 23 miles of roadway running through some of the most spectacular canyon country in the West. It is in western Colorado’s two cities of Grand Junction and Fruita’s backyards, with the East entrance in the Redlands section of Grand Junction and the West entrance outside the rural town of Fruita.

John Otto is credited as being responsible for being the first trail builder who surveyed, planned and carved out the roadways across what is currently called, “The Colorado National Monument.” And it was John Otto who, against some local opposition, doggedly pursued his goal to have the whole country recognize the beauty and worth of this land. He wrote letters in pencil, sometimes outlining portions of his letters in red or blue pencil because he said the bottles of ink would freeze in the winter or get spilled. Meanwhile, he diligently worked every day with pick and shovel on the trail.

He was a patriot and thought everyone should be as proud of his country and the flag as he was. His sometimes rambling letters went to individual politicians and local clubs. The local Grand Junction paper, The Daily Sentinel, by publishing his writings in the “Letters to the Editor” section, which everyone read, had a major part in advancing his proposal.

Walter Walker, publisher of the paper, editorialized, “He is a peculiar, yet fascinating, a strange yet splendid fellow. He was put down as a dreamer. Perhaps he is a dreamer, but his dreams have a wonderful degree of materiality and substance.”

Some citizens opposed the idea with their own letters saying “It would bring crowds of outsiders into the area, and we like it the way it is.” From 1907 to 1909, Otto barged into meetings of the Grand Junction and Fruita Chambers of Commerce, asking for their support. He explained his ideas of raising money for the dynamite and supplies needed. He wanted the land accessible to all so he explained his plans for building the necessary roads. He talked about future plans for fencing and having a bison herd established within the park area. He wanted everyone to work towards getting it national park status.

Finally, in 1909, the land was withdrawn from public domain to be studied. On May 24, 1911, 100 years ago, President Taft signed the Bill designating the area, “The Colorado National Monument.” John Otto was hired as the first custodian of the Monument at a yearly salary of $1.

But, the critics were right about the designation bringing people to our area. Park Superintendent Anzelmo reported that 720,000 visitors toured the Colorado National Monument in 2010. Undoubtedly, many of these are local people from the area who love to show off our splendid backyard area to their visiting friends. The entire area is a photographer or artist’s dreamland. People say that it is impossible to take a bad picture in Colorado. That is doubly true of the scenery in the Colorado National Monument.

The best physical description of John Otto was done by Daily Sentinel owner, Walker Walker, as written on page 2 in the Introduction of the book, “John Otto of the Colorado National Monument” by author Alan J. Kania, as follows:

“John Otto is a young man of not more than 37 years, tall, lithe, black-haired, a strong, good-looking face, well versed in current events, and possibly considerably more than an ordinary amount of education. This is John Otto, the hermit and trail builder.”

Some admired him and his ideas. Others thought he was a crank who rode his mules building trails, and was simply a hermit who lived in the canyons. Some admired his bravery when he climbed to the top of the 450-foot Independence Monument every 4th of July to raise the American flag, “Old Glory,” on a flagpole he’d carried up there. Others thought he was crazy to pull such a stunt. The Mesa County Technical Search and Rescue Team continues the climbing tradition every 4th of July. (www.NPS.gov/colm).

The Daily Sentinel’s early newspaper read, “People of Grand Junction. Wake up to the wonderful possibilities afforded to make Monument Canyon and its sister canons one of the widest known scenic wonders of the West.”

***

Watch for Part II … Read about his wedding, his bride and his Grand Junction and Fruita friends. Read about his life in Colorado and his death in Yreka, Calif. Read about those who lost their lives in 1933, building the roads on trails that Otto had outlined. Read about how our community and other Coloradans can today champion the cause to make the Colorado National Monument into America’s newest National Park.