Colorado Scenic Byway: Grand Mesa

Part 1: Driving the Loop
I first experienced the Grand Mesa Loop a few years ago when mom and I had gone on a drive to check out the fall leaves. The colors on the Mesa are simply amazing, so I wanted to go back to see what the summer had in store for us. We wanted to make it up there before the snow flies and the road closes, this is Colorado though and there is still some snow on the tops of the mountains. B and I jumped in the ride with Max and headed east.  This trip through the Grand Mesa National Forest will be, what is called “the loop.” Starting in Grand Junction we head east on I70 to State Highway 65, over the mesa and through Cedaredge and Delta,  then to US Highway 50 west, back to Grand Junction. Of course, you can take the loop either way.
Fall on the Mesa
October 2014
Let’s start with what the Grand Mesa is:
It is a National Forest
It is 11,000 ft above sea level, which makes it the largest mesa in the world!
It is home to Powder Horn Ski Resort
It has over 300 lakes, many trails for hiking, fishing, climbing, hunting and more
It also have cabins, lodging and camping areas
Cooler packed, sunscreen and bug spray applied, dog in harness and away we go! Once you get off of I70, you will be able to turn off your AC as the temperature cools as you climb. One of the most wonderful things about Colorado is the greatest summer sport out there, seems no matter where you go, you will be able to watch teams of men and women baking in the sun on the hot asphalt while waving the magical sign, STOP/SLOW. Welcome to road construction season. Our first wait at the STOP sign was about 20 minutes long, while the sport may contain many hard moves or daring feats, this one happened to be boring.  There was, however,  a nice stream I could have gotten out of the ride to see and take pictures of, but I chose to stay in the car and work on my window suntan. Once the pilot vehicle drops off its parade of following traffic we get the go ahead to take our turn following him. I have to say, if I HAD to choose a job in road construction, that would be the one I choose, being a pilot vehicle.
The road wasn’t crowded at all, but the campgrounds and trail heads looked like they had quite a few people in them. It was a nice cool, drizzly drive up the north side of the Mesa. There are many pull offs along the way to grab pictures of the awesome views! If only we knew what the mountain ranges are in the picture, something we are working on. We found lots of flowers, a few chipmunks, a hawk with dinner mid air and the Forest Service out looking for some kind of wild life (truck and trailer), but no Moose, Cattle or Snow Mobiles.
We didn’t get to go down to the Land’s End Observatory, but it is for sure on the next trip.  The road to the observatory is about 12 miles of dirt. Along the way, you will see the historic Raber Cow Camp, which is an example of camps used when the ranchers moved cattle up the mesa in the summer. The observatory is the original visitor center built in 1936-1937 and the access road was primarily built by 200 WW1 veterans between 1933-1934. Once you reach the observatory, you will be able to see Utah’s La Sal Mountains, the edge of the Grand Mesa, beautiful wildflowers and over the Gunnison Canyon. The views of the sunset from here are said to be exquisite, so pack your blanket and camera and head up there for some amazing photos, that’s what I plan on doing. Want more fun? Just past the observatory is a nail biting hairpin – turn road which makes a 6,000 foot decent into the valley below. Pretty sure you shouldn’t drive and take photos while on the way down, unless you have a copilot.
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Heading down the other side of the mesa, you will find more lakes and trails, lots of wildflowers and the visitor center. Something to remember, whether a day trip, a drive through the loop or camping, there are no waste bins so you must pack out your trash and such. That’s a friendly reminder from Max. The visitor center was small, but growing and this Saturday (July 29th, 2017) there is a moose walk, should you find yourself in the area! I finally found the pocket guides I had been looking for. I only purchased five, but it was like I had found the Holy Grail! I will be back for more, unless I find them on another trip.
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You will pass Island Lake, can’t miss it, it’s HUGE! While we were there, just catching some sun and pictures of wildflowers, we also spotted a lot of fish jumping. Seems the lake is stocked with trout, and also has a fish known as a splake. Splake? Looking it up now. One of the pocket guides I didn’t get…fish.
Splake:  a hybrid of two fish species; a male brook trout and a female lake trout. And you didn’t think you would learn anything.
Continuing down the mesa, you will notice the temperature rise. It was a difference of 20* from the top of the mesa to the entrance to Cedaredge, that’s when the AC came back on. A nice drive through Cedaredge also known as the Gateway to the Grand Mesa and is a Historic Pioneer Town. Guess what’s on the to do list now? We jumped on State Highway 50 and headed west towards home. It was a beautiful drive, however, going back to tackle the outdoor recreation will be a process of more than six months and with the snow coming, it may take longer. Don’t worry though, we will share the experiences along the way.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot

DK
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Where in the World Wednesday: Hometown

Where in the World is not just about leaving town for adventures, but experiencing your “hometown” this week we stayed in town, our new “hometown” of Grand Junction, CO. 
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Since there are a total of 48 active wildfires burning in California, Colorado, Utah and Arizona we, unfortunately we get the haze from the smoke which provides us with breath taking sunsets & rises and sadly, some days it’s hard to breathe.
B and I headed out to find the perfect spot to take sunset pictures. Since we aren’t really familiar with the area yet, we didn’t know what options we had for prime sunset viewing.  What we did know, wouldn’t provide us with a clear view of the sky. However, I would be able to have lots of views of trees, roof tops and power lines, which I took into consideration, but decided they just wouldn’t be the ideal locations for a sunset. We put our thinking caps on and remembered, we have a small State Park just about three miles from where we are living,  named The James M. Robb – Colorado River State Park. Since I had no idea it was a state park, I only knew it as Corn Lake. I found, while researching the area, the park itself contains five different or distinct locations, all attached by the Colorado River. That’s when I realized I had stumbled on more ideas for our day trips right in our own back yard!
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There is a fee for the use of the park
Day Passes: $7-$9
Camping: $18 – $30
Annual State Park Pass: $70
Island Acres.
Located off Interstate 70 in the Debeque Canyon
Activities: fishing, camping , picnicking and/or hiking along side the Colorado River
Colorado River Wildlife Area
Located one mile west of Corn Lake on D Road
Since the primary goal of this area is on protection, enhancement of wildlife and wetlands habitat, there are very few activity areas.  Hiking, wildlife observation and environmental education is available for this area. There is no boating in this area and fishing access is only on the south and west sides of the lake.
Connected Lakes
Connected Lakes is a day use only park open from 5 am – 10 pm
How to get there:  take Highway 340 (Broadway) to Power Road and turn north, then turn right on Dike Rd. which will take you to the park
Activities: river boating & rafting, hiking, warm water fishing only, picnicking, bird watching and pond boating.
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Fruita
Located south of Exit 19 on Interstate 70 on State Highway 340 and is adjacent to the Colorado River.
Activities: year round camping, lake fishing, boating, picnicking, seasonal bird watching, walking, biking, hiking and even have a dinosaur site. The park does close at 10 pm for day use
Corn Lake
Located at 32 Road & the Colorado River, Corn Lake is a day use only park and serves as headquarters for the park
Activities: boating, rafting, picnicking, both warm & cold water fishing, hiking and biking
Corn Lake is where we found our awesome sunset and some great moon shots as well. Lucked out on that one! The downfall of going to a lake/river at dusk is the army of mosquitoes who love to attack any innocent or non innocent bystander, fisherman or hiker. Note to self, apply the bug spray before you go to the park! Max was just excited to go, but when B got out of the car to watch the fish jump, he got a bit upset with me. Unfortunately, we didn’t have his leash, so he stayed with me at the car.
We spent about a half hour or so just watching the changing colors in the sky. Watching nature live instead of on TV and just being able to the silence and beauty of our home state and now, our hometown.
When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.
Mahatma Gandhi

Where in the World Wednesday: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Happy Wednesday! I know it’s a bit late, I do apologize.
I have to say, my mom and my trip into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison was, well, incredible!
We started out later than what we wanted to, around 10:30 am, which that in itself is an amazing feat! I had to check, 10:30 am, 84*. Clear blue skies, just a bit of haze. No wind to speak of and there was very little traffic on Hwy 50. Picnic lunch, sunscreen, bug spray, water and Max was all packed into mom’s car, Francine. Sally was taken home by B in order for him to pack and move more of our apartment.
An hour later, we are in the drive through of McDonald’s, seems neither of us had had breakfast. When one of us gets hangry, it’s bad, but two of us? Max may decide to walk home. I do have to recommend the McDonald’s in Delta, CO (don’t judge, we love our fast food) it is always busy and the food is always fresh and hot! Makes for a great day when you start off with fresh, hot french fries! Belly’s now satisfied we are back on the road. Here in western Colorado, the scenery is usually a bit bland and since the weather is so there is not much greenery alongside the highway for viewing.  However, the farms have their crops planted and growing. Cattle is in town and lots of baby cows (my favorite) to be seen. On through Delta, through Montrose and head up CO 347. Once you turn off of the highway onto the road, the scenery changes dramatically, the dry conditions along the highway suddenly become green and luscious, the flowers are in bloom, the trees are all green, it was like a magical place. We passed a beautiful ranch, beautiful and HUGE! I am still trying to find out the size of the ranch, however; it’s not coming up anywhere.
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We drove up a two lane road to the guard station where we purchased our park pass. Mom got quite the bargain for her (and me too), she asked about the senior interagency pass, which was just $10! The Park Ranger got totally excited about this! Mom’s pass, for just $10, includes: all access to and use of BLM, FWS, NPS and many more areas. This is not just for Colorado, it’s for everywhere! PLUS, this $10 pass is a LIFETIME pass! We were prepared for a $15 day charge, not a $10 lifetime pass charge! There was only one downfall, which didn’t apply to us, after this year, it will be $80 and just an annual pass. So, we are now set to explore many more National Parks!
On to the second of twelve pull offs to view the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Tomichi Point. There are no words to describe what we saw. The beauty of the foliage, the giant walls of of the canyon, the area views of neighboring mountains, was nothing more than incredible! When we pulled into the park, we had no idea what to expect. In fact, mom wasn’t too happy about going as she had “remembered” seeing it many years ago and was a flat nothing and totally uninspiring. This first stop changed that for her.
I had known very little about the Canyon until last week when preparing for my post. This week, I have followed up on learning more about the Canyon as we are headed back in August for the Solar Eclipse. It is also know as an International Dark Sky Park, which means, we will be heading back one evening to star gaze! On to the Visitor Center. It’s like any other Visitor Center, but what I find in there, peaks my curiosity! Books on the history of the Canyon, on the night skies, the animals, the wild flowers and just about anything else you can think of, I knew, if I didn’t get out of there I would spend a paupers fortune in books, cups, and post cards!
Next stop was Chasm View. There is just a slight walk down to the rim and you are entertained with flowers, shrubs, trees and if it wasn’t as hot as it was, I am sure I would have seen an animal or two. At least one of the six different kinds of lizards, but I believe it was too hot for them too! The Chasm View was absolutely breath taking, in more than one way. It’s a STRAIGHT down look of the Gunnison River below, well, ok, you can look straight down, but it also have other views! The really cool thing was, it was a Sunday, Father’s day and there were very few people in the park. There were several Search and Rescue members who had just packed up from a night of training and camping and then there was a family of four at the overlook. Once they left, I was alone, a very humbling experience. Chasm View is the narrowest point in area, with a rim to rim distance of 1,100 ft. and a depth of 1,820 ft. I was shocked I was able to hear the roar of the Gunnison River below.
Sunset View and Warner Point were the next two stops. Sunset View was a very beautiful view of the park to the north and I am hoping when we go back to star gaze we will be able to enjoy a beautiful sunset there. Warner View was the end of the paved road so back down we went to the park entrance and hung a left and went all the way to the bottom of the canyon.
I have to say, a 16% grade is a bit frightening on a dirt road barely wide enough for two vehicles. Plus, mom was not a fan of the grade, or the width, or the grade, or the very tall snow markers or the other cars coming up and then there was that grade thing. Once we got to the bottom, we found a very nice place for our picnic and Max was happy to get out and meet new friends.
I was able to see a chipmunk, however, my camera was in the car and so no picture of the little feller is available. The picnic area is located at the base of the canyon at the Gunnison Diversion Dam. When I think of a dam, I think control, which is exactly what the Diversion Dam is. The Gunnison River started its course by cutting into the soft volcanic rock. It continued down into the older crystalline rock and continued to carve its way through these rocks for two million years. The river had to be dammed to lessen the seasonal flooding and now carves its way through the canyon at a much slower speed. If the river hadn’t been dammed it would race through the canyon at flood levels of 12,000 cubic ft per second. Think about that…per SECOND!
The entire day was a day of mesmerizing views, appreciation of nature and full day of exploring. I truly believe it was too hot for many animals, I finally did see several butterflies and there was that so called chipmunk. The highlight of the animal adventure was on our way out, we passed over a cattle guard into open range area and I saw a huge black figure out of the corner of my eye. I was thinking, oh dear, we found a bear! But, it was just a cow!
I can’t wait to go back!
Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.
Edward Abbey