When people think of Colorado they usually picture magnificent mountains and happy skiers blasting down a snowy mountain. Or maybe the big city of Denver with its skyscrapers situated at the foot of the majestic Rockies. There is however a much different part of the state that rarely is in the limelight. Grand Junction (a city of around 50,000) is on the western slope of the Rockies just 30 miles east of the Utah border. This part of Colorado is a mix of spellbinding red rock formations in the Colorado National Monument, wild mesas, big rivers and towering snowcapped mountains. Named for the junction of two important rivers; the Colorado and the Gunnison, Grand Junction has a bit of everything for tourists and residents alike. The area abounds with hiking, biking, white water rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, fishing, and motor cycle riding.
Grand Junction is the county seat of Mesa County. Less than an hour away from downtown you will find both excellent downhill and cross-country skiing on the nearby Grand Mesa. Powderhorn, the downhill ski area, takes you back to the days when ski areas were smaller and more family friendly. You won’t find the pretentiousness here, just great ski trails for all abilities at an affordable cost. Even though it is smaller than the mega ski resorts it still offers a high speed quad lift and trails up to 2,400 feet long. Further up on the Grand Mesa is some of the best cross-country skiing in the state. Glide though silent forests as you inhale the wildness of this magical mesa. Try full-moon skiing up here for one of the most memorable ski trips ever.
In the summer the Grand Mesa offers some of the best camping and fishing in the state. With several camping or lodging options you can find the perfect spot. The mesa boasts 300 lakes full of rainbow, brook and brown trout for anglers of all abilities. Residents love to come up to the Grand Mesa to beat the heat of the valley below and go fishing, canoeing or hiking. A twenty-five minute drive from Grand Junction rewards you with a drop in temperature of twenty to thirty degrees! Down in the valley summer brings heat and a bountiful harvest from the area orchards and farms. The historic Cross Orchard features special events for the whole family during apple season highlighting pioneer ways of harvesting and processing apples. This living museum is a great place to taste old fashioned apple cider and see how things used to be in the fruit industry. Check for special events in the fall for demonstrations of apple pressing on their antique press.
The Grand Valley’s wine industry is gaining ground and recently as many as half the tourists surveyed say “wine” was the attraction. New wineries are popping up all the time and the quality keeps getting better. The Colorado Mountain Winefest is held in September featuring bike tours, cooking demos, winemaker’s dinners and of course wine sampling from more than fifty wineries.
For a scrumptious lunch try Café Sol in the newly renovated Main Street area downtown. At dinner time try fine dining at 626 on Rood to take care of your wine and dining needs. Their poached lobster tail paired with a side of mac and cheese and a flight of winter white wine hits the spot. For sweet treats a visit to Enstrom’s downtown is a must! This is a full boogie candy shop with gourmet chocolates, ice cream and their world famous almond toffee. Here’s my warning to you, I love the dark chocolate version of their toffee and can hardly stop eating it once the package has been opened, it is that addictive! Beware of their free samples. For a great ice cream topper buy a bag of the toffee crumbles. They are the crumbs and chunks that fall off when the toffee is cut for packaging and cheaper than the toffee. The crumbles have a higher ratio of chocolate to toffee making it my new favorite treat.
The Colorado National Monument is one of my favorite scenic parks in Colorado. Drive or bicycle the red-glow of the park’s twenty three mile long highway-“Rim Rock Drive”- through enchanted rock formations that dinosaurs once roamed. Gaze in awe at the towering pinnacles, monoliths and hoodoos with each turn in the winding road. Whether you drive a car, motorcycle, ride a mountain or road bike, this is one of the gems in Colorado, and will leave you with memories for a lifetime. Bring your camera and be ready for the scenic pull outs along the way. Scanning the skies might reward you with a glimpse of a soaring Golden Eagle, or turkey vultures slowly circling high above. My favorite time to visit the monument is early or late in the day when the sun does its best to show off the many hues in the limestone rock formations.
I think the best time to visit Grand Junction is in the fall when summer’s heat starts fading and the orchards are showing off their peaches, apples and grapes. Several flights per day arrive from Denver, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City at the regional airport served by five airlines. If arriving by car I-70 Interstate is the east west highway from Denver or Salt Lake and is a scenic drive though mountains and deserts. Amtrak also serves the area if train travel is your style. Once here I believe you too will be captivated by this modern oasis in Colorado’s western slope and genuine western hospitality.
Colorado National Monument
Fees are charged as follows:
Individual hiker or bicyclist $5
January 19, February 14-16, April 18-19, August 25, September 26 and November 11.
Springhill Suites, downtown historic area
236 Main St
743 Horizon dr
Grand Mesa Lodge and Cabins
Fishing, snowmobile tours, cross-country skiing
Bin 707 Foodbar 225 N 5th St
Lunch or dinner
626 on Rood
626 Rood Ave-duh!
420 Main St
Lunch or dinner
1145 North Ave
Lunch or dinner
701 Colorado Ave
Candy and ice cream stop
3073 F Road
970-434-9814(Cross Orchard Historical Society)