Make time to powder walk Grand Mesa in snowshoes

Rachel Sauer, left, and Melinda Mawdsley find plenty of off-trail opportunities for snowshoeing in the snow-covered forests of Grand Mesa. A foot of fresh snow was easily traversed in the lightweight winter footgear.

Melinda Mawdsley puts her snowboarding experience to good use, quickly learning the facility of the quick buckle system on modern snowshoes.

We called it snow silence. And it was needed.

After weeks of the garbage winter inversion of January that polluted the air and masked the sun, fellow features writer Rachel Sauer and I sought refuge from our cabin fever and grumpy dispositions at 10,800 feet.

Feb. 2 was an idyllic Colorado winter day, warm and sunny. Outdoors writer Dave Buchanan joined us on our day-trip to snowshoe on Grand Mesa.

Of all the winter activities to experience in the area, I would argue snowshoeing is tops. It requires very little equipment and even less skill. Plus, snowshoeing is an excuse to get outdoors, breathe fresh mountain air and walk in the beauty of Colorado.

With The Daily Sentinel features staff committed to highlighting interesting or iconic experiences and locations around this region throughout 2013, we thought it the perfect time to bring you closer to Grand Mesa, roughly a 45-minute drive from Grand Junction.

Neither Rachel nor I had snowshoed on Grand Mesa before. Actually, Rachel had never snowshoed before. I had gone once.

In other words, we needed Dave.

Besides, he had the four-wheel drive vehicle, and Colorado Highway 65 in the winter is best traveled with a competent driver who knows where to go and what parking lots to avoid.

In terms of gear, the only necessary items were snowshoes and sturdy, waterproof boots that go above the ankle because, although snowshoes keep you on top of the snow, they don’t keep snow off your feet.

I borrowed boots from a friend. I borrowed a pair of sweet, lime green snowshoes and poles from features editor Ann Wright.

Rachel rented all her gear from The Board & Buckle, 2822 North Ave., for $12.

We left Grand Junction at 10 a.m., but left our final destination up to Dave. After passing numerous trail heads packed full of people — seriously, Grand Mesa was packed full of people — Dave pulled into the Land’s End area full of snowmobilers.

Um, what? A parking lot full of snowmobilers didn’t seem quiet and serene.

Not to worry, Dave said, we would walk in the opposite direction into wooded areas where machines couldn’t go. Plus, old snowmobile tracks are packed down and much easier for beginning snowshoers to walk.

He thought it wise for us to mix snowshoeing on tracks with snowshoeing in deep, untracked powder, giving us the experience of both.

Dave showed us how to put on snowshoes, remove them, adjust them and put them back on again. OK, fine. It was just me he had to help. Dave also adjusted my poles to the right height to assist me when walking up hills or through deep snow.

(Side note: Dave is among the most fantastic people we know. Rachel and I were ecstatic when he agreed to come along. Case in point, he brought a pocketknife with pliers and other helpful tools to adjust our gear. Rachel and I brought snacks, which, although tasty, were worthless.)

He showed us how to walk with snowshoes, so Rachel and I could enjoy 90 minutes snowshoeing atop snowmobile tracks and miles of untracked snow.

Making fresh tracks through powder is a workout. Seriously, it’s exhausting, but it was worth it to get into the forests of evergreen trees, where the only evidence of life was the scattering of animal tracks.

The sound of silence within an evergreen forest at the height of winter is relaxing. It’s so quiet, so peaceful and so lovely to just be alone.

By the time the three of us trekked back to Dave’s vehicle — having poles helped with balance when my legs got tired — we felt like we truly had a worthwhile day in the backcountry. It felt like we had walked for hours and accomplished quite a bit.

Then, Rachel and I shared our snacks with Dave.

Get going: You could head up Grand Mesa on Colorado Highway 65 and look for a trail head, but we recommend you first take a look at the Grand Mesa Nordic Council’s website,, for information on snowshoeing and trails. Information also is available at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, open weekends only in the wintertime, and from the Forest Service at


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