Gnats bugging you? Escape with bug-free (for now) Mesa Creek hike

It’s a breathtaking view from the old Mesa Creek Ski Area on Grand Mesa. Although there’s still snow on top of the mesa, it’s gone from the lower area. Although it’s a rugged climb, it’s a great hike through aspen groves. It’s far away from the biting gnats in the valley below and the mesa mosquitoes haven’t shown up yet.


Mesa Creek: The Hike

Drive time and distance: 55 minutes; 40.7 miles

Elevation: 8,750-9,750 ft.

Length: 1,000 feet up in a very short distance!

Hiking Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: 1,000 feet up in a very short distance!

PEST is just another four-letter word for GNAT.

Gnat, of course, is just another four-letter word for those no-see-ums that have recently returned to the monuments and deserts of the Colorado Plateau on the south side of the mighty Colorado River.

Nasty biting gnats drove me gnuts this past week, just as I’m sure they did to the natives who once roamed through this country hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Nasty biting gnats, who seem to love the Pinyon and Juniper landscape surrounding the Happy Valley, forced me to higher ground.

I know all the books say gnats are found anyplace in the world where there is a river or stream because they lay their eggs in watery places. I’ve read they require the blood of warm-blooded animals to survive. Unlike mosquitoes, gnats usually don’t bite through clothing — so they say. But gnats can crawl into hair or under clothing to get at balding hair lines around hat rims and ears and ankles and belt lines.

Nasty little buggers.

They drove me to seek solace on Grand Mesa, which at this time of year usually hosts hoards of another four-letter pest, the mosquito.

Gary McCallister wrote a great science column in The Daily Sentinel on April 30 about this little blood-sucker. But, after receiving nearly 80 feet of accumulated snow this past winter, Grand Mesa’s notorious mosquitoes have not yet appeared.

“Soon come,” as they say in Jamaica.

As soon as the snow melts.

When Andy and Gloria Brito with A-n-G’s Fly Fishing Shop, located at the Forest Service Visitor Center on Grand Mesa, opened on Memorial Day, there was eight feet of snow in front of the center located near Ward Lake. That was only three weeks ago.

Last Wednesday, there was still plenty of snow under the tall, sweetly-scented pines surrounding the Visitor Center, but it was melting fast — and there were no mosquitoes.

A fractured-frozen Island Lake was opening in spots. Andy figured it would be another week or so before it was actually cleared of ice, but who knows.

“I think you’d have to call God for a more accurate forecast,” he said with a grin.

Ward Lake was half-clear the other day, but Andy said there was a thin film of ice on all of it that morning, so temperatures continue to drop at night on our own little 10,000-foot tall table-top mountain.

Although many paved roads have been plowed to the resorts on Grand Mesa, most campgrounds remain full of snow and most roads are impassible. It might be July 4 before the entire mesa is snow-free this year, Andy speculated, but again, who knows?

I still needed an elevated fix of clean, clear, gnat-free air, so I retreated to a slightly lower elevation and settled on a very enjoyable, albeit strenuous, hike up the Old Mesa Creek Ski Area hill, aka, the sledding hill a few miles up Scenic Highway 65 from Powderhorn Ski Area.

I first visited this area when I moved to the Happy Valley in 1977, but I discovered it on skis. Right now, however, it’s a perfect place for a hike.

Alice Sisac and her husband Bob, who owned The Board and Buckle, the ski/bike shop on North Avenue, for years, grew up on this hillside. In fact, Alice says Bob skied and worked at the old Mesa Creek Ski Area as a youngster.

From 1941 to 1966, it was run as a nonprofit area by the Grand Junction Ski Club. Memberships sold for $1 and proceeds were used to buy gas for engines that operated the rope tows.

At least three Olympic skiers taught there. Long-time GJ resident Bob Beverly and friend Pat Paterson formed a volunteer ski patrol in 1954. Beverly, by the way, was inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 2000, partly for his work at Mesa Creek, one of the first ski areas established in Colorado.

One rope tow was upgraded to a Poma in 1956. The second tow, called the Lions Lift, was upgraded in 1961. Mesa Creek closed once the development of Powderhorn began. The Lions Lift was eventually moved to Powderhorn and still runs today.

So, a hike through the quaking aspen grove up that hill was quite a unique experience the other day. I would not have thought of it had it not been for all the snow on top.

Or those nasty little biting gnats below.

For an update on Grand Mesa conditions, go online to, or call the Visitor Center at 970-856-4153.

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