Grateful for the great outdoors

Take a moment to enjoy perks of living where we do

Ray Pilcher leads Glenda Haggerty and Peggy Pilcher along one of the many groomed trails at Skyway Nordic Ski Area on Grand Mesa, where the Grand Mesa Nordic Council grooms 54 kilometers (32.4 miles) of trails with funds donated from skiers and snowshoers.

Ray and Peggy Pilcher of Grand Junction enjoy a day of fresh air and clear blue skies at the Skyway Nordic Ski Area on Grand Mesa, only an hour’s drive from the hazy valley below.

At 6,479 feet in elevation, the upper Liberty Cap Trail on Colorado National Monument is in good skiing condition, and it’s high enough — only 1,800 feet above the valley floor — where you can still escape the bad air from the inversion.

Glenda Haggerty and Ray Pilcher race up one of the many trails groomed by the Grand Mesa Nordic Council in Grand Mesa National Forest, only an hour’s drive from Grand Junction.

I have so much to be grateful for this holiday season.

I’m grateful for where I live and what I do.

I’m grateful for my family and my friends.

I’m grateful I only have to travel a few miles to get above this inversion and enjoy crystal clear blue skies and fresh air.

If you’re a winter outdoor-sports fanatic like I am, you have lots to be grateful for, too.

You can fly fish, like my buddy Dave Buchanan, who ventured to the Gunnison River last week. You could also hit the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Reservoir or the Colorado River from mid-Glenwood Canyon to New Castle.

You could gear up for ice fishing. Usually January and February are perfect for that at Island Lake or any number of lakes on Grand Mesa. You could snowshoe in to see which lakes you’d enjoy the best, or you could cross-country ski in, pulling the sled with the kids and the ice auger.

Speaking of kids and sleds, you can escape to Grand Mesa just above Powderhorn and hit the sledding hill, or if you’re on the south side of Grand Mesa, travel up past Cedaredge and across the road from the Ward Lake Nordic Trail System. There, you’ll find another great sledding hill.

While we’ve been stuck in the deep freeze down here in the valley, it’s sunny and 15 degrees warmer on Grand Mesa.

Snowshoeing, skiing, sledding and snowmobiling are all hot right now. The Mesa Top parking area between Skyway and County Line is all plowed out and ready for snowmobiling use. You could also stop in at the Mesa Lakes Resort or Grand Mesa Lakes Lodge for a hot cup of coffee and some hot tips on snowmobile trails in the area. 

In fact, if you’d like to escape this inversion for a longer period of time, you could rent a cabin up there, or a condominium at Powderhorn, and enjoy this holiday season in breathable style.

Nordic skiers on Grand Mesa will find excellent midseason conditions and fabulously groomed trails, thanks to Mother Nature and the Grand Mesa Nordic Council. However, you don’t have to travel that far to enjoy this wonderful outdoor activity. Simply take a short trip to the top of Colorado National Monument and hit upper Liberty Cap Trail. At 6,479 feet in elevation, it’s in good condition, and it’s high enough — only 1,800 feet above the valley floor — where you can still escape this bad air.

Lots of hikers continue to enjoy many trails in Colorado National Monument, especially Serpents Trail, and a short trip to Moab will provide you with a beautiful drive along River Road to see new construction for bicycle lanes along the Colorado River outside Moab, combined with wonderful hiking choices in Arches National Park.

Downhill skiers and snowboarders already have taken advantage of excellent early-season conditions at Powderhorn. Telluride, Crested Butte and Aspen aren’t that far away.

Looking for something a little different? Try a sleigh ride at Mesa Lakes. Really. Or, take your ice skates and snow shovel and clear off one of those lakes on Grand Mesa. Your dogs will love you for it. 

We can all be grateful that the Forest Service and its fine employees keep this winter wonderland open. Same with the Parks Service and Colorado National Monument employees and volunteers. I’m sure those employees are grateful that we take advantage of our surroundings, but they worry about the resource, they worry about people, and they worry about our dogs.

“We want to encourage dog owners who enjoy our forest in the winter to find a frozen lake and take your dogs there,” said Ryan Fricke, recreation specialist for Grand Mesa National Forest.

In a polite way he’s trying to tell us not to take our dogs to the nordic ski areas because of conflicts with other users, as well as very real issues with dogs. 

There are at least four or five rescue operations at County Line Nordic Ski Area for dogs every year. People take their dogs too far and exhaust them. Also, as dogs frolic off the path, their paws post-hole through deep snow and get caught in hidden branches below. Sometimes, their poor paws simply get frozen.

“We’re not saying you can’t (take your dogs to the groomed nordic ski areas). We’re just encouraging you to take your dogs elsewhere,” he said.

I’m grateful for polite people.

I’m grateful to the Nordic Council and all the great work it does.

I’m really, really grateful to all the snow plow drivers from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Mesa County, Delta County and everywhere for allowing us the opportunity to reach our winter destinations.

And, I’m grateful to you readers for allowing me to write and hike and bike and ski and raft and fish and recreate in one of the finest spots on earth.

Thanks. Happy Holidays.


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