Take you breath away
Altitude, stunning beauty worth trek to Finney Cuts
Grand Mesa is well-known for its numerous natural lakes and man made reservoirs, nearly 300 in all.
According to the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, about one-third of those lakes harbor fish: rainbows, brookies, browns and native cutthroat trout.
Most of the lakes on the mesa lie between 8,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation. This altitude, combined with the strenuous activity of hiking around any one of these lakes, can aggravate or trigger health issues, and you should beware: You may feel more alive than you’ve felt in ages; your frown could turn into a grin; you may become healthier physically, mentally and spiritually.
The altitude may take your breath away for a bit, but hike a few yards, then stop and look around. The stunning beauty will certainly take your breath away again, so have a sip of water and wait a minute more before proceeding.
There are literally hundreds of places to hike on this 800-square-mile flat-topped mountain looming over the Grand Valley’s eastern horizon.
Island Lake at 179 acres is the largest lake on Grand Mesa National Forest. Most of the lakes on the mesa, however, are closer to 25 to 50 acres, with some, like Finney Cut Lake No. 1, much smaller at three acres.
And, while the main recreational activity on Grand Mesa during the summer months is fishing, there’s a ton of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, not to mention hundreds of miles of ATV and off-road-vehicle riding.
Many of the lakes on the mesa are accessible by two-wheel-drive vehicle, but many you can only visit if you hike to them. That makes for a much less crowded recreational opportunity as most of these backcountry lakes can go for days without a visit from a human.
One such group of lakes is the Finney Cut lakes, Leon Peak Reservoir (Sissie Lake), Cole Reservoir and the Pecks reservoirs. Fishing pressure is light since all of these lakes are hike-in-only lakes. No developed campsites exist at any of these bodies of water, and their remoteness isn’t all that remote. For example, from the Weir and Johnson Reservoir parking area, it’s a one-mile hike to Finney Cut Lake No. 1 and 1.5 miles to Finney Cut Lake No. 2.
Commonly mistaken to be two separate lakes, Weir and Johnson is actually a single body of water. This area includes not only Grand Mesa’s highest fishing lakes, but also the mesa’s highest point, Leon Peak (11,231 feet).
To reach this area from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 east for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit (No. 49). Travel 10 miles and turn left on Colorado Highway 330 toward Collbran. Travel another 11.5 miles, and turn right onto 58 1/2 Road as you begin to enter town. You’ll pass the school, hospital and Job Corps Center on your left. Follow the signs toward Bonham Reservoir.
In 7.4 miles, the pavement ends at the Forest Service boundary. From here, this well-maintained dirt road is labeled Forest Service Road No. 121. Stay on it past Bonham Reservoir and Big Creek Reservoir No. 1. You’ll then turn left (east) on Forest Service Road No. 126 to Weir and Johnson Reservoir.
This is a pay-for-use area, but it’s only $3 to park the car for the day. Park, then cross the dam. You’ll find the trail to Sissie Lake (Leon Park Reservoir) immediately after you cross. Sissie Lake is less than a half-mile from where you parked. The trail climbs immediately up from Weir and Johnson. That’s where you can take a break to catch your breath, then lose your breath again because of the surrounding beauty.
Soon, you’ll come to Sissie Lake. You can hike around this nine-acre lake and fish for cutthroat trout, or you can take the right-hand trail and continue on to the Finney Cut Lakes. Finney Cut Lake No. 1 is a tiny, three-acre, natural lake and will appear on your right in a half-mile or so. In another half-mile, you’ll run into Finney Cut No. 2.
You will immediately notice ancient volcanic activity in this area. After Grand Mesa blew its top eons ago, Pleistocene era glaciers caused a weathering process known as “slumping.” Lava blocks from the margin of Grand Mesa’s cap slid (slumped) down the mountain side to produce broad landslide benches.
This trail leads through one of these slump benches. Many of these benches were dammed up naturally to create reservoirs, such as Finney Cut No. 1.
It might be time to take another break because the scenery here is breathtaking. Wildlife abounds. Wild mushrooms grow everywhere in the dense, moist forest lawn. The air is crisp and clear, and you’ll have this place all to yourself.
It’s spiritually, mentally and physically uplifting, so beware: It may turn your frown into a grin.