Looming high above the Grand Valley, Grand Mesa is a woodland oasis for Colorado’s desert dwellers.
Visitors enjoy mountain hiking in cool mountain air or fishing in Grand Mesa’s 300 lakes and reservoirs. The Grand Mesa National Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado Highway 65) spans the 63-mile length of the mesa, from the town of Mesa on the south side to the town of Cedaredge on the north.
The drive provides access to Grand Mesa National Forest campgrounds and recreational areas, as well as other sights on Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world.
There is always something interesting to do along the byway. Brenda Winfrey, visitor information specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Grand Valley Ranger District, suggests starting with a visit to the Grand Mesa Visitor’s Center to find out what’s new.
The Visitor Center is located on the south side of the byway, 15 miles from Cedaredge. Interpretive programs take place from 6–7 p.m. each Saturday from June 13 through Sept. 12. Programs subjects include wildflowers, beatle-kill, moose, mushrooms and the geology of Grand Mesa. Stargazing programs begin in September. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and admission is free.
On it’s north side, the highway passes through the small town of Mesa, which is a good place to stop for cup of coffee or to restock snacks. There also is a limited amount of lodging available.
At Grand Mesa’s top, the Land’s End Observatory is the best place to view the Grand Valley below. “It’s where I send my out of town guests,” Winfrey said.
The overlook at the observatory is 6,000-feet high and is a popular place for photographers and drivers needing to stretch their legs.
It is also the access point for Land’s End Road, a 36mile decline that leads back to the valley floor near the town of Whitewater. The road is mostly unpaved but easily toured with a passenger car. Don’t miss the Raber Cow Camp, an interpretive site with authentic western cabins and a corral.
Another spot not to miss on Grand Mesa is Mesa Lakes. “I really think families would enjoy the Mesa Lakes Recreation Area,” Winfrey said. “It has a nice, close-knit feel to nature.” A variety of lodging is available at Mesa Lakes Lodge, also a popular wedding destination. For information, go to mesalakeslodge.com.
Slope style: It’s not ski season, but Powderhorn Mountain Resort offers plenty to do. The resort hosts a number of summer festivals and events. Along with summer weekend events, the resort has trails for hiking and biking and a disc golf course.
(powderhorn.com) Freebie! Enter the “Win A Cabin Stay” contest to win a free night in a U.S.
Forest Service cabin on Grand Mesa.
To enter, grab a packet at the Grand Mesa Visitor’s Center and participate in variety of outdoor activities. “It can be anything that you can do to enjoy the forest,” said Brenda Winfrey, visitor information specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s Grand Valley Ranger District.
Go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/gmug for information.
Iconic hike: The Crag’s Crest Loop is a strenuous 10-mile hike that rises to more than 11,000 feet in elevation.
Allow at least six hours to complete the loop, or three if just hiking to the crest and turning around. The west trailhead is near Island Lake off Colorado Highway 65. (http://www.gjhikes.com/2010/07/crag-crest-loop.html) Rocky Mountain Oysters: Yeah, they are not seafood, but they are one of the most popular menu items at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, 1090 Colorado Highway 65, in the town of Mesa. (970-268-5220)
Color Sunday: One of the most popular days for a drive on Grand Mesa is Color Sunday, Sept. 27. A variety of events will take place along the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, including live music and lunch specials, all highlighting the spectacular fall colors. Expect to go slow due to the high volume of traffic.