Try a trek up Crag Crest Trail, a reminder you live in this great state
You know you’re from Colorado when you go anywhere else and the air feels sticky and you notice the sky is no longer blue.
You know you’re from Colorado when “humid” is more than 25 percent.
You know you’re from Colorado when you look toward the mountains for a sense of direction. That’s true on either side of the Continental Divide.
You know you’re from Colorado when you know what the Continental Divide is!
Some ardent readers may “refudiate” that. (I’m sure you read the Sept. 8, 2010 edition of The Daily Sentinel on International Literacy Day, when Sarah Palin coined a new word: refudiate. It’s a blend of refute and repudiate.) Some of you from outside Colorado may know what the Continental Divide is, as well.
So, we freely admit we’re not all-knowing.
But I do know where the trail head is to the most well-known trail on Grand Mesa — Crag Crest Trail (FS Trail 711).
It’s at an elevation of 10,360 feet above sea level, plenty high enough to be deprived of oxygen in the thin air, and thus capable of such silly meanderings.
There are a couple of different ways to approach the Crag Crest Trail hike. If you shuttle vehicles, one at the east trail head and one at the west, you can hike the upper 6.2-mile trail along the craggy spine of Crag Crest from the east trail head to the west, or vice versa.
With only one vehicle, you can hike the upper 6.2-mile stretch from the west trail head near Island Lake, then return along the lower trail, a four-mile trek, completing the 10.2-mile loop.
Or vice versa.
The upper trail climbs more than 1,000 feet in elevation from either trail head, then runs about four miles along the top of a steep-sided craggy crest.
As noted in previous columns, this “Crag” crest is a long ridge left behind by two parallel glaciers in the last ice age. Although the trail is not terribly difficult, other than an ascent on one end or the other, it is not suitable for hikers who fear heights. Along the crest, this trail narrows to about three feet wide with steep drops on both sides.
To find the trail, take Interstate-70 east into De Beque Canyon. Turn off I-70 at Exit 49 (the Powderhorn/Grand Mesa exit). This is Colorado Highway 65, a National Scenic Byway. Stay on it for 33.9 miles, through the town of Mesa, past Powderhorn, past Mesa Lakes Resort, all the way to Grand Mesa Lake Lodge at Island Lake. About .3 miles past Grand Mesa Lakes Lodge, near mile marker 28, you’ll see the turn for the Crag Crest Trail head on your left. This is the west trail head.
The east trail head is at the Crag Crest Campground, off FS Road 121 (Trickle Park Road). Keep going on Highway 65 past the west trail head and around the bottom side of Island Lake, then take a left turn on the Trickle Park Road at the Grand Mesa Visitor’s Center. Follow that road toward Eggleston Reservoir and you’ll find the trail head on your left.
Both upper and lower Crag Crest trails are well marked, but that first mile and a half is a bit of a climb. You must watch your footing, as rocks leap out to grab your ankles and stub your toes along the full length of this trail. This is not a place to wear tennis shoes. You need good foot gear.
I’ve always begun this hike from the west trail head because it’s the first trail head I reach from Grand Junction.
After a quarter-mile or so, the trail crosses one of many wildflower-filled meadows. Even this late in the season, there were plenty of golden asters and purple daisies shining brightly in the daytime sun.
About one mile from the trail head, you’ll come to the well-marked junction of the upper and lower sections. Go left to the upper 6.2 mile stretch, and right to the lower four-mile stretch. The lower path takes you beneath the top of the crest, and climbs to an elevation of 10,680 feet (the west trail head parking lot, by comparison is at 10,360 feet).
If you stay on the upper trail, you’ll reach a series of switchbacks that will take you to the Cottonwood Lakes Trail. Continue past this trail head to the actual crest of the route.
You’ll hike along a windy, narrow ridge flanked by drop-offs on both sides for about two miles. The San Juan Mountains are visible to the south. The West Elk Range spreads to the east. Battlement Mesa looms to the north and the chalky white Bookcliffs and Roan Plateau dominate the northwestern skyline— which, by the way, is remarkably blue, and the air is not sticky.