Grand Mesa National Forest Overview
The monstrous flat-topped mountain known as Grand Mesa is the largest of its kind in the world, reaching heights of 11,000 feet. It soars like a cool, green oasis above the high desert in west-central Colorado. Whereas the parched landscape in the valley below is speckled with sagebrush and rabbitbrush, the mesa is lush with groves of aspen, Engelmann spruce, and Douglas and sub-alpine fir.
A unique series of geological events that occurred upwards of ten million years ago created the mesa. It was formed by lava flows, glaciers, and erosional forces. This geological wonder cradles over 300 high-altitude lakes, creating a unique head-in-the-clouds trout-fishing experience that is as close as mere mortals can come to angling amongst the Gods.
The Ute Indians called the Grand Mesa "Thunder Mountain" before the U.S. government removed them to reservations in Utah and southwestern Colorado in the early 1880s. President Benjamin Harrison created the Grand Mesa National Forest on December 24, 1892. It was first called the Battlement Mesa Forest Reserve and was the third such reserve to be created in the nation.
Hike the Crags
The ten-mile Crag Crest National Recreation Trail is a challenging trail that will test your sense of vertigo. Narrow sections of the trail on the crest are flanked by 500-foot drop-offs. If you have nothing to prove, meander along a lazy lakeside nature trail at Land of Lakes, Leon Lake, and Cedar Mesa. Vegetation along the trails varies with altitude—in the upper Sonoran zone, below 7,000 feet, expect rabbitbrush, pinyon, juniper, and sagebrush. Between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, or the "mountain shrub zone," as we like to say in the biz, count on scrub oak, chokecherry, and mountain mahogany. Expect spruce and fir in the montane and subalpine zones as you near the top of the mesa.
Ski Powder at Powderhorn
Two hundred and fifty inches of powder get dumped on the Powderhorn Ski Resort each year, hence the name. The mountain offers more than 500 acres of skiiable terrain at an elevation of 9,000 feet, just beneath the lip of the mesa. And although the vertical drop of 1,650 feet is not on the scale of what you'll find at Aspen and Vail, you won't have to compete with the fashion-driven ski crowd that drives up the price of a hamburger to $12 at the local snack bar. A new snowboard park features quick quarter-pipes and a terrain garden for Zen tricksters.
Fish High-Altitude Mesa Lakes
Minnesota may be the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," but the mesa is clearly the land of 10,000-foot-high lakes. In fact, Grand Mesa holds some 300 stream-fed lakes. With so many lakes to choose from, you can avoid cutthroat competition for cutthroat trout and their brook and rainbow cousins. At Island Lake, Ward Lake, and Little Gem Reservoir, you can also catch splake—a hybrid that results when brook trout fertilizes the eggs of lake trout.
Fat-Tire the Flat-Top
The Bull & Brown is a challenging two-mile drop-off trail over the mesa's southeast rim. Start at 10,400 feet and drop 1,600 feet (that's 499 meters for you Canadians and Europeans) to 8,800 feet. The USGS map for this region is "Hells Kitchen"—a befitting name for a lava-capped mesa created from the inferno that lies deep beneath the surface of the earth. Most of the trails on the mesa permit mountain bikers.
Cruise up the Mesa
Roll down the windows and cruise the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway—the 55-mile drive will take you from the orchards on the valley floor to the alpine summit of the 11,000-foot mesa. You'll pass desert canyons as you make your way up toward the alpine meadows atop the towering mesa. Catch the byway in Cedaredge at Pioneer Town or in Plateau Canyon where Highway 65 joins Interstate 70, 20 miles east of Grand Junction.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication