A grand time on Grand Mesa

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It’s been unusually hot for June in Ridgway, Colorado, where we are currently camp hosting at Ridgway State Park. So, this past week we decided to venture up to the Grand Mesa to escape the heat at 10,500 feet. It was at least 20 degrees cooler at that elevation.

The Grand Mesa is the largest tabletop mountain in the world. It is a veritable wonderland full of over 300 tiny to mid-size lakes and beautiful aspen and conifer forests. It feels as though you could spend a month exploring up here, as the mesa is crisscrossed with roads, paved and unpaved, and a myriad of trails. We felt as though we were barely scratching the surface.

The Mesa was formed from volcanic action over 100 million years ago, while the lakes dotting the surface were gouged out by a glacier 20,000 years ago. It is a real oasis of cooler temperatures and gorgeous scenery. The only drawback is the swarms of mosquitos. They do stop swarming as the evening cools, but they are there to greet you when you open your tent flap in the morning.

We only had 2 1/2 days to explore, and we wanted to kayak, hike and mountain bike. We camped at Island Lake campground, so Mandy was able to test the waters of the lake in her kayak the evening we arrived.

Not surprisingly, there was still lots of snow at this elevation, so some of the trails included hoofing it through snow banks in the shade where the sun hadn’t already melted the snow.DSC_2753

Our first full day on the Mesa we did a combination of mountain biking and hiking. It was a combination, because at that elevation with any incline, we quickly tired of biking. We headed out on the Flow Park Trail off Land’s End Road. It was a nice ride through forests, beside lakes and eventually up to the edge of the Mesa. From the edge, we could see our own Sneffels Range some 70 miles away, as well as the nearer West Elk Mountains and the LaSalle Range around 50 miles away in Utah. The first day was very clear, with visibility of I suppose 100 miles. On the second, however, there appeared a haze that we think must have been coming from the fires in southwestern Utah.

On the evening of our first full day we were rewarded with a moose sighting. She was at least 100 yards away, but I was able to get a fairly decent shot of her with my telephoto lens. Next to where the moose was lounging was an intact beaver dam.

On our second full day I chose to hike and Mandy chose to kayak again. From her position on the lake Mandy was able to observe wildlife such as marmots and deer. I hiked the Crag Crest Trail about 4 miles in from the western trailhead, reaching 11,000 feet. The views were inspiring, but the haze put kind of a damper on the more distant views. This is a very popular trail as it is a National Scenic Trail and makes an 11 mile loop. Being a Wednesday though, it wasn’t crowded at all. I imagine as the summer rolls on, the crowds will thicken as the snow disappears. In contrast, we met only one other group of hikers on the Flow Park trail, even though it features on the Forest Service website.

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I highly recommend a trip to the Grand Mesa if you are anywhere nearby. Even if you’re not, it’s worth a special trip. We only began to have its mysteries revealed to us.

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