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10 Reasons to Visit The Largest Flat-Top Mountain In the World

We pass
through Grand Junction every time we visit our children in the area. Last
summer, we decided to explore the city. As we neared our destination, going
west from Denver on I-70, we were greeted by steep cliff sides that rose all
around us. We soon found out that we were booked in Mesa, the northern terminus
of Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the world, near Grand Junction.

The mountain
is over 500 square miles, rising to over 11,000 feet in elevation. We were told
that the best way to explore it was to drive the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic
Byway (State Highway 65) which runs for over 62 miles from Mesa to the southern terminus
near Cedaredge. This details ten points of interest, including a great Visitor Center, we discovered at this true
Colorado hidden gem.

The Land’s End Observatory

After 15
minutes, you will reach Land’s End Road. Go ten miles on the drivable,
half-paved, and half-gravel road open only during summer. In the end, you will
come upon
Land’s End Observatory, a group of mountain cabins, once
fitted with the necessary equipment but closed in 2014. There are stunning
views of the national forest from the rim.

Rustic Lodging Options

Not far from
there you will come upon a larger and newer log cabin: the
Grand Mesa Lodge operating under special use permit from the Forest Service. A
restaurant and bar serve 14 rustic cabins and a one-bedroom suite for rent
along with canoes, kayaks, or rowboats for the nearby Island Lake.

The Forest
Service also has Black Bear and Moose Manor cabins built in the 1930s are also available.
Cobbett Lake Campground is available for reservations among the
campgrounds. We stayed at the Powderhorn Mountain Resort in Mesa, the ski area
of Grand Mesa. Besides this are other condos and trendy tiny homes are
alternatives. Cedaredge has many other lodging options.  

Over 300 Stream-Fed Alpine Lakes

The mountain
lies mostly within the
Grand Mesa National Forest which boasts more than 300
stream-fed alpine lakes. The fields are blessed with wildflowers during early summer.
At one lake we found happily engrossed in painting the beautiful scenery while at
a trout-stocked lake, there was a lone man in his kayak enjoying the chance on
a cool summer day.

Classic Hiking Trails

If you have
time, there are hiking trails, like the 10.3-mile
 Crag Crest Trail, a designated National Recreation
Trail running along the Grand Mesa spine with views of up to 100 miles on a
clear day. Access it from either the trailhead near Mile Marker 27 on the west
side or at the Crag Crest Campground to the east. Or try the heavily-trafficked 4-mile
Lost Lake Trail bordering the narrow, emerald Lost Lake.

Fun Festivals

If you like
festivals, there are two good ones. One is the
Grand Mesa Moose Day, in appreciation of the hundreds of moose
that thrive in the forest, drawing more than a thousand visitors every year
around July. The end of September marks Color Sunday, with activities at stops
all along the byway to celebrate spectacular fall foliage. If you prefer quiet
serene mountain life, plan your visit outside of these two crowded weekends.

Grand Mesa Visitor Center

Near the
southern terminus of Cedaredge is the
Grand Mesa Visitor Center operated by the Forest Service. The staff
may lead you on nature hikes and there is a “Discovery Trail #745” with interpretive
exhibits. There are presentations on wildlife, wildflowers, birds, mushrooms,
and moose. And there is a good-sized gift shop stocked with nice mountain
souvenirs. Baron Lake sits just beside it and there are many connections to
hiking trails.

The Small Town of Cedaredge

Cedaredge is at the lower elevation of 6,000
feet at the southern terminus of the Byway between Mile Markers 9 and 12.  It is a retirement haven (30 percent of the
2,400 residents are 65 years of age and older) because of the mild climate, low
taxes, outdoor recreational opportunities beyond those offered in Grand Mesa,
health care facilities, and cultural activities.

The Small Town of Mesa

smaller, with only about 600 residents, is Mesa at the northern terminus,

staying 20 degrees cooler than
the sometimes triple digits down in the valley. The resorts in the area sit at
more than 8,000 feet in elevation and a ski lift platform can take you to breathtaking
vistas at the top. Just 15 minutes away, we also stumbled upon an interesting monument,
American Servicewomen Memorial Park in Collbran, Colorado, the first one
of its kind erected in the USA.

The Small Town of Palisade

When we needed
staples or supplies, we drove down to
Palisade. Even if the trip took 30 minutes each way, every visit was a pleasure.
Named for the cliffs near the town, Palisade is best known for peach orchards
and wine vineyards. It is called the “Peach Capital of the World.” A thriving local
creative arts community populates the town of 2,700 that hosts live music
festivals and farmers markets.”

Grand Junction and the Colorado
National Monument

Our original
reason for being in the area was to explore
Grand Junction. So we dedicated a day to the city; the trip took 45
minutes each way, at about 4,500 feet elevation. Its population is 60,000 and Mt.
Garfield lords the scene from many angles. After lunch at a very affordable
authentic Nepalese restaurant called Namaste, we also took a peek at the
Colorado National Monument just 10 minutes away.

“There are monoliths
that tower over vast plateaus and panoramas, revealing spectacular red rocks
along the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive. We loved the Coke Oven’s Viewpoint best and hiked
Otto’s Trail, a short 0.7-mile roundtrip, dropping about 200 feet in elevation to
an overlook featuring Wedding Canyon, Monument Canyon, Pipe Organ, and
Independence Monument. And you can believe the website’s promise: ‘You will encounter
bighorn sheep.’ Three of them played in front of us on the way out of the
national monument.”

Pro Tip: If you can stay longer, I recommend
two other day trips from Grand Mesa. 1) The North Rim of the Black Canyon of
the Gunnison National Park (the more remote entrance) is only about 60 minutes
south of Cedaredge. 2) The town of Glenwood Springs with its mammoth hot
springs is just 60 minutes east of Mesa. If you take the backroads from Mesa
(not I-70), the drive is quite scenic.  



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