Grand Mesa and The Scenic Byway

The Grand Mesa, the largest flat top mountain in the world, is so unusual that it has many names. The Utes called it “Thunder Mountain”, The whites eye called it “The island in the sky” and the Spanish called it “The Grand Mesa”. And I call it a sportsman’s paradise.

The Scenic and Historic Byway crosses the mountain on a trip from the orchards and vineyards of Palisade to alpine meadows and lakes on top. You can begin your trip in Cedaredge or in Plateau Canyon on Highway 65, 20 miles east of Grand Junction.

Mesa Lakes

The top of Grand Mesa is 10,500 feet above sea level. It’s big . . . very big! It is honey-combed with over 300 lakes, 200 of those lakes are filled with trout.

The Mountain raises above the Western Colorado desert like an alpine oasis in the blue sky. Thats how it got it’s nickname, “Island in the sky”. It has a never ending forest of Engelmann spruce and sub-alpine fir.

The mountain is lava mountain and it act like a huge sponge storing snow melt inside the mountain. It is the water source for Grand Junction, Palisade and the orchards and vineyards in the lower valley.

Island Lake

The mountain is a relatively unknown to most of Colorado, but for the locals it is their cherished playground and a great escape from the summer heat of the Grand Valley.

You won’t find a lot of crowds on the lakes, the trails, restaurants, and lodges; the mountain is too big for the tiny population that lives nearby. I have never seen The Grand Mesa congested.

Centuries ago it was Utes hunting grounds. They called it Thunder Mountain. According to the Ute legend, the lakes were made by the tears of crying Thunderbirds morning their lost children

The Visitors Center at Cobbett lake

The Land O’ Lakes on mountain’s south-facing slope is a magnificent collection of 18 small lakes. All the lakes are close to each other and connected by easy trails.

The Visitor Center at Cobbett Lake is open during the summer months. It sells maps, books and photographs and post cards. A quick look at the map will give you an idea on the number of lakes on the mesa and the massive size of the mountain.

The Old Lands End Observatory

Land’s End overlook is the crown jewel of The Grand Mesa. You will not believe or soon forget the view. No camera can do it justice.

From the old observatory cabin, you are looking 5,000 feet down into the Grand Valley and Grand Junction. From here you can see forever and beyond. The La Sal Mountains, only a 100 miles away, are clearly visible.

The Land’s End Road is a 12-mile spur off the Scenic Byway leading to the west rim of the Mesa. From the rim, you can also see forever. It is unforgettable.

There are three excellent lodges on the mountain

Mesa lakes lodge on the north side of the mesa offer meals, cabins, and they rent boats. And it also offers a real good time.

Spruce Lodge Resort, has great food and lodging. They also rent snowmobiles and cross country ski equipment.

Located between these two is the Grand Mesa Lodge. This lodges is surrounded by four alpine lakes.
If you want to go hiking, there are several short nature trails on the mountain that offer good family hikes. The Land O’Lakes overlook is a half mile paved footpath and it has breathtaking views of many lakes and reservoirs atop the Grand Mesa.

There are about 700 miles of designated hiking, all-terrain vehicle and horse trails. The mountain also has over 100 miles of marked groomed snowmobile trails.

One of the Grand Mesa’s “hidden” treasures is the Crag Crest Trail. The Trail is a 10.3-mile circular trail to the top of the mountain. At 11,187 feet you have a 360-degree panoramic view of the San Juan Mountain range in the south to the Bookcliffs and Roan Cliffs to the north.

Powderhorn Ski Area, located on the north slopes of the mountain just 35 miles east of Grand Junction, is the friendly neighborhood ski resort. It has four lift and 16 trails. The base elevation is 8,200′ with a vertical trop of 1,650′. Personaly, I hope it remain undiscovered for a long time. No lift lines.

On the southside of the mountain is Cedaredge, Colorado. This is the home of the Pioneer Town Museum. It has open air museum with an entire main street equipped with every shop you would find 100 years ago.

There are nine campgrounds on the mountain. They are open from early July to the middle of September. You do not have to camp in designated campgrounds. Camping is permitted everywhere on the mesa, unless posted.

Play where the locals play, The Grand Mesa.