I recently heard a statistic that 80,000 people moved to Colorado last season. To be honest, it made me really not want to go to Colorado, even though I have loved every trip I’ve ever taken there.
Seeing the lines of cars on the highway from Denver going to the ski areas in the winter or those gondola lines also made me cringe. Yet, there was a reason why people lined up: Colorado is awesome. And although some areas are feeling the squeeze, others areas like Grand Junction, are just overlooked gems.
It is hard to fly over this area and not be in awe. With late storms leaving snow on the peaks juxtaposed to the desert landscapes of the other side of the divide, I have to say that landing in Grand Junction made me giddy. Grand Junction Regional Airport, which is small and endearing, gave me hope of escaping the over-traveled and tourist-heavy towns. Once on the ground, I met up with my buddies and headed to Colorado National Monument.
Grand Junction, which was home to the Ute people before any Europeans came through, was named for the confluence of the Gunnison River and the Colorado River (which used to be called the Grand River). Just west of this Junction is the Colorado National Monument. The gorgeous park is made up of the eastern shelf of the Colorado Plateau which crosses western Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and part of Arizona.
We did a few short hikes (Devil’s Kitchen, Coke Ovens and No Thoroughfare) that offer spectacular views of the Monument without much commitment. For such bang-for-your-buck hikes, we were shocked at how few people were there.
A quick zip into town for some delicious tacos at Taco Party, we also opted for a quick coffee next door at Roasted, before heading to our next adventure. At the cafe, we ran into owner and geologist Greg Indivero who told us more about the Monument Park.
“Those red walls that most people recollect,” Indivero tells us. “These rocks extend all the way through to the Grand Canyon and also under the Midwest all the way to Lake Michigan, with an infamous outcropping from a different uplift event near Denver which are known as Red Rocks Amphitheater.”
This past season Colorado’s snowpack was 161% of the 1981-2010 median amount making rafting, SUPing or any other water sports on the Colorado River a bit tricky with all that extra snow melt. Since we were all pretty new at SUPing, we decided to work on our skills on calmer waters.
We started on land, working on our strokes – which we all found out we were doing wrong. Once we did a lap on the lake, we worked on our rescue skills – flipping our boards over and doing a companion rescue.
We dried off and headed out to Rifle Mountain Park to meet up with Chicks Climbing and Skiing to camp and rock climb in the one for the best climbing areas in the U.S. Unlike the red rocks of Monument Park, Rifle is a lush canyon filled with seemingly endless walls of limestone.
After a peaceful night’s rest in our MSR tents and Aspen Custom Vans, we got up early so we could get set up and get climbing. Guided by mountain guide, SCARPA athlete and President of the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), Angela Hawse, we were in the best care possible.
Although the approaches to the climbs at Rifle are quick and easy, Hawse knew that we would should get there early. We reviewed basic skills and were climbing before the crowds arrived. Crowds might be a bit of an exaggeration, since Rifle has hundreds of climbs for people to choose from, it tends to just be the popular climbs that have lines, and instead of annoyance, climbers waiting just cheer on others.
We left Rifle and headed back to Grand Junction, stopping in the small town of Palisade. Known for their endless fields of lavender, wineries and endless, underrated mountain biking – this quiet town is pure gem. We did a quick tour on rented bikes from Rapid Creek Cycles, which made us fall in love with the area all over again.
We had to make our flights so we bustled back to the airport, but we all agreed that if you know where to look, a trip to Colorado doesn’t have to be filled with lines and tourists. I can’t wait to go back and stay a while.
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