Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

We heard about Grand Mesa for the first time on Friday night when the woman at our motel told us you “can’t throw a rock up there without hitting a lake.” I filed it away in my brain as something to check out when I got home. On Saturday, we finished Colorado National Monument around noon. We grabbed lunch at Chick-fil-A in Grand Junction and then headed for Rifle, where we had a room booked for the night. As we were driving east on I-70, we passed an exit for Grand Mesa. On a whim, we pulled off and found ourselves on the beautiful Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. The road wound between high rock walls along Plateau Creek which was brimming with snow-melt.

We drove through farmland and then headed up another rise through aspen and pine forests past Powderhorn ski area.

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The area on top was part of the Grand Mesa National Forest. Most of it was a fee area, and since we were just exploring, we didn’t want to pay to go somewhere uninteresting. We did find a free roadside parking area near a small pond called Jumbo Reservoir. We took a casual stroll around the shore and enjoyed the much cooler temperatures at 10,000 feet.

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The road kept going up, and so did we. I took this picture from an overlook that was right next to a high-avalanche area.

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The top of the mesa was close to tree line, with patchy woods and large, open tundra-like spaces. When we got to the far edge where the road dips down toward Cedaredge, I turned around and we drove back the way we’d come.

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We drove back through the canyon along Plateau Creek. An immature Golden Eagle flew out from the rock face and soared low over the road in front of the car. I pulled over to get a better look. It banked and passed right overhead and landed on a small ledge not 30 feet away. I had to back off the zoom on my camera to get the entire bird in the photo—it was that close.

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A second Golden Eagle, this one an adult, soared overhead just above the rim of the canyon. After maybe three minutes, the immature took off and flew down the canyon. A Great Blue Heron was standing in the creek across the road, looking on.

All of this drive, from I-70 through the canyon and up through the forest to the top was stunning. It’s good enough to be a destination on its own.

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