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Grand Mesa Colorado National Monument

18th June 2010

A Glorious Day on the Grand Mesa, a Lush Land full of Lakes

Panorama from Lands End Observatory on the Grand Mesa      (please use scroll bar)

Vega Reservoir at Dawn
    I awoke at 6am and made the usual porridge plus coffee, quick and easy, and ate it by the lake. Fishermen were turning up at the nearby slipway to launch their boats. I gave one or two a hand with hitching and unhitching mooring ropes. One asked, "Where ya from?". "England". "My father was over there during the war, fighting Hitler, bloody madman!". I wasn't sure whether he was referring to his dad or Hitler. Two others in a boat were having difficulty getting either of their two outboard engines started. I maneuvered their boat for them around the jetty so that others could be launched. One occupant thanked me, the other did too then spat in the water. Charming.
Humming Birds Drinking Sugar Water
    I headed up to the lodge where I ate the previous night in order to photograph the humming birds. The tiny birds did well considering they were at 8,000'. There was a chap sitting on the veranda sipping coffee, probably my age but looked a little weather-beaten. He had been out fishing at 5am and was now having his morning break. He lived in the Vega State Park, but also had a place up in Montana, about an hour west of Flathead Lake up in the mountains. That was where he grew up, and like many others who once lived there, they always keep returning. I told him how much I had enjoyed that area, and mentioned my hiking being curtailed there due to the requirement of seeking Flathead permission first. He recounted how, when he was a boy, he used to wander anywhere along the lake to fish, but now, most of the surrounding land was privately owned. This was what the old timer had told me when I met him walking around the lake. The chap then went on to tell me about the mooring charges around the lake, $30k per year, and small condos were fetching $1.5M. The Wild Horse Island on the lake was now privately owned by a guy who had built a castle upon it. He had also arranged for four armed gunmen to guard the grounds 24x7. I commented that they wouldn't really shoot anyone, but he corrected me, "Oh yes they would, private property". He explained that in Montana, people don't tend to get the police involved if there are problems, they sort them out themselves. Up in the Montana outbacks where back country mountain folk live, the gun spoke first. People were known to disappear up there.
Church at Collbran
    On that cheery note, I left and picked up a map at a visitor centre before heading up higher onto the Mesa, to an altitude in excess of 10,500'. There the air was cooler, and the breeze more pronounced. I stopped off at one of the many lakes and strolled around in the sun. Snow was still lurking under the trees. After watching fish jumping and idly playing the tune of "Summertime, and the Living is Easy" over and over in my head, I drove along gravel trails which stretch for 10s of miles. Almost at every bend another stretch of water came into view. This was absolutely gorgeous country; green, lush with abundance of water; a complete contrast to the parched semi-desert 6000' below. The whole Mesa reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle's " The Lost World".
A Mesa Lake
Another Mesa Lake
Yet Another Mesa Lake
Moose in Captivity
    The arduous climbs had guzzled fuel like there was no tomorrow, so I had to drop down to the Colorado valley for a refill before continuing my exploration of the Mesa. Whilst refilling, the local Sheriff who was also topping up, had spotted my Washington licence plate, and shouted over about the recent terrible shooting in a bar at a Seattle suburb. He was surprised I didn't know, and explained that a guy walked into a bar and shot four people. Since being in this land I haven't really watched any TV, listened to the radio, or read any newspapers, so it was news to me. I let it go. I chose to climb back up onto the Grand Mesa via the Lands End route, named Lands End because part of the Mesa juts out and drops abruptly. The climb started steadily but was fine, until I reached a sign that said Lands End Observatory 18 miles. It was a tough 18 mile climb over gravel roads, and took the best part of an hour, but the van coped admirably.
Nature's Fridge
    At the viewpoint, a vast panorama to the south of the Mesa stretched as far as the eye could see. The ground in the valleys was extremely arid, apart from vegetation along the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. In the distance, snow capped peaks could be seen, most over 14,000'. A display board indicated that these were up to 80 miles away. I met fellow travelers at the Observatory viewpoint, and we shared itineraries and stories. Most people had visited the UK, Cornwall being a favourite destination.
    I continued with my explorations until I found a campsite and took over a pitch next to a lake. There I sat watching fishermen actually succeeding in catching fish; I was content to just soak up the sun for a while before having a walk partly around the lake just to stretch my legs. The scent of pine was exotic, this was heaven, and the temperature was just right; the valley was scorching. I blissfully returned to my pitch, buried my water bottles and few remaining beer bottles in the snow near the pitch and set about cooking tea; nothing exotic but I felt I ought to eat.
    After my gastronomic tea, I decided to join the club and make a fire. I soon had a roaring blaze, and I opened one of my now ice cold beers. The guy at the next pitch shouted over, "Now you're camping, you've got a fire". I invited him over for a beer but he said he didn't drink. His wife echoed the phrase. She seemed a bit of a hard women, so I didn't pursue any further. The trouble with my fire was I had put a huge log on, and it was still burning when I wanted to turn in. I reckoned the golden rule was never leave a fire until you are sure it is out. That taught me a lesson. So I sat on a rock, my front as warm as toast, my back getting quite cold. The half moon was out again and now all the stars were out too. There was zilch light pollution up here, apart from my beacon blazing away, but the sky was so clear I could easily pick out the milky way. The couple next door had only come up from Grand Junction in the Colorado valley below, but this place was like a different world in comparison. I could see why all the campsites fill up on the Mesa at the weekends.
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Grand Mesa Colorado National Monument

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Last updated 3.1.2013