Ride West: Day 20 To Grand Junction
Occasionally on an adventure such as this a day unfolds like a multi-course meal at a fine restaurant. Today was one of those rare days.
We started with an appetizer that took us a brief distance up the aptly-named Frying Pan Road. An appetizer should pique one’s interest but not fill one up. This ride did that. We only went a few miles up the road, which followed the stream that ran behind our hotel, and then turned around and came back to our starting point. A couple of easy curves, some nice scenic views of impressive rock formations and one gorgeous look at a mountain in the distance. But it was a tasty beginning to the day’s menu.
For our next course, a salad perhaps, we rode west on Colorado Highway 82 along a valley filled with mountains rising on either side of us, funneling us toward Colorado Highway 133, where we banked south. Pulling over to stop for a clothing change to accommodate rising elevation and dropping temperatures, we found ourselves at the historic Redstone Coke Ovens, which are currently being restored. Dating back to the late 19th century these ovens converted bituminous coal to coke for use in smelting iron in foundries. Redstone had, in fact, been created as a company town by the owner of the coal mines and the coke ovens.
Continuing southwest with massive mountains poking their treeless tops into the clouds, we crested Highway 133 at McClure Pass (elevation 8,500 feet) and began a descent that ended in Hotchkiss and a trip to the Cowboy Collectibles store, which turned out to be both a tack and saddle store and a collection of artistic cowboy items, including a beautiful, hand-tooled saddle.
Hotchkiss sits at a little over 5,000 feet and between there and Delta where we stopped for lunch at Wilson’s Barbeque and Beans, the countryside is dominated by orchards, wineries, and farming operations of many varieties. But the area also contains desert-like landscapes where nothing green met the searching eye. At less than 5,000 feet elevation, Delta was the lowest point on the Twisted Riders trip since we left Denver.
And now for the main course. Backtracking slightly after lunch at Delta we headed north on Colorado Highway 65, climbing steadily through the Grand Mesa National Forest to more than 11,000 feet. The Grand Mesa, bordered by the Colorado River to the north and the Gunnison River to the South, is a rugged, forested table-land that, at its edges, offers spectacular view of the valleys below, whether looking to the south back toward Delta or to the west toward Grand Junction.
Even from the top of the mesa, however, the mountains to the north towered above our position. The ride up and down the mesa was exhilarating, as all climbs and descents are, and the winding roads through the forest added their share of excitement. Once down from the mesa, it wasn’t far to Interstate 70 and Grand Junction and our hotel.
But the meal wasn’t over. We required dessert. And for dessert, we chose the Colorado National Monument, the same ride Jon and I took on Day 11of the Ride West. Brad Dykes, my roommate for this week, had been to the Monument several times before and both he and I tried to prepare the others for the treat that awaited their palates.
But they were still surprised by the awesome views of the multiple, shear-sided, red-walled canyons that awaited at the top of the Monument and by the 24 miles of twisting road that hugged the precipitous drop to the canyon floor below. The most common comment was: “Wow!” It was, I think a great way to end today’s moveable feast.
Tomorrow: More Colorado Wonders to our south and east