A Drive Through Grand Mesa – Colorado

Fruita, CO (outside Grand Junction)

One of the hikes we had on our agenda during our visit to the Grand Junction area was the Crag Crest Trail on Grand Mesa.  That was until we did a bit of research on the Grand Mesa.

It turns out that the Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world.  It has an area of about 500 square miles and stretches for about 40 miles east of Grand Junction between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River, its tributary to the south.  Most of the mesa is pretty flat and over 300 lakes and reservoirs are scattered along the top of the formation.  But for us the most important fact about the mesa is that most of it is at ten thousand feet above sea level.  Right now in Colorado that high an elevation means there is still plenty of snow to contend with.  So we put that hike on the “to do later” list and decided to just take a drive through the area (called an “auto hike©” by some people we know!).

To get to the mesa we drove south on Rte. 50 for about 35 miles to the town of Delta.  There we turned east on Rte. 92 for a few miles to the junction with Rte. 65, which is the road through the mesa.  As we left Delta we could see snow covered mountains all around us.

We were hoping to see some wildlife on the mesa (especially Moose) but all we spotted were numerous Yellow-bellied Marmots runnning across the road in front of us.

As the highway climbed up to the mesa the temerature (high 60s below) began to drop and the snow began to pile up.  The numerous lakes at the highest elevations are still covered with ice.

We had read that the visitor center was open for business, but when we arrived there were workers inside setting up but the doors were locked.  The snow around the building was still piled high and the temperature was down to forty degrees.

The visitor center is the starting point for a little nature trail called the Discovery Trail, but the pile of snow next to the building discouraged even the nimble hiker from exploring the trail.

We continued our drive north and came across a sign indicating the trailhead for the Crag Crest Trail, where we had earlier made plans to hike.

But it seemed that the road to the trailhead hadn’t seen much traffic for a while!

The unplowed road to the trailhead

So we just continued our ride across the mesa while enjoying the solitude of the forest.

Rte. 65 crossing Grand Mesa

Hwy. 65 crosses the mesa then descends back down to the small town of Mesa, CO.  From there the road turns to the west and winds through a canyon for about ten miles before ending at I-70.  Then it’s west on the interstate for less than twenty miles back to Grand Junction.

Auto-hiking seems to be the norm here with our weather.  Maybe tomorrow will bring the sun without storms.

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Corkscrew Loop Hike – Colorado NM

Fruita, CO (outside Grand Junction)

As with most of Colorado,  the weather has been rainy here in Grand Junction with showers and thunderstorms often in the forecast.  But Wednesday dawned with sunny skies predicted to last into the late afternoon, so we set off to hike the Corkscrew Trail Loop.  This hike begins at the Wildwood Trailhead, about six miles south of the west entrance to the Colorado National Monument.  The loop begins on the Lower Liberty Cap Trail, which goes along a flat area for about a quarter mile, then sharply up 700 ft. for another three quarter mile.

The beginning of the Lower LIberty Cap Trail

A steeper part of the Liberty Cap Trail

After about a mile the trail reaches a junction with two options.  Turn left and you head toward the Corkscrew Trail for the return loop.  But turn to the right and you can continue to climb up for another seven tenths of a mile to the Liberty Cap.  This trail is a bit steep in places but is not difficult.

One of the steeper sections headed up to LIberty Cap

While much of this trail is rocky, parts are fairly flat over packed soil.

At one point we came to the only water crossing on this hike.  But with our vast hiking experience  we didn’t have any difficulty crossing it.

The water crossing

Soon we arrived at the trail junction at Liberty Cap.  From here you can continue for another five miles on the Upper Liberty Cap Trail, but our plan was to return back down to the last trailhead and join the Corkscrew Trail.

LIberty Cap trail junction

Liberty Cap, with a young hiker enjoying the view

At Liberty Cap we enjoyed great views to our east and west.  The view to the east was of the city of Grand Junction and surrounding communities.  We could even see the Starbucks we frequented in the distance!

The view to the east. Can you see the Starbucks below the arrow?

The view to the west looked right acrosss Ute Canyon to the mesa that is the main part of the Colorado National Monument.

Lunch with a view

After lunch it was time to head back down the seven tenths of a mile hike to the junction point.

Returning to the junction point we continued on to the Corkscrew Trail.  This is one of the oldest trails and was built with pick and shovel by John Otto, one of the first settlers to see the beauty of what is now the Colorado National Monument.

Different types of rocks are found on this part of the trail.

The trail “corkscrews” down from the mesa

Once down and back on the flat part of the trail near the trailhead we turned back and could now identify Liberty Cap in the distance.

Later that afternoon we met up with Ingrid and Al (Live Laugh RV), fellow full-timers who we met for the first time earlier this year in Apache Junction, AZ.  We enjoyed a cold glass of Porter, some good food, and great conversation at the Suds Brothers Brewery here in Fruita.

After dinner the skies cleared, so we headed up into Colorado National Monument to check out the views.  From the west entrance to the monument the road (build with pick, shovel, and blasting powder by the CCC) winds up a thousand feet to the top of a wide mesa.

As we rounded a curve going up, some sharp eyes in the passenger seat spotted the tell-tale white markings on the rear end of a Bighorn up in the rocks.

See the white spot in the center?

It’s very difficult to spot these animals unless they move their butts since the rest of them blends into the surroundings.  Fortunately, this fellow turned around just after we spotted him.

It was beginning to get dark so we didn’t drive very far up the scenic road.  But we were able to get a great view of Independence Rock below us.  We posted an earlier blog describing our hike to the base of this cool monolith.

Independence Rock

We only have a few more days here outside Grand Junction and are hoping the weather clears a bit so we can enjoy all the beauty in the area.  There are a number of hikes and drives we want to complete before we move to the east.

More on that later . . .

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Hello Colorado – Lower Monument Canyon Trail in Colorado NM

Grand Junction, CO

After a stay in Utah of about a month and a half, we left Torrey and headed east into Colorado for a visit to Grand Junction.  There is what appears to be a great state park campground just west of the city in Fruita, but we were unable to secure a site for a week, so we are staying across the street from the state park in a nice commercial park called Monument RV Park.

The main reason we are visiting here is to do some hiking in the nearby Colorado National Monument.  The Monument is a 52 square mile area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau with spectacular canyons cut into sandstone.  For our first adventure in the Monument we drove south of the RV park about four miles to the trailhead for the Monument Canyon Trail.

The trail begins by going along a fence separating the Monument from an upscale housing development.

It wasn’t long before we spotted our first bit of wildlife when the thin little guy below crossed our path.

As we hiked up the trail we could see our destination, Independence Monument, in the distance.

After about two and a half miles we came to our goal.  Independence Monument is a free-standing tower of soft, red sandstone.  It soars 450 feet above the floor of Monument Canyon.

Independence Monument looking from the east

Looking at the monument from the south

The monument looking from the west

Near the base of the monument we came upon two more examples of local wildlife.  The first was a beautiful Collared Lizard.

Nearby we came upon a Western Whiptail Lizard

We hiked around to the north side of the monument and found a spot up on a flat rock to enjoy a bit of lunch.

A good place for lunch!


As we ate our lunch we could hear voices behind us and, although we couldn’t see anyone, realized people were rock climbing up the monument.  As we began our return hike we turned and could see a small speck on the side of the rock about two thirds of the way up.

We zoomed in a bit closer and could see someone rappelling down from the top.

A photo using maximum zoom revealed the climber as he settled on to a landing.

The Monument Canyon Trail is maintained by the park service, so it is fairly wide and easy on the feet.  For the return hike we turned on to the Wedding Canyon Trail, which is unmaintained.  It is steeper than the Monument Canyon Trail and much more difficult.

Heading down the Wedding Canyon Trail

Once the steep downhill section of the trail is completed it then runs to the south and crosses two bluffs before returning to the Canyon Trail a short distance from the trailhead.

Up over the last rise before the end of the trail

We enjoyed the variety this five and a half mile round trip hike offered.  It was a nice change to hike with some ease and not have to use all fours!

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Upper Muley Twist Canyon, Part 2 – Capitol Reef NP

Torrey, UT

In our previous blog we told you about the first half of our adventure on the Upper Muley Twist Canyon Trail.  We now re-join the saga as we make a turn to the east and head up a steep canyon to the top of the Waterpocket Fold.  There we will find the Rim Trail that will lead us back to the south.

The point where we turned to go up to the Rim Trail

The half mile hike up to the Rim Trail is steep and rocky.  But the trail is well marked and the footing is good so you feel secure.

At one point near the top we came upon an area with a number of Indian Paintbrush plants.  The spot must have had a good combination of elevation and soil as we hadn’t seen any of these plants before this and didn’t see any further up the trail.

At last, in the distance we could see a lonely sign on the hilltop telling us we were approaching the end of the climb!

We were now on top of the Waterpocket Fold.  The wide views to the east were impressive.

Looking to the northeast

The Notom/Bullfrog Basin Road we drove down to get to the trailhead is in the center of the valley in the photos above and below.

Looking to the southeast

Following a brief stop for lunch we headed back to the south, hiking over a wide area of slickrock following the cairns that mark the best path.

After a short, easy walk over the slickrock for less than a mile the trail drops down into the first of two fairly deep notches in the Waterpocked Fold.

After dropping down into this notch, it’s a pretty steep climb back up on the open slickrock.

A bit further down the rim we came to the second notch, this one a bit deeper than the first.

The steep trail going down into the second notch

Of course, a deeper trail down means a steeper trail back up.  But as with the first notch, the slickrock provides solid footing, although after over seven miles of rough hiking the legs aren’t too happy with these climbs!

The trail then continues south along the top of the rim, sometimes on rough trail and other times on slickrock.

Where to now?

As we approached the lower end of the rim route, we found the sign directing us right (west) to the route that drops back down to the canyon bottom. The rim is fairly wide in this area and it’s easy to miss the route down if you aren’t watching for cairns. Once back in the canyon bottom, we retrace our route 1.7 miles down the wash to the parking area tired but pleased to have completed this great hike.  Thanks to Andrew and his blog Live and Let Hike  for some great information on this trail and others in the area!

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Upper Muley Twist Trail, Part 1 – Capitol Reef NP

Torrey, UT

The “reef” in the name of Capitol Reef NP refers to a 100 mile long warp in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold.  The fold forms a north-to-south barrier that even today has barely been breached by roads.  Early settlers referred to parallel, impassable ridges as “reefs,” from which the park gets the second half of its name.

During our previous visit to Capitol Reef NP (May 2013) our friends and local residents, Larry and Annette, took us for a long Jeep ride that included a stop at Strike Overlook, a viewpoint on top of the fold with great views to the east.  At the same parking lot for the Strike Overlook is a trailhead for a ten mile hike called the Upper Muley Twist Trail.  We didn’t get a chance to hike this trail then and were determined not to miss it during this visit.  So when we finally had a day with no chance of rain, we were up early (for us) and on our way.  We needed to head out early as it is a drive of over 50 miles, much of it on dirt roads, just to get to the trailhead.

To get to the Strike Overlook Trailhead we first drove east on Rte. 24 through the national park.  Just past the park boundary we turned south on the Notom/Bullfrog Basin Road.  The first ten miles of this road are paved, then it turns to a fairly smooth dirt track.

The Noton/Bullfrog Basin Road with the Waterpocket Fold on the right

After a bit less than 34 miles we turned west on to the Burr Trail Road, a dirt road that quickly winds up and over the Waterpocket Fold in a series of sharp switchbacks.

The Burr Trail Road going up and over the Waterpocket Fold

Looking back down the Burr Trail. The tiny dot on the road above the shadow is a car!

About a mile west of the top of the fold is a road to the north that leads to the trailhead.  This road is a bit rough and four-wheel drive is recommended.  If arriving in a low clearance vehicle you would need to park here and hike three miles to the trailhead.

The road to the trailhead

The small parking area at the trailhead only has room for a few vehicles.  The small lot was not a problem for us as we were the only ones there.  The sign says the trail is nine miles, but someone scratched “10” below the nine.  We agree with the ten!

Most of the first half of this hike is fairly easy as it goes up a wash.  The recent rains have made the wash wet is spots, but not enough to cause a problem.

There are numerous arches on the west side of the wash.  Below are a few that we spotted.

Muley Arch

Saddle Arch – Look closely at the top and see how it resembles a saddle

Shy Arch

Dome Arch

Cap Arch

About a mile and a half up the trail the wash enters a section called the narrows.  You can go in for a few hundred feet but it eventually ends below a high pour-over, forcing you to turn and go back out.

Entrance to the dead end narrows

Just before entering the narrows there is a cairn on the east side of the trail sending you up and around it.  This is a pretty difficult hike of about seven tenths of a mile before you return back into the wash.

Start of the go-around to avoid the narrows

Sections of the go-around require some scrambling

It’s a bit narrow in a few spots but the footing is good

At one point the view to the west looks like giant cow paddies!

After an exciting scramble up and around the narrows, we came back into the wash.  A short distance from there we came to the sign directing us to the east for a climb up to the Rim Trail, which will lead us back toward the trailhead.

The turn headed up to the Rim Trail

At this point we were at the halfway point in the hike.  We’ll share the return trip with you in our next blog.  So stay tuned . . .

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Dinosaur Bones Fossils

Torrey, UT

Our friends, Larry and Annette, live just outside Torrey.  One of the treats during our visit here was a hike they took us on to check out some fossils of ancient dinosaur bones.  The location is not on any map and is not publicized so you need “local knowledge” to find them.

Annette leads the way


There is no trail that leads to the fossils so you have to pick your way up a very rocky wash requiring some scrambling.

Is that a young dinosaur emerging out of the rocks!


Once up on top we enjoyed some great views of the surrounding area.

But soon our attention moved from the great views to the dinosaur fossils in the rocks around us.

There were small chips around us that looked like they were fossils.  Larry then showed us a test to tell if the chip was fossil or just rock.  The porous nature of some fossil bones will cause it to slightly stick to your tongue if you lick it!

Must be a fossil!

Don’t try this at home. This person is a highly trained paleontologist.


We passed a hole in the rock as we hiked and Annette demonstrated how to get up close and personal with the formation.

Getting in to the hole was not a problem, but getting back out required a different skill set called “Help me, Larry.”

We soon came to an area with a number of pieces of petrified wood.

Annette finds the perfect ride.


After an exciting afternoon of hiking, we rewarded ourselves with pizza and beer at the Rim Rock Patio.  It was a bit brisk and windy outside but we took a table in the corner that was out of the wind so we could enjoy the great view.

The high mesa in the distance is Meeks Mesa.  We hiked up there last week (and spent two hours searching for the trail back down).

On the way back to their house, Larry and Annette showed us around “suburban” Torrey.  Deer and rabbits were all over the place.

Back at their house we were able to meet their cat, Oreo.  The cat showed up on their porch one day and now performs guard duty.

Wow, John put a cat picture in the blog!

Tomorrow Larry and Annette head into Colorado for a family visit, so we said our good-byes before heading back to the motorhome.  We enjoy visiting with them and appreciate their “guided tours” of the area!

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Frying Pan Trail to the Cassidy Arch – Capitol Reef NP

Torrey, UT

After a number of days with cold temperatures and the threat of rain,  a few days of rain/snow mix, the sky’s around central Utah finally cleared on Monday.  We decided to take advantage of the improved conditions and hike one of the longer trails in Capitol Reef NP.  We had seen Cassidy Arch from below while driving into Grand Wash but wanted to hike up and see it from the top.  There are two ways to get to the top of the arch, one requiring a long hike of over four miles and the other a hike of about a mile.  We decided to hike the long trail.  This route includes a hike of less than a mile up Cohab Canyon, then three miles on Frying Pan Trail, then another half mile on the Cassidy Arch Trail.

The Cohab Canyon Trail is about two miles long and goes from the campground in the national park to Rte. 24 near the parking area for the Hickman Bridge.  The Frying Pan Trail cuts off of the Cohab Canyon Trail less than a mile from the Rte. 24 entrance.  We had previously hiked Cohab Canyon from the west entrance by the campground so this time we parked at the Hickman Bridge parking area and hiked into Cohab Canyon from the east.  (Note: Cohab Canyon received its name when the federal government attempted to enforcement anti-polygamy statutes in the 1880s.  Mormon polygamists, or “cohabs”, would seek refuge in the hanging canyon when hiding from U.S. Marshals.)

The east trailhead for Cohab Canyon

After parking in the Hickman Bridge lot, we walked a short distance to the east on Rte. 24 and found the trailhead.  The trail quickly rises up as it passes by a viewpoint over the parking area.

Looking down on Rte. 24 and the Hickam Bridge parking area

After about seven tenths of a mile the trail splits.  Go right and you continue up Cohab Canyon.  We went to the left on to Frying Pan Trail.

This trail winds its way up for a bit before dropping down and crossing a wash.  From there it’s a long climb up the other side.  The trail is rough but well marked.  While the elevation gain is strenuous, interesting rocks and great views keep you entertained.

After the long, upward climb we rounded a bend and the trail began to descend as we headed to the arch.  While we enjoyed having gravity work in our favor, we knew that we would pay for this elevation loss on the return hike.

Rounding the bend before heading down

After hiking down about a half mile we came to the junction with the Cassidy Arch Trail.  If you keep going straight, it’s about a mile down to the end of the Grand Wash Road.  We turned to our right and continued for about a half mile to the top of the arch.

The trail leads out over a wide area of red slickrock.  You can’t see the arch until you are right on top of it as it is really just a large hole in the slickrock.  The arch itself is very wide so it is quite easy to hike across it (not recommended by the Park Service).  In fact, you don’t even know you’re on the arch as you cross it, it’s that wide.

Can you spot John crossing the arch?

Cassidy Arch is named after the infamous western outlaw Butch Cassidy.  Cassidy was the most prolific bank and train robber of his time.  From 1896-1901 he and his gang, the Wild Bunch, robbed over a dozen banks and trains throughout the West, relying on secret hideouts, knowledge of the land and fast horses for escape.  It is known that the Wild Bunch used Grand Wash to traverse the Waterpocket Fold, a 100 mile long high rock “reef” that gives the national park part of its name.

Lunch with a view over Grand Wash

After first climbing back up the trail for about a half mile, the return hike is more down than up in elevation.  We also think it has more interesting views than the hike to the arch.

We returned to the Jeep after hiking about eight and half miles, tired but pleased to have enjoyed a great hike on a beautiful day.  It was a nice change after a number of days with poor weather.

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