Colorado-Utah 2010 Trip - Day 7

Thursday, May 27th – Denver, CO to Grand Junction, CO

We started the day early, leaving about 6 a.m., and rode south to Colorado Springs for breakfast at the local Cracker Barrel.  Afterwards, we headed west on US 24 toward our immediate destination, the Florissant Fossil beds National Monument.  Florissant has many examples of fossils, mostly fossilized insects.  However. the most impressive display was the three fossilized redwood tree stumps that they have uncovered.  According to the park ranger, the Sierra Madre mountain range had not yet uplifted 35 million years ago.  As a result, the storms that came ashore from the Pacific did not rain until they encountered the Rocky Mountains.  As a result, they had more than enough water available to support redwood trees.

After leaving Florissant, we continued west on US 24.  We crested a hill and before us was an incredible view of the middle range of the Colorado Mountains (the mid-range 14s, meaning the peaks higher than 14,000 feet).  The panoramic shot below, which covers a 150 degree span, speaks for itself (keep in mind this was a hazy day, due to a forest fire somewhere in mid-Colorado).

After a brief stop for pictures, we continued our ride to Hartsel, Buena Vista, and then south on US 285 to Salida, where we stopped for lunch at the Country Bounty Restaurant.  The Country Bounty is reported to have the best elk burgers in Colorado, and yes, they are very good.  Even better than the elk burgers are their home-made pies.

Leaving Salida, we continued west on US Highway 50.  For our trip west to Grand Junction, John had originally wanted us to go through Independence Pass, but it was still closed from the winter snows.  Instead, we had to settle for Monarch Pass.  We continued to follow US 50 and made the climb up to the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass.

After our stop at Monarch Pass, we headed down the other side, went through the town of Gunnison,  and eventually reached Blue Mesa Lake, a large man-made reservoir.

At Blue Mesa, we decided to follow US 92, which travels along the north side of the Gunnison River, as it enters Black Canyon National Park.  Since I had previously visited Black Canyon National Park on two occasions, we decided not stop there again -- a shame, because the 2100 foot deep canyon really is an amazing sight.  We later reached Hotchkiss, continued west on US 92 to near Delta, and then turned northward on CO 65 to head over Grand Mesa.  As we rode higher, we began passing through Aspens groves, and as we continued to higher elevation, the Aspens gave way to Douglas Firs and Spruce.  By then, the temperature had dropped to the upper 50s.  We stopped at the Grand Mesa Visitor's Center, but it was still closed.  As you can see from the picture, the lake at the visitor's center was still frozen, the top of Grand Mesa was still covered in snow,

Descending from Grand Mesa, the temperature climbed back to the mid-to-upper 80s.  We eventually descended into a canyon, with CO 65 winding its way through the canyon along the river that flowed through.  By the time we reached Interstate 70, the temperature had climbed to 95 degrees (this was at approximately 7:30 p.m.), and we drove the 20 miles or so to Grand Junction, Colorado, where we stopped for dinner before heading to our hotel in nearby Fruita.  It was a great start to our trip!