Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Western Colorado (5/22-5/24/2016)

Enjoying beautiful weather, I've spent several days exploring some of the towns around the "Western Slope".  Delta is located about twenty miles north of Montrose, and is slightly less than half the size.  The town started out as a trading post for early settlers and the Ute nation in the late 1800s.  Its name is the result of being located on the delta where the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers join.  It calls itself "The City of Murals", most of which reflect the culture and history of the region, starting with a tribute to Fathers Dominguez and Escalante who explored this area in 1776 while looking for a better route from Santa Fe to the missions in northern California.  Local canyons are named in honor of both men.

The long-standing peaceful relationship with the Ute Nation is also recognized.

The West Elk Wilderness Area and mountain range to the east of town is known for its great hunting.

There are also tributes to several of the smaller towns in the area which produce a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some people are surprised by the volume of apples and peaches grown here.

 Like the rest of this area, Delta is surrounded by the unusual "adobe badlands", a big attraction for ATV and dirt bike drivers.

Near the village of Hotchkiss, I visited Pleasure Park (recommended by a friend) to see where the Gunnison River and the North Fork of The Gunnison merge.  Notice the difference in color of the two streams.

While at the confluence, I met a group of folks preparing to raft down the river.  That stretch of water is running pretty fast, but has nothing more than Class II rapids.  The 14 miles above the confluence runs through the Black Canyon (but outside the NP) and has Class III and Class IV rapids.

I also took a drive up on Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world.  Created by lava flow from the nearby volcanic West Elk range, Grand Mesa is just over 10,500 feet in elevation.  In other words, it's almost a mile higher than the surrounding valley.  Along the drive up the mountain, there are various zones due to elevation change.  At the lower elevations, there isn't much snow left, and the aspens are leafing out.  Higher, the trees are still bare and lots of snow remains.

There are numerous lakes on the mountain and many of them have lodges on their shores.  Some lodges are strictly summer operations, but some are open all year.  Those open in the winter need snow clearing equipment to combat the 35 feet of average annual snowfall.

Frozen lakes show tracks from snowmobiles and skis, both popular among winter visitors.

The absence of trees is a sure sign of an avalanche area, also indicated by the crossbar used to close the road after an avalanche.

 The Visitor Center and a rental cabin give you an idea of the snow accumulation on Grand Mesa.

 The drive back down provides a good view of the West Elk Range and some of the homes located on the lower part of the mountain.


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