Photo Blog: Colorado's Grand Mesa - Summer, 2019

I think one of the lesser-traveled areas in the Centennial state is on the western slope – Grand Junction and the Grand Valley. A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit and old friend and Grand Junction local who, in his kindness, took time to show me around for a quick photo trip. It seems this is becoming an annual summer adventure. Last year he took me out to Rattlesnake Canyon for an amazing adventure in a beautiful and little-known area.

The Furnace - Rattlesnake Canyon,  Colorado 715-1

I’m sure this small arch has an official name, but the locals call it “the Furnace.” For a few months each summer, with the sun in the right location, the last rays of daylight illuminte the walls of this arch, turning them a bright reddish-orange. The color doesn’t last long, but it was amazing. And the beautiful sunset added the the drama unfolding before me.
This arch is one of 9 arches in Rattlesnake Canyon, the second highest concentration of arches in the US, second only to Arches National Park in Utah. Rattlesnake Canyon is just west of Colorado National Monument and Grand Junction, but travel to this beautiful and remote location is not for the faint of heart.

This time we – my friend, his teenage son, and I - ventured back to the east of Grand Junction – to the Grand Mesa and Mesa Lakes area. The Grand Mesa is the largest flattop mountain in the world and reaches a height of 11,332’. State Highway 65 runs more or less north/south across the mesa and provides beautiful scenes along the way. For this trip, most of our time was spent around the Mesa Lakes area. We made the winding journey up the road in the late afternoon, stopping occasionally to take in the vistas. 

Grand Mesa Scenic Byway 7-1

The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway is one of 11 scenic byways in Colorado. The winding road covers 63 miles, include a side trip to Land’s End. From Mesa to Orchard City, the byway offers drives through pine and aspen forest, alongside beautiful, clear lakes, and access to miles of pristine hiking trails and endless views.

Finally, my friend turned off on a dirt road that brought us to a great view high above one of the lakes. We stopped momentarily, but decided to go a ways further, park, and bushwhack up the mountain to an overlook. What we did not account for were the swarms of mosquitoes – often as thick as soup – eager to feast on us as we waited for sunset.

Upon exiting the car, we skirted a small snowpack, then scrambled up a steep slope full of fallen trees and loose leaves. It only took about 10 minutes before we found ourselves atop a large boulder area with one amazing view. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were there, too. With calm wind, the bugs pursued us relentlessly. My friend finally bailed and headed back down to the car. His son and I both had long sleeves on, so we hung in there and tried to keep moving during the 45 minute wait for the best light.

The wait was worth it. The sunset was beautiful.

Last Light over Mesa Lake 709-1

Mesa Lake is one of several in a group of Mesa Lakes. The views from a rocky outcrop above the lake are amazing, but easiy reached. This panorama was taken from a rocky outcrop several hundred feet above the clear cold water as the last light of evening shimmered across the pine and aspen forest.

This panorama from Mesa Lake is available in larger and custom sizes.

I shot for 30 more minutes at this location as the light and clouds changed into dark.

Last Light over Mesa Lake 709-1

Mesa Lake is one of several in a group of Mesa Lakes. The views from a rocky outcrop above the lake are amazing, but easiy reached. This panorama was taken from a rocky outcrop several hundred feet above the clear cold water as the last light of evening shimmered across the pine and aspen forest.

And as I write this, I’m already looking forward to shooting this location in a few weeks when the fall colors are spreading across this area.

Another location my friend took me to was an arid area known as the Whitewater region of the Grand Valley. I’m not sure what roads we took to access this place, and I never saw a number or name for the dirt road, but the trip entailed some bumpy driving. But from the highest points, we had great views of the Grand Mesa with valley before us of colored rock layers that showed their geologic history.

Grand Mesa at Sunrise 709-1

The Grand Mesa rises over 11,000 feet into the Colorado sky. From this view to the west of the Grand Mesa, the layers and textures of the western slope can be seen in the foreground as the Mesa rises into the cold morning air. Mount Lincoln, one of the prominent points near Grand Junction, is visible on the far left in this photograph, rising to 6,765’.

I took images from both my camera and my drone (I’m an FAA certified Part 106 pilot). From this vantage point, we enjoyed the sunrise as first light peeked over the distant mountains. As the light spread across the area, the rocks turned beautiful layers of red and orange before daylight finally overtook the landscape. These layers translated well into black and white photographs, as well, as the contrast in shades produced some dramatic effects.

Grand Mesa before Sunrise 709-1

With the Grand Mesa rising to 11,000’ in the distance, this black and white photograph shows the desert stratiations of its western slope. I loved the lines and angles in the foreground, as well as the soft pastel skies in the early morning light.

As I wrote earlier, I look forward to getting back to this area in the fall for the autumn colors and cooler temperatures. The Mesa is a beautiful area to explore, and I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a good end of summer!

~ Rob

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