20 things to do and see in Grand Mesa & Paonia Colorado
Enjoy spectacular views from the Grand Mesa, wine tastings at the Paonia vineyards, apple picking from the orchards
The Grand Mesa rises to an average elevation of 10,000 feet and sits southeast of Grand Junction. At over 800 square miles it is considered the largest mesa or flat-top mountain in the world. It formed when ancient lava flows formed a hard layer of basalt hundreds of feet thick, the basalt rock protected it from the erosion that eventually wore down the surrounding area.
Its altitude creates a different environment from the desert landscape around Grand Junction. The mesa has over 200 lakes surrounded by spruce, pine, and aspen forests, many of which are only accessible via hikes or ATVs.
The mesa was a fertile hunting ground filled with elk and deer, bears, mountain lions, and wolves. Teddy Roosevelt came to the area in 1905 as a big game hunter and bagged three bears. However, once ranching gained hold the predators were hunted down and eliminated to protect the cattle.
From the north from I-70 take exit 62 if coming from the east or exit 49 if coming from the west
Land’s End Observatory
Sunset and sunrise offer the most dramatic views
From Scenic Byway 65 you can take the exit onto the dirt road at ( 39.032427, -108.058780 ) and continue for 10 miles to the Land’s End Observatory, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936 out of the Mesa’s pine forest and basalt rocks. This wasn’t an astronomical observatory but a rangers observatory for the area. The road has an upper and a lower route, with the lower route having better views. The observatory is not in use anymore and is boarded up, but there is a large viewing area outside the building with panoramic views from the mesa top.
From the northern end of the observatory, there is a short 0.25-mile trail at the northern end of the observatory that runs along the edge of the mesa through a scrubby landscape. As you hike along the mesa rim you are at 10,500 feet looking down at the Uncompahgre Plateau stretching out 5000 feet below you. To the south, you can see the Colorado San Juan Mountains, to the southeast you can see the La Sal Mountains in Utah both are over 70 miles away.
From the observatory, you can take the switch-backing Land’s End Road 25 miles down to U.S. Route 50 and east for 30 miles to Delta, or stay on the mesa top and take the lower loop road 10 miles back to Scenic Byway 65 and head south for 35 miles to Delta. On the lower loop road, you can stop at the remains of the Raber Cow Camp, used when cattle were moved up to the mesa for summer grazing.
Crag Crest Hike This 10-mile loop hike is one of the best hikes on the mesa and features a section when you are on a ridgeline with great views. You can park at the west end of the trail loop at ( 39.042433, -107.998385 ) or at the east end of the trail loop at ( 39.048112, -107.937482 ). The loop has an upper and a lower section with the upper section being the part that runs the ridgeline. For two miles, you will be flanked with drop-offs and vistas on both sides of the trail, you will top out at about 11,189 feet.
The county and the town of Delta is named for the confluence of the Gunnison River and Uncompahgre Rivers, this valley is rich and fertile, with more than 250,000 acres of farmland and is the 2nd biggest fruit-producing region in Colorado along with potatoes, milk, poultry, eggs, and sheep products. 70% of the apples and pears grown in Colorado come from this region.
The trader Antoine Robidoux built a fort near Delta in 1828 and was Colorado’s first general store west of the Continental Divide. A treaty in 1880 removed all the Ute Indians from Colorado to a reservation in Utah. Shortly after camps and towns formed along the river banks of the area, with Delta in 1882. A few miles to the northwest Paonia was founded, but not incorporated until 1902. That same year the railroad came to the area, allowing mass shipping of the area’s fruits and produce with Delta apples being shipped as far away as England.
The town of Paonia sits in the fertile North Fork Valley to the south of the Grand Mesa and is surrounded by vineyards, orchards, farms, and ranches. You can purchase fruit from the farm stands in the summer, in the fall you can pick your own apples from the orchards.
During the gold rush days, settlers imported vines from their home countries and planted them here. Unfortunately, there are no old vines still in the area as they were removed during prohibition and not replanted again until the 1960s. Wine-wise, this is one of the few regions of Colorado that has successfully cultivated and bottled Pinot noir.
Cedaredge Applefest (Oct 7-9)
Cedaredge Applefest has been celebrating area fruit growers annually since 1977 on the first full weekend in October, commemorating the fall harvest and rich agricultural heritage of our area. Live music, art, craft & food vendors, 5 Alarm Chili Cookoff, Golf Tournament, Car, tractor & motorcycle show, Pinup Competition, a 5K run, and more
The town celebrates everything cherries for three days each July. There is a parade, barbecue, fireworks, and, of course, everything you can make from cherries.
Fruits and vegetables destined for the supermarket have to be picked ‘green’ before they reach peak ripeness in order to travel the long distances from the farms to wholesalers to the supermarkets. They never get to grow to reach their full potential size and flavor.
Some farms allow the public to come in and pick their own produce, and you get to experience the best-tasting peaches, the juiciest berries, or the crispest apples you’ve ever eaten. It’s easy and a fun family activity to visit an orchard and hand-pick individual fruit right off the tree. Harvest times are typically from April to October so you have to plan ahead and mark your calendar for each fruit or vegetable harvest season.
Dog friendly (sort of but not really), the owners have a dog, and your dog must pass muster and be approved before being allowed onto the property
The gentlest way to describe Azure is a winery that perhaps takes itself a bit too seriously which is a shame, as the owners have created one of the more beautiful wineries in the area with a million-dollar view.
However, unfortunately, the vibe and feeling you get from the owners is a bit pretentious and I’ve never been to a winery that charged you for a glass of water with your tasting.
The husband’s artwork is displayed prominently around the property and in their gallery/tasting room. Azure was the name of the owners’ sailboat and they carry on their sailing traditions with model sailboat sailing on their pond below the winery.
Tastings are $10 for 4 samples and include a complimentary “Azura” glass, they waive the tasting fee if you purchase 2 bottles or more. They offer a Malbec, Pinot noir, Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling and a Rose.
Lance and Anna Hanson run this 70-acre entrepreneurial-minded operation that includes 20 acres of wine grapes and tree fruits, medicinal herb gardens, pasture, and cattle. They offer vodkas, gins, brandy and grappa under their CapRock label. Pear Eau de Vie which is a fruit brandy that has not been aged offers echoes of the fruit’s flavor but none of its residual sweetness. They have a commercial vodka for restaurants in returnable bottles called a zero waste vodka. They are a Biodynamic farm, which beyond just being an organic farm, they return natural soil and light amendments called Biodynamic Preparations into their growing by fermenting/composting different plant and animal materials together.
This is a winery and a restaurant. The wineries’ cafe offers seating on their patio for breakfast and lunch. Qutori produces an Estate Pinot Noir, Reserve Pinot Noir, Bourbon Barrel aged Pinot Noir, and a Pinot Noir rose’ wine. In addition, they have 6 acres of cherries and pears which are used to produce cherry wine, sell as local fruit and make a cherry and pear-wine pie.
Hardworking husband and wife run this small winery with a spectacular view, specializing in white and rose wines, offering Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. Laid back great views, mellow and friendly
This is a smaller operation compared to Rocking W cheese, they specialize in small-batch, hand-crafted goat cheese, Feta, Manchego, Chevre in regular or lemon chives. Come and meet the goats. The baby goats are born in the spring, you can volunteer to help bottle-feed them