Grand Junction: Red Rocks, Red Wine and Dinosaur Digging

Photo by Richard Friedland

More than hiking and scenic drives in Grand Junction

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Grand Junction, an outdoors city in a beautiful setting, offers so much that you could easily spend your entire summer vacation here. You can hike past fossils, take a day trip to Dinosaur National Monument or join MyGatt-Moore expeditions and dig for bones. The region attracts hikers and bicyclists who enjoy exploring wine country and red-rock canyons. And many short road trips appeal to non-strenuous travelers.

Grand Junction is in the heart of Colorado’s wine country with more than 20 wineries, many of which offer tours and tastings. Come for the mid-September Wine Festival to partake in grape stomping. The Palisade Peach Festival, another big draw, is the third weekend in August.

Mix and match activities and experiences to create a personalized itinerary from this three-day trip.

Grand Junction & Around: Day 1

Start with Eggs Benedict, a Colorado omelet or some cinnamon roll French toast at the Dream Cafe on Main Street. Then take a morning hike. (Be sure to take one large bottle of water per person, sunscreen and insect repellent.)

Fun hikes in dramatic settings
Here are three options for a morning hike, all of which young children can do.

1.) The Ute Petroglyph is just off Route 6 on the east side of the town of Palisade. The hike is rated easy-to-moderate and covers three miles. As you get to the top look for rock faces with petroglyphs probably done by Ute Indians. PLEASE do not touch rock faces or otherwise deface them.

2.) The Trail Through Time is a moderate one-and-a-half mile hike located off exit 2 on I-70 West. You’ll see fossils of 140-million-year-old Jurassic Age dinosaurs alongside the trail. Educational plaques discuss area geology and dinosaurs.

3.) The Mica Mine trail starts at the Bangs Canyon trailhead and is an easy hike of two-an-a-half miles. The trail follows a weathered dirt road alongside a stream to an old mine. The kids have a great time picking up little pieces of mica and quartz. Continue past the mine to a pretty waterfall.

Back in Grand Junction try the Main Street Cafe for lunchtime burgers, sandwiches, and malts. Sit outside if you can, but indoor 50’s decor will keep you entertained.

Scenic byway drive
Drive the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway (Route 141) south of Grand Junction. It’s one of our favorite hidden gems in Colorado. Rock formations and scenery are wonderful.

The Gateway Canyons resort boasts one of the best museums of classic automobiles, period, and worth the reasonable entrance fee. Continue to the “hanging flume,” an engineering marvel that brought water to mining claims in the late 1880’s. The water blasted away dirt and soil and then sluiced the dirt for gold.

Head back to Grand Junction. For dinner we like Bin 707 Foodbar, known for locally sourced foods and wines, but expect to wait as it’s popular. Try Shishito Peppers (ask how to eat them) and Colorado lamb or salmon.

Grand Junction & Around: Day 2

Get a tee time at The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa, where holes weave through steep red-rock cliffs and canyons. The Jim Engh design with 11 elevated tees makes it a great experience for any level of golfer. A camera in your bag does not count as a 15th club.

Everyone else start with breakfast at Main Street Bagels and Bakery and a Scrambagle.

Jet boat ride on the Colorado
Take a ride on the Colorado River in a US Coastguard approved jet boat. Jet Boat Colorado offers a wild Adventure Trip and a more placid Scenic Trip. The latter goes cuts through some of the area’s most dramatic topography and the driver provides information about the Colorado River and local history.

Don’t expect great dining; ask about food when booking your trip. Back in Grand Junction Cafe Sol has great panini’s, soups and salads for lunch.

Colorado National Monument is one of the most spectacular places in Colorado, although many residents have never been. Drive from one end to the other through 11 canyons, rock spires and formations. The views are stunning; keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and eagles. Add a one-and-a-half mile hike along the Devils Kitchen Trail near the east entrance of the Monument.

For a traditional Italian dinner with good calamari, try il Bistro Italiano in Grand Junction. Braised ox tail is unusual and worthy.

Grand Junction & Around: Day 3

Cashmere Slipper isn’t fancy and the menu isn’t large, but the Pound Cake-Brandy French Toast is a treat and the breakfast burrito should keep you going until lunch.

Winery tours and tastings
Drive to Palisade and take an easy bike ride through wine country and the Fruit and Wine Byway. Rapid Creek Cycles rents electric bikes and cruisers perfect for visiting vineyards along the Colorado River.

Several vineyards such as Talon wines/St. Kathryn Cellars offer tours and take you through the wine making process. Call in advance. Here are more details about visiting Grand Valley Vineyards.

For lunch, stop at the Mason la Belle Vie Winery, order the Charcuterie board, and enjoy a delightful patio experience.

Dinosaurs and revisiting the Wild West
Stroll the boardwalk past a one-room school house, go underground in a uranium mine, and see rock-art panels and thousand-year old artifacts at the Museum of the West. On certain summer days, you (and children age five or older) can participate in a one-day dig for dinosaur bones at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry.

Return to Grand Junction to meander the pedestrian friendly Main Street, stroll the Riverfront Trail, shop boutique stores, enjoy public art.

For dinner Le Rouge Restaurant offers a good two-person seafood platter, and delicious steamed mussels and bouillabaisse. Or try local microbrews with a Big Pig BBQ sandwich or a Rockslide Dip at the Rockslide Restaurant and Brewery.

At A Glance

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