Biking in Grand Junction courtesy of Visit Grand Junction

Exploring Western Colorado

by Jake Tegtman

With more people now working remotely than ever before there's been a shift of people moving away from dense, city-centered areas of the country into those that are more rural. This is helping drive popularity to a number of areas in the country that would otherwise previously have remained hidden gems. One of those areas is Colorado's Western slope. It's not like the mountain towns or ski areas you may typically think of when it comes to Colorado. But instead, Western Colorado offers limitless opportunities for outdoor play, and award-winning wineries.

Just to prepare you so you aren't completely shocked when you arrive, the climate in Western Colorado is warmer and more arid than the rest of the State. There's not a lot of snow or rainfall. This isn't your traditional, Colorado snowy mountain town, at all. But it is an area of the country with a tremendous number of days each year of sunshine. All this makes Colorado's other side an outdoor enthusiast's dream

Grand Junction

When exploring Western Colorado, start in Grand Junction as it's the largest city, has an airport, is located along I-70, and gives you access to everything else.

The town is relatively small, surrounded by farms, vineyards, and ranch land. Within a 1-hour drive of Grand Junction is skiing on the Grand Mesa (the largest mesa in the world), river rafting in the Colorado River, hills and plains for four-wheeling, miles and miles of singletracks (mountain biking), endless hiking trails, camping, canyons, climbing, and virtually everything imaginable to an outdoor enthusiast.

The area is also known for its wineries and meads (honey wines). In fact, the small town of Palisade, only a 15-minute drive from Grand Junction, is sometimes called the Napa Valley of Colorado. Many nationally-acclaimed wine brands originate in Palisade, and the town holds a yearly wine festival. For some perspective on the area's wine culture, there are 20 wineries in Palisade, CO -- a town that holds a population of only 2,600.

Grand Junction has historically been known for its booms and busts based around an oil field economy. Today, the area is quickly growing as tech companies and outdoor lifestyle brands are moving in. The town's local university, CMU (Colorado Mesa University) is also expanding, rapidly.

With the changes happening to the town, the city's Main Street has become the place to be. If you enjoy shopping local, Main Street has eight solid blocks of locally-owned retail shops. Enjoy great food, experience live music during the warmer months, stop in at local bookstores or coffee shops, and discover very eclectic and fun stores.

Palisade

The city of Palisade, located about a 20-minute drive from Main Street Grand Junction, has city-wide wine tours you can take on bikes, while being pulled in a cart by people on bikes, while walking, or driving. Since it's a relatively small town and wineries are grouped closely together, wine tasting events allow you to go from place to place, trying it all.

Palisade is also home to a locally owned Meadery. It's part of the Talon Wine Brands family, and is called Meadery of the Rockies. If you haven't ever experienced mead, its history in human civilization goes back further than both wine and beer. With shows like Game of Thrones in recent years, mead's popularity is growing, and more businesses than ever before that specifically craft mead are popping up.

What is mead, you ask? It's essentially honey wine, or fermented honey. It's often mixed with a variety of fruits, spices, herbs, or even beers. Contrary to what many people might think, it's not necessarily sweet, and can even be quite dry.

Fruita

If you enjoy mountain biking, Fruita, CO (also within Mesa county), brings in thousands of travelers each year from all over the world. The area offers trails for riders at every level, and can make for a great family vacation. Fruita is also highly renowned for its very challenging and technical rides. It's become the place to be for mountain bikers all over the world.

Fruita, like Palisade, is also located about a 20-minute drive from Main Street Grand Junction, just in the opposite direction. The town definitely has a unique vibe all its own. Even if mountain biking isn't your favorite thing to do, Fruita is worth the visit. Stop in for some pizza at the famous Hot Tomato, check out more local retail shops, and enjoy seeing the beautiful farmlands around it on a day drive.

If, however, you just can't wait to hit the singletracks (a term to describe trails about the width of a mountain bike's tires), you can't find a better place. There are hundreds of trails to try within less than 30-minutes of drive time. Huge drops, challenging ascents, and gorgeous views. You can't miss it.

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Jake Tegtman got his B.A. in English, moved to Western Colorado, started a freelance writing business, and is now in love with outdoor recreation and mead. He's associated with Talon Wine Brands and their meadery.



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