Round Trip Distance: 2.18 miles - 3.4 k
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate
Elevation: 10,601-10,708 feet
Cellphone: 3-4 bars
Usage: Cross Country Skiing - Snowshoes
No Dogs - No Snowmobiles
Time: 1 hr.
Facilities: Vault Toilet
Fee: none (donations appreciated)
View Lions Loop Nordic Trail in a larger map
When I left Grand Junction this morning to drive up to the Grand Mesa the valley was shrouded in low level clouds. I could see the sun peaking through around the Colorado National Monument so I was pretty confident that before I made it to the top of the mesa that I would be above the clouds and enjoying a nice sunny day. And that is pretty much the way it all worked out.
I had my snowshoes and today I was headed to the Skyway Trailhead on the Grand Mesa. The trailhead is right at 44 miles from my house in Grand Junction. From this trailhead I had access to the Lions Loop, Sunset, Winslow and the Vista Loop trails. These trails are all about cross country skiing and snowshoeing..
It was about 8F when I arrived at the trailhead and it had warmed up a whole 3 degrees when I left. I managed to stay nice and warm all day and I didn't have my snow suit on. After getting into my snowshoes and chatting with some local gentlemen I set out on the well groomed trail. I studied the map at the trailhead and picked the Lions Loop trail as my first conquest for the day. I found that there were plenty of signs along the way that made the route finding easy.
The manner in which the trails are groomed provides a set of classic ski grooves on one side for skiers to easily glide downhill. People with snowshoes should stay off this part of the trail. Snowshoer's should also avoid the center skate lane by traveling along the outermost edge opposite the ski grooves. If you have ever used snowshoes in deep snow before you will find these groomed trails take a whole lot of work out of the trek. I should also mention that if you arrive to the area after a fresh snow they may not have had time to groom all of the trails yet. There is also a donation box at the trailhead if you would like to show your appreciation and contribute to the cause.
The crisp clear air and the fresh snow glistening in the bright winter sunshine brought an entirely different type of beauty in contrast to the alpine meadows covered with flowers and grass that visitors see in the summer months.
There is another stark reality that you must always be aware of when preparing for a winter trip to the high country. Conditions can change with little notice. When the winds kick up in these open areas the trail can become drifted in and your visibility can drop to zero. You might be comfortably warm while you are snowshoeing or skiing but once you stop the temperatures may become unbearable. I carry a GPS to aid in not only making the maps for my blog but to keep track of where I am. I also carry a SPOT personal locator that is reporting my current location to friends and family and also has the ability to notify emergency services. I carry spare Ultimate Lithium batteries for all my devices. In cold weather I take the extra precaution of keeping the lower half of the GPS wrapped with my hand to keep the electronics warm and functioning. I had it freeze up on me momentarily in a white out blizzard on Mt. Democrat while I was over 13,000 feet on an exposed cliff.
I hope that story doesn't discourage anyone from coming up to the Grand Mesa and enjoying themselves but there is a certain amount of preparation to be made for any outing. I'm sure that I was the only person, out of the 100 or so people that were at the Skyway today, carrying a GPS or SPOT locator but I was by myself and I sometimes venture off to get a picture of something. I have been temporarily lost in blizzards, darkness and heavy cloud cover before so for as much time as I spend out and about it makes sense for me to be a little extra prepared. Besides, I happen to know that the Survivor Man also carries a SPOT on his adventures.
I was back at the trailhead after about an hour. Here is a picture of todays toys. I purchased the Tubbs snowshoes at Gene Taylor's over a dozen years ago and they are still holding out great. You can rent ski's and snowshoes from Gene Taylor's or the Board and Buckle in Grand Junction, to name a few places, if you want to give them a try before you commit to buy. They have a great little beginners loop here at the Skyway that is secluded in the trees next to the trailhead. The Skyway really rocks for Nordic action and it is another one of the many great outdoor amenities that we have here in the Grand Junction, Colorado area. It is truly a year round outdoor action paradise. So, Tivo the bowl games and get out and 'Take a hike'.