Round Trip Distance: 7.1 miles, 11.4k
Elevation: 10,596-10,847 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Usage: Cross Country Skiing - Snowshoeing
Usage: No dogs on Skyway trails - No snowmobiles
Time: 3 hrs. 15 mins.
Facilities: Vault Toilet
Fee: none (donation box)
View Scales Lake in a larger map
I have been wanting to make the trek from the Skyway trailhead over to Scales Lake and returning via Kannah Crossing and the Vista Loop. I decided that today I was up for the challenge. Depending on the final route I would take the length should range 9-11.5k. That's about all the distance that I like doing on snowshoes in one outing.
I started off early enough from Grand Junction to see dawn stretch her rosy fingers across the ashen winter sky. The temperature was lagging around 13F as I left the valley that is still in the grip of a very long inversion.
When I reached the Skyway trailhead the temperature was 19F and the sun was shining. Things were already looking good for another nice day on the mesa. I was the first one to pull into the parking lot but several other vehicles arrived before I hit the trail. I left the trailhead and followed the Lions Loop to the right until I came to the start of the Scales Lake trail. The map shows the distance at 1.3k and my monolingual GPS was showing .81 miles which should have been pretty close. My GPS might have a setting to display metric but I'm not going to go looking for it.
Once I was on the Scales Lake trail it was less than a mile before I came to the crossroad of the snowmobile trail with it's orange stakes. While ski trails are marked with blue diamonds snowmobile trails are marked with orange diamonds and dual use trails, such as some sections of the Colorado Trail, are marked with both colors.
The Scales Lake trail was pretty easy going. The elevation climbed gently once I entered the trees after passing the snowmobile crossing. The trees had shed their frosty covering of snow that had burdened their branches since the last big snow. The trees were doing a nice job of protecting deep drifts of snow in their shade.
The Scales Lake trail ended when I reached the County Line trail system. I passed the Dog Trail that branched off to the right and continued past the lake on the Loop 3 trail. I followed Loop 3 for about a quarter mile before I came to the Kannah Crossing trail.
The Kannah Crossing has it's own distinct character. The turns were a little tighter in spots as the trail worked its way through the trees. Within about a half mile I was once again crossing the snowmobile trail. I never did see or hear any snowmobiles but I hadn't seen any skiers either. I was about 4 miles into the trek and it had been complete solitude.
I reached the end of the Kannah Crossing trail where it joined the Vista Loop. The shortest route back to the Skyway trailhead from here would be to take the left fork of the Vista Loop. It would be about a half mile further to take the right fork. After talking with a couple of gentlemen from Montrose for 10-15 minutes I made up my mind to take the right fork through the valley.
From here the trail winds for almost 2 miles as though it is following a lazy stream meandering its way through the protected little mountain dale. From this point skiers began appearing in steady succession. Some sped by quickly skating gracefully along while others plied their way along the classic tracks.
When I rejoined the Lions Loop it was decision time again. The shortest way back to the trailhead would be down Will's Hill or through the Arroyo but the easiest way would probably be to follow the Lions Loop to the right. It is only slightly longer but I would avoid having to climb the hill to get back to the trailhead. The heck with that I wanted to go through the Arroyo. Besides, that section of the Lions Loop was probably pretty crowded this time of day.
The Arroyo was empty of people and there were only a couple sets of tracks to indicate anyone had passed through. I suppose the hill is too easy to avoid whereas the seemingly steeper section of the Vista Loop is not only unavoidable but maybe also a small price to pay for the gorgeous scenery that awards the effort.
Back at the trailhead the parking lot was teaming with activity. The Mesa State ski team was heading out for a little exercise and families were gearing up for a winter outing. After having completed the journey I have to say that it has the feeling of a world class Nordic experience. The trails, taken together, provide a variety of terrain from gentle slopes and straights to winding and undulating sections that work their way through the trees. The passage through the north section of the Vista Loop is in a peaceful valley that flows through the land as though carved by an ancient glacier. Another jewel for the Grand Junction area to treasure and enjoy anytime they choose.