Round Trip Distance: 5 miles - 8k
Elevation: 10,800-10,885 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Usage: Cross Country Skiing - Snowshoeing
Time: 2 hrs. 40 mins.
Facilities: Vault toilet at trailhead
Trailhead: County Line
Fee: none (donations appreciated)
View County Line Loop 3 in a larger map
There was snow falling lightly in Grand Junction on Saturday morning. I didn't anticipate the conditions on the mesa to be much different. I wasn't sure how well pictures would come out while it was snowing so this would be a good chance to find out. The County Line trailhead on the Grand Mesa is located by mile marker 30 on Colorado Highway 65. The trailhead is in Delta County but virtually all the trails are in Mesa County. From this trailhead you have your choice of four numbered loops that range in length from 1k up to combinations of 10k or more. There is a Dog Loop trail where canines are permitted along with two trails, the Scales Lake Road and Kannah Crossing, that provide for treks over to the Skyway trail system. Today I will be snowshoeing the Loop 3 trail.
The trails at County Line are well marked blue diamond trails and are generally well groomed which makes skiing and snowshoeing a blast. Even on well marked trails visibility can become obscured by falling and blowing snow. An GPS can definitely save your butt in those conditions. I also carry a SPOT that can summon help in an emergency but I don't think it is a license to be stupid. My plan was to check out the conditions when I made it to the trailhead and if the wind was blowing I would turn around and go to Mesa Lakes which is much more sheltered. As it turned out there was falling snow with no wind and the temperature was 19F degrees. Not bad at all.
I left the trailhead and within a quarter mile I took the right fork and followed the signs for the Loop 2 trail. I followed Loop 2 for a little over a half mile to get to the start of the Loop 3 trail. I stayed to the right on Loop 3. My plan was to follow the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. The trees were thick enough in places to catch the heaviest snow. I was still continuously wiping off my GPS but it wasn't as heavy as the open areas.
Here's what it was like back out in the open. The snow was quickly covering up the classic ski tracks on the side of the trail. Normally snowshoes should keep to the trail on the opposite side of the classic tracks and even avoid the skate lane in the middle. There was already 4-5 inches of fresh snow covering everything so I was careful to still avoid the classic grooves but I didn't worry much about the rest of the trail. My tracks were disappearing behind me pretty fast.
I love going through these canyons of trees. For about a mile here the trail parallels the rim of the mesa above the highway. There are several places where you can venture over and see the area below and on a clear day you can see for over a hundred miles to the San Juan mountains, to the south, and even into Utah to the west.
I continued passed the junction of the Loop 4 trail and came out into the open above Scales Lake #2 by the microwave tower. The wind kicked up a little bit in the open area and since I was walking right into the wind it made the trail a lot harder to see.
The trail bends sharply back towards the west and then its back into the comfort of the forest. I passed by the junction of the Kannah Crossing trail and began following along the shore of Scales Lake #1.
Here's a look out across Scales Lake.
I followed the trail west for a little over a mile, on mostly level terrain, until I came to the junction of the Scales Lake trail, which heads over to the Skyway trailhead, and the Dog Trail. I remained on the Loop 3 trail. The trail broke back out into the open for about a quarter mile but there wasn't any wind.
The Loop 3 trail rejoins the Loop 2 trail after a little over half a mile. I could have taken the right fork and followed Loop 2 in a new direction but I decided to leave that for another time and look the left fork instead. After a couple tenths of a mile I was back on the trail where I had begun. I found a half dozen woodpeckers drilling away on some of the trees. There was also a little Black-Capped Chickadee in their midst. I was able to get fairly close and take pictures but I had left the good camera in the vehicle, because of all the snow, and the low-res pictures from my other camera that I post on the web aren't all that great.
The trailhead was bustling with activity when I returned. There were only one or two parking spots left. The temperature hadn't changed at all. It was still 19F degrees. I drank 20 ounces of water and a 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade along with consuming an energy bar and a protein bar.
These groomed trails are a real nice addition to the outdoor lifestyle we enjoy in the greater Grand Junction area. There are free maps of the trails available at the trailhead and online at http://gmnc.info. There is also a collection box where you can make a monetary donation to help pay for the grooming. That ended another beautiful day outdoors and another great place to 'Take a hike!'.