A Whole 'Nother Colorado

The Western Slope is a treasure trove.

By Irene Middleman Thomas
Photography by Mark Rush

 

I’ve lived in Colorado since middle school and had never visited the Western Slope, as we call it. Grand Junction was always just a gas stop on the way to the National Parks in Utah. This past week, my husband and I decided it was high time to explore the region. If you’ve limited your Colorado trips (or potential trips) to Denver and the ski resort towns, you’ve missed a side of Colorado that we want to visit over and over. 

In just over four hours, we drove on I-70 from east Denver to Grand Junction, enjoying brilliant golden aspen tree displays. Mid to late September is the peak aspen season, but it’s a dramatic drive any time of year. There also is a full-service airport with one-stop flights from St. Louis.

The lush, fertile region known as the Grand Valley has many award-winning wineries, succulent peaches and other fruits and striking Western high-desert landscapes. We discovered that this foodie-friendly area has outstanding dining (with mostly locally sourced and grown products,) wines and meads, handcrafted Enstrom’s chocolate-covered toffee, a distillery, craft brewery, lavender farm and charming neighborhoods just perfect for relaxing strolls. Oh, and those late summer Palisade peaches — they’d rival any from Georgia. 

The Colorado National Monument, part of the National Park Service, is a gloriously beautiful wilderness park, with 23,000 acres of striped-orange and red-rock wonderland, towering monoliths, staggeringly steep cliffs and drop-offs and high-desert drama, replete with plenty of wildlife. As we left the park, lamenting sorely that we had run out of time, a group of bighorn sheep crossed right in front of us. We think the Monument is sadly misnomered — leading many to think it just a building, rather than the spectacular park that it is. Just 15 minutes from the west side of Grand Junction, this is a must-see. 

Palisades and environs are known as Colorado Wine Country, with two thirds of the state’s vineyards. This is no Napa; here, most samplings are free, and a full 13-wine tasting costs $6! The wineries, open year-round, are friendly and unpretentious and staffers are eager to chat. The multi-award-winning Plum Creek, the oldest in Colorado, started in 1984. Most wineries are close together, so that folks often visit them by bicycle tour or solo rentals; even electric bikes are available (www.Rapidcreekcycles.com). Palisades is a delightful little town well worth a mosey. We found a hidden rose garden and even the town library sports a grape arbor. 

This getaway is a world away from the Front Range bustle and offers visitors a Colorado well worth knowing. It’s also within easy distance of other destinations, such as Moab, Utah; Aspen, Telluride and Montrose.