26 June 2015

Stardate 2015.485

The view west from Skyway, Grand Mesa, Colorado.

Day Two RtR
The Mesa

Day Two took us from the arid, ancient seafloor of the Grand Valley up 6,000 feet into the clouds and volcanic terrain of the Grand Mesa. The huge lava-capped summit area averages 10,000 feet in elevation and sprawls over 800 square miles. Several hundred trout-filled lakes dot the top. Geologic rocks are Cretaceous and Tertiary sediments capped by up to 400-feet of basaltic lava flows. The lava cap is of probable Pliocene age. If I recall my Colorado Geology correctly, there was a shield volcano in the vicinity of the Grand Mesa and another shield volcano more easterly resulting in the Battlement Mesa volcanic features. The highest point of the Grand Mesa is Leon Peak at 11,234 feet.

Grand Mesa, Colorado

The Grand Mesa is one of the hardest high passes to bike over in Colorado – pure and simple! I think it's one of the three most difficult climbs alongside 14ers Mount Evans and Pikes Peak. It's a bear! It's no surprise that Day Two was my hardest day of Ride the Rockies. After approximately 35 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain, the road ramps up (understatement) and gains 5,430 feet of elevation over the next 20 miles to the Nordic ski center of Skyway at 10,614 feet. Several miles later, the "official" pass is crossed at 10,839-feet. The grade is consistent, except for one small flat area not far from the top. If you're still alive, you've earned a fine downhill into the town of Cedaredge at 6,200 feet.

I'm about 2/3 of the climb to the top of the Grand Mesa.  The Powderhorn Ski Resort is in the back top center

This is the view west from about 9,500 feet. Some of the dwellings seen in the distance are the Powderhorn Ski Resort, the approximate halfway point of the climb proper.

Looking across the the Grand Valley, Colorado

In zoom mode, the far horizon is the northern terminus of the Colorado Plateau, home to Day One's Colorado National Monument route. The middle ridgeline is the backside of the Bookcliffs, which provide the northern border of the Grand Valley, the home of Grand Junction and the vineyards and orchards of Palisade. A herd of wild horses often may be observed foraging throughout the Bookcliffs. The closest ridgeline is the Grand Mesa's northwest shoulder.

A Grand Mesa lake

This is one of hundreds of idyllic settings higher on the Mesa. At this point, I was about 4 miles from the top.

Skyway, Grand Mesa, Colorado

Welcome to the top and the Skyway area.

What goes up must come down. This video includes the first 6 minutes of the descent from the top. This is one descent that definitely is earned.

Top of the Grand Mesa, Colorado

Subalpine meadows quilt-square the top of the Grand Mesa.

North Fork Gunnison River and the West Elk Mountains, Colorado

The drop into Cedaredge and the North Fork of the Gunnison River can be scenic. The West Elk Mountains rise in the distance.

Hotchkiss High School camp

Our campsite location at Hotchkiss High School was fairly hidden.

Approximate stats:
96 miles
7:39:49 ride time (add another 1.5 hours for stops)
6,255 feet of total elevation gain (excluding rollers into Hotchkiss)
5,430 feet of elevation gain on the Grand Mesa proper

See ya on Day Three



  1. You've really captured the majesty of this beautiful place. You know, it was one of our first autumn dates when you introduced me to the Grand Mesa. I'd never been up there before, and now we've climbed it three times!

  2. What? You didn't ride around town for another 4 miles to get a century? Your wife would have....

    Amazing, fascinating terrain. The lake looks heavenly, but that water must be pretty cold!

    The climb sounds dreadful. I don't know how you guys do it. Tremendous kudos to you both!

    1. Yes, she would and I worry about her at times!


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