Road Trip to Grand Junction, CO
via Gunnison, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Twin Lakes

(4 -7 October 2013)

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fall leaves in Colorado

An out-of-town wedding is a great excuse for a road trip!  And having been asked to take the wedding photos in Grand Junction, CO, I was compelled to come up with other things to see and do along the way.  I had been planning this trip since the beginning of the year, and just three days prior to departure, the government shut down and closed the national parks, among other things.  You can imagine my horror and absolute disgust at this embarrassing occurence, not only for my fellow road trippers and me, but for all those who scrimped and saved to go and see a national park or museum or sight, only to be turned away because the government was acting like spoilt children.  I was angry beyond words, but, I had a wedding to prepare for so I put on my happy face and got on with things.

My idea was another "circular" road trip (I don't like backtracking if at all possible), so I plotted my trip from Colorado Springs via Salida, Monarch Pass, Gunnison to Grand Junction and home again via Glenwood Springs, Aspen, the Independence Pass, Twin Lakes and home.  Here's the map.

I had never driven over Monarch Pass before and I was in for surprises I never expected.  Firstly, it was snowy and the road at the summit was a little icy (mostly slushy ice rather than ice rink ice) which was a little testy for me, but I made it.  The next surprise was the beauty.  Such exquisite fall foliage blew me away.  In fact, I had to stop all along the way to Gunnison to appreciate the fall colors.  I didn't expect to see so much red in the leaves, but it was there.  Hwy 50 was almost devoid of cars which was a blessing.  Some road works held me up but nothing that wasn't workable.  I also didn't realize that I would cross the Continental Divide twice on this trip; once at Monarch Pass and secondly after Aspen on Indepdence Pass.

I wasn't at all prepared for the stunning beauty of the fall colors, either in the form of shrubs or trees, which is why this leg of the trip took so long.  What should have been about a 6-hour trip, ended up taking me about 10 hours.  Ten delightful hours.  I kept stopping to take a few photos.  Before and after Gunnison, the scenery changed so dramatically that it was difficult keeping my eyes on the road.  I would suddenly be confronted with pine trees with a dusting of snow and then bright yellow leaves or sheer cliffs with a smattering of snow.  Constant change was the name of the game.  The closer to the Black Canyon National Park west of Gunnison, the snowier it became, giving a rather eerie appearance to the landscape.  Fog also helped in painting a different picture.

After a brief stop in Gunnison I headed off to see if I could at least get a glimpse of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park seeing as the national parks were all closed.  I drove up the hill to the gate where I was met by some people showing a house inside the park.  Yes, actually inside the park.  Naturally I was curious, so I went in and was blown away by the Hollywood-esque type house in the middle of nowhere, complete with helipad (not so sure about this in the quiet of a national park) and tight security.  The hot tubs were outside and overlooking the canyon in the not-too-far-distance.  While I was there, and enjoying a light lunch to boot, it snowed on and off, fog rolled in and out, and we even had some rain.  I couldn't believe my luck being able to at least see some of the canyon and a magnificent house as well.  If you're interested in learning more about this fully furnished and very private house, Canyon Ranch of the Gunnison, here's the website:

I made my way to Grand Junction via Montrose and Delta, where the sun was shining once again, in time for the wedding rehearsal and a good night's sleep at the beautiful and very comfortable Bookcliffs Bed and Breakfast.  I reflected on the beautiful scenery I enjoyed and realized why it took so long, not only because of the weather conditions and road works, but when I could, I stopped and drank it all in.  There's nothing worse than rushing through such beauty.  I hate regrets.

Saturday was the wedding and I spent the entire day taking photos and helping out wherever I could.  The weather was glorious and the sun came out for most of the day.  I didn't get to see much of Grand Junction other than being able to orientate myself street-wise, which prepared me for the tour of downtown I took on Sunday evening.  I spent the night at the America's Best Value Inn which was very convenient for getting onto I-70.  The huge and comfy bed was all I was interested in after a long day.

The next morning we all met for breakfast before the newlyweds headed off to Denver, and ultimately, Jamaica on honeymoon.  After breakfast I went off to the Whitewater Hill Vineyard for a bit of wine tasting.  I tasted their Sauvignon Blanc, White Merlot (a delicious anytime wine), Gewürtzraminer (fabulous and fruity), Riesling (very refreshing), Muscat Canelli (also refreshing), Sweetheart Red (exciting) and Zero Below Late Harvest Chardonnay (frozen in the freezer and it's sweet and really fruity).  The last one I sampled was their Riesling Icewine which was a fun, fruity surprise.  Very intense and a lovely smooth taste.  Don't miss an opportunity to taste some truly delicious wines in Grand Junction.

Next it was off to go and see if I could visit at least part of the Colorado Monument.  As it happens, I was able to drive quite a way into the park before I came across a locked gate, so I did get to see a little of the dramatic rocks and scenery.  I would love to be able to one day drive the entire length and see more but I was more than pleased with what I did manage to see.  There were any number of other people around, including a few cyclists pedaling up the steep hills.

Later in the afternoon I headed out to Palisade to visit the home of the Colterris wines at the High Country Orchards.  I met with both Scott and Theresa High who graciously showed me around their beautiful property.  Rows and rows of peach trees, the fruit from some are destined to the White House for their famous peach cobbler!  The view over the river and across to the Bookcliff Mountains (Mt. Garfield) are not to be missed.  Not only do the Highs grow peaches and grapes and cherries and plums, they also grow lavender and make their own lavender products and bottle their own honey, salsas and preserves.  I came away with a jar of local honey which is silky smooth and tasty.  I tried their Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which were absolutely delicious!  If you get to visit this farm, ask if you can see their collection of old tractors.  You can take a little tour but you must make prior arrangements.  I was most impressed learning about their state-of-the-art packing facility!  Efficient doesn't begin to describe it.  Do yourself a favor and visit this lovely orchard/vineyard!  High Country Orchards ships peaches too!

By this time Sunday was winding down and there was still enough light to visit Downtown Grand Junction.  I parked at the 7th Street and Main Street junction and walked along Main Street admiring the sculptures scattered about.  There were lots of interesting stores to pop into.  I loved the walkway which is very pedestrian-friendly.  I wished I had more energy to stop in and have something to eat but I was tired and had to get up early the next morning to start the homeward bound journey.  I spent the night at the bridal couple's home looking after their two cats.

An early departure of 7am afforded me the beautiful early morning light on the Bookcliffs and granite slopes along I-70 east.  This is such a pretty part of the Interstate and I loved being surrounded by those huge mountains and cliffs and the view of the Grand Mesa on the right.  I had a long way to go before I turned off at Glenwood Springs en route to Aspen and the fall colors.  However, about 50 miles outside of Glenwood Springs, the car made a strange noise so I had to stop and try and arrange another car through Enterprise.  They couldn't have been more helpful, and after about an hour and a half, I was on my way in a different car.

From the moment I left Glenwood Springs, I wanted to stop and take photos of the snow-capped peaks in the distance and the yellow and orangey leaves just below.  I did stop in Basalt and got some gorgeous photos.  These photos were taken all along CO-82 to Aspen.

My next stop was in Aspen where I found some free parking and walked into town.  Aspen is such a pretty little town with the cutest homes right in town.  You can spot some of the bigger properties just outside of town and the large homes can be seen from the roads below.  The sun was shining and I found it warm but there were people with winter coats and boots on.  Obviously not from Colorado!  I strolled around and went inside the Hotel Jerome (fantastic!) and The Little Nell to have a look around.  I noticed some upmarket fashion stores and some galleries which were worth popping into if for nothing else but to see the prices.  Aspen is not cheap, which is why I didn't stay there or spend too much time.  I had wasted time swapping cars so I didn't linger as I really was anxious to see the fall colors of the aspen trees out of town heading to Independence Pass.  Their visitor center is full of gorgeous brochures and helpful staff if you need information.  I wanted to visit Maroon Bells as well but the road there was also closed.

Getting back onto CO-82, I headed out of Aspen but it wasn't long before I had to stop more than a few times.  The trees and views were breathtakingly beautiful and begged to be photographed and admired.  I tried visualizing how beautiful this area must be after a fresh dumping of snow, but the fall leaves were just too distracting and beautiful.  Don't hurry along this winding road as there are plenty of places to stop and ogle the beauty of Nature.

The last stage of this trip took me over Independence Pass and down through Twin Lakes onto Hwy 24 which goes all the way into Colorado Springs.  The drastic scenery change from just outside Aspen as you climb in altitude, is phenomenal.  Lots of green pine trees and a lot of granite rocks and mountain tops.  This time I didn't get an achy headache and I enjoyed the view from over 12,000 feet.  But, I was reminded of the power of the government as the toilet facilities were closed and there wasn't anything remotely near for miles.  They did "graciously" leave one stall open which meant that there was a line of about 10 people.  Bad government!  Even in Twin Lakes the visitor center was closed as were the bathroom facilties.  Why, I don't know.  I eventually used the restroom at the Buena Vista information center.

The final two hours from Buena Vista to Colorado Springs were rather tense as it was a race against the setting sun.  I don't like driving in the dark and shouldn't have dawdled in some places, but thankfully, I made it home safely, in the dark.  It was a wonderful trip and one I'd like to expand upon in due course.  I fell in love with Palisade and envision myself living there on a small holding with some vines and the spectacular views of the Bookcliff mountains and the Grand Mesa right above me.

Here is some of the wildlife I came across.  I was hoping to see an elk or some such beast, but I only saw a herd of buffalo and I couldn't stop and take a photo.  Never mind, I was happy I even saw what I did.

Bookcliffs Bed and Breakfast   America's Best Value Inn

The Bookcliffs Bed and Breakfast

I managed to check into this lovely B&B around 5.30pm but dashed off again for the wedding rehearsal.  Sam and Judy welcomed me and showed me to my room, the Blue Room, which was cozy and decorated with pillows and dolls.  The bed was comfortable and I snuggled in it when I returned later that night.  It was lovely to have a door to the outside patio but I didn't have time to enjoy it.  Their front room is very comfortable and they have a fire place and a TV if you so desire.  I think I loved the bathroom more than anything else.  It was the width of the bedroom and the shower was spectacularly big.  There was plenty of room to move about and I also loved the décor.  Much thought was put into the details and I noticed the many rows of plates scattered about the B&B.  For breakfast we had quiche and a delicious fruit salad.  The muffin was warm and fresh out of the oven.  Juice and coffee were also available.  At the dining table I sat facing the window and had a great view of the beautiful Bookcliff Mountains in the distance.  I nabbed some brochures before darting off to take photos of the wedding parties as they were preparing for the big day.  I would love to be able to spend a couple of nights at this lovely B&B, perhaps next time.  Also known as Grand Junction Bed and Breakfast.  Contact details.
Here's my TripAdvisor review.

America's Best Value Inn

Because the wedding was taking up most of my day, I didn't have time to check in mid-afternoon as I had hoped.  A call to the inn was all that was necessary and the kind staff made a note that I'd be a late check-in.  I found the inn very easily as I drove up Horizon Drive, even at 10pm.  My room, 106, was huge, and the bed was enormous.  I couldn't wait to get into bed so I brought in the bare minimum, cleaned up, and crawled into bed and slept like a baby.  In the morning I used the free wi-fi connection which worked well, and I also sauntered over to the breakfast facilities to get some coffee, even though there was a coffee machine in the room.  I discovered a self-service breakfast in the form of cereal or toasted bagels or English muffins, coffee and even a do-it-yourself waffle station.  My room was adequate with an iron and ironing board, microwave, coffee maker, mini fridge, big screen TV and lamps that worked.  The bathroom was a bit of a tight squeeze.  There was also a desk you could use but there wasn't an electrical outlet that I could see so I used my laptop at the little table and sitting chair.  Large and adequate parking available.  I would definitely consider staying here again.  Contact details.
Here's my TripAdvisor review.

Once again I began my journey at the Colorado Springs airport as that's where I rented my car.  I made my way south on I-25 towards Pueblo and turned right onto Hwy 50 west through Cañon City, Salida, Monarch Pass, Gunnison, Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction.  Monarch Pass was a little icy but not dangerous.  All along this part of the trip I encountered rain, snow, sleet, fog, ice and high winds.  My return trip was east on I-70 to Glenwood Springs, south on CO-82 to Aspen, Independence Pass, Twin Lakes, and right (south and east) on Hwy 24 to Colorado Springs.

Contacts   Contact Me
Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Colorado Springs Airport Terminal, CO):  I LOVE ENTERPRISE!  I really do!  This time they really went out of their way to make sure I was happy.  Despite getting a great rental rate of $8.14 with unlimited mileage a day, and being offered a Chevy Malibu, I felt the car was too big for me.  I sat in it and felt swamped, so I waited for a smaller Dodge Dart to become available.  Much better.  However, on the return journey the car made a strange and alarming noise while I was on the Interstate and which I had checked out in Glenwood Springs after calling the Colorado Springs office to ask what I should do.  I was able to exchange cars and drove the rest of the way in a smaller-engine Corolla, my favorite car!  Enterprise ensured that I was happy and they did all they could to make certain I had a good ride home.  Thank you Martha (Colorado Springs) and Rachel (Glenwood Springs)!

The Dodge Dart took me 413 miles and I got 32 mpg (about $40 gas).  I drove the Corolla for 226 miles and got 39 mpg!  I spent $19.25 on gas.  As usual, I checked and rechecked rates weeks and weeks prior to departure, and that's how I find such good rates.
Enterprise don't offer the "we'll pick you up" service from the airport but I highly, highly recommend you try them.
Web:  Tel: (719) 591-6644   Toll-free (Reservations): 1-800-261-7331   Toll-free (Customer Service): 1-800-264-6350     Facebook:

Accommodations Contacts
The Bookcliffs Bed and Breakfast - 3153 F Road, Grand Junction, CO 81504 (at 31 ½ Road)
Tel: (970) 261-3938
Free wi-fi.  Off-street parking.  No pets.
Rates: from $115 per night.  Check their website for their specials.
(They are also known as Grand Junction Bed and Breakfast)
America's Best Value Inn - 754 Horizon Drive, Grand Junction, CO 81506
Tel: (970) 245-1410
Free wi-fi.  Off-street parking and swimming pool.
Rates: from $69 a night.  Check the website for manager's specials.
Visit their website for up-to-date information and rates.  Check ahead of time regarding pets.

Sights and Contacts and Links
To make the most of your trip, do investigate online or the chamber of commerce in question for ideas of what there is to see and do.  It really helps to get to know the lay of the land for sightseeing.  You never know, you might just discover something you didn't know about!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - 10346 Highway 347, Montrose, CO 81401
Tel: (970) 641-2337
You can use your national parks annual pass.

Colorado Monument - 1750 Rim Rock Drive, Fruita, Colorado 81521 (you can enter from Grand Junction off Monument Road)
Tel: (970) 858-3617
E-mail: Contact via their Website
You can use your national parks annual pass.
Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Wine Tasting - 220 32 Road, Grand Junction CO 81503
Tel: (970) 434-6868

Colterris Wines - 3548 E 1/2 Road, Palisade, CO 81526
Tel: (970) 464-1150
Prices quoted were correct at the time, October 2013.


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