If you think of my route through the Rockies as a giant staircase Grand Mesa is the final step. There would hopefully be a warning attached mentioning that it is a doozy. Yesterday's grind brought me to almost eleven thousand feet again.
The Grand Mesa was formed millions of years ago (or around the time of Moses for those of you who prefer the biblical calender). Volcanic flow scoured the earth into submission like an angry bottle of Mr. Clean, leaving a land pitted with small lakes, three hundred or so by the count of someone who bothered.
I obtained an eagle's eye view of the terrain on Crag's Crest Trail along with Lynne who joined up for the first portion of the jaunt. Atop the crest you can see fifty miles in every direction. The Mesa is to the south and east, the Book Cliffs to the west, and the blank to the north. Your head is on a constant swivel trying to take in the plentiful potential Ansel Adams pictures at once.
During our lunch hour Lynne told me of the controversy which dogged Grand Mesa in the early days. The area was first used by fishermen in the late nineteenth century, but although they visited frequently to escape the heat at lower elevations and enjoy the nutrition provided by a fishy diet they did not own the land. An English aristocrat by the name of William Radcliffe filled the vacuum, purchasing the fishing rights to a chain of twenty six of the largest lakes. The Brit dreamed of a creating a grand resort in the wilds of Western Colorado.
The locals were none too pleased by this new development and Radcliffe's paternalistic attitude only raised their ire further. The nobleman tried to salvage matters by offering fishing licenses for free, but there would be no compromise for the traditional trollers. They refused to kowtow and continued to come to the lakes without permission.
The dispute came to a head when a game warden named Frank Mahaney caught a group of yahoos illegally trout snatching. Radcliffe had implicitly instructed his wardens to deal with poachers non-violently. Mahaney was not what one would call a good listener, so he shot and killed one of the men, a rancher named Womack, as he was climbing upon his horse to leave the property.
The people of Delta County were apoplectic when news of the slaying reached them. Law enforcement had to use all of their manpower to prevent the lynching of Mahaney. Stymied, the angry mob turned on Radcliffe, burning down every last building on his land. The Englishman knew his hopes of creating a first class fish and game resort were dashed and he left before his life became forfeit as well.
Today's Grand Mesa is a mix of private property and forest land. The original homesteaders and their descendants were allowed to keep what they owned and the Forestry Service took over management of the rest. Thousands of visitors come up to the Mesa each weekend for the same reasons their ancestors did - cool air and good fishing- and I'm sure the beautiful surroundings don't hurt.
I saw the modern day traffic in person when I left Lynne and Crag Crest and hopped back onto Highway 65, but let's not jump too far into the future. First we jumped ahead in the truck to scout a section of trail which the ADT turn-by-turn directions described with the clarity of muddy water viewed at night. In fact, errors were found, but we did get the gist of the thing and I feel confident I can avoid making a mesa things again.
Afterwards I walked the aforementioned 65 stretch and met up again with Lynne. We celebrated a successful hike by obtaining a large supply of ice cream thanks to the generosity of son-in-law Todd, whose money we "borrowed" to pay for the treat. We finished the evening back at the cabin with Bill and Todd, observing a glorious series of rainbows and sharing the gustatory pleasures of a chicken baked with a variety of fresh vegetables.
11 miles/2896 total miles