On the Road: Grand Junction

Jan and I went to Grand Junction, Colorado this past weekend so that I could ride a metric century called the Tour of the Moon.  The annual event starts downtown and takes cyclists out into the Grand Valley to the west of town.  It culminates with a ride over and across the fabulous and surreal landscape of the Colorado National Monument.

Grand Junction framed by the Grand Mesa from Colorado National Monument. There's something for everyone here.

Grand Junction framed by the Grand Mesa from Colorado National Monument. There’s something for everyone here.

Your town's real when it closes off Main Street for a bike tour.

You know your town’s the real deal when it closes off Main Street for a bike tour.

If you're a roadie, head out west of town towards Fruita. You'll find mile after mile of flat, rural two lane to rack up the miles.

If you’re a roadie, head out west of town towards Fruita. You’ll find mile after mile of flat, rural two lane to rack up the miles.

If climbing's your thing, Colorado National Monument won't disappoint. From the valley floor to the rim is a vertical climb of about 2,000 feet.

If climbing’s your thing, Colorado National Monument is epic. From the valley floor to the rim is 2,000 vertical feet…almost a half mile straight up.

There aren't many places you'll ever ride that come close to the natural beauty of the Colorado National Monument.

There aren’t many places you’ll ever ride that come close to the natural beauty of the Colorado National Monument.

Say Howdy to a park ranger and she'll tell you where the bighorn sheep are hiding.

Say Howdy to a park ranger and she’ll tell you where the bighorn sheep are hiding.

It had been a long time since my last visit to Grand Junction and a lot has changed.  What was then a tired and dusty town with a dying central business district is now an alive and vibrant outdoor-oriented community and why not?  The city is virtually surrounded by one of a kind recreational resources.  To the east is the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flattop mountain.  It’s so large, in fact, that it has its own national forest.  Covering over 500 square miles, there’s a little something for everyone up here including lakes, trails, campgrounds and even a ski area.

Brown Cycles has rental racks set up around town. It's easy to find a bike here.

Brown Cycles has rental racks set up around town. It’s easy to find a bike here.

To the west is the Colorado National Monument, a wonderland of sheer cliffs and canyons that is just begging to be explored from the saddle of a road or mountain bike.  Speaking of mountain biking, the iconic Kokopelli Trail starts just to the west of here near the town of Fruita.  It’s possible to ride all the way to Moab via a combination of singletrack, slickrock and lightly traveled roads.  For the less adventurous, the Riverfront Trail extends approximately 10 miles from Grand Junction to Fruita along the Colorado River.

Can we come back, Jan?

Can we come back, Jan?

Within the city limits, there are numerous bicycle routes and trails connecting various parts of the city.  You’ll want to explore Main Street with its myriad shops and restaurants.   There are a number of hotels right in the heart of the city and if you can get a room here it makes a great base camp.  If everything’s full, try the Grand Vista Hotel out by the airport.  That’s where we stayed and it was delightful.

There are at least three bike shops downtown with others scattered around town.   Rentals are pretty easy to get if you don’t bring your own bicycle. The biggest challenge is mountain or road.  There are plenty of options for you either way, so pick your poision.  Brown Cycles (549 Main) rents everything from carbon road bikes to mountain bikes, tandems and even recumbents.  You’ll want to check with other shops as well.

There’s a growing outdoor entrepreneurial movement taking place in GJ as well.  We visited with Nicole Burkey, the controller at Loki Outerwear at their shop and world headquarters  at 445 Colorado Avenue and she told us the story of how a lost glove on Mount Rainier led to the development of some of the most awesome hoodies we’ve ever seen.  Of course, we bought one.  Jan likes the built in hat, mittens and muffler and she wondered why no one thought of this before now.

There are a number of other outdoor geared businesses including climbing gyms and ski shops scattered around downtown.  There are also more brewpubs and restaurants than you’d expect in a town of 60,000.  You’re not going to go hungry while you’re here.

One more thing…there’s also one of the best (read the comments) REI stores you’re likely ever visit.  It’s in an old repurposed building not far from downtown.  The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.  In fact, the only REI store I like as much as this one is the Seattle flagship.

Bottom line, GJ took us by surprise.  Lots of cities and towns are trying to reinvent themselves.  Sometimes it feels right…Duluth MN and Asheville NC come to mind.  More often than not, it feels awkward and contrived.  I like my mountain towns real, and Grand Junction is as real as it gets.  It’s only five hours from Ogden by car…three days by bicycle.  We’ll be back.

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