'Wheeling and Camping in Colorado's Grand Mesa National Forest
It was midsummer when we found ourselves at the Grand Mesa visitor's center talking to the friendly gentleman behind the counter. "Seventy-degree highs, crisp blue skies and golden aspens ... September is a beautiful time to visit Grand Mesa," he assured us. "It may get a little cool at night, but in the daytime, the fall weather is perfect."
We were scouting a location for our upcoming EarthRoamer owner's rally, and Grand Mesa was our location of choice. Grand Mesa-the world's largest flat-top mountain-is located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Unlike much of the surrounding terrain-desert and red rock reminiscent of eastern Utah-Grand Mesa is an oasis in the sky. Imagine transplanting a 50-square-mile area of Minnesota to a 10,000-foot plateau in Colorado, and you'll have a pretty good image of Grand Mesa. Hundreds of lakes and an abundant network of four-wheel-drive forest service roads provide an incredible lure for adventurers.
Fast forward three months to September, two days before the EarthRoamer rally, and we're focused on a weather forecast for Grand Mesa. Over the past week, the weather has deteriorated daily, and now a large storm from the Northwest is threatening snow and cold temperatures. We aren't too concerned about EarthRoamer owners, but our employees will be tent-camping and many have never winter-camped. EarthRoamer was founded on adventure, and after adding a huge party tent and tent heaters to our gear list, we decide to stick to our original plan to set up camp on the western end of Grand Mesa, at the upper end of Land's End Road.
The fall colors were in full splendor as we drove through Vail and the spectacular Glenwood Canyon on the beautiful four-hour drive from our headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado, to the beginning of Land's End Road, which gains about a mile in elevation over its 10 miles of snaking switchbacks and is nothing less than exhilarating. The base of the drive began with blue skies, freshly snow-covered trees and a muddy road, but it was clear that we were about to enter another world. As we gained elevation, the sky becomes more ominous and foreboding and there was significant snowfall near the top of the mesa.
At the top of the Mesa, we were greeted by 6 to 8 inches of fresh snow. We proceeded a short distance to our campsite location to check on road conditions. On our summer scouting run, the road was deeply rutted and rocky but dry and solid. Now it was a sloppy, snow-covered mud bog with snow-obscured rocks and deep holes-but easily passable in our EarthRoamer XV-LTs.
We established camp areas for EarthRoamer owners and employees just as the Rally attendees begin to arrive. EarthRoamer owners and employees alike were grinning from ear to ear as they bounced through the half mile of muck that led to camp. Throughout the afternoon and early evening, attendees continue to trickle in, camp is established, and food preparation began for our first night's camp dinner.
Weather conditions were changing by the minute, with visibility ranging from a couple of hundred feet at its worst to spectacular views all the way west to Utah at its best. We drove to the visitor's center to check on upcoming weather conditions, and we discovered that we were facing the prospect of 12 to 18 inches of fresh snow with poor visibility. The lady at the visitors' center seemed a little surprised that anyone would have plans of camping on the Mesa at this time of year with an approaching winter storm.
Heading back to camp, we ultimately decided to stick with our first night's plan to camp near Land's End Road and reevaluate our situation in the morning from our new camp at Bogan Flats at a significantly lower 7,500-foot elevation. If visibility and road conditions permitted, we would travel our originally planned route of Forest Service roads through Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forests. Our backup plan, if visibility and road conditions were too bad, was to drop down off of Grand Mesa via a southern route and proceed to Bogan Flats.