GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Rising above the Grand Valley, the 20,453 acres of the Colorado National Monument tower over a prehistoric landscape where the world's largest and smallest dinosaurs once roamed.
In this diverse land, where the Rocky Mountains meet the desert on Colorado's Western Slope, paleontologists claim it as a geological wonderland, and declare that the diversity of bones uncovered here make it one of the most scientifically important areas on earth. The lofty views are awe-inspiring - also including the barren Book Cliffs and the world's highest flat-topped mountain, the Grand Mesa.
But the Grand Valley floor is verdant. It is carved out by the mighty Colorado River creating a special place to grow fruit and grapes. Winemakers thrive in the Grand Junction area and the peaches grown in next door Palisade are world-class.
Grand Junction's five-block North Seventh Avenue Historic Residential District area is lined with trees and is an exceptional stroll for those interested in 100-year-old architecture. Restaurants and shops abound in the historic downtown area.
More and more Coloradans tired of shoveling snow after living for years in ski regions are turning to Grand Junction to relocate and enjoy a milder climate. And more travel golfers are discovering the glories of the golf especially after Golf Digest's 2003 Architect of the Year Jim Engh, created The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa back in 2001.
Engh, based in Castle Rock, is a self-professed modernist, a push-the-envelope golf-course architect. And he's an artist. His vision for Redlands Mesa was immediate - he saw a canvas of multiple earth tones and he added strokes of green into the rugged landscape. The result is a golfer's fantasy - the best new golf course built in Colorado this century.
The par-72 layout plays at 7,007 yards from the Monument (back) tees where you see shades of green bordered by jagged sandstone boulders, ochre dirt and numerous formations of balanced rock. Eleven holes dive downhill at an elevation of 4,600 feet. It's challenging, but fair and you won't soon forget the scenes of rolling mounds, deep squiggly bunkers and cart paths that give you a peek back to the green you just played, framing the pin between the sandstone rocks. But three putts might be common for the first-timer on the track.
Several times during your round at Redlands Mesa you might wish for hiking boots. No. 4, a par 4, 373 yards will get your heart pumping when you climb to the championship tee box. Vertigo? You could almost hang glide from up here. Don't back up without looking, because it drops 100 feet.
No. 17 is a memorable climb to a tee-box perch. Again, the eagle's nest teeing ground has a 150-foot drop and vista to a green 218 yards away, nestled in natural bowl framed by rock. If you are alone you will want to keep reloading.
The guys and gals that regularly play Tiara Rado Golf Course will tell you putts break away from the Colorado National Monument and are befuddling. But this short layout has been known as an ego-booster with great scenery. However, recent changes by Kevin Atkinson of Phelps Golf Design might give this municipal favorite more bite. Nos. 17 and 18 have been polished up, with 17 getting a big-time facelift. The green was increased from 2,000 to 6,000-square feet and was moved forward and toward a lake. Three new bunkers were added along with a collection area behind the green. It's a beauty of a hole that will measure a little less than its original par-4 of 445 yards.
Designed in 1972 by Tom Kolacny as a nine-holer, Dick Phelps arrived in 1986 to add a back nine and re-work the front nine. It's a traditional design with a backdrop of towering rock walls and includes four lakes that come into play. On a beautiful day it isn't hard to sit down at Tiara Rado's Piñon Grill, rehash the good and bad shots, and enjoy a Colorado micro-brew on the flagstone patio.
Adobe Creek National Golf Club in Fruita is 27 holes of links-style golf one town over from Grand Junction. It has up close views of the Colorado National Monument and six ponds that come into play just a mile from the Colorado River. There are three distinct nines - Desert, Monument and Mesa. The land is rolling and somewhat treeless, but the views are noteworthy. Adobe Creek runs through a number of holes and the greens can be fast and unpredictable. Watch out for OB on almost every hole, but the fairways are wide and forgiving.
Fruita is a draw for mountain bikers and tourists coming to four festivals - the Fat Tire Festival, Mike and the Headless Chicken Days, Dinosaur Days and the Fruita Fall Festival.
Lincoln Park Golf Course is a 9-hole public layout located in the central city area and is easy to walk. It is the home of the Rocky Mountain Open, the oldest open golf tournament in Colorado. Chipeta Golf Course, an executive course set on Orchard Mesa, above Grand Junction, has views of Grand Mesa, Colorado National Monument and the Book Cliffs.
If you are driving the 248 miles of I-70 from Denver there are many other options. Rifle Creek Golf Course in Rifle is dramatic boondocks golf where Dick Phelps was hired in 1989 and added a mountainous back nine to a simpler owner-design front side. Battlement Mesa Golf Club is another local pick on I-70 halfway between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction at exit 75. This 1988 design by Joe Finger and Ken Dye features sagebrush, rolling terrain and large greens. In the distance you can see the Colorado River.
Just 41 miles down Highway 50 from Grand Junction is the award-winning Devil's Thumb Golf Club, designed by Rick Phelps. In 2002, this moonscape of 7,176 yards at par 72 won Golf Digest's No. 2 Best New Affordable Public golf course in America. It has views of the Adobe Hills, San Juan and West Elk Mountains and the Grand Mesa.
Nearby Cedaredge, at the base of the Grand Mesa, and 14 miles from Delta, is home to Deer Creek Village Golf Course, part of a master-planned community. The back nine climbs in elevation through hillsides of scrub oak and the front nine plays through a meadow with creek carries.
The Colorado River flows through Grand Junction on its way to Arizona where it cut the gorge that is known as the Grand Canyon. But did you know the Grand Canyon actually got its name because the Colorado River was once known as the Grand River?
Adam's Mark Hotel
743 Horizon Drive, Grand Junction
(970) 241-8888 or (800) 444-2326
Chateau at Two Rivers
2087 Broadway, Grand Junction
(970) 255-1471 or (800) 484-2192
Los Altos Bed & Breakfast
375 Hillview Drive, Grand Junction
(970) 256-0964 or (888) 774-0982
336 Main St., Grand Junction
Rock Slide Brew Pub
401 Main St., Grand Junction
Blue Moon Bar & Grille
120 N 7th St., Grand Junction
A visit to Grand Junction should include a day at The Colorado National Monument (www.nps.gov/colm/), learning about the interesting geology and hiking its scenic trails. You will see similar red sandstone rock formations that you see in Sedona. The Grand Junction area also hosts the Colorado Mountain Wine Festival in September and even if you don't make it for the festival, the wineries invite the public to relax and enjoy wine tasting after a day of activities in the Grand Valley.
For information on winery tours, the dinosaur digs, and other area attractions, contact the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau (800-962-2547; www.visitgrandjunction.com).
Museum of Western Colorado
462 Ute Ave., Grand Junction
Western Colorado Center for the Arts
1803 N. 7th St., Grand Junction
June 1, 2004