Grand Junction getaway
April 18, 2009
Every road trip should include at least one awesome burger, so when we pull off Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs at Viccos Charcoalburger Drive-in, Leigh and I are hoping for the best. The roadside diner is tucked alongside auto-parts stores and motels on a West Glenwood frontage road. In the summer, classic car enthusiasts congregate at Viccos before cruising the downtown during one of the Hot Summer Nights sessions. From our spot at the drive-through window, we watch a couple of king-size beef patties sizzle on the open grill until the chef plops them in between lightly toasted buns, and piles on lettuce, tomatoes and onions. We wash down the burgers and crinkle-cut fries with creamy chocolate-peanut butter malts. Deep Purples Smoke on the Water blares on the car radio, and twinkling Christmas lights reflect in beaded drops of water on the windshield. Were headed to the Grand Junction and Palisade area for an off-season getaway and to do some research for a Colorado guidebook. The area is quiet during our late-November visit, but the busy season starts again with a bang April 23-26, when cyclists from the around the country visit for the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. June 12-14, Palisade hosts a bluegrass and roots music festival with an impressive lineup, including Dakota Blonde and Way Down Yonder, and the season culminates with the Aug. 13-16 Palisade Peach Festival. Out first stop is the Grand Junction Doubletree at the west end of town. Our fifth-floor room is spacious and super-clean. We fire up our laptops to try out the free Wi-Fi and munch warm chocolate chip cookies that were handed to us at check-in. The next morning we scout a few local coffee shops and end up at the Colorado Java House (502 Colorado Ave.), where the friendly staff lives up to its motto of waking up Grand Junction one cup at a time. The coffee house earned a four-cup rating from readers of the local paper, and we feel well-caffeinated when we head up into slickrock country west of town.
Colorado National Monument was founded in 1911 after John Otto campaigned tirelessly for the recognition and almost single-handedly built the first network of trails into the labyrinth of canyons. The 20,000-acre area includes a campground with amazing views over the Grand Valley. Rimrock Drive, which skirts the length of the monument, is a great way to get oriented before heading off on a backcountry hike. At the monument visitor center, we plan for a future trip by picking up a map for nearby Rattlesnake Canyon, which has the highest concentration of natural arches outside the Moab area. Tucking the map into our travel folder, we make a pact to return for a spring backpacking trip. Then we head to the DiVine Thyme Bed and Breakfast (404 West First Street) in Palisade for the night. Owners Tom and Cathy Monroe talked about opening a B&B for 10 years before they took the plunge and left the Conifer area to buy a 100-year old Victorian in Palisade. After a loving restoration, the house offers a warm and cheery respite from the cold autumn breeze blowing down the West Slope of the Rockies. Leigh and I are happy to curl up in the parlor, sipping wine, and reading a New York Times story about the B&B and the nearby wineries.
The next morning Cathy calls Bennett Price, founder of the DeBeque Canyon winery, and one of the pioneers of the Palisade wine industry. Even though hes just put up with a summers worth of tourists, Price enthusiastically welcomes our visit. He gives us a quick take on the history of Western Colorado wine-making while guiding us through a warehouse of barrels and letting us taste a buttery chardonnay and a rich red tempranillo. Early settlers started growing grapes and other fruits here on the flanks of Grand Mesa more than 100 years ago, but the vineyards disappeared during Prohibition. The industry started up again in 1973, when Gov. John David Vanderhoof visited the West Slope to promote agricultural diversity. A $15,000 research grant helped the early vintners get a start. Today, there are about 80 wineries in Colorado. As we wander among the oak kegs, Price draws out samples of wine with a special siphon, offering us a glass of a 2008-vintage Pinot Noir. The wine is young and robust, the Colorado equivalent of the just-released Beaujolais Nouveau. Our last overnight in the Grand Junction area is at the Castle Creek Bed And Breakfast, where owners Ron and Leeann Umfred ask us what temperature wed like our room to be when we check in. Many bed and breakfasts are in older repurposed buildings, which definitely can lend a charm to the accommodations. But the Umfreds place was designed and built as a B&B, and it shows in the comfort and spaciousness of the room, each with a private entrance. Were a hub for western Colorado, Ron says, explaining how he often helps guests arrange day trips to explore the desert and canyon country around Grand Junction. In the morning, we enjoy one last cup of pumpkin-spice flavored coffee and some of Leeanns home-baked treats before heading into the storm clouds over the Rockies and back to Summit County.
Check out Viccos Charcoburger menu and the schedule for classic cars shows at http://charcoalburger.com/.The Grand Junction Doubletree offers bright and spacious rooms in a great location, not to mention Wolfgang Puck-brand coffee and teas and free high-speed wifi. Check it out at http://tinyurl.com/daq8nd.The schedule and lineup for the Palisade bluegrass and roots music fest is online at http://www.palisademusic.org/.Find Fruita Fat Tire Festival skinny at http://www.fruitamountainbike.com/.The National Park Service has online info for Colorado National Monument at http://www.nps.gov/colm/.Need coffee in Grand Junction? Head for http://www.coloradojavahouse.com/.A Divine Thyme bed & breakfast stands out as one of the coziest inns in the Colorado wine country around Palisade: http://www.adivinethymebandb.com/.Learn more about Bennett Prices award-winning wines at http://www.debequecanyonwinery.com.The friendly owners of the Castle Creek bed & breakfast will share everything they know about Western Colorado when you stay at their restful oasis: http://www.castlecreekbandb.com/ss/live/.