One of the best trips of my life, PART THREE: Cycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction

Part three of this epic vacation begins on the drive from Ouray to Grand Junction.

Part One

Part Two

I was so sad to see my glamping site getting further and further away in my rearview mirror, but I knew I’d be back again soon and I was excited to head to yet another new-to-me city: Grand Junction! My old boss at Rapha now lives there with his wife and I’ve missed them so much since they left Boulder last year. I only planned to stay in Grand Junction one night, so I made sure to make plans with them while I was in town: dinner together on Friday night and bikes on Saturday. I couldn’t wait!

The drive from Ouray to GJ is only about an hour and a half, but one interesting thing I noticed during the short drive north was how dramatically the landscape changed. Ouray and the San Juan mountains were so green and lush, but mile after mile, the mountains disappeared, green fields turned into brown dirt and sand, and suddenly I was in the desert. I just don’t equate Colorado to desert, so as I passed giant flat-topped sandstone rock formations, I felt like I was in another world. I looked at a map later and realized Grand Junction was only 40-ish miles from the Utah border, which started to make the desert thing make sense.

I made it to GJ around 1 p.m. and had time to kill before I was supposed to check into my hotel and then see my friends later in the evening, so I headed to downtown GJ to stroll the main street. My first impression was that GJ is very similar to Santa Fe in its architecture and culture. I visited last year over Memorial Day weekend just for fun and to escape the cold weather, and I got a lot of similar vibes. I should also note that I did not enjoy my trip to Santa Fe; something about that city just wasn’t for me (you can read about it here!), but I took in the town and tried to imagine what life was like there throughout the year. I popped into a couple shops and then ended up getting my nails done before heading to my hotel to get ready.

Around 6 p.m., I drove to my friends’ house in Palisade, which was about 10 miles east of GJ. Almost immediately, I fell in love with the little town, and it reminded me A LOT of Louisville, where I live now outside of Boulder. It’s less crowded, has a quaint downtown, the streets are wider, there are coffee shops and newer restaurants, and they’re at the foot of some insane mountain biking trails. Palisade is also where everyone gets their famous Palisade Peaches! For some reason, I didn’t even connect those dots until I saw all the stands on the sides of the roads. We had them as a treat after dinner, which was just delightful. I left my phone in my car for dinner, so no photos from that. But it was nice to see old friends and laugh and catch up over burgers and drinks.

The next morning, I met my friend at a trailhead nearby to ride the Colorado National Monument. It sounds like a statue if you’ve never heard of or seen it, but it’s actually “one of the grand landscapes of the American West. Towering monoliths exist within a vast plateau and canyon panorama.” –From the NPS website.

I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but I imagine it looks very similar. Rim Rock Drive took us up into the monument and then around the top which offered amazing views of the surrounding cities and mountains in the distance. It was really something to see in person.

One of the best parts was just catching up with my buddy! He was one of my first friends I made in Colorado, he taught me so much about bikes and coffee (I was a barista), helped me whenever I had questions, drove me to cyclocross races, and more. We took a detour on the ride and went to Bestslope Coffee Company in Fruita just down the road.

I definitely needed that boost of caffeine to make it back to the car. I think we ended up with just over 40 miles and 3,100 feet of climbing. A great day!

I got cleaned up at their house and got on the road around 1 p.m. My trip had ended and I was sad, but the whole way home—all five hours—I thought about everything I had experienced and saw and ate over the previous four days and I was so thankful I did it all. The week before I left, I thought about just staying home, but my god I’m so happy I didn’t. There are so many unbelievable places to see in this world, and I want to see as many of them as I can!

If you followed along, I hope you enjoyed reliving this journey as much as I did.

New weekend trail running recap coming soon. Spoiler: I have mega bruises…

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