GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — The guttural roar of the General Motors, 420-horsepower truck engine cascaded across the Colorado River canyon near De Beque, Colo.
A lime-green, 20-foot, water-jet powered speedboat, known as Wild Mustang, spun through a quick, tight turn, drenching the occupants as their screams competed with the engine.
Capable of up to 50 mph, but typically operating about 30-35 mph, Jet Boat Colorado (jetboatcolorado.com) operates both as a thrill ride and a sight-seeing excursion along the river, said owner Joe Keys, who opened the tour operation last summer.
It operates along a 40-mile stretch of the river east of Grand Junction.
“It’s not being used by a lot of other people, and there’s a lot of wildlife in here,” Keys said. “And it’s really good jet boat water. Plenty of shallows and braids, which is just where these boats really perform best.”
Bald eagles nest in the cottonwood trees lining the river, ducks and ducklings paddle in the shallows and sandhill cranes stalk for fish.
“It was exciting,” said Julie White, a passenger from Grand Junction. “I thought it was a lot of fun. Fast. I love the spins. The guide was knowledgeable about the area and pointed out wildlife and different stuff about the mountains. And I loved the bald eagles.”
The Colorado River swallows up the Gunnison at Grand Junction, and it is a true breadbasket of the Western Slope. Yet it is ringed by the towering Book Cliffs to the east, the lake-laden Grand Mesa that tops 12,000 feet to the south and to the north and west, the sandstone cliffs of Colorado National Monument (nps.gov/colm/index.htm).
The monument is a 32-square-mile park encompassing the winding canyons and towering formations, with Rim Rock Road winding along the top of the cliffs.
‘Somebody driving along has the opportunity to see these beautiful vistas right from their car,” said Arlene Jackson, monument chief of interpretation. “Or they can stop at some of the overlooks, get out and take a look. Some of them have short, quarter-mile trails with views so they can go even a little bit farther. There’s a wide diversity of things you can do right from the road.”
A number of backcountry trails meander through the canyons, as well, she said, one of the most popular heading to the base of Independence Monument.
“This is one of the largest monoliths in the park,” she said.
The park’s first supervisor, John Otto, “was very patriotic, and on the Fourth of July in 1911, he climbed Independence Monument for the first time, without any of the rock climbing gear, so it was a very hazardous ascent, and posted an American flag on top of the monument,” she said
That tradition has continued every year since, Jackson said, usually with the local search and rescue organization making the flag-bearing climb.
After so much adventure, visitors can replenish their energy by sampling some of the local cuisine. Several go-to eateries beckon with local products.
Bin 707 Foodbar (bin707.com) has become not only a local institution, but a regular on the state’s lists of top restaurants by featuring fare culled from the best local produce, beef and game.
Executive chef and owner Josh Niernberg, a former professional snowboarder who maintained his lifestyle on the slopes by working in restaurants, opened the restaurant eight years ago,”and it has changed the entire course of this valley,” said Robin Brown of Brownhouse Public Relations and Events.
“I do not say that lightly,” she added. “When Bin opened, the farm-to-table movement, which was happening all over the rest of the country, was not happening here. It was not in our lexicon. We have tons and tons of farms producing amazing produce that was all being wholesaled to the Front Range.”
Niernberg visited the various farmers asking them to think beyond the local staples of corn and peaches, telling them if they widened their crop circles, he would use it at the restaurant.
The ever-changing menu includes such items as Colorado elk with smoked beet tartare and Blaine’s heirloom tomatoes with cucumbers, peaches, eggplant miso puree, soy caramel and kimchi furikake.
The Café Sol (cafesol.com), is another downtown bistro that has bought into the farm-fresh concept, specializing in breakfast and lunch paninis.
Finally, for a bit of culture, the Museum of the West (museumofwesterncolorado), also downtown, owns a collection of Mimbres and Anasazi pottery, as well as a range of other interesting items explaining local history. Among the exhibits is the handgun of every local sheriff, a study of the uranium boom and examples of Native American rock art.