Living in the “high desert” climate of Western Colorado offers some distinct advantages, and views from one end of the valley to the other is a big one. As my biking buddy, A, and I took a rest break on a trail in Loma, we looked out across the desert to Mt. Garfield. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Wow, Mt. Garfield looks tiny from here.
A: Yeah. Have you hiked it?
Me: Nope. I keep saying I’m going to.
A: We should do it!
So the plan was set and the following weekend I found myself heading down I-70 with A and 2 four-legged friends for an adventure up Mt. Garfield. The hike itself, distance-wise, isn’t far: a mere 2-2.5 miles depending on your route. Getting to the parking area is interesting. It involves taking the main Palisade exit, turning right, making another right onto G 7/10 road and then going under a tunnel to get to the parking lot on the north side of the Interstate. Do not attempt this if the road through the tunnel is filled with water!
This is the steepest trail I have ever hiked (2,000 ft in 2-2.5 miles). Taking the Gearhart Mine trail (just east of the parking lot) will save you a bit of steep climbing on the way up but even this requires either some scrambling or the use of trekking poles. You’ll need your best grippy hiking boots for this one!
At one of many rest stops, the conversation went something like this:
Me: pant pant pant.
A: pant pant pant.
The hike carried us through some unlikely terrain. From the parking area all I could see was dirt and scrub brush. Yet soon enough we were in a high meadow with juniper trees and wild horses. The old mine shaft was there too – a streak of black and rotting wood against the pale bentonite clay of the hillside. Soon we intersected the original Mt. Garfield trail and joined others in clambering over rocks and struggling to catch our breath along the narrow, exposed route. A’s beagle led the way up the last stretch past a false summit that had me threatening to hit A with my trekking pole if we didn’t reach the end soon.
Then there it was. The top. The end. The entire Grand Valley below us stretching to the horizon. Desert hills turned to grape vines and green orchards along the river and then back to dusty hues in the south. We took off our backpacks and sat down for a snack. There was silence for a moment as we took it all in.
Me: Wow, we did it!
A: That was way tougher than I thought it would be.
Me: Glad we brought water and snacks.
It was at that moment that a guy in his 70s walked past us in shorts and a t-shirt with no water, snacks or any sign of slowing down. I felt the cold hard rock beneath me as my mouth fell open in awe.
Gravity was at least on our side on the hike down and I’m happy to say my Vasque Breeze hiking shoes kept me from getting a black-toenail pedicure, but just barely. Still, once reaching the bottom and looking up to see where we’d been, we were proud. We may not have hiked it in record time but we hiked it. One more to cross off the list.