Colorado National Monument turned 100 this year. That is, according the federal government. And while a century accounts for a mere moment compared to the geological eons that chiseled the 20,534 acres of towering red sandstone cathedrals and sheer-walled canyons, 73 years barely registers a nanosecond. But August 18-21 brings the 73rd anniversary of the state’s oldest continuously running open golf championship, the Enstrom’s Rocky Mountain Open, and it will take place, appropriately enough, in the shadow of some of the state’s most ancient rock formations at Tiara Rado Golf Course and Bookcliff Country Club.
The 54-hole event, won last year by former CU standout Ben Portie, is far from the region’s sole attraction. The city sits at the heart of the fertile Grand Valley—Colorado’s version of Napa —where more than a dozen vineyards and orchards nestle amid the red rock and sandstone outcroppings in nearby Palisade.
Framed by the natural wonders of Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa and the Little Book Cliffs, the area is also home to more than 1,000 miles of single-track trails, as well the Kokopelli and Bookcliffs Trails, which feature the best slickrock mountain-biking east of Moab. The Gunnison and Colorado rivers overflow with whitewater thrills, and the restaurant scene in both Grand Junction and Palisade brims with stalwarts and newcomers.
The course that put Grand Junction on the golf map is without question The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa (redlandsgolf.com), the 10-year-old masterpiece Jim Engh seemingly painted onto the rock formations adjacent to Colorado National Monument. Tee boxes perch atop mesas, the fairways jounce and vermiculate between ochre outcroppings, and the heaving greens carpet box canyons, protected by deep, rippling bunkers. Intimidating shot lines, extraordinary carries and vertigo-inducing tee shots conspire to make this one of the most visually stimulating and pulse-racing experiences one can have during 18 holes. The 19th hole, the Red Canyon Grille, serves up fare that’s as distinctive as the surrounding landscape.
While a far less dramatic course, the municipal Tiara Rado (golfgrandjunction.net)—home to two of the three rounds of the Enstrom’s Rocky Mountain Open—also borders Colorado National Monument, away from which putts always break.
Boasting views of the Grand Mesa and the ever changing Bookcliffs, Tiara Rado recently underwent a renovation, courtesy of Rick Phelps, whose father designed the back nine. Better players still consider it a birdiefest. So do ornithologists—the course annually fledges more than 90 avian species.
Phelps also facelifted another area club: the mature, impeccably maintained Bookcliff Country Club (bookcliffcc.com), Grand Junction’s only private enclave, which takes its name from the sand and stone escapments rising north of town. The club will host the second round of the Rocky Mountain Open as well as the September 15 Kickoff to the Colorado Mountain Winefest (a four-person scramble precedes the reception).
Phelps authored Devil’s Thumb Golf Course (devilsthumbgolf.com) 40 miles southeast of Grand Junction. This surreal, must-play course takes its name from the distant butte that appears to flip you off instead of giving the thumb’s up. Devil’s Thumb delights in the diabolical. Holes straddle plateaus, demand carries across ravines and lakes, and play up canyons to split fairways with hidden greens flanked by gnarly bunkers. Tucked away from the main drag in Delta, it’s a little tricky to find, but well worth the effort.
Off the beaten track are two other courses where it’s well worth sliding a peg into the ground. The 27-hole Adobe Creek National Golf Club in Fruita, which features the windy par-37 Mesa nine as well as the scenic Monument nine and the newer Desert nine; and Battlement Mesa Golf Club, a highly underrated Ken Dye-Joe Finger layout in Parachute with holes that carve into mountainsides and straddle the Colorado River.
Although you’re in Colorado’s wine country, the pleasures of golf may trump those of the grape. If so, stay at the Doubletree Grand Junction (doubletree.hilton.com/GrandJunction; 970-241-8888), which has an exclusive arrangement with the private Bookcliff Country Club, as well as sweet stay-and-play deals at Redlands Mesa and other area courses.
The Doubletree’s central location, suite of onsite activities (including basketball, tennis, volleyball and swimming), and restaurant make it a solid choice. Outposts of most of the national lodging chains, as well as the spacious Grand Vista, also have stay-and-play packages. (visitgrandjunction.com).
For a more atmospheric stay-and-play deal, check into Los Altos Bed & Breakfast (losaltosgrandjunction.com), which perches on the highest point in Grand Junction and features a third-floor observatory. Start the day with a choice of multigrain pancakes, date muffins and a ham and portabella casserole.
Also in Grand Junction is the lushly landscaped Castle Creek B&B (castlecreekbandb.com), which boasts distinctive suites, and the Two Rivers Winery and Chateau (tworiverswinery.com), which evokes the ambience of Burgundy. Two Rivers’ six varieties of award-winning wines pair nicely with its discerningly appointed rooms and live jazz among the grapevines.
As most Coloradans know, the majority of the area’s vines and fruit trees grow in Palisade, due east of Grand Junction. The impeccable 80-room Victorian-style Wine Country Inn (coloradowinecountryinn.com) sits idyllically amid the grapes of Grande River Vineyards and St. Kathryn Cellars and within touring distance of the area’s dozen other wineries—all of which offer tastings. There’s a daily wine reception in the lobby, and although the inn’s Tapestry Lounge only has about 10 tables, its inspired tapas and entrees tantalize.
A tour of the wineries is a must, so why not make an event of it? The rollicking Colorado Mountain Winefest (coloradowinefest.com) celebrates its 20th anniversary September 15-18 with a full slate of seminars, tastings, bike tour and a reception and dinner at the Doubletree Hotel with Chef Kevin Kidd and Colorado Wine Guru and Beverage Director Evan Faber from Boulder's celebrated bistro, SALT.
Grand Junction’s better restaurants include the relatively new Hereford & Sushi, which features a large private patio just off the course at Bookcliff Country Club, where you can enjoy sushi, Asian fusion and a choice selection of steaks. More traditional carnivorous fare awaits on Broadway, where Garfield’s (no Website; 970-245-8080), has been dishing up succulent filet, ribeye, lamb, lobster and shrimp for 25 years. Don’t overlook The Winery Restaurant (winery-restaurant.com), a Grand Junction institution tucked into a little breezeway off Main Street that’s known for its awesome salad bar and buttery steaks.
For more Continental fare, head downtown to Il Bistro Italiano (ilbistroitaliano.com) or Le Rouge (lerougepianobar.com).
Follow your Italian or French repast with some ice cream at the original Enstrom’s Toffee Store (enstrom.com), or duck into Bin 707 (bin707.com) in the Alpine Bank Building for a “New Fashioned” or another chef-created Prohibition-era cocktail. If you’re more of a beer drinker, quaff a Big Bear Stout on the back patio at the Rockslide Brew Pub on Main Street (rockslidebrewpub.com) or hoist a pint at Naggy McGee’s Irish Pub (facebook.com/NaggyMcGees).
It’ll take more than a few swings of a golf club to work off that kind of indulgence. Colorado National Monument beckons hardbodies to bike its famous 23-mile Rim Rock Drive, which features 2,300 in elevation gain. Others might prefer hiking the six-mile Monument Canyon Trail, which leads right to the valley floor, or the winding Serpent’s Trail near the monument’s East Entrance. Hike in early morning or late afternoon when it’s cooler and the colors most vividly reveal themselves.
Another geological treasure awaits 30 miles east of Grand Junction on Highway 65 in the form of Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain. More than just a huge, flat rock, Grand Mesa is a forested landscape of pine and aspen, peppered with more than 200 lakes. The eleven-mile, all-dirt Lands End Road acts as an artery into the heart of the mesa, with views on a clear day extending all the way to the San Juan peaks and across a landscape created during the course of more than 200 million years.