Hawkeye’s Grand Mesa fundraising reportOctober 29, 2023
Trekking For Trout on the Grand Mesa of Colorado
By Hawkeye Johnson
The Grand Mesa is the world’s largest flat mountain encompassing over 500 square miles. Towering 6,000 feet over Grand Junction, Colorado at an average elevation of 10,000 feet it contains over 300 lakes and just as many miles of Trails, ATV tracks, and 4×4 roads. The Mesa is part of the 646,555 acre Grand Mesa National Forest and is accessible by paved roads. It contains lodges, cabins, campgrounds and has dispersed camping. In the winter it has miles of cross-country ski trails, snowmobile routes, and on its northern side, the Powderhorn ski resort. The area is not that well known and lightly traveled.
Contrary to its designation as a flat mountain, the Grand Mesa is not flat! The high point is 11,319 feet. The mesa was formed ten million years ago by volcanic activity and erosion from the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. A top layer of basalt rests on a layer of shale and sandstone that has eroded leaving ridges and valleys with lakes, rivers, and streams. After years of trekking and fishing in western Colorado, I had yet to discover and explore this “hidden gem.”
I’ve recently started hiking with a pack raft and this area seemed like a perfect place to put it to use. The Alpacka Caribou weighs five pounds and is designed with lashdowns to carry a load on the front. The four piece paddle weighs two pounds and it all fits nicely into the Six Moon Flex PR backpack. I also carried a four-piece five-weight flyrod, PFD, net, and flies with assorted tackle in a SMD packing pod. Add on camping gear and five days of food until resupply, the backpack far exceeded my expectations.
I began this 12-day adventure July 19 in the Mesa Lakes region on the western side of the Grand Mesa. This is an area of lakes with connecting trails and I’m dropped off at Mesa Lake with its campground, Lodge with cabins and surrounding lakes. This is my first time using this new raft and a perfect time to practice and develop a system for getting in and out of the raft and securing the load. It was time to paddle and fish Mesa Lake on a beautiful day with two bald eagles watching me release two Brook and three Rainbow trout. I packed up and hiked a few miles to South Mesa Lake, found a stealth campsite, and inflated the raft for an evening fish. Two Brook and one Rainbow later the mosquitos were bad and I retreated to my SMD Skyscape Trekker, my favorite one-person two-vestibules, two pound shelter that uses my hiking poles. I left the raft inflated and fished again the next morning then deflated it, rolled it, and packed up hiking on to the next lake or campsite. This was my routine for the next five days.
I fished Sunset, Beaver, and Jumbo lakes over the next days and was hiking the dirt road to Waterdog Lake slightly confused about where I was when a person drove by, turned around, and came back, “Are you Hawkeye?” is always good to hear. It was Teresa, a former Trail Angel from Lake City on the CDT. Small hiking world stuff and she put me on the right road to the lake.
After Waterdog and then Griffith Lake, I picked up Lake of the Woods Trail to the Bull Creek Reservoir area where I camped for two days and fished the nearby lakes. No need to deflate the raft but I have to leave it in the shade or the pressure inside will build too high from the heat of the sun. I can carry it inflated to nearby waters. There were some day hikers and campers in this popular area and several reservoirs to fish in. The fishing was slow, two rainbow trout.
I continued down the Lake of the Woods Trail to reach Cottonwood Lake #1. It’s a big lake and I’m supposed to meet Gohawkeye.org friends and supporters. Years ago I turned my adventures into fundraisers for charity just like this one. I co-founded the 501(c)3 non-profit Gohawkeye to help athletes with disabilities get sports equipment and experiences. Every year we meet up for a “Fish Camp” to hang out for a couple of days, rest,eat, drink and resupply. The trail takes me to the far shore where I switched over to lake travel mode. My inflatable raft comes with a large sil-nylon bag to capture air. Open the bag up to fill it, twist the top closed, and roll the bag down forcing the air into the raft through the valve. It takes nine bags to do the job then you top it off with a couple of breaths and close the valve.
I switched to sandals, and a rig for fishing, loaded the pack, and hit the water. I paddled across and fished on the way while keeping a lookout for our camp on the other side. The fishing was so good it made my travel slow. The crew had a nice campsite in the Cottonwood campground and Fish Camp is ON! After a couple days of rest, merriment and fishing, I part company with the group then paddle and fish back across the lake eventually linking up with the trail I hiked in on.
I hiked the Cottonwood lakes Trail until it met the Crag Crest National Recreation Trail then I headed east for six miles along this “knife edge” ridge. The views are awesome and a chance to see an overview of the surrounding land is a treat. I camped at Butts Lake but no trout in the net. That’s why it’s called fishing not catching. The next morning I head down to Eggleston Lake and the Crag Crest campground where the fishing is especially good on the eastern side of the lake. Down the road is the tiny town of Grand Mesa and several more lakes that are almost connected and easy to portage. During the next couple of days I got picked-up and headed home but I was already planning a return trip to the eastern side of the Grand Mesa to continue trekking for trout.
My annual summer fundraiser is life changing for me and helps raise the money needed for our grant program. These equipment grants and experience grants are important to adaptive athletes and organizations to offer and experience the life changing benefits of adaptive sports. Please make a donation HERE. Any amount helps!