GRAND MESA NATIONAL FOREST, Colorado — Patchy graying snow lingered under the evergreens when Tom Yoder drove us to the top. I was glad to make it there.
As a flatlander, the switchbacks of a mountain road, with no guardrails and a broad view of the Plateau Valley thousands of feet below, tested my mettle.
For years, Yoder, a college friend, suggested I visit western Colorado. In late June, I spent six days with him as he led us to fishing, hiking and sightseeing.
Grand Mesa NF was our first, where I acclimated by fishing one of many high-elevation lakes. Those lakes are family-friendly and easily accessible from shore or water. After unloading his Old Town Saranac 146, I found myself catching my breath while he parked. At 10,000 feet, even that effort had me sucking air.
Within a few casts, I put a rainbow trout in the canoe. Yoder is a master with Panther Martin spinners and soon had enough for dinner. Later, I realized that was my first fish caught at 10,000 feet. No luck on spotting a moose, which were reintroduced.
Tom Yoder boated good trout on Island Lake, one of many fishing lakes in the Grand Mesa National Forest in western Colorado.
GUNNISON NF:That night at their camp, I cleaned the trout. Yoder dusted and fried them in butter, plating them with baby Portobello mushrooms and his homegrown, home-canned green beans. We paired it with Malbec.
Yoder told tales of black bears from when they first found the spot. I kept hoping the fish would draw a bear in, but no luck. In the silence of spruces, I picked up calls of a Cordilleran flycatcher and a western tanager, new ones for me. The next morning, we had multiple big-eared mule deer.
A proper plating of wild-caught trout with sauteed baby Portobelloo mushrooms and homegrown, home-canned green beans and pairing with Malbec.
UNCOMPAHGRE NF:We blanked on fish at Silver Jack Reservoir. But while sightseeing afterward en route to Owl Creek Pass, I made Yoder stop by the Cimarron River when the flowing water, the kind I learned on, beckoned. Within minutes, I lost a trout, then caught two small ones, including one I couldn’t identify. The rock formations, such as Chimney Rock, and snow on the San Juan Mountains made the long drive out to Ridgway special. Take the time for those drives.
An angler fishing the Cimarron River in western Colorado.
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK:Standing at the top as thunder rolled added another sense. It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it’s special in its own way. Yoder offered to drive, in the rain, down a miles-long dead-end descent to the Gunnison River. There, I wished I was a real fly-fisherman. Multiple rising trout dimpled the water around us. They had no interest in our spinners, and I had left my fly rod at his house.
A view of the Gunnison River from the top of Black Canyon in western Colorado.
FRYINGPAN RIVER:Living up to its Gold Medal status below the Reudi Reservoir, the ‘‘Pan’’ was beautifully wadeable and stacked with trout. I caught four brown trout with spinning gear as we spot-hopped, but I blanked while fly-fishing. Afterward, we sheltered from rain at Woody Creek Tavern, a hangout of the late Hunter S. Thompson.
Dale Bowman with a brown trout from the Gold Medal section of the Fryingpan River.
GOLD NUGGETS:My first magpie made my day. By trip’s end, their sound grated like a blue jay jawing while I’m on a deer stand. . . . One night, as Yoder grilled, he spotted a Gambel’s quail with its quirky forward crest. I finally saw one two evenings later. . . . I rode Amtrak’s California Zephyr to and from Chicago. I highly recommend the slow, breathtaking ride between Denver and Grand Junction. The ride home was interesting. We reached Union Station 5 1/2 hours late, enough that my wife picked me up. That was good.
It was time.
Rafters, who have a tradition of mooning passing Amtrak trains, on the Colorado River in western Colorado.