Grand Junction, Colorado : A bonanza of canyons, arches and cliffs, without the hordes of tourists.

On Colorado's Western Slope, and Grand Junction offers attractions similar to those of Moab, Utah; the gateway to Arches National Park, without the thongs.

The area around the Colorado alternative has the second-largest concentration of natural arches in America in Rattlesnake Canyon, where some 35 sandstone spans are part of the roughly 123,700-acre [50,000 hectare] McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, reachable via off-road vehicle or a strenuous 14-mile [22.5-kilometer] round trip trek.

More convenient hiking trails in the Colorado National Monument - where geologic uplift and erosion formed monoliths of the same Estrada sandstone found at Arches - lie within about 10 minutes of town.

The 2021 opening of the Palisade Plunge adds a 32-mile descent [ 52 kilometers ] - from the world's largest flat-topped mountain, 10,000-foot [ 3,000-meter ] Grand Mesa, down to the Colorado River - to the area's biking challenges.

All trails lead back to downtown Grand Junction, filled with shops, craft breweries, locavore restaurants and wine-tasting rooms from area vineyards. [Elaine Glusac]


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