It was a winter getaway less than an hour from Grand Junction with the focus on a Christmas tradition.
On Saturday, locals immersed themselves in an onslaught of snow on Grand Mesa just to snag the right Christmas tree.
All you could see were headlights peeking through a downpour of snow and silhouettes on the side of the road as Grand Mesa took on the aesthetic of a John Denver song.
Those figures were disappearing into and appearing out of the woods to cut down their own Christmas tree.
People pay $8 to the U.S. Forest service, receive a permit, tags and the OK to chop down in select areas what is essentially right in their own backyard.
“I’ve done this every year of my life, and I’m the youngest,” said Riley Pope, 16, who was out in shin-deep snow with her parents hunting for a tree. “My family has been doing this for 22 years.”
Trekking through the forest is a holiday tradition for the Pope family and many others.
Riley, her family, and Iris, an 11-month-old black lab puppy, made their way deep into the forest Saturday.
Finding the perfect tree can be tricky, especially during a blizzard. If you find a candidate, you have to shake the snow off to see how many branches there are.
Perfect is subjective, though.
“We usually look for that Charlie Brown-type tree,” Riley said, holding Iris’ leash and being yanked around by the dog. “You want one with enough limbs for ornaments. We find one that we can agree on, cut it down and bring it back.”
This pilgrimage for holiday cheer is one that many in the valley make.
Nancy Bemis, her daughter Katie Landers and granddaughter Emma Landers were snowshoeing off the side of the road looking for their new tree. They found one that was no more than 6 feet tall and hauled it to their truck just in time to avoid the worst of the snow.
“We were hiking for about 30 minutes before we settled on this one,” Bemis said. “Today, we had gone as far as we could in the snowstorm before we settled in time to make it back.”
Katie and Emma recently moved back to Colorado from Alaska after Katie lost her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Katie has fond memories of her and her mom tracking down trees. And she’s happy to be back at it, even if it isn’t under the best of circumstances.
“Grand Junction doesn’t get snow like this. I love trekking through the woods and snow,” she said. “It’s really fun here. It’s like a word search. There are a lot of ugly trees out there, but it makes it all the better when you find one you can envision in your living room.”
Permits are still available for purchase online through recreation.gov. But make sure to bundle up when you go.
“Just make sure everybody brings cold-weather gear,” Bemis said. “Just because it’s nice in Grand Junction doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same up here.”