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Western Slope Offers Wealth of Wonders

By Beth Buehler

A 60-PLUS MILE STRETCH along U.S. Route 50 in western Colorado links Montrose to the south, Delta County in the middle and Grand Junction to the north. Two solid regional airports, a host of agricultural-related and outdoor options, spectacular scenery, milder temperatures and a friendly demeanor make this section of the Western Slope a must-consider for groups looking for something different.


With easy access made possible by Montrose Regional Airport and close proximity to the stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Montrose is a growing community suitable for small and medium groups. Two of the best spots for gathering are Montrose Pavilion Event Center and The Bridges Golf & Country Club.

Montrose Pavilion has a state-of-the-art, 602-seat auditorium as well as 7,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space and a large gallery. For those mild Colorado days, an outdoor courtyard seats up to 220 theater-style and is popular for mixers, receptions, breakouts and concerts. A 10,000-square-foot lawn and the adjacent Montrose Botanic Gardens offer fresh-air options, with the gardens providing a perfect setting for breaks or cocktails after a day of meetings.

Western Colorado Hospitality Summit used the entire pavilion to provide Colorado-based service professionals with keynotes, breakout sessions and certification courses. Hosted by the Western Business Alliance (WBA) and Montrose Office of Business and Tourism last October, the inaugural summit attracted 170 attendees and included an opening reception at the Museum of the Mountain West. “The pavilion is such a great venue,” says Sue Hansen, co-director of WBA. “The technical staff is awesome.”

The Bridges Golf & Country Club also has terrific indoor and outdoor options with a veranda and south lawn boasting beautiful views of the 18-hole, Nicklaus designed golf course. The second floor of the clubhouse not only has a large event room that holds up to 140 for banquets and a smaller conference room for up to 20; there are four attractive lodging rooms.

Another unique spot to gather inside or out is Ute Indian Museum, located on a farm that belonged to the famous leader Ouray and his wife, Chipeta. The recently remodeled Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites and Hampton Inn provide the handy combination of lodging with meeting and event space on-site.

Delta County

Delta County is an agricultural oasis wellknown for its 18 wineries and tasting rooms and farm-to-table dinners. The outdoor events are offered May through September by as many as 18 farms and vineyards and can be arranged for groups as large as 80 or 100, says Kelli Hepler, executive director of Delta County Tourism.

Unique hands-on experiences such as cheese- and felt-making classes offered by request at Living Farm Inn and Café and cooking in outdoor ovens workshops at Small Potatoes Farm, both in Paonia, also are available. The café has five guest rooms on the second story, with all guests enjoying a farmfresh, organic breakfast in the morning.

Delta County is best suited to handle smaller groups if the visit includes lodging, but can be a great day trip from Montrose and Grand Junction as well. Lodging includes some incredibly unique and memorable options such as the southwestern adobe-style Leroux Creek Inn with five guest rooms and a 54-acre farm and vineyard in Hotchkiss; Fresh and Wyld with seven guest rooms in Paonia; Gunnison River Farms between Delta and Hotchkiss with six cabins; and the high-end Smith Fork Ranch in Crawford with lodging for groups no larger than 24.

Fresh and Wyld artfully prepares Friday night dinners for up to 40 inside and up to 125 outside and offers private dinners and cooking classes as well. The 1,000-acre Gunnison River Farms can host groups of up to 150 for events and serves produce from its large biodynamic and organic farm and orchard. On-site fishing outfitter Black Canyon Anglers offers prime angling adventures, and whitewater rafting trips that end at Gunnison River Farms also can be arranged. Smith Fork Ranch is known for its gourmet farm-to-table dining and plentiful activities on-site such as a new spa introduced in 2013, fly fishing on 3 miles of private water, horseback riding, mountain biking and skeet shooting.

In Delta, Bill Heddles Recreation Center is an economical option with a large conference room that seats up 140 and a gym and exercise rooms that also can be transformed into gathering spaces while the fort, arbor and patio offer great options outdoors. In Hotchkiss, an out-of-thebox option is the Creamery Arts Center.

Grand Junction

By far the largest community on the Western Slope, Grand Junction can host groups of all sizes and is particularly well-known as Colorado’s wine country and the locale of numerous peach orchards.

The Faithwalkers West conference chose Grand Junction as its destination in 2010, 2011 and 2013, with the city’s central location between Denver and Salt Lake City and the availability of Two Rivers Convention Center downtown and the Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites and SpringHill Suites only steps away as key reasons why. Owned by the same entity, the hotels offer a combined 150 guest rooms and six meeting spaces.

Approximately 650 were in attendance at the most recent Faithwalkers conference in December, filling the nearly 23,000-squarefoot convention center and the hotels’ meeting rooms. In the past, the group has also used Avalon Theatre, which anchors the other end of Main Street downtown and also is managed by the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau. A major renovation for the 976-seat theater is planned and includes adding 200 more seats and a rooftop terrace among a whole host of improvements.

“The conference center at the end of Main Street is very attractive to us, providing a different feel than a conference center hotel at an airport,” says Tim Carr, administrative director of Faithwalkers. Downtown Grand Junction is filled with unique shops, restaurants and a large display of public sculptures, providing a sense of community for attendees.

A local airport and the location of a train station only a block from Two Rivers Convention Center also makes Grand Junction an attractive destination for groups, Carr says, noting that some conference participants arrive on Amtrak. “From Denver to Salt Lake City is a gorgeous train ride,” he notes.

Another good option for larger groups is the recently remodeled DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton, with 273 guest rooms, 12,000 square feet of function space indoors and 1,400 feet outdoors. There are several other hotels throughout town with meeting space that can suit a variety of needs.

With 21 wineries in the valley, a majority located east of Grand Junction, there are barrels full of unique tie-ins from tastings and tours to events at a vineyard. Two Rivers Winery and Chateau is set up to host groups with three meeting rooms and nearly 3,000 square feet of indoor space and an outdoor patio, pavilion and grounds. The chateau also has 10 guest rooms and a tasting room.

In nearby Palisade, Amy’s Courtyard at Maison la Belle Vie winery and vineyard offers a beautiful setting for up to 120 in winter and 180 in summer and fall with the barn, tent and lawn. Located in a large, 100-year-old brick home, Varaison Vineyards and Winery has a tasting room and meeting room indoors, and a pavilion out back holds up to 120 seated. The 80-room Wine Country Inn is surrounded by 21 acres of vines and has a ballroom that seats up to 100, a Vintner’s House with two club rooms and sleeping space, and an outdoor courtyard and pavilion.

Among the other many great options in the Grand Junction area is a picturesque breakfast at Saddlehorn Picnic Area at the Colorado National Monument before starting a day of meetings or fun, possibly at the Golf Club at Redlands Mesa. Not only will the respected course please avid golfers; a boardroom, event space for up to 60 with a connecting patio, and a pool with large deck are also available to groups. Plus, skiing isn’t too far away at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.

Colorado’s Western Slope delivers experiences and venues that stay top-of-mind long after the planes, trains and automobiles whisk attendees home.