The Grand Mesa is one of the coolest outdoor playgrounds in Colorado. It has stood as one of the most recognizable features on the Western Slope for millions of years, and it is the subject of countless stories and legends.

The Grand Mesa was known to the Ute Indian tribes as 'Thigunawat', which roughly translates to 'home of the departed spirits.' During the winter months, some of these spirit animals are visible if you know where to look and can use just a hint of imagination.

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The Legend of the Thunderbird on Colorado's Grand Mesa

A photo of the Thunderbird on Grand Mesa.
Seth Anderson Youtube

The mark of the Thunderbird on the Grand Mesa can be seen inside the red circle above. This mark is the result of a natural rock outcropping on the side of the mountain. The Utes passed along the legend of the mighty Thunderbirds on the Grand Mesa and their battle with the giant river serpent who lived at the base of the mountain. Learn more about this legend here. If we are going to talk about snow animals on the Mesa, it's best to know the story of the Thunderbirds and move on from there.

How Many Spirit Animals Can Be Seen on the Grand Mesa?

A wide shot of the world's tallest flat top mountain.
A wide shot of the world's tallest flat-top mountain.

If the spirit animals of the Thunderbird and the River Serpent are represented on the Grand Mesa then we know that some of the other animals who have called this mountain home would probably also be represented. The spirit animals that can be seen on the Grand Mesa include the Thunderbird, the River Serpent, the Hawk (some call it a Turkey), the Fish (recognized by some), the Swan, and the Bear.

Start with the Bear and the Swan

Grand Mesa Snow Animals
The Swan and the Bear

As the snow falls during the winter months in Mesa County the shapes of the spirit animals on the Grand Mesa are filled in and become easier to see. Two of the shapes that may be easier to start with are the Swan and the Bear seen in the photo above taken just this past weekend. The snowfield between the Swan and Bear is also marked on some maps as "The Fish". The Hawk or Turkey is located closer to the Thunderbird marking.

The snow animals on the Grand Mesa are visible from observation points along I-70 between Palisade and Grand Junction, and from several other vantage points.

LOOK: 25 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Colorado's Grand Mesa

A trip to the top of the world's largest flat-top mountain is one of the highlights of visiting the western slope. Colorado's Grand Mesa sits at just over 11,000 feet outside of Grand Junction. Scroll through the photos below and find out 25 things you should know about visiting the summit during any season.

MORE: Explore the Grand Mesa's Hidden Overlooks on Colorado's County Line Trail

The hike around the Grand Mesa's County Line Trail features overlooks that are not found on any map. Check out the incredible overlooks waiting to be discovered by hiking back to the rear of the trail and following the old viewpoint markers.

MORE: Tour Colorado's Grand Mesa Visitor's Center

Got question's about Colorado's Grand Mesa? Look no further than the helpful forest service staff waiting inside the Grand Mesa Visitor's Center during the summer months. The rangers can give you advice on areas to visit, provide more info about trails you are interested in, and great places to camp and fish that you may not already know about.

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