I have often found it amazing that no matter where I go – from all over North & Central America to Europe – I have always found people who know of Grand Junction, Colorado. Either they have visited, want to visit, or have family or friends who have lived here. It has shown up in a variety of books and TV shows as well. For being a small town in Western Colorado, it is very well known! Below, you will find just a few of the reasons that Grand Junction is known around the world, from world-class outdoor sports, to food & drink that originates here, and so much more.
Grand Junction History
The city of Grand Junction, Colorado is located approximately 25 miles from the Colorado-Utah border. It is the county seat for Mesa County, is the most populous city on the Western Slope, and the 15th most populous city in the state of Colorado.
Grand Junction is situated along the Colorado River, in the 30-mile long Grand Valley. Prior to 1921, the upper Colorado River above the confluence with the Green River in Utah had assumed various names. Fathers Dominguez and Escalante named it Rio San Rafael in 1776. Through the mid-1800s, the river between Green River and the Gunnison River was most commonly known as the Grand River. The river above the junction with the Gunnison River, however, was known variously as the Bunkara River, the North Fork of the Grand River, the Blue River, and the Grand River. The latter name did not become consistently applied until the 1870s.[
From the 1870s through 1921, the river was known locally as the Grand River, hence naming the city of Grand Junction for the junction of the Grand & Gunnison Rivers.
Grand Junction, CO
The city of Grand Junction lies in the center of the Grand Valley. Main Street is a lovely, shady downtown area you can stroll with a plethora of shops, fantastic dining, and nightlife. Downtown also has a rotating outdoor sculpture exhibit called Art on the Corner. Some are temporary installations, while others are part of a permanent collection. There is a farmers market that runs on Thursday evenings through the Summer, and many festivals are held downtown throughout the year.
Grand Junction is also home to Colorado Mesa University, a fast-growing university that started out it’s life here as Mesa Junior College back in 1925 with 39 students. Today, CMU has over 10,000 students, a variety of undergraduate & graduate degree programs, and is growing year by year. Grand Junction also has it’s own community college – Western Colorado Community College is a branch of CMU that offers Associates degrees and customized industry training to it’s students.
Speaking of Junior Colleges, the Junior College (JUCO) Baseball World Series – known locally as JUCO – is held in Grand Junction every May. This fun family event takes place at Suplizio Field, home of the Grand Junction Rockies, our local minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
Surrounded as Grand Junction is by a vast array of outdoor activities and with it’s boasted 360 days of sunshine per year, it should come as no surprise that many outdoor manufacturing companies are based here. Loki Outerwear has their flagship store downtown, Vintage Overland designs & builds vintage inspired teardrop campers. Leitner Poma builds cable transport systems, and Wiggy’s manufactures the “world’s best sleeping bags”. Ground has recently been broken for an Outdoor Recreation Business Park currently being built along the Colorado River. It will be anchored by Bonsai Design, a firm that offers turn-key adventure business solutions from the ground-up. These examples merely scratch the surface of the outdoor businesses that call Grand Junction home.
The Surrounding Areas – Colorado National Monument
The Grand Valley is surrounded by mountains on four sides. The Colorado National Monument runs along the southern edge of the valley. The Monument offers visitors access to a variety of hiking & biking trails, and is located along the northernmost edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Access to the Monument and the Uncompahgre Plateau is made available via Rimrock Drive, which offers visitors breathtaking vistas of the entire valley.
Rimrock Drive is also the route to get to Glade Park, a small community on top of the Monument that has a post office & the Glade Park Store, but not much else besides several ranches and a variety of outdoor recreation activities. But don’t think I’ve forgotten the beautiful vistas, friendly people, and Friday Night Movies Under the Stars in the Summer months.
Bookcliff Mountain Range
To the north, you will find the Bookcliff Mountain Range, (yes, Bookcliffs is actually one word – don’t believe your spell checker when it separates it into two) which begin where the DeBeque Canyon opens up into the Grand Valley and stretch for approx. 200 miles into central Utah. They offer many hiking, biking & dirt bike trails, as well as the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range, a unique area set aside to protect herds of wild horses. The major feature of the Bookcliffs is Mt. Garfield, a prominent rounded cliff towards the eastern end of the valley.
The Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, runs along the eastern edge of the valley, just beyond Palisade. There are hundreds of lakes on the top, and is a favored location for outdoor activities year-round. There is hiking & fishing in the Summer, and Powderhorn Ski Resort, ice fishing, and snowmobiling in the Winter, just to name a few. The drive over the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway is a favorite – especially when the trees turn gold!
Palisade is the eastern-most town in the Grand Valley. It is known world-wide as Colorado’s Wine Country, offering visitors a plethora of orchards, vineyards, wineries, and fruit stands to visit. Palisade also boasts a quaint downtown area with cafe’s, shops and art galleries. The Palisade Farmers Market runs through the Summer on Sundays. Many visitors & locals alike love to ride or drive the Fruit & Wine Byway through the orchards & vineyards year round.
The Riverfront Trail starts here & heads west for 30 or so miles out past Fruita. Local residents are finishing up the planning stages for the Palisade Plunge Trail, a 34-mile single track bike trail that will drop 6,000 feet from the top of the Grand Mesa down into downtown Palisade. There aren’t many trails like this one in the world, and they hope to begin building it Summer of 2018.
Towards the west end of the valley is another historic fruit growing region, that of Fruita, Colorado. The town became famous when palentologist Elmer Riggs and his crew found nearly two-thirds of an Apatosaurus excelsus skeleton (commonly known as a Brontosaurus) on the northeast side of Dinosaur Hill. It was also the home of Miracle Mike – a chicken that survived for 18 months without a head!
These days, Fruita is best known for it’s easy access to outdoor sports such as hiking,
rafting, and mountain biking on the Tabeguache and Kokopelli loops. You can see a map of the loops, courtesy of COPMOBA here. The Kokopelli loops connect Loma, CO to Moab, UT! The latest addition to Fruita’s outdoor offerings is Imondi Wake Zone – a brand new cable park just west of downtown Fruita.
Downtown Fruita is filled with shops, cafe’s, and a fantastic display of artwork. With the number of tourists that come for outdoor sports, festivals, the Saturday Farmers Market, and just to visit, it can get a little busy during the Summer months!
Points West of Grand Junction
When you look west from the Grand Valley, you will see various mountain ranges in the
distance. These are mostly comprised of the Utah Bookcliffs, the La Sal mountains, and the foothills of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
Loma, Mack, & Westwater are all located west of Fruita, and offer many more outdoor activities. Take the Loma exit from I-70 to head out to Highline Lake State Park, or you can continue on over Douglas Pass to Rangely, CO. Mack is best known for Country Jam – a 4-day country music festival that began in 1992. Westwater Canyon runs across the Colorado/Utah border, and has become one of the most popular whitewater destinations in the American West.
If you head south before heading west, you can turn at Whitewater onto highway 141, and head out to Gateway, CO. The drive itself is gorgeous, whether you stop in the little town of Gateway continue into the La Sal Mountains & Uncompahgre National Forest. If you do stop, there isn’t much in the tiny town itself. The biggest draw these days is Gateway Canyons Resort, which has food, lodging, a ranch, access to outdoor activities, and a world famous private car collection.
Grand Junction remains the largest city between Denver & Salt Lake City, and a great place to use as your base camp for adventures throughout both Colorado & Utah.
Article © Jennifer Hudson 2015-2018 – used with permission