Grand Junction

Grand Junction is in the Northwestern part of the Rocky Mountains state of Colorado in the U.S. Graced by red rock mesas, Grand Junction is a vital part of Colorado's Wine Country.

Understand

Grand Junction might aptly be described as a "suburb without a city." This does not mean that the area lacks a vibrant downtown; rather Grand Junction offers the outlet stores and conveniences of a suburb, but without the big city problems of traffic jams, pollution and high crime. Grand Junction is the only major commercial and transportation hub between Denver and Salt Lake City. Yet it derives its name not from the railroads, but from the Colorado River, formerly named the Grand. The city it located at the confluence, or junction, of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers.

Grand Junction is an ideal spot to plan a series of day trips to the surrounding natural beauty of Southwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah. But the city should not be overlooked for its own attractions. There are a variety of things to do in Grand Junction. Dinosaur museums, wine tasting, fine dining, excellent shopping, arts and theater, pedestrian malls and outdoor recreation combine to make this a location worth enjoying.

Surrounded by mesas, the Grand Valley is an area of high desert beauty. To the North are the austere tan bluffs of the Bookcliffs, which culminates in Mount Garfield, an icon of the area. To the east lie the evergreen slopes of the Grand Mesa, largest flattop mountain in the world, and home to many great activities such as skiing, hiking, fishing and horse back riding. (No fall trip to the mesa would be complete without a drive to see the changing aspen leaves). To the South are the red sandstone formations of the Colorado National Monument. You can visit all these mesas, since they are interlaced with a variety of roads, as well as hike-able and bike-able trails.

Because of the area's (usually) mild winters and spectacular scenery, locals joke about "Chief Ouray's Curse," named after the Native American Ute leader who used to live in the region. The curse says that once you've visited the Grand Valley, you're destined to return again and again.

History

Between 250 and 1300 AD, the Fremont people were the area’s first inhabitants. Their culture can still be glimpsed today in the many petroglyphs and pictographs they created on canyon walls. Circa 1500, the Ute nation moved into the Grand Valley.

With the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, the Spanish formed the Viceroyalty of New Spain and claimed a large part of North America for themselves, including the Grand Valley.

As Spanish settlers established colonies along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico during the 1590s, they introduced horses to various Native American nations. It was the Utes' turn in the 1630s. Through both bartering and theft, the Utes acquired their horses from the Spanish. This transformed Ute society as they became skilled horsemen.

The first Europeans arrived in the Grand Valley in 1776, when the Dominguez-Escalante expedition passed through the area. Silvestre Vélez de Escalante was a Franciscan friar who attempted to discover an overland trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Monterey, California. After six grueling months, the expedition was abandoned and Escalante returned to Santa Fe through Arizona.

In 1821, the Viceroyalty of New Spain successfully revolted, splitting with the Spanish crown. The Grand Valley became part of Alta California, a province in the new nation of Mexico.

Hoping to develop the area, Mexican officials opened the land up to mountain men, trappers and traders. Between 1821 and 1840, explorer Antoine Robidoux ventured through the Grand Valley in search of beaver pelts. Robidoux built Fort Umcompahgre (then known as Fort Robidoux) near present-day Delta. With this influx of adventurers and speculators came many of the men who would later lead U.S. Army expeditions and Government Surveying parties through the region: Kit Carson, John Charles Fremont and Captain John Gunnison.

In 1846, the U.S. Army invaded and defeated Mexico in the Mexican-American War. With the Treaty of Guadalupe y Hidalgo, the U.S. gained control of the Grand Valley, as well as California, Nevada, Utah, and portions of Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Friction between the Utes and whites over resources was inevitable. In 1868, the U.S. Government and the Ute Indians signed a treaty that designated the Grand Valley as part of the Ute reservation. But the Grand Valley's rivers offered both a reliable source of water and arable land. This was compounded by the discovery of gold in the San Juan Mountains to the south. These factors proved to be too great for the settlers to resist. Eventually the Utes were pressured to leave the area. After the Utes' forced relocation, settlers poured into the area.

In 1882, the City of Grand Junction was founded. The railroad came to town a few months later. Canals were dug to tap into the Grand and Gunnison Rivers, and Grand Junction built its economy on farming and ranching.

In 1900, dinosaur bones were discovered at Riggs Hill to the west of town by Elmer S. Riggs, Assistant Curator of Paleontology at the Field Museum in Chicago. Huge Jurassic era dinosaurs like bracchiosaurus, apatosaurus, allosaurus, and stegosaurus were pried from the desert soil.

By the mid-20th century, Grand Junction began to ride out a series of boom-and-bust cycles related to mining. In the 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission set up shop in town to buy uranium for making atomic bombs. Over 35 mining companies used Grand Junction as a base to mine the radioactive element found throughout the Colorado Plateau. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, oil shale was discovered on the Roan Plateau east of Grand Junction. This boom came to a crashing halt in 1982, leaving the Grand Valley in a decade long local recession.

In the last 25 years, the Grand Valley was discovered as an optimal place to grow wine grapes. An eclectic mix of aging hippies, hopeless romantics, artists and entrepreneurs flocked to the area. They all shared a common dream of creating a wine culture in Western Colorado. Slowly, with a lot of trial and error, this core group of self-taught winemakers began growing grapes and crafting award winning wines.

Grand Junction now serves as a recreational hub for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. Leisure travelers can hike, camp or enjoy boating and fishing in the surrounding national parks, forests and recreation areas.

When to go

The mild, sunny days of spring and fall are why people move to this mini-sunbelt. Late March is usually when the fruit orchards blossom, with the days averaging about 70°F (21°C) and the nights in about 40°F (4°C). Spring barrel tastings happen at many of the vineyards in April and May, and are accompanied by food and wine pairings. High season occurs during the summer months of June, July and August. Late summer can range around 90 to 100°F (32 to 37°C) in this desert biome, but is well worth the visit because the peaches and other fruit crops fill the fruit stands throughout the region. September is harvest time for the grapes. The third week in September is also the height of the fall color season in Colorado, when the aspen and cottonwood trees change many brilliant colors of yellow, red and orange. October is a shoulder season where the weather is usually decent, but minus the crowds and high hotel prices. November through February are the slow months, when the Grand Valley shuts down for the winter. Bargain hunters can still book hotel rooms at drastically reduced prices, while a majority of the wineries and tasting rooms remain open. Be sure to call ahead, however. Western Colorado is home to an oil shale and natural gas boom, and many hotels are already full of energy workers needed to work the fields.

Get in

Rental car agencies at Walker Field include:

By car

By train

Amtrak California at Grand Junction
See also: Rail travel in the United States

Amtrak serves Grand Junction with the California Zephyr, which runs daily between Emeryville (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and Chicago.   Grand Junction Amtrak is located on 339 S 1st St, a few blocks west from downtown.

By bus

By bike

For extreme mountain bikers, it's possible to follow the Kokopelli Trail from Moab, Utah, then join up with the Colorado River Front Trail system and bicycle all the way to downtown. This is a five or six day, strenuous excursion where you must pack in your own food, shelter and water.

There's another north-south running slick rock trail that fat tire enthusiasts can follow into town:

Get around

The Grand Valley's roads were originally designated by how many miles they were from the Utah border to the West. This "grid" was further defined by a North-South axis of roads demarcated by letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, etc. Unfortunately, the map collided with reality; the roads had to skirt a patchwork of fields and orchards. No one was willing to relinquish valuable arable land for orderly roads. The results are a bewildering amalgam of added fractions and decimals. Travelers may find themselves at F 3/4 Rd or D.50 Rd. The best answer is to grab a free map at one of the local Visitor's Centers or Chambers of Commerce.

Travel by car, bike, or rent a limo or shuttle service.

Public transportation

There is a local bus system called Grand Valley Transit. +1 970 256-RIDE (7433). The downtown transfer station is at 6th St. & South Ave. Fare for one ride is $1.50. An all day pass costs $3. A pass good for 11 rides is $15.

Walk

See

The Cross Orchards Historic Farm, Dinosaur Journey Museum and Museum of the West are all part of the Museum of Western Colorado.

Itineraries

Cherry blossoms and the Bookcliffs

Wine tours

Scenic byways

Do

Fossil digs

Golfing

Spas

There are a handful of day spas outside of the resort towns, offering facials, manicures, pedicures, hot stones, body wraps, massages, aromatherapy and other indulgences.

Hiking

Grand Junction is a great place for the outdoor enthusiast. Activities range from rock climbing and whitewater rafting, to skiing, golf, and horseback riding. The Colorado National Monument is only a 15-minute drive from most of the area hotels. Guided tours are available. While in the monument tourists can enjoy a leisurely stroll down scenic paths or take long hikes (like Monument Canyon Trail).

Horseback riding

Hunting

Mountain biking

Another activity that the Grand Junction area is known for is mountain biking. Some of the most appealing single track is between Grand Junction and Fruita on of I-70. Kokopelli Trail runs the 142 miles from Grand Junction Colorado to Moab, Utah. Depending on your riding ability it can take 5 to 7 days to complete. There are several sections that can be accessed by country road and 4x4 trail. Parts of the trail are only accessible by bike. The trail is pretty well marked at every 1/2 mile or so. To get there you take I-70 to the Loma exit. That's exit 15. Cross over the interstate to the south. At the access road turn right. Just before you get to the weight station you will turn left onto a gravel road. Follow that for about a half mile and you will find the parking lot.

Mountain climbing

The Colorado National Monument is also home to technical climbing. Locals have on several occasions scaled Independence Monument to have a wedding on top. It's quite a climb, about 500 feet. But you don't have to get married to do it. There are several tour guides that can take you in.

River rafting

Whether you're looking for a day trip or a week long expedition, Grand Junction is a decent base for trips down the Colorado, Green, Yampa and Gunnison Rivers.

Rafting Outfitters

Skiing

Grape Stomping at Colorado Mountain Winefest

Wildlife viewing

The Little Bookcliff Wild Horse Area is about 10 miles east of town. That is an area known for its wild mustang herd. People can go by jeep or car. Take I-70 east to the Cameo exit. Go across the Colorado River and stay on the main road. You will pass the power plant. After about a mile and a half you will find the parking lot. Please respect the seasonal closures for nesting and birthing of wildlife.

Festivals & events

Be sure to attend the Colorado Mountain Wine Fest, the official wine festival of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, the state-funded entity that promotes Colorado wine. This increasingly popular four day festival is the Oktoberfest of Colorado's wine industry, so book your rooms early. It is the biggest event of the year in the Grand Valley, and hotel rooms fill quickly. The Wine Fest is accompanied by Tour of the Vineyards, a bike-a-thon and chance to cycle to area wineries and sample the fare.

Buy

Grand Junction has a mall with all of the Big City stores. And of course there are two Wal-Marts. However, if you go down to Main Street, that is the historic shopping park. There are many different shops to choose from. Keep in mind, Main Street is also a step back in time. Everything shuts down about 6PM. Thursday evenings in the summer would be the exception to that rule. That is when they do the farmers market. That is fun for all. It's not just a bunch of vegetable vendors. There are all different kinds of businesses there on Thursdays. And, the stores stay open late. There are even clowns making animals out of balloons for the children.

Eat

If you stick to the hotel/motel row along I-70, or only venture along the I-70 business loop by the Mesa Mall, you will find many fast food and chain restaurants. But food in Grand Junction does not have to be generic Americana. Restaurants in the Grand Valley have matured in the last 30 years. From a handful of mom and pop diners in the 1980s, Grand Junction's dining scene now embraces many great sidewalk cafes, bistros, espresso bars, bakeries and high-end eateries. A small influx of immigrants have also opened up a variety of ethnic restaurants. Choose from sushi to burritos to Pad Thai and Vietnamese egg rolls. Most of the best places to eat are clustered along the Main Street pedestrian mall downtown.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

A Grand Junction Winery with the Colorado National Monument in the Background

Wine tasting in the small farming town of Palisade (10 mi east of Grand Junction). There are over a dozen wineries to visit in the Grand Valley, as well as meaderies, microbreweries and distillers.

Sleep

Grand Junction offers most of the national chains when it comes to hotels. They are mostly clustered along I-70 (Exit 31) on Horizon Drive between Walker Field and 7th Ave. There are additional hotels downtown, as well as in surrounding Fruita, Clifton and Palisade.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Most Starbucks, hotels and coffee shops throughout the region offer wireless Wi-Fi access. But if you don't have a computer, try the public library.

Go next

Neighboring Palisade and Fruita are worth seeing. Grand Junction can also act as the hub for a series of day trips to Telluride, Aspen and Vail, as well as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

Routes through Grand Junction

Salt Lake City Green River  W  E  Glenwood Springs Denver
Cove Fort Fruita  W  E  Clifton Denver
Spanish Fork Fruita  W  E  Clifton Denver
Delta (Utah) Fruita  W  E  Delta (Colorado) Pueblo


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.