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Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction skyline
Grand Junction skyline
Location of the City of Grand Junction in Mesa County, Colorado.
Location of the City of Grand Junction in Mesa County, Colorado.
Grand Junction, Colorado is located in the United States
Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado
Location in the United States
Country  United States
State  Colorado
County Mesa County seat
Incorporated July 22, 1882
Named for Confluence of Grand River and Gunnison River
Government
 • Type Home Rule Municipality
Area
 • Total 40.077 sq mi (103.799 km2)
 • Land 39.634 sq mi (102.652 km2)
 • Water 0.443 sq mi (1.147 km2)
Elevation
4,593 ft (1,397 m)
Population
 (2020)
 • Total 65,560
 • Density 1,654/sq mi (639/km2)
 • Metro
155,703
Time zone UTC−07:00 (MST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−06:00 (MDT)
ZIP Codes
81501–81507
Area code(s) 970
FIPS code 08-31660
GNIS feature ID 0204662
Highways I-70, U.S. Highway 6, U.S. Highway 50, CO SH 340, CO SH 141, CO SH 139

Grand Junction is a home rule municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Mesa County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 65,560 at the 2020 United States Census, making Grand Junction the 17th most populous Colorado municipality and the most populous city in western Colorado. Grand Junction is 247 miles (398 km) west-southwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. The city has a council–manager form of government. It is a major commercial and transportation hub within the large area between the Green River and the Continental Divide, and the largest city in Colorado outside of the Front Range Corridor.

The city is along the Colorado River, at its confluence with the Gunnison River, which comes in from the south. "Grand" refers to the historical Grand River; it was renamed the Upper Colorado River in 1921. "Junction" refers to the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Grand Junction has been nicknamed "River City". It is near the midpoint of a 30-mile (48 km) arcing valley, known as the Grand Valley; since the late 19th century it has been a major fruit-growing region. The valley was long occupied by the Ute people and earlier indigenous cultures. It was not settled by European-American farmers until the 1880s. Since the late 20th century, several wineries have been established in the area.

The Colorado National Monument, a unique series of canyons and mesas, overlooks the city on the west. Most of the area is surrounded by federal public lands managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. Interstate 70 connects the city eastward to Glenwood Springs and Denver and westward to Green River, Utah; Salt Lake City is reached to the west via Interstate 70 and U.S Route 6; and Las Vegas (via Interstate 70 and Interstate 15).

History

To the northeast, the weathered Little Bookcliffs cut across the skyline. To the southeast soars the Grand Mesa, one of the world's largest flat-topped mountains. The photogenic canyons and monoliths of the Colorado National Monument form a western wall. In between the three natural barriers sprawls Western Colorado's Grand Valley. Cut out of the rugged terrain by the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, the valley was one of the last locales in the lower 48 states to be settled by pioneer European Americans.

The region's history stretches much further back in time. A little-known aboriginal culture known in archeological terms as the Fremont first moved into the area about 200 A.D. The people built and lived in pit-houses partially dug into the earth. Their diets included insects, small animals and the limited produce grown in tiny gardens. The mysterious Fremont left Western Colorado about 1300 A.D. Roughly 100 years later, the first bands of nomadic Ute people moved into the region. The various Ute tribes eventually occupied much of present-day Colorado and Utah, adapting to the terrain and environment by being game hunters and migrating seasonally with the herds. The United States forced them onto Indian reservations in 1881. Both the Fremont and Ute peoples created numerous examples of colorful rock paintings and canyon carvings, which are still visible in the 21st century. Some of the rock art can still be spotted today.

Until 1821, the Grand Valley was part of the colonial empire of Spain. Mexico achieved its independence from Spain that year, and nominally ruled the area until its defeat in the Mexican-American War ending in 1848. During the early and mid 1700s of the early colonial era, Spanish and mestizo soldiers, Spanish explorers and priests made their way through the region. Some were looking for gold, others seeking new trails to Spanish California. Most were not too successful.

In the 19th century, trail-blazing mountain men from the United States were not very successful either. Spanish officials worked to keep a monopoly on the fur trade with the Ute, and prevented most Americans from entering the territory. But, when Western Colorado became part of Mexico in 1821, the new nation allowed trappers and traders into the mountain areas.

A few of the same mountain men to first see Colorado's Western Slope later helped guide U.S. Army expeditions and government surveying parties through the region. Some of the Old West's best known explorers - Kit Carson, John Charles Fremont, and Capt. John Williams Gunnison - all passed through the Grand Valley in the 1840s and 1850s.

In spite of anti-Indian politicians, a large part of Western Colorado remained Ute Indian Territory until September 1881. The United States government required their removal to a reservation and the region was opened to homesteaders, ranchers and town builders the very day the Ute were being forced out by Army troopers. By the time George Crawford, a Kansas politician and real estate developer, decided the unclaimed Grand Valley would make a good town site, Denver, Colorado already had a population of 50,000. Crawford and other European Americans considered Grand Junction to be newly founded by them, ignoring the thousands of years of occupation by other peoples.

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 38.6 square miles (100.0 km2), with 38.2 square miles (99.0 km2) of it land, and 0.39 square miles (1.0 km2), or 0.87% of it water.

Climate

Grand Junction Winter
Grand Junction looking north, Winter January 2011

The downtown area displays a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), almost grading into an arid type. Grand Junction sits in a large area of high desert lands in Western Colorado. Winters are cold and dry, with a January mean temperature of 27.4 °F (−2.6 °C). Due to its location west of the Rockies, Grand Junction does not receive as much influence from the Chinook winds as locations in Colorado east of the Front Range, yet it does receive protection from the Arctic masses that can settle to the east of the Rockies. This is illustrated by the fact that from December to February, highs reach 50 °F (10 °C) only 18 days. Lows drop to 0 °F (−17.8 °C) or below on 2.9 nights per year. Snowfall is low compared to much of the rest of the state, averaging 19.1 inches (49 cm) per season; only once in the entire period of record dating to 1893, has observed 10 inches (25 cm) in a calendar day, though the median is 6.3 inches (16.0 cm), and moreover, snow cover is intermittent. Snow is greatest in December and January. Spring warming is gradual but quickens when nearing June; the average last freeze date is April 24. Summer is hot but dry, with a July mean temperature of 78.2 °F (25.7 °C). Grand Junction averages 64.5 days a year with temperatures at 90 °F (32 °C) or above, and an average 6.5 days attaining 100 °F (38 °C) or more. Autumn cooling is rapid, with the average first freeze date being October 15. The area receives little precipitation year-round, averaging 9.42 inches (239.3 mm), with no real seasonal spike. Sunshine hours are abundant, even in winter, and total just over 3200 hours per year, or 73% of the possible total.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 2,030
1900 3,503 72.6%
1910 7,754 121.4%
1920 8,665 11.7%
1930 10,247 18.3%
1940 12,479 21.8%
1950 14,504 16.2%
1960 18,694 28.9%
1970 20,170 7.9%
1980 27,956 38.6%
1990 29,034 3.9%
2000 41,986 44.6%
2010 58,566 39.5%
2020 65,560 11.9%
U.S. Decennial Census

Grand Junction is the principal city of the Grand Junction, CO Metropolitan Statistical Area.

As of the census of 2000, there were 41,986 people, 17,865 households, and 10,540 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,362.6 people per square mile (526.2/km2). There were 18,784 housing units at an average density of 609.6 per square mile (235.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 91.78% White, 0.60% African American, 0.94% Native American, 0.76% Asian, 0.12% Pacific Islander, 3.81% from other races, and 1.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.86% of the population.

There were 17,865 households, out of which 25.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.1% were married couples living together, 9.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.0% were non-families. Of all households 33.2% were made up of individuals, and 13.8% had one living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.84.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.2% under the age of 18, 11.9% from 18 to 24, 26.3% from 25 to 44, 22.8% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males.

The population figures are for Grand Junction only; the city abuts smaller towns and unincorporated county areas which contribute to area commerce.

The median income for a household in the city was $33,152, and the median income for a family was $43,851. Males had a median income of $31,685 versus $22,804 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,692. About 7.5% of families and 11.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.8% of those under age 18 and 9.0% of those age 65 or over.

Infrastructure

Transportation

Grand Junction Regional Airport (formerly Walker Field Airport) serves as the major airport in the area. The airport is located in north Grand Junction on Horizon Drive. As of 2011, two-way flights to Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Houston were available.

Amtrak station in Grand Junction, CO
Amtrak station

Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Grand Junction Station, operating its California Zephyr daily in both directions between Chicago and Emeryville, California, across the bay from San Francisco.

Bustang, Colorado's state-run bus system, provides intercity bus service to the city. There are two bus lines that include Grand Junction. The West line connects to Denver, while the Outrider line connects to Durango. Both of these have multiple stops in between the final destinations, and the West line has options to transfer to alternative lines.

Grand Valley Transit (GVT) is a regional transit system serving the Grand Valley. It operates 11 bus routes in the area as well as a "dial-a-ride" service.

Major highways

Rankings

Grand Junction, Colorado has placed number six in Outdoor Life's 2012 list of The 35 Best Hunting and Fishing Towns in the US, number twelve in Forbes 2012 list of The Best Small Places For Business and Careers, number five in The New York Times 2011 list of Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster, and number seven in Tourism-Review.com's 2009 list of the 8 Sunniest Cities in the USA.

In popular culture

  • In the 2010 short story Vilcabamba, Grand Junction becomes the capital of the United States after an alien invasion.

Economy

Economic history

From the time settlers arrived in the 1880s until the 1960s, three of the main economic activities in the region were farming, fruit growing, and cattle raising. Fruit orchards, particularly between Grand Junction and Palisade to the east, remain important to the region's reputation and economy to the present day. Fruits most often grown are peaches, pears, apricots, plums, cherries, and, particularly since the 1980s, grapes for wine. In this semi-arid environment, these orchards thrive from a combination of abundant sunshine and irrigation from a system of canals that divert water from the Colorado River.

Attempts were made to establish sugar beet farming and beet sugar production. The Grand Valley Sugar Company established a campaign in 1893, sending three train carloads to the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. Several tariffs and subsidies to domestic sugar were established in the 1890s, which led to uncertainty in the market. After the 1897 Dingley Act, the company was revived in 1898 and rallied to build a sugar factory. They failed to fundraise to build the plant. At the same time, Charles N. Cox was able to organize an effort to establish a factory in 1898 as well. John F. Campion and others (James Joseph Brown, Eben Smith, Charles E. Mitchell, George Trimble, James R. McKinnie, Charles Boettcher) invested, creating the Colorado Sugar Manufacturing Company in 1899 and contracting E. H. Dyer to build a factory. The failed to succeed, so they sold the plant to local investors, who were able to make it a success. The Campion-Boettcher group then created the Great Western Sugar Company.

Retail sales have been important to the economy for decades (e.g., gasoline, and hunting and fishing related sales), and uranium mining-related activities have also been significant. Grand Junction was home to the Climax Uranium Mill, a now decommissioned mill that provided uranium ore to the US Atomic Energy Commission.

Education and healthcare have been important to the economy of the area, especially since the 1950s, with the rise of Colorado Mesa University and St. Mary's Hospital as leading employers in these fields.

Vast oil shale reserves were known to exist near Parachute, Colorado in the Piceance Basin. The oil embargoes of the 1970s and high gas prices resulted in major financial interest in the region. Exxon purchased rights and used Grand Junction as its seat of operations. The city and the surrounding Grand Valley became prosperous in the 1970s and early 1980s largely because of the effects of oil shale development. The United States, western Colorado in particular, has the largest-known concentration of oil shale in the world (according to the Bureau of Land Management) and holds an estimated 800 gigabarrels of recoverable oil, enough to meet U.S. demand for oil at current levels for 110 years. Known as the "Rock That Burns", the shale can be mined and processed to produce oil. In the past it was significantly more expensive than conventional oil. Sustained prices above $95 per barrel, however, may make extraction economically attractive in the coming years (see Oil shale economics). ExxonMobil pulled out of the region because of lower oil prices, which led to economic hardship in the region.

The economic bust, known as "Black Sunday" (May 2, 1982) to the locals, started with a phone call from the president of Exxon to Governor Richard Douglas Lamm, stating that Exxon would cut its losses while retaining mining rights to the (then and currently) uneconomic oil. The economic bust was felt statewide, as Exxon had invested more than US$5 billion in the state. Colorado historian Tom Noel observed, "I think that was a definite turning point, and it was a reminder that we were a boom-and-bust state...There were parallels to the silver crash of 1893."

By 2008, the economy of Grand Junction appeared to be more diverse and stable than it had been in previous decades. Major contributors to the economy were health care, tourism, agriculture, livestock, and energy mining (gas and oil). Major energy companies had once again invested large amounts of money due to increases in oil and natural gas prices (such as in the years 2005–2008). However, a major drop (in the summer of 2008) of market natural gas prices led to reduced gas well drilling and related capital expenditures in the area, significantly slowing the Grand Junction economy in 2009. Reports given in 2009 suggested that Grand Junction had once again been hard-hit economically, with one report by April 2010 listing the area as having had the largest percentage drop in employment of any "small city" in the entire United States.

By 2008, Grand Junction was being discovered by the "nation's elite business and leisure travelers" as a destination for private jet travel, with nearby Powderhorn Resort and other ski resorts a major attraction.

Top employers

According to the city's 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers are:

# Employer Percentage of Total Employees Number of Employees
1 Mesa County Valley School District 51 3.83% 2,715
2 St. Mary's Hospital 3.24% 2,300
3 Mesa County 1.44% 1,025
4 State of Colorado 1.43% 1,012
5 Colorado Mesa University 1.42% 1,006
6 City Markets, Inc. 1.13% 800
7 Community Hospital 1.13% 800
8 Grand Junction VA Medical Center 1.01% 720
9 Star Tek USA 0.99% 700
10 City of Grand Junction 0.89% 629

Sports

Grand Junction's Colorado National Monument was home to a stage in the Coors Classic bicycle race known as "The Tour of the Moon" due to the Monument's unique landscape.

Since 1958, the JUCO World Series has been playing at Suplizio Field. Most recently at Suplizio Field, a new professional Minor League Baseball team affiliate of the Colorado Rockies in the Pioneer Baseball League came from Casper and are known as the Grand Junction Rockies.

Adjacent to Suplizio Field, Stocker Stadium is home to the semi-professional Grand Junction Gladiators football team.

Both Suplizio Field and Stocker Stadium also host Colorado Mesa University as well as School District 51 sporting events.

Education

ST Smith Educational Tower
Museum of Western Colorado Sterling T. Smith Educational Tower

K–12

The Mesa Valley School District No. 51 (website) provides comprehensive K–12 public education to the Grand Junction area. School District 51 operates five high schools:

  • Fruita Monument High School
  • Grand Junction High School
  • Central High School
  • Palisade High School
  • R-5 High School

In addition, the district operates numerous middle, elementary, and other types of schools, including East Middle School, Redlands Middle School, and West Middle School. District 51 partners with Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) to operate a vocational school, owned and operated by Colorado Mesa University. WCCC was formerly named UTEC.

Colleges and universities

Colorado Mesa University, a public, four-year, liberal arts college, serves as the primary provider of higher education on the Western Slope from its campus in central Grand Junction. This campus has an average enrollment of just under 10,000 students and offers a variety of degrees, including a Masters in Business Administration, Educational Leadership, and ESOL.

Notable people

  • Owen Aspinall, former governor of American Samoa
  • Charles L. Fletcher, architect and interior designer
  • Ben Garland, NFL player
  • Chuck Hull, inventor
  • Vance Johnson, former NFL wide receiver
  • Aryn Kyle, author
  • Kathryn Mientka, pianist, director of the Western Slope Chamber Music Series
  • Tyme Mientka, cellist, director of the Western Slope Chamber Music Series
  • Annabelle Craft Moss, aviator who received Congressional Gold Medal; served in World War II with Women Airforce Service Pilots
  • Bill Musgrave, former NFL player and coach
  • Rick Schroder, actor and film director
  • Michael Strobl, U.S. Marine, subject of a 2009 film, Taking Chance
  • Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter
  • Walter Walker, political leader and published

See also

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