Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grand Junction, CO: Colorado Wine Country and a Top 100 Cool US City

Mt Garfield near Grand Junction, Colorado

The City of Grand Junction is the largest city in western Colorado. It is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous town or city of Mesa County, Colorado, United States. Grand Junction is situated 247 miles (398 km) west-southwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 45,299. Grand Junction is the 15th most populous city in the State of Colorado and the most populous city on the Colorado Western Slope. Grand Junction serves as a major commercial and transportation hub within the large area between the Green River and the Continental Divide. It is the principal city of the Grand Junction Metropolitan Statistical Area which had a population of 139,137 in 2007.

The city is located along the north side of the Colorado River, where it receives the Gunnison River from south. The name "Grand" refers to the historical name of the upper Colorado River until renamed in 1921, and the word 'junction' is from the joining of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. The city sits near the mid-point of a 30-mile (48 km) arcing valley, known as the Grand Valley, a major fruit-growing region, historically home to the Ute people and settled by white farmers in the 1880s. In recent years, several wineries have been established in the area as well. The Colorado National Monument, a series of canyons and mesas similar to the Grand Canyon overlook the city, while most of the area is surrounded by public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Interstate 70 connects the city eastward to Glenwood SpringsInterstate 15. and Denver and westward to Green River, UT and

Since settlers arrived in the 1880s until the 1960s, the main economic activity in the region was farming and cattle. 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.

Grand Junction and the surrounding Grand Valley were prosperous in the 1970s and early 1980s largely because of oil shale. 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, although 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. ExxonMobil was forced to pull 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 the then Governor of Colorado, 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 state wide, as Exxon had invested more than 5 billion USD 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."

Today the economy of Grand Junction is more diverse and stable than it has been in the last 40 years. Currently, major contributors are health care, tourism, agriculture, livestock, and energy mining (gas and oil). Major oil companies have once again invested large amounts of money recently (within the last two years), due to recent increases in oil and natural gas prices.

Grand Junction is being discovered by the "nation's elite business and leisure travelers," according to Cleveland-based Flight Options, a private jet service that named Grand Junction as one of its clients' top ten destinations during December 2007, citing nearby Powderhorn Resort as an attraction.

To the northeast, the weathered Little Bookcliffs cut across the skyline. Southeast soars the Grand Mesa, the world's largest flat-topped mountain. 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 also one of the last locales in the lower 48 states to be settled by pioneer Americans.

The region's colorful history stretches much further back in time. A little-known aboriginal civilization known as the Fremont first moved into the area about 200 A.D. Living in pit-houses, eating insects, small animals and sparse produce from tiny gardens, the mysterious Fremont left Western Colorado about 1300 A.D. Roughly 100 years later, the first bands of wandering Utes moved into the region. The various Ute tribes eventually called much of Colorado and Utah home until forced onto reservations in 1881. Both Indian groups left behind numerous examples of colorful rock paintings and canyon carvings. Some of the unexplained rock art can still be spotted today.

Until 1821, the Grand Valley was part of the kingdom of Spain. And during the early and mid 1700's, hardy Spanish and Mexican soldiers, explorers and priests poked and prodded through the region. Some were looking for gold, others seeking new trails to Spanish California. Most were not too successful.

At first, trail-blazing American mountain men weren't very successful either. Hoping to trap valuable beaver or trade with Ute Indians, most of the Americans were kept out of the territory by jealous Spanish officials. However, when Western Colorado became part of Mexico in 1821, the mountains were suddenly wide open to trappers, traders and wandering buck-skinners for the U.S.

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 Gunnison - all passed through the Grand Valley in the 1840's and 1850's.

In spite of anti-Indian politicians, a large part of Western Colorado remained Ute Indian Territory until September 1881. The region was opened to homesteaders, ranchers and town builders the very day the Utes were being forced out by Army troopers. By the time Kansas politician and real estate developer George Crawford decided the unclaimed Grand Valley would make a good town site, Denver, Colorado already had a population of 50,000. And Grand Junction, Colorado was just being born! (wikipedia)

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