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Area History

The Fremont tribe was likely the area's first human settlers, establishing themselves around 250 AD. However, they mysteriously disappeared about the same time that the massive cities of Mesa Verde were abandoned, just before 1300 AD. Next came the Ute tribe, mighty warriors who especially took to the Spanish-introduced horses in the 16th century to add to their art of war.

The Domiguez-Escalante expedition arrived in the area in 1776, at a time when the Spanish Crown ruled this land and made it off limits to Americans from the 13 Colonies. When Spain relinquished its claim on these regions in 1821, the area became part of Mexico, who opened up their lands to miners, trappers, and traders from all over the world and began an era of free wheeling adventure.

In the 1850s, Captains Fremont, Beale, Whitman, and Gunnison led U.S. Army exploration parties into the area and was mapped in 1876 by the U.S. Geological Survey's Ferdinand Hayden. The same year, Colorado gained statehood, setting the stage for the flood of settlers from the East. These Eastern settlers began to clash with the Ute native tribes and those conflicts led to the Meeker Massacre and the Battle of Milk Creek in 1879. By 1881, the last of the Utes had been forcibly removed from the area and consigned to a reservation and permanent settlement began in earnest.

This pattern of settlement centered on farming and ranching lasted until the late 1960s. With the Middle Eastern oil shocks of the early 1970s, the attention of the oil companies was quickly drawn to the huge reserves, known to exist in nearby Parachute in the Piceance Basin. In very short order, massive amounts of investment flooded into the Grand Junction area to attempt to harvest the estimated 800 gigabarrels of recoverable oil from the local oil shale, sometimes referred to as The Rock That Burns. This optimism crashed and burned by the mid 1980s when Exxon determined that the oil shale was too costly to process into petroleum products and sparked a major recession across the region.

Grand Junction's economy stayed alive thanks to the fruit growing, which has earned the area the moniker of Colorado's Wine Country, and the immense recreational opportunities, which are to be found everywhere in both summer and winter. The city has also established itself as an art and cultural center, hosting a major annual Art and Jazz Festival.


Colorado National Monument Slide Show