Frontier Area — Grand Junction




This page discusses how the Bright Angel valley might be created in the canyons downstream from Grand Junction, Colorado.  A location in this place would use the strikingly beautiful and undeveloped canyons of the Colorado and Dolores Rivers, on either side of the Colorado-Utah border.  The basic plan for the historic area is set out elsewhere on the website under the heading for the Detailed Statement of the Proposal.  The points discussed on this page are limited to those matters that would be unique to the context of Grand Junction.  (For a freestanding presentation of the Bright Angel idea in a Grand Junction context, please click here.)

The discussion is divided into four headings: (1) the advantages of the location at Grand Junction; (2) how a historic valley there would benefit from the unique topography of those canyons; (3) the ways in which this particular location may help to ensure the economic viability of the historic area; and (4) ways to accommodate to existing land-use designations.

Advantages of this location

A location in the Grand Junction area would have at least five important advantages:  (1) The area has spectacular scenery, as the Colorado River passes through sheer-walled gorges, and as the Dolores passes through classic redrock country.  (2) Railroad access already exists, since train tracks presently go down the canyon for just the right distance to serve the first two towns, and then turn away.  (3) Water will not be a problem, since all these valleys have strong perennial rivers.  (4) The area is close to a good-sized city (Grand Junction) and a well-known resort (Moab), thus helping to ensure both support services and sufficient visitor traffic to keep the historic area viable.  (5) The town of Gateway, at the far end of the historic corridor, is already being developed as a resort and educational site, and so will be an appropriate endpoint and a convenient point for transportation back to Grand Junction.

The influence of local topography

If the historic valley were to be created in the Grand Junction area, it would take on some special characteristics as a result of  the special geological and historical features along the Colorado-Utah border.  Those special features might include the following:

1.  Visitors will be able to board the access train at a station located directly in downtown Grand Junction.  This convenient access is one of the great benefits of the proposed location.  There already exists a fine, medium-sized beau arts train station, which is presently abandoned, but which is in good condition and could be readily restored.  It is large enough to serve as an administrative office and visitors’ center as well as the point of entry to the historic area.  Using it would also help to revitalize a key sector of the old downtown.

2.  From there visitors will travel about twenty miles west through an irrigated agricultural valley, which will give a sense of journey to another place before the train reaches the start of the historic valley proper.  The frontier area itself will begin near the town of Loma, where the train track and the river turn away from the settled valley and enter the first of a series of canyons.

3.  The historic valley would follow the Colorado River downstream to its junction with the Dolores River in Utah, and then would climb up the Dolores River to the town of Gateway, back in Colorado, for a total distance of about seventy miles.  The towns would be sited on or near these rivers at intervals of five to fifteen miles.  These are the perfect distances to support a through journey of a week or ten days’ duration.

4.  These two river valleys are both relatively steep and narrow.  In some places they are sheer-walled gorges.  In other places they broaden out to include alluvial floors or side valleys several miles wide.  These latter sections are more than wide enough to convey a Western sense of space and long sightlines.  Visibility to the sides is nonetheless sufficiently restricted that the historic area might need to be only about four or five miles wide, and will still be able to shut out any awareness of the modern world.  If it is kept so narrow, however, some provision should probably be made to discourage people from accessing the historic corridor from the side.  If they did so, it would spoil regular visitors’ sense that they are traveling to progressively more remote places.

5.  These stretches of canyon offer  a variety of experiences, with some locations having Indian archeological sites, and others having dinosaur fossils.  Particular towns might be oriented toward their own local features, and might include recreational or educational activities keyed to those features.

The special economic potential of this location

One of the most striking advantages of the Grand Junction location is its proximity to population centers and transportation infrastructure, which should increase visitation and improve the chances that the historic towns will be economically viable.  (Once the model has proved itself and become familiar to the public, it will probably be easier to create other historic valleys in more remote locations.)  Some points of note here are the following:

1.  The access to existing train tracks and surface water will eliminate the two biggest infrastructure costs that would be incurred elsewhere.

2.  Grand Junction has good road access and a modern airport, and it would be only a short cab ride from the airport to the train station.

3.  The entrance to the canyons is only about a mile from the Interstate, and visitors might be offered a second chance to board the access train at that point.

4.  The frontier area would also benefit from its proximity to Moab.  Moab brings in huge numbers of visitors from around the country and the world.  That will provide an identifying label by which potential visitors can visualize the kind of experience they can expect here.  The proposed historic area, combining even purer history with even more striking scenery, could easily become a world-renowned travel destination.

Accommodating to existing land-use designations

Some land along these canyons has already been designated for one or another conservation purpose.  To the extent possible, the historic area should work with those designations and not seek to make changes in them.  The lands would therefore continue to be managed for agriculture or wilderness or multiple uses in whatever way is currently planned.

1.  Towns would not be located in designated wilderness areas.  Thus they would be on the north side of the Colorado River, rather than on the south side which is part of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness.

2.  The towns are likely to be broadly consistent with the goals of the existing National Conservation Area that is located along the north bank in the stretch of the Colorado closest to Grand Junction.  They are likely to be consistent, since they will be physically small and compact, and can be thought of as an inconspicuous presence that will help to realize the recreation goals of the conservation area.  Under these circumstances, the first two towns might reasonably be located in that area, with clarifying legislation first removing any doubts as to that use.  If  local opinion is contrary, however, then the towns could be located upstream or downstream from the conservation area, so that only the connecting roads pass through the area itself.  A particular town might be located back from the river if there are important conservation reasons for doing so.

3.  In some cases it may be administratively easiest to locate a town on private property, particularly where local governments will assist with appropriate zoning rules.  While it is still only a small percentage of the total land in the valley, private property is probably more common in these canyons than in some other locations that are being proposed, such as Nye County.

4.  The Utah parts of the canyons will involve some state school trust lands.  It is likely, however, that the highest and best use of these lands, as revenue producers, is to make them available as townsites and as intervening wild lands, in accordance with the overall plan of the historiic area.

5.  In general, the issues of fitting the historic area in with existing land use designations will call for some sensitivity, and an awareness of present uses.  The task should not be impossibly difficult, however.  The historic valley is itself a specialized, large-scale form of multiple use.  Its towns and transportation infrastructure will support of variety of uses, from wilderness to day visits.  The historic valley should therefore be a particularly easy neighbor to many users.


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