Colorado Western Slope

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Colorado Western Slope
San Juan Mountains North of Telluride, Colorado (14017067499).jpg
San Juan Mountains North of Telluride, Colorado in the Western Slope
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LocationWest of the Continental Divide in Colorado
Coordinates 38°28′41.16″N107°52′33.96″W / 38.4781000°N 107.8761000°W / 38.4781000; -107.8761000 Coordinates: 38°28′41.16″N107°52′33.96″W / 38.4781000°N 107.8761000°W / 38.4781000; -107.8761000
Range Rocky Mountains

The Western Slope is the part of the state of Colorado west of the Continental Divide. Bodies of water west of the Divide flow toward the Pacific Ocean. Water that falls and flows east of the Divide heads east. [1] The Western Slope encompasses about 33% of the state, but has just 10% of the state's residents. The eastern part of the state, including the San Luis Valley and the Front Range, is the more populous portion of the state. [2]



Map of Colorado counties Map of Colorado counties, labelled.svg
Map of Colorado counties

The Western Slope includes Moffat, Routt, Hinsdale, Grand, Summit, La Plata, Montezuma, Dolores, Eagle, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Mesa, Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, Ouray, and San Miguel counties and portions of Saguache, Archuleta, Mineral, and San Juan counties. [3] [4]

The Western Slope has about 70% of the state's water. [2] The Colorado River and its tributaries divide the region into north and south at Grand Junction, Colorado. The area has a climate similar to that of the Great Basin.



Paleo-Indians, early nomadic hunter-gatherers, followed large game throughout the Western Slope beginning about 12,000 B.C. according to archaeological evidence found at the Mountaineer Archaeological Site near Gunnison. Ancestral Puebloans inhabited the Gunnison and Colorado River basins between 6500 B.C. and A.D. 200. From about 350 B.C. to A.D. 1300, Puebloans lived in southwestern Colorado, including Mesa Verde. [2] The Puebloans were the first to farm and irrigate their crops, while also continuing to hunt and gather food, the Western Slope. They left the area in the late 13th century, following a period of extensive drought. [2] The Ute people came to the Western Slope from the Great Basin and ranged through the area beginning about A.D. 1300. Their way of life, called the Mountain Tradition, relied on hunting mule deer, elk, rabbit, and buffalo. They also gathered berries, roots, nuts and seeds. They frequented the area's hot springs, including the areas of Pagosa Springs, Glenwood Springs, and Steamboat Springs. Many of the trails established by the Utes became routes for roads, stage lines, highways, and railways. [2]

European contact

Painting of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition displayed in the Utah State Capitol building Dominguez and Escalante.jpg
Painting of the Domínguez–Escalante expedition displayed in the Utah State Capitol building

Spanish explorers visited the Western Slope in the 18th century. Juan de Rivera explored the area in 1765, followed in 1776 by the Domínguez–Escalante expedition. Fur trappers, also called mountain men, of European descent entered the area to trap beaver for their furs. Trading posts were established on the Western Slope beginning in 1828 with the Fort Uncompahgre and Fort Davy Crockett at the center for trapping furs at Brown's Hole. [2] The trading posts were used to trade furs for supplies or goods. Trappers and explorers include Kit Carson and Jim Bridger. They and others guided John C. Frémont (1843–53), John W. Gunnison (1853), and John Wesley Powell (1869) on their expeditions into the Western Slope. Once the demand for beaver furs declined and beaver had been over-trapped, the fur trade was greatly diminished. [2]

In 1858 and 1859, the Gold Rush into Colorado brought miners into the region and mining towns like Breckenridge. Mining districts were established in the San Juan Mountains, Gunnison River Valley, Sawatch Mountains and Elk Mountains. The initial interest was panning for gold in rivers and that grew over the decades to including mining for ore, coal, and fuel below ground. Many mining towns were established in the Western Slope. [2] Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden's expedition of 1872 to 1873 resulted in maps of the Western Slope that were later used by investors, mining engineers, railroad owners, and others leading the western expansion into western Colorado. [2]

After contact with people of European descent, there were a number of treaties to define boundaries for Native Americans, including the Treaty of 1868 that resulted in the Utes relinquishing their land east of the Continental Divide. They maintained most of their land in the Western Slope with the treaty. The Utes were pushed out of much of the Western Slope after gold was found in the San Juan Mountains, including through the Brunot Agreement. Utes were removed from the state after the Meeker Massacre of 1879. A reservation was created in Utah for the tribes that participated in the massacre. The Southern and Ute Mountain Utes, however, have land in southern Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation. [2]

The region has a rich heritage in farming and ranching, with agribusiness remaining a key industry for most of the western slope. It is historically an energy hub, with coal, oil, uranium, and natural gas production. [2]


The Western Slope region is sparsely populated, containing 38% of Colorado's area but only 10.7% of its population. The region had a population of 563,138 in July 2013, an increase of 0.6% on the previous year, and had a low growth rate over the previous three years compared to the rest of the state. [5]

The Western Slope is west of the Continental Divide, including Durango, Grand Junction, and Montrose Bell telephone magazine (1922) (14753929944).jpg
The Western Slope is west of the Continental Divide, including Durango, Grand Junction, and Montrose

The most populated areas of the Western slope are the Tri County area, which contains Grand Junction, Montrose, and Delta, and the Intermountain area, containing Glenwood Springs, Aspen, and Vail. Grand Junction is the largest city between Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, with a population of 61,881 (2016, US Census Bureau).[ citation needed ]

According to the State Demographer's Office, the population of the Western Slope is estimated to grow by two-thirds by 2050. Mesa County is expected grow to 236,554 residents, accounting for 25% of the population growth on the Western Slope and become the 10th largest county in the state. In 2015, the total population on the Western Slope was 563,766 and is increase 67.2% to 942,463 residents in 2050. [6]


Economic activity has primarily centered around ranching, mining, and tourism. Fruit farming is also prevalent in areas along the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, including the Grand Valley, where the Town of Palisade is recognized as the center of Colorado Wine Country, with over 20 wineries, and purveyor of Palisade peaches.

Much of the area's economy continues to be dependent upon energy extraction services and tourism. The region contains plentiful sources of oil, natural gas, uranium, and coal. [2] Although much of the area's economy is still dominated by energy extraction services and tourism, the Grand Junction area's most prominent economic sector is health care. Grand Junction and surrounding Mesa County is a regional healthcare hub servicing approximately 11 counties in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, which includes more than 500,000 people.


The Western Slope has climate zones that include the desert, mountains, mountain lakes, and river valleys. As a result there are a number of outdoor recreational options that may include rock climbing, hiking, skiing, horseback riding and other activities. Crested Butte, Aspen, Telluride, and Vail are skiing areas. National forests include White River National Forest, Grand Mesa National Forest, Gunnison National Forest, Uncompahgre National Forest, and the San Juan National Forest. Black Canyon is in the Gunnison National Park. [7]

Glenwood Springs has the world's largest hot springs pool, fairy caves, and whitewater rafting. Events in Aspen include the Aspen Musical Festival, the Wine and Food Classic, and Theatre Aspen. Vineyards and wineries are found in Palisade and Grand Junction. [7] Mesa Verde National Park is the home of cliff-dwellings of the Ancient Puebloans. Dinosaur National Monument and Colorado National Monument are other areas of interest. Two of the many rivers of the Western Slope are the Colorado River and Crystal River. [7]


  1. "Trail Ridge Road - Estes Park - Rocky Mountain National Park". Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Vandenbusche, Duane (January 23, 2017). "Western Slope". Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  3. "Who We Are" . Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  4. "About Us" . Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  5. Fox, Brooke (November 2014). "Western Slope Economy" (PDF). Colorado Business Review. Leeds School of Business, University of Colorado Boulder. 80 (4): 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-10-10. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  6. Vaccarelli, Joe (December 6, 2017). "Coming: Less elbow room". The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  7. 1 2 3 "Western Colorado for Tourists". USA Today . Retrieved February 4, 2020.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Colorado State of the United States of America

Colorado is a state in the Mountain West region of the United States. It encompasses most of the Southern Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains. Colorado is the eighth most extensive and 21st most populous U.S. state. The estimated population of Colorado is 5,807,719 as of 2020, an increase of 15.5% since the 2010 United States Census.

San Juan Mountains Mountain range in Colorado and New Mexico, United States

The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. The area is highly mineralized and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.

Delta, Colorado Home Rule Municipality in Colorado, United States

The City of Delta is the Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Delta County, Colorado, United States. The population was 8,915 at the 2010 census, up from 6,400 at the 2000 census. The United States Forest Service headquarters of the Grand Mesa, Gunnison, and Uncompahgre National Forests are located in Delta.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado Home Rule Municipality in Colorado, United States

The City of Glenwood Springs is the Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat of Garfield County, Colorado, United States. Glenwood Springs is located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River, threading together the Roaring Fork Valley and a series of smaller towns up and down the Colorado River. As of the 2010 census it had a population of 9,614.

Grand Junction, Colorado Home rule municipality in Colorado, United States

The City of 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 has a council–manager form of government, and is the most populous municipality in all of western Colorado. Grand Junction is 247 miles (398 km) west-southwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 58,566. Grand Junction is the sixteenth most populous city in the state of Colorado and the most populous city on the Colorado Western Slope. It is 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 146,723 in 2010 census.

Montrose, Colorado Home Rule Municipality in Colorado, United States

The City of Montrose is the Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Montrose County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 19,132 at the 2010 United States Census. The main road that leads in and out of Montrose is U.S. Highway 50. The town is located in cardinal-western Colorado, in the upper Uncompahgre Valley and is an economic, labor, and transportation waypoint for the surrounding recreation industry. It is also the home of a few major engineering projects, namely the Gunnison Tunnel.

Ridgway, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States


Uncompahgre River

The Uncompahgre River is a tributary of the Gunnison River, approximately 75 mi (121 km) long, in southwestern Colorado in the United States. Lake Como at 12,215 ft (3723m) in northern San Juan County, in the Uncompahgre National Forest in the northwestern San Juan Mountains is the headwaters of the river. It flows northwest past Ouray, Ridgway, Montrose, and Olathe and joins the Gunnison at Confluence Park in Delta.

Grand Valley (Colorado-Utah) valley in Colorado and Utah

The Grand Valley is an extended populated valley, approximately 30 miles (48 km) long and 5 miles (8.0 km) wide, located along the Colorado River in Mesa County in western Colorado and Grand County in eastern Utah in the Western United States. The valley contains the city of Grand Junction, as well as other smaller communities such as Fruita and Palisade. The valley is a major fruit-growing region that contains many orchards and vineyards, and is home to one of two designated American Viticultural Areas in Colorado: the Grand Valley AVA. It takes its name from the "Grand River", the historical name of the Colorado River upstream from its confluence with the Green River that was used by locals in the late 19th and early 20th century. The valley is the most densely populated area on the Colorado Western Slope, with Grand Junction serving as an unofficial capital of the region, as a counterpoint to Denver on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the Colorado Front Range. Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 6 run through the valley from west-to-east. The Grand Valley is part of the larger Colorado Plateau desert lands.

Grand Mesa

The Grand Mesa is a large mesa in western Colorado in the United States. It is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It has an area of about 500 square miles (1,300 km2) and stretches for about 40 miles (64 km) east of Grand Junction between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River, its tributary to the south. The north side of the mesa is drained largely by Plateau Creek, a smaller tributary of the Colorado. The west side is drained largely by Kannah Creek, which is received to the west by the lower Gunnison River. The mesa rises about 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above the surrounding river valleys, including the Grand Valley to the west, reaching an elevation of about 11,000 feet (3,400 m). Much of the mesa is within Grand Mesa National Forest. Over 300 lakes, including many reservoirs created and used for drinking and irrigation water, are scattered along the top of the formation. The Grand Mesa is flat in some areas, but quite rugged in others.

Roaring Fork Valley Place in Colorado, United States of America

The Roaring Fork Valley is a geographical region in western Colorado in the United States. The Roaring Fork Valley is one of the most affluent regions in Colorado and the U.S. as well as one of the most populous and economically vital areas of the Colorado Western Slope. The Valley is defined by the valley of the Roaring Fork River and its tributaries, including the Crystal and Fryingpan River. It includes the communities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs. Mount Sopris and the Roaring Fork River serve as symbols of the Roaring Fork Valley.

White River National Forest

White River National Forest is a National Forest in northwest Colorado. It is named after the White River that passes through its northern section. It is the most visited National Forest in the United States, primarily from users of the twelve ski areas within its boundaries.

Uncompahgre National Forest

Uncompahgre National Forest is a U.S. National Forest covering 955,229 acres in parts of Montrose, Mesa, San Miguel, Ouray, Gunnison, Hinsdale, San Juan, and Delta Counties in western Colorado. Only its headquarters is in Delta County, in the city of Delta. It borders the San Juan National Forest to the south.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is one of three federally recognized tribes of the Ute Nation, and are mostly descendants of the historic Weeminuche Band who moved to the Southern Ute reservation in 1897. Their reservation is headquartered at Towaoc, Colorado on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation in southwestern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico and small sections of Utah.

Grand Mesa National Forest

The Grand Mesa National Forest is a U.S. National Forest in Mesa, Delta and Garfield Counties in Western Colorado. It borders the White River National Forest to the north and the Gunnison National Forest to the east. The forest covers most of Grand Mesa and the south part of Battlement Mesa. It has a total area of 346,555 acres. It is managed by the United States Forest Service together with Gunnison National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest from offices in Delta, Colorado. There are local ranger district offices located in Grand Junction.

Gunnison National Forest

The Gunnison National Forest is a U.S. National Forest covering 1,672,136 acres in Mesa, Gunnison, Hinsdale and Saguache Counties in Western part of the U.S. state of Colorado. It borders the White River National Forest to the north, the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre National Forests to the west, the San Isabel National Forest to the east and the Rio Grande National Forest to south. It lies in parts of five counties. In descending order of land area within the forest they are Gunnison, Saguache, Hinsdale, Delta, and Montrose counties.

Geography of Colorado Overview of the geography of Colorado

The geography of the U.S. State of Colorado is diverse, encompassing both rugged mountainous terrain, vast plains, desert lands, desert canyons, and mesas. In 1861, the United States Congress defined the boundaries of the new Territory of Colorado exclusively by lines of latitude and longitude, stretching from 37°N to 41°N latitude, and from 102°02'48"W to 109°02'48"W longitude. Starting in 1868, official surveys demarcated the boundaries, deviating from the parallels and meridians in several places. Later surveys attempted to correct some of these mistakes but in 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the earlier demarcation was the official boundary. The borders of Colorado are now officially defined by 697 boundary markers connected by straight boundary lines. Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah are the only states that have their borders defined solely by straight boundary lines with no natural features. The southwest corner of Colorado is the Four Corners Monument at 36°59'56"N, 109°2'43"W. This is the only place in the United States where four states meet: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

U.S. Route 50 (US 50) is a part of the U.S. Highway System that travels from West Sacramento, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. In the U.S. state of Colorado, US 50 is a major highway crossing through the lower midsection of the state. It connects the Western Slope with the lower Front Range and the Arkansas Valley. The highway serves the areas of Pueblo and Grand Junction as well as many other smaller areas along its corridor. The long-term project to upgrade the highway from two lanes to a four lane expressway between Grand Junction and Montrose was completed in January 2005. Only about 25% of the remainder of highway 50 in Colorado is four lane expressway.

Kannah Creek is a watershed that descends from the top of the Grand Mesa west southwest, where it meets the Gunnison River about 25 miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado. It offers many recreational opportunities, irrigation, and is an important source of drinking water for Grand Junction. The Grand Mesa is one of the largest flat topped mountains in the world and has over 300 lakes and reservoirs on top, many of which are in the Kannah Creek watershed, which help retain much of Grand Junction's drinking water throughout the year as the snowpack melts and converts into runoff. Kannah Creek is also the namesake for the locally popular Kannah Creek Brewing Company. Kannah Creek is an extremely important source of water, originating on an elevated oasis, in an otherwise very arid region.