Grand Junction: Luring the Outdoorsy Set
By Brian E. Clark
When Bobby Noyes moved to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado 26 years ago, he fell in love with the community. Noyes worked in a bike shop to pay the rent and later started the successful RockyMounts multi-sport rack and lock company.
But in the past quarter-century, Noyes has seen the cost of living in Boulder and the entire front range increase dramatically, to say nothing of the congestion and traffic.
He still likes many things about Boulder and is grateful to the community that nurtured his company, but come November, he’ll be moving RockyMounts and its dozen-or-so employees to Grand Junction, which is 250 miles to the west and only about 25 miles from the Utah state line. It also sits on Interstate 70 and has good rail transportation, important for his business.
Boyes is moving the company not only to take advantage of lower housing costs and minimal traffic congestion but because the Grand Junction region offers a plethora of recreational opportunities that are important to him and his employees.
Those activities range from highly rated mountain biking to rock climbing to horseback riding to fishing, hiking, rafting, backpacking, skiing, golf and more. Grand Junction also has a pedestrian-friendly and lively downtown filled with lots of public art and good restaurants. And nearby are the equally outdoorsy towns of Palisade and Fruita.
“When I got to Boulder, there were still hippies around,” mused Boyes. “But in many ways, it’s turned into a tech town with rich guys from California moving in and driving the prices up and up. Not only has the cost of housing skyrocketed, but commercial real estate has gone crazy, too. Many warehousing and industrial areas are worth more as condos these days.
“Most of our employees were commuting more than half-an-hour because they can’t afford to live here. So when our lease was up, we decided to pull the ripcord and look for space outside Boulder.”
(When this writer visited Boulder last winter, I found the house near campus where I’d rented a basement room during college. Across the street was a bungalow for sale. The price? $1.5 MILLION.)
Boyes surveyed at a few places on the Front Range, but couldn’t find anything that was economical. In Louisville, southeast of Boulder, he said he was looking at spending $800,000 just to get the permits for a piece of property he hoped to buy for his business.
After the Louisville deal fell apart, he expanded his horizons called the economic development director in Grand Junction and the wheels started moving on the relocation.
Come Nov. 1, RockyMounts will move into its new headquarters in a business park being developed specifically for outdoor industry companies. Dubbed “The Riverfront at Las Colonias Park,” the development’s anchor tenant is Bonsai Design, which builds outdoor adventure courses. DT Swiss, MRP, and other bike industry brands also are based in the area.
“Historically, Grand Junction has something of a grungy reputation because of the oil and gas industry,” Noyes said. “But I’ve been there a bunch to mountain bike and I like it. Better yet, I was able to buy a house overlooking the incredible Colorado National Monument (https://www.nps.gov/colm/index.htm) within 500 yards of the Lunch Loops mountain biking area for a third of what it would have cost in Boulder.
“The sunsets are stunning and my commute to work by bicycle is around five miles, so around 15 to 20 minutes. I think I’m just the tip of the spear. I have no doubt other outdoor firms will be moving here, too. I’ve spoken to six other companies since I announced my plans.”
Kyle Amann, a fellow University of Colorado, Boulder graduate, moved to Grand Junction about 18 months ago after visiting the area to try out its mountain biking trails. He said he’s glad he made the jump.
“The recreational opportunities here are plentiful,” said Amann, who grew up in the Denver area and now works for the City of Grand Junction. “I can be on a great mountain biking or hiking trail just 15 minutes from my house and they are never crowded. You can have the whole trail to to yourself and that’s pretty nice.”
Here are some of Amann’s top picks for outdoor actives in the Grand Valley:
1 – Go mountain biking on the Kokopeli Loops or Three Sisters Park, which have family-friendly trails; or Lunch Loops, which is for advanced riders. Considered one of the best biking areas in the country, it draws riders from around the world.
The nearby Colorado National Monument has one of the most scenic road cycling events in the country. The Tour of the Moon Grand Cycling Classic traverses the length of the 23-mile long RimRock Drive in the monument each fall. If downhill biking is your thing, check out Powderhorn Mountain Bike Park at Powderhorn Ski Resort. Coming soon is the “Palisade Plunge,” which will offer a 6,000-foot, single-track descent from the top of the Grand Mesa all the way to the town of Palisade over 30 miles. There are hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails in the area, so you’ll never be bored.
2 – Try Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) on the Colorado River, which has miles of calm waters from Palisade to Fruita. This is the perfect place for anyone trying to get the hang of the board. If you’re a novice, take a paddle boarding lesson with Grand Junction Stand Up Paddle Boarding Co. or Rapid Creek Cycles & Paddleboards. Once you get the hang of things, you can even give SUP yoga a try. Several companies also offer raft and canoe trips on the river.
3 – Play golf on one of five public golf courses. One of them – The Golf Club at Redwlands Mesa – has been ranked as the top public course in Colorado by Golf Digest.
4 – Go horseback riding in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area and look for mustangs. This writer and photographer Mike McCoy rode with two wranglers from the Jake Stephens (jakestephens-performancehorses.com) outfit and traveled along the nearly dry Asbury Creek in search of wild horses. Another outfitter is Rimrock Adventures, (rradventures.com), which offers horseback rides and raft trips out of its Fruita base.
5 – Rappel down the side of a vertical wall, climb a narrow chimney or slither through a slot canyon with a guide from Summit Ridge Guides , a rock, ice and big mountain guiding company. Co-owner Jose Iglesias says the area offers challenges for everyone from the novice to expert climbers with granite, sandstone, big wall climbing, bouldering and routes leading up cracks and towers. McCoy and I spent a morning climbing with Iglesias and his son in the Colorado National Monument. It was a hoot.
6 – If you’re not a mountain biker or road rider, don’t worry. The Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway (https://visitpalisade.com/portfolio-item/fruit-wine-trail/) leads to more than two dozen wineries in the flat Grand Valley. McCoy and I took it exceptionally easy after a day of rock climbing and rented electric-assist bikes from Rondo Buecheler at Rapid Creek Cycles in Palisade and visited several of the wineries on the trail, sipping along the way. Cyclists can choose three different routes, which also pass by lavender farms and fruit stands.
7 – Hike, backpack and ski the Grand Mesa. It’s the globe’s largest flat-top mountain and boasts 300 lakes, numerous fishing options, and a completely different environment than Grand Junction, which is set in an arid valley at 4,500 feet. The mesa, by contrast, rises to 10,000 feet, is heavily forested with pine trees and aspen groves and is usually 20 degrees cooler than the valley.
8 – If you visit during the winter, try skiing or snowboarding at Powderhorn, (powderhorn.com) which has a lofty base of 8,200 and rises 1,650 feet to a summit of 9,850. Known for its glade skiing through the trees, the resort has three lifts serving 1,600 acres of skiable terrain, two terrain parks and is 45 minutes to the east of Grand Junction. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council maintains more than 30 miles of cross country trails all over the mesa, where snowshoeing is also popular. Grand Junction doesn’t get that much snow, however, which means you can go skiing or snowboarding in the morning and ride dry mountain biking trails in the afternoon. Some folks even play golf in December and January.
9 – Snowmobiling is also big in the region on numerous trails, including one that starts near Grand Junction and heads east 120 miles to Glenwood Springs. Here’s a link to snowmobiling and other winter sports in and around the Grand Valley: https://www.visitgrandjunction.com/snow-sports-season.
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.