In ancient times Western Colorado was a flood plain with a humid climate. It was home to dinosaurs whose bones are still an attraction for tourists and scientists from around the world. The first known humans in this valley were Fremont Indians living here from 250 to 1300 AD. The Fremonts were hunters, farmers and artists. Their pictographs and petroglyphs still fascinate visitors.
In the 1800s this area was home to the Northern Ute Tribe, and Ute Chief Ouray was a revered leader. Two traveling Spanish friars named many of the region's mountains and rivers. (The Dominguez and Escalante Canyons area—named after the friars—became a National Conservation Area in 2009). The discovery of gold and silver drew prospectors and towns were founded to meet the needs of miners and their families.
Grand Junction, the county's biggest city, has a strong history that dates back more than 125 years. In the 1880s, the area was part of the Northern Ute Reservation, although the Native Americans were later moved west into Utah. In September 1881, the area experienced a land rush settlement and a townsite was staked. This town, located in the Grand Valley, was first called Ute, then West Denver and finally came to be known as Grand Junction. The name stems from of its location at the confluence—or junction—of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. (The Colorado was historically called the "Grand River.")
By 1883, Mesa County was created from neighboring counties, and Grand Junction was named the county seat. Grand Junction began to thrive when the main line of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad came into the area in 1887. Soon after, major irrigation turned the Grand Valley into a fertile agricultural area.
Today Mesa County is home to more than 150,000 people in 15 communities. The largest of these is Grand Junction, followed by Fruita and Palisade. Other incorporated towns are Collbran and De Beque, and unincorporated areas of the county include Clifton, Fruitvale, Mesa, Mack, Loma, Gateway, Glade Park and Whitewater.
Grand Junction is now home to a number of light manufacturing and service industries, three hospitals, a regional airport and a number of recreational opportunities.
*History excerpt provided by Mesa County: Our Picture of Health 1998
** Incorporated as a statutory County February 11, 1883