Interstate 70 - Mesa County (Westbound)


Interstate 70/U.S. 6 East
Now entering Mesa County, westbound Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 approach Exit 62, De Beque. From here, the freeway travels southeast alongside the Colorado River toward Palisade, Clifton, and Grand Junction. Entering Mesa County, Interstate 70 remains on the north/west bank of the river, but as Interstate 70 turns south to pass through De Beque Canyon, the freeway crosses over to the east bank of the river. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Now traveling south, westbound Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 reach Exit 62, Junction Mesa County Route 45.5 (De Beque Cutoff Road). This is the first community along Interstate 70 in Mesa County. Use Mesa County Route 45.5 south to follow the Sand Wash past Black Mountain. The county route ends at Colorado 65 just northwest of the intersection with Colorado 330 in the town of Mesa. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Continuing south, Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 continue their journey through the riparian autumn beauty found along the Colorado River. The valley begins to constrict and tighten as the freeway approaches De Beque Canyon. Watch for the speed limit, which will drop from 75 miles per hour to 60 miles per hour! Photo taken 10/18/04.
Craggy cliffs and rock formations abound as the freeway, railroad, and Colorado River again squeeze into another tight canyon. Just like the better-known Glenwood Canyon to the east, De Beque Canyon features similar yet different geological features. About 15 miles in length, De Beque Canyon begins south of the town of De Beque (Exit 62) and ends at the first exit for the town of Palisade (Exit 44). Photo taken 10/18/04.
As the freeway rides along the east side of the Colorado River, it narrows dramatically to a single concrete median and two lanes in each direction. Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 cling to the east side of the canyon. The old alignment of U.S. 6-24 was generally absorbed into the current freeway. Photo taken 10/18/04.
As the freeway lowers in elevation, the Colorado River itself comes into view. The railroad also clings to the edge of the canyon, except that it is located on the west side of the river. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Even when the Colorado River widens out within De Beque Canyon, ample room allows for the river to meander while the freeway and railroad stay close to the edges of the canyon. Photo taken 10/18/04.

The Colorado River forms the De Beque Canyon as it travels through the western end of the Grand Mesa. Note the "stairway" characteristic of the rock walls, which is common for this kind of geological formation. Photo taken 10/18/04.
While the freeway was devoid of rocks or debris at the time this photo was taken, issues with falling rocks and even landslides have been known to occur along this stretch of Interstate 70 and U.S. 6. A significant landslide occurred in April 1998, causing damage to the freeway, but the damage was not severe enough to close Interstate 70.1 Flooding is also a concern, since so many areas of the Rocky Mountains drain into the Colorado River and thus pass through De Beque Canyon. However, the area is monitored for any such problems. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Here is another view of the Colorado River as the freeway continues south (west) through the De Beque Canyon. The river did not always pass through this canyon; instead, the Colorado River cut into the Grand Mesa gradually, thus creating this canyon slowly. The canyon narrows ahead; look for the Beavertail Mountain Tunnel to carry the freeway and railroad under the mountain located at the point where the river loops away from the tunnel. Photo taken 10/18/04.
As Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 cross the Colorado River to the west bank of the Colorado River, the Beavertail Mountain Tunnel comes into view. This is the final tunnel along westbound Interstate 70; it is the sole contribution to the system of Interstate 70 tunnels found in De Beque Canyon (as opposed to the multiple tunnels located in Glenwood Canyon, the Eisenhower-Johnson [Straight Creek] Tunnel, or the Idaho Springs Twin Tunnels). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound (southbound) Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 enter the Beavertail Mountain Tunnel. Each tunnel is two lanes wide, and Beavertail Mountain Tunnel was constructed between 1985 and 1987 by contractors Morrison-Knudsen as part of the completion of Interstate 70 through De Beque Canyon.2 The entire four-lane freeway through the canyon was completed by 1989. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Now inside the Beavertail Mountain Tunnel, the freeway clearly meets Interstate standards, with a full shoulder. Due to the later completion date of the tunnel, it was constructed to modern standards (unlike some tunnels built in earlier eras). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Departing the Beavertail Tunnel, westbound (southbound) Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 approach their first exit since leaving De Beque (Exit 49). The next exit is Exit 49, Colorado 65 east to Grand Mesa and Collbran via the Plateau Creek canyon. Upon departing from the canyon, Colorado 65 turns south about ten miles east of Interstate 70. Colorado 330 emerges here to continue east along Plateau Creek to Molina, Plateau City, and Collbran. East of Collbran, Colorado 330 changes into Mesa County Route 330E en route to Vega State Park. As for Colorado 65, the state highway turns south to serve the town of Mesa, then turns southeast to cross Crag Crest and enter Delta County. Colorado 65 serves Cedaredge and Orchard City before ending at Colorado 92 east of Delta and U.S. 50 near the Gunnison River. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Use Colorado 65 east (south) to Powderhorn Ski Resort. The resort is located south of Mesa. In addition, the towns of Skyway and Grand Mesa are situated southeast of Mesa in the Grand Mesa National Forest. An abundance of hiking and recreational activities await in this region. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound (southbound) Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 reach Exit 49, Colorado 65 south (east) to Mesa, Skyway, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, and Orchard City. Use Colorado 65 east to Colorado 330 en route to Molina, Plateau City, Collbran, and Vega State Park. Photo taken 10/18/04.
After the Colorado 65 interchange, this mileage sign provides the distance to Palisade (eight miles), Grand Junction (20 miles), and Interstate 15 (281 miles). The interchange between Interstate 70 and Interstate 15 is located at the site of Cove Fort, which is shown on the preliminary Interstate 70 mileage sign just west of Baltimore, Maryland. There is not much civilization between Grand Junction and Interstate 15, but there is an incredible amount of scenic beauty and wide open vistas. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit along westbound Interstate 70 is Exit 47, James M. Robb/Colorado River State Park: Island Acres Unit. This a unique state park, as it has five separate units stretching along the Colorado River as it flows through Mesa County. The five units, in order from east to west are: Island Acres, Corn Lake, Wildlife Area, Connected Lakes, and Fruita. Island Acres, located within De Beque Canyon, offers camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, and boating (among many activities). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound (southbound) Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 reach Exit 47, James M. Robb/Colorado River State Park: Island Acres Unit. This exit also connects to the old alignment of U.S. 6-24, which again appears on the southeast side of the freeway. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit along westbound Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 is Mesa County Route I.90, which serves the town of Cameo. The Cameo Station low-sulfur coal-fire/natural gas power plant owned by Xcel Energy is located west of Interstate 70. Coal is mined at the McClane Canyon Mine in Mack and is transported to this low-emission facility, which was built in two units (1957 and 1960). Low sulfur coal deposits are also found in De Beque Canyon. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Continuing south, Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 prepare to split once again at Exit 44 (Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6 west to Palisade and Mount Lincoln). U.S. 6 will follow the business loop west into Grand Junction, then rejoin Interstate 70 at Exit 11 (in the town of Mack in western Mesa County). Photo taken 10/18/04.
We didn't drive along the Palisade business loop, but according to Matt Salek, the only time that Business Loop I-70 is mentioned anywhere in Palisade is on this set of signs on eastbound Interstate 70. There are no companion business loop signs on eastbound Interstate 70. Additionally, there is only one reassurance shield for Business Loop I-70, and that is visible in the next photo (below the gore point sign). After that shield, the remainder of the loop is signed solely as U.S. 6. A logical reconnection to Interstate 70 from downtown Palisade would be via Elberta Avenue, which travels north from Palisade to Interstate 70 at Exit 42 (West Palisade interchange). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 and U.S. 6 reach Exit 44, Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6 west. Take this exit to follow the slower and more scenic U.S. 6 west to Grand Junction via Palisade and Mount Lincoln. For a faster route to Grand Junction, remain on Interstate 70 until Exit 37, Junction Business Loop I-70 west to Clifton and Grand Junction. The freeway crosses the Colorado River for a final time immediately after this interchange; Interstate 70 will not cross the Colorado River again. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Bypassing Palisade, Interstate 70 travels alongside the cliffs that give the town its name. Mount Lincoln and Mount Garfield are visible to the north of the freeway as Interstate 70 finally turns west again. According to the Palisade Chamber of Commerce, a 2005 estimate of population of Palisade is 2,579 people. Situated at the eastern end of the Grand Valley, Palisade is located in Colorado's Banana Belt (so named because of the milder winters and unique terrain that is suitable for farming peaches and grapes). Irrigation is necessary due to the scant rainfall received in Western Colorado. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Mount Lincoln and the Palisade Mines come into view as Interstate 70 continues west, bypassing Palisade to the north. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit along westbound Interstate 70 is Exit 42, which is ostensibly the return of Business Loop I-70 from Palisade back to Interstate 70. However, it is signed as Elberta Avenue (to U.S. 6). See the note on how the business loop "disappears" in Palisade in the Exit 44 write-up. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 42, Junction Business Loop I-70 east, Mesa County Route 37.3 south, and Elberta Avenue south to U.S. 6 and downtown Palisade. Mount Garfield comes into view on the north side of the freeway. A hiking trail originates in Palisade that climbs to Mount Garfield. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Continuing west, Interstate 70 stays close to the palisades as the freeway leaves the town of Palisade. Photo taken 10/18/04.
This mileage sign provides the distance to Clifton (five miles), Mesa County Airport (11 miles), and Cove Fort, Utah/Interstate 15 (274 miles). Both Clifton and the airport are part of greater Grand Junction, so the control "city" is now Interstate 15. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next three exits all serve the city of Grand Junction: Exit 37, Junction Business Loop I-70 to U.S. 6 and U.S. 50; Exit 31, Horizon Drive; and Exit 28, Junction Mesa County Route 24 (24 Road). The best route to southbound (eastbound) U.S. 50 is via the business loop (Exit 37). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Rather than enter the downtown areas of Grand Junction, Interstate 70 skirts the northern edge of the Grand Valley, while Business Loop I-70 provides the most direct route into the city. The business loop is generally an expressway, with at least four lanes for the entire length and intersections spaced at an even distance. Only the section of business loop through downtown Grand Junction does not feature expressway characteristics. There are also a few interchanges at the most congested intersections in Grand Junction. For more, visit the Business Loop I-70 in Grand Junction page. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Use Business Loop I-70 west to downtown Grand Junction to connect with U.S. 50 southeast to Orchard Mesa, Whitewater, Delta, and Montrose. At Montrose, U.S. 50 turns east to follow the Gunnison River toward Gunnison, then Crosses the Continental Divide via Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet). At the point U.S. 50 turns east, U.S. 550 continues the path south at Montrose. From Montrose, U.S. 550 commences a southbound journey through Durango, then aims toward Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 37, Junction Business Loop I-70 west to Clifton, Fruitvale, and Grand Junction. For services, this is probably the best exit of any of the interchanges found along Interstate 70. Most services are found on the business loop. In addition, use this exit to reach westbound U.S. 6 and southeastbound U.S. 50. Finally, for access to Colorado 141 en route to Gateway and Montrose County, use Exit 37. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next three exits along westbound Interstate 70 are Exit 31, Horizon Drive; Exit 28, Junction Mesa County Route 24 (24 Road); and Exit 26, Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50 (22 Road). All three exits serve Grand Junction, but note that there is a six-mile gap in exits between the business loop and Horizon Drive. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Horizon Drive (Exit 31) is a diagonal city street, traveling northeast to southwest. This exit serves the airport (Walker Field) to the northeast and is a direct route into downtown Grand Junction from the north. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Situated at an elevation of 4,590 feet, Grand Junction is home to 41,986 people as of the 2000 Census. Located east of Colorado National Monument along the north bank of the Colorado River and the Union Pacific Railroad, Grand Junction is the largest city within Mesa County. The city was founded in 1882 as a small city (approximately 643 acres). As of 2003, Grand Junction had gained approximately 21,209 acres as a result of numerous land and parcel annexations through the years. Photo taken 10/18/04.
In addition to Walker Field Airport, Exit 31 (Horizon Drive) also serves Mesa State College, which provides Associate, Baccalaureate, and Master degrees. Photo taken 10/18/04.
In addition, Horizon Drive provides a direct route to the eastern entrance to Colorado National Monument via Patterson Road and Redlands Parkway to Colorado 340. Colorado National Monument was established on May 24, 1911. This national monument preserves the sheer cliffs and rockfaces rising above the Grand Valley at the edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift. Several geological features, such as the Book Cliffs and Grand Mesa, are part of the monument. Elevations range between approximately 4,700 feet above sea level at the canyon floor and 7,200 feet above sea level on top of the mesa. The Rim Rock Drive offers a 23-mile scenic drive through the monument. A standalone rock formation is Independence Monument, which is also part of the national monument. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 31, Horizon Drive. The next exit (28 Road) is three miles after this interchange. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next three exits along westbound Interstate 70 are Exit 28, Junction Mesa County Route 24 (24 Road); Exit 26, Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50 (22 Road); and Exit 19, Colorado 340 to Colorado National Monument and Fruita. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Use 24 Road south to Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50 southeast, downtown Grand Junction, and Redlands (via Redlands Parkway). Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 28, Junction Mesa County Route 24 (24 Road). This exit primarily serves local and residential access. The next exit is the return of Business Loop I-70 to Interstate 70. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next three exits along westbound Interstate 70 are Exit 26, Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50 (22 Road); Exit 19, Colorado 340 to Colorado National Monument and Fruita; and Exit 15, Colorado 139 north to Loma. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Continuing west, Interstate 70 approaches Exit 26, Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50. The business loop (together with eastbound U.S. 6-50) extends southeast toward downtown Grand Junction. From here, U.S. 6 (and silently merged U.S. 50) follow the frontage road to serve the towns of Fruita, Loma, and Mack before the two routes merge back onto Interstate 70 at Exit 11. Photo taken 10/18/04.
In addition to being the exit for U.S. 6-50 and Business Loop I-70, this exit also serves 22 Road, which travels north from this interchange to provide ranch access. To the south, the Colorado River again joins the Interstate 70 corridor, but the river remains south of the freeway. Photo taken 10/18/04.
A relic of old signage, westbound Interstate 70 approaches Exit 26, U.S. 6-50. The cliffs of Colorado National Monument are visible in the distance behind the sign. Photo taken by Michael Summa, 1979.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 26, Junction Business Loop I-70 and U.S. 6-50 eastbound. Follow this route east to Grand Junction and to points southeast via U.S. 50 (including Delta, Montrose, U.S. 550/Durango, Gunnison, Salida, and Canon City). To the west, U.S. 6-50 (signed only as U.S. 6) travels west along a frontage road into Fruita, Loma, and Mack. The same Colorado National Monument cliffs seen in 1979 (see previous photobox) are again visible here. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Looking west on Interstate 70, Colorado National Monument comes into view after the U.S. 6-50 interchange. This red rock canyon is illuminated by the intermittent sunshine on this cool autumn day. Photo taken 10/18/04.
This mileage sign provides the distance to Fruita (seven miles); Green River, Utah (100 miles); and Las Vegas, Nevada (513 miles). It is still a long way to southern Nevada and California. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The city of Fruita is located northwest of Grand Junction on the north side of Interstate 70 on U.S. 6-50. Founded in 1884, Fruita is home to 6,478 people as of the 2000 Census and is estimated to be home to 8,093 as of a 2003 population estimate. Fruita's economy was based on agriculture and ranching. One of the oddities was a provision that no liquor be sold or manufactured in the town that was not repealed until the 1970s. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit (Exit 19) serves James M. Robb/Colorado River State Park: Fruita Unit. This a unique state park, as it has five separate units stretching along the Colorado River as it flows through Mesa County. The five units, in order from east to west are: Island Acres, Corn Lake, Wildlife Area, Connected Lakes, and Fruita. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 approaches Exit 19, Colorado 340 south to Colorado National Monument and north to Fruita and U.S. 6-50. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Exit 19 also has a Colorado Visitors Welcome Center, which has tourist information and motorist services available. This is the last rest area along westbound in Colorado; the next rest area is 24 miles west of here, in the state of Utah. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Colorado 340 serves Colorado National Monument, which preserves the sheer cliffs and rockfaces that rise above the Grand Valley at the edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift. Several geological features, such as the Book Cliffs and Grand Mesa, are part of the monument. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The signage for this exit is a bit misleading, since U.S. 6 does not cross or connect to Interstate 70 at Exit 19. In reality, this interchange is solely with Colorado 340, which travels north briefly to meet U.S. 6-50 in downtown Fruita. Perhaps this U.S. 6 shield should be scraped off this sign and placed on one of the many signs in Eagle County and Garfield County that should have a U.S. 6 shield but do not. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 19, Colorado 340 north to Fruita and south to Colorado National Monument. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Now traveling in the riparian area north of the Colorado River, trees line the Interstate 70 corridor as the freeway continues west out of Fruita and toward Loma and Mack. Photo taken 10/18/04.
This mileage sign provides the distance to Loma (four miles); Green River, Utah (90 miles); and Las Vegas, Nevada (506 miles). Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit along westbound Interstate 70 is Exit 15, Colorado 139 north to Loma and Rangely. This state route connects Interstate 70 with Colorado 64 in Rangely (72 miles north of Fruita). Colorado 139 ascends Douglas Pass near the county line between Garfield and Rio Blanco Counties. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Use Colorado 139 north to Highline State Park, which consists of two lakes: Highline Lake and Mack Mesa Lake. Swimming, water sports, fishing, and hiking are all available at this park. Photo taken 10/18/04.
For trucks and commercial traffic, a weigh station (inspection station) is one mile ahead (Exit 14, Port of Entry). While passenger cars do not have to stop at the Port of Entry, trucks carrying cargo must stop. This inspection station serves both the state of Colorado and the state of Utah. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Westbound Interstate 70 reaches Exit 15, Colorado 139. Use Colorado 139 north to Loma and the junction with U.S. 6-50. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Immediately after the Colorado 139 offramp, the Port of Entry is the next exit from westbound Interstate 70. The freeway continues west toward Utah. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Interstate 70 takes a path away from the Colorado River, and the terrain changes to a more desert-like environment, with gentle rolling hills covered in sagebrush. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The next exit along westbound Interstate 70 is Exit 11, U.S. 6-50 east to Mack. A coal mine located in Mack provides coal for the operation of the Xcel Energy facility at Cameo Station (Exit 46). Photo taken 10/18/04.
There are no services on Interstate 70 for the next 56 miles. Use the Mack exit to follow U.S. 6-50 east to available services. This means there are no gas stations between here and Exit 185/Thompson in Utah. At this interchange, U.S. 6-50 silently merge onto Interstate 70 west. These two U.S. routes do not reemerge until distinct points in Utah: U.S. 6 silently follows Interstate 70 until Exit 156, when U.S. 6-191 depart from Interstate 70 toward Price, and U.S. 50 silently follows Interstate 70 through Green River, the San Rafael Swell, and Fishlake National Forest before departing the freeway at Exit 54 (Junction Business Spur I-70 to Salina). Notably, U.S. 50 shields appear on the Interstate 70 mainline west of Exit 89 (Utah 10) prior to entering the national forest. Photo taken 10/18/04.
The final mileage sign within Colorado provides the distance to the Colorado-Utah state line (10 miles); Green River, Utah (76 miles); and the junction with Interstate 15 in Cove Fort (240 miles). Photo taken 10/18/04.
No services are available at the final exit along westbound Interstate 70 and U.S. 6-50 in Colorado. This final interchange is Exit 2, Rabbit Valley. This photo was taken during a late morning rain storm. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Utah comes into view in this expansive vista near Rabbit Valley. A "Leaving Colorful Colorado" sign is posted at a brief roadside turn out, and the Welcome to Utah sign is visible in the distance. Photo taken 10/18/04.
Interstate 70 and U.S. 6-50 westbound enter Grand County, Utah from Mesa County, Colorado through a swath of vastly undeveloped ranch land. Pictured here is the welcome to Utah sign that greets westbound travelers. Photo taken 10/18/04.

Sources

  1. For more on the April 1998 landslide in De Beque Canyon, visit Instrumentation of the De Beque Canyon Landslide at Interstate 70 in West Central Colorado by Sean Gaffney, Jonathan White, and William Ellis under The Geological Society of America (GSA) in 2002.
  2. The construction dates and contractor name are from Section 1 - Appendix A - Tabulation of Dispute Resolution Boards by the Dispute Resolution Board Foundation; the contractor's (Morrison-Knudsen) role in this project was from 1985 to 1987, but the full freeway was not completed until 1989 (per Matt Salek's excellent Interstate 70 Colorado page).

Page Updated February 5, 2006.

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