[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 10: US 6 in Colorado (Utah State Line to Palisade; Mesa County)

Go to: Part 9 | Main US 6 page | Part 11

Welcome to Colorful Colorado, where we will spend the next seven parts. For substantial portions of its length US 6 routes over or closely with Interstate 70 into Golden, diverts off on its own solitary routing into Denver, and from there along I-25 and I-76 until it leaves the state again on a solitary routing towards Nebraska. Through the Rocky Mountains it has the highest elevation of any nationally designated highway, 11,990' at Loveland Pass, part of the North American Continental Divide. By implied mileage, it is Colorado's fourth longest highway at 467.3 miles (US 160, US 50 and US 40 are longer), but CDOT only charges 235.8 miles to the highway's solo routings, and in fact it is not signed at all entering the state from Utah. There are several unmarked segments that do not have US 6 shields (and may not have ever had them) but are considered administratively part of US 6 and the alignments are often named as such on street signs and addresses. Since these are part of the internal definition, we will travel them too.

US 6 had two distinct stages in Colorado. In 1932, US 38 was replaced from Lincoln, NE through Greeley, CO (we will continue on this old alignment of US 38 when we reach Wiggins in Part 15). In 1937, it was extended more or less using the current routing along existing local and state roads, most of it unpaved. Aside from local realignments which I will discuss as we reach them, the other major change was its rerouting over CO 78 and Vail Pass in 1940, abandoning the old alignment it had shared with US 24 (which was originally US 40S). This was important because it was subsequently drowned by the Dillon Reservoir in 1963; more about that in Part 13.

In the CDOT highway data log, routes are suffixed with letter segments corresponding to the highway number that alignment is administratively part of. US 6 has 14 such segments, 006A through 006M, with a lonely 006Z in Sterling (Part 16). As a shorthand we will annotate such segments as "segment" with the CDOT route number in the format used by CDOT OTIS.

CDOT is notoriously bad about co-signage of US routes with Interstates; as an example, for reasons we will later explain, US 87 (entirely co-routed with Interstate 25, see Part 14) isn't even signed at all. Of those that do actually have some signage, US 6 probably suffers the most. Old or abandoned alignments of US 6 exist in many areas, again much of it parallel with the Interstate which replaced them; in general there is little of note on these older roadbeds, though some are important business routes and a few do have Interstate business markers. For reasons of time and continuity we will largely travel only those that constitute the current definition and mark the remainder as an exercise for the curious motorist.

Mesa County, CO

Mesa county is our first stop, named for the large geologic mesas in the region (including the appropriately named Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, rising to 11,333' at Crater Peak). It has a population of 146,723 [2010] and the county seat is Grand Junction, which we will reach in this Part.

As mentioned in Part 8, this portion is a section of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway, which we first reached at the US 191 junction in Utah. It is substantially better signed in Colorado.
Distance signage entering the state on Interstate 70. For the history of this alignment of I-70, see Part 9.
Exit 2 and Mile 1.
Mile 6.
Advance signage for Exit 11 and Mack, the unsigned diversion point of US 6 as well as US 50, which has been traveling with us all this way.
Exit 11. US 6 and US 50 divert here.

US 6/US 50

This is the beginning of US 6 as far as CDOT's internal tracking is concerned, internally segment 006A.

The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway continues with us.
Today this is the first US 6 shield in Colorado, over 11 miles from the state line. Notice, however, that there is no US 50; there won't be until we reach Grand Junction.
"Junction" US 6 in Mack. Until 1975 US 6 (and US 50) actually approached along the old alignment to the left, as we mentioned in Part 9, and entered Utah on its own state line crossing; the road we took from I-70 was signed as SPUR US 6.
Mack was named for the Mack Motor Company (which itself took its name from its principal and president), who built the rail line from Utah's Uintah Basin into the mainline railroad. Its population is 677 [2014].
In 1975, US 6 was taken off the old routing and silently rerouted on I-70. This sign reminds drivers that there is no access back to the Interstate, at least not in Colorado; it does not rejoin I-70 until Utah exit 227. This road is inconsistently maintained and we will not travel it. We turn back around to continue EB US 6.
EB US 6 (unsigned US 50) leaving Mack.
Notice that CDOT counted its mileage along I-70 for the purposes of the milemarkers (here Mile 12). Segment 006A is defined to start at Mile 11.08.
Colorado state line plaque and Grand Army of the Republic Highway signage at the Point of Interest between Mack and Loma.
Continuing eastbound.
Entering Loma.
Loma was originally Loma Station, a railroad town, with the name probably coming from the Spanish term for "hill." During the railroad days it supported substantial local agriculture, which it still does to a lesser extent today. Its population is 2,328 [2014].
Junction CO 139. I'm not sure what's with the "TO" banner, since this actually is the highway, a rural feeder from I-70 through some very lonely territory to CO 64 near Rangely.
Distance (and Dinosaur Diamond) signage leaving Loma.
Mile 17.
Entering Fruita.
Fruita is one of only two incorporated cities in Mesa county, the other being Grand Junction. Named for its agricultural output, which was, naturally, fruit, it is better known today as a magnet for outdoor sports and festivals. It originally hailed from the Fruita Town and Land Company, headed by William E. Pabor, who established the townsite in 1884 and attracted farmers with five acres, 200 fruit trees and ample water supply for just $500. Notorious for its liquor laws which lasted well into the 1970s, the modern city was incorporated in 1894 and has 12,646 [2010] residents.
In this case, the "TO" is better understood applying to I-70. CO 340 is a local arterial offering an alternate routing to Grand Junction, connecting with BL 70/US 50, crossing I-70 in the process.
US 6/50 bypasses the Fruita downtown, shown here along Aspen Avenue, via a slant alignment. It's not clear from my period maps, but the putative old downtown alignment probably went east along Aspen, past this picturesque traffic circle, and then south on 19 Rd to the modern mainline. This realignment probably occurred by 1950.
EB US 6 (unsigned US 50) and Mile 20.
Fruita's attempt to give US 6 a downgrade to state highway and business routing. Admittedly US 6's routing is so inconsequential here it probably could be cut off to Grand Junction, but let's not give CDOT any ideas. This is the first signage anywhere that I saw that even acknowledges SH US 50's existence.
Turnoff to 19 Rd, adding further credence to the putative old alignment.
Mile 22.
Entering Grand Junction.
Grand Junction is Mesa county's seat and largest city, and in fact the largest city in western Colorado. As such it is a major railroad and transportation hub today, but in times past it was a substantial agricultural (again, largely fruit orchards) and mining center as well. In the 1970s Exxon purchased oil shale rights during the teeth of the OPEC embargo and ran major petroleum operations out of Grand Junction until 1982, when the oil glut during the early Reagan years made it unprofitable and the bottom fell out of the local economy. It has struggled to regain its previously strong economic footing, looking to additional dollars from mining and tourism. Named for the junction of the "Grand" (Colorado) River -- see Part 9 -- and the Gunnison River, it was inhabited by the Utes for generations and by white settlers since at least 1880. The modern city was incorporated in 1882 and has a population of 58,566 [2010].
Junction signage for I-70. We passed Green River, UT in the last part; we'll get to Denver in Part 14. The little white sign at the bottom right is a structure number sign; CDOT keeps them and all kinds of other cool data in a very comprehensive online highway database.
Mile 26 and junction I-70. We continue straight ahead to become Business Loop 70. This is the end of segment 006A at Mile 26.08 (proof momentarily).

BL 70/US 6/US 50

Distance signage to Delta, CO and Montrose, CO, neither of which US 6 reaches -- but US 50 does.
Reset in mile count, which indicates a new highway alignment. Internally this is segment 070B (the mainline Interstate is 070A throughout the state).
BL 70/US 6/50 functions as a local expressway spur in this segment with several modified interchanges, including this one.
Mile 2 as we enter town.
A baldfaced lie on CDOT's part because this is truly US 50 also. However, segment 050A does not start until Mile 31.76, by US 50's internal count.
Approaching the US 6/US 50 split.
Overhead signage. US 6 continues to the left; BL 70 and US 50, now properly signed, continue towards Montrose on the continuation of segment 070B. Nokia data alleges that the Ute Avenue/Pitkin Avenue BL 70 couplet on the south end of town, after US 50's diversion south on 5th Street, is co-signed as "BRANCH US 6." This does not appear in any of my other road data, does not appear in OTIS, and was certainly not the case in 2006.
However, CDOT gives US 50 a "TO" banner anyway at the actual separation on this obviously older sign that was subsequently replaced. This begins segment 006B at Mile 30.123.

US 6

US 6 downgrades to city street (North Avenue). Until US 50 was moved to the modern BL 70 in 1958 this was still US 50 as well.

US 6 EB at 1st St.
Wow. I need one.
In the distance is the 5th Street intersection. This was the original alignment of US 50 in Grand Junction, the original US 6/50 split, and the original terminus of the historic US 40S to Colorado Springs (but interestingly not to its mainline parent). US 40S was renumbered to US 24 as part of its expansion in 1936, subsequently to become US 6/24 from 1937 to 1975 when US 24 was truncated; we'll see this terminus at the very end of Part 12. Colorado roadgod Dale Sanderson has a better picture of the 5th St/North Ave junction.

"US 789"

This junction of US 50 is also the original junction with the planned but never designated "US 789," the Canada to Mexico Highway which was originally intended to run from Sweetgrass, MT to Nogales, AZ in 1954. Although all five states participated and designated state route 789s to mark the highway, its heavy co-routing with existing US highways (especially what was then US 89, US 666, US 550 and US 6/24) caused it to be rejected as a US highway proposal by AASHTO. Only Wyoming kept the 789 designation (as WY 789), as only Wyoming had routed it over an independent alignment bearing only that number; in the other states the designation was simply stripped from the existing number(s), as Colorado did in 1984. Matt Salek and Andy Field have much more on this historical novelty. Old CO 789 will continue with us to CO 13 in Part 11.
12th Street.
28 1/2 Rd, which probably mucks the grid up a bit, though the Rd instead of St notation indicates we've already left the city limits.
End of North Avenue at "I-70B" which works for both the business purpose and the CDOT internal accounting purpose, I suppose. We turn left. This is the end of segment 006B at Mile 34.535 and the continuation of segment 070B.

BL 70/US 6

30 Rd as we start driving into a westward heading thunderstorm.
EB BL 70/US 6.
Mile 10 (for segment 070B).
Junction CO 141 as we enter Clifton. CO 141 is a major western arterial bent into a serpentine routing by the inhospitable geography it traverses between Grand Junction and US 491 in Dove Creek. CDOT indicates this is the end of CO 141 and the northern terminus of segment 141B, but some maps extend it along segment 070B up to the Interstate.
Clifton is an unincorporated suburb of sorts of Grand Junction. The history is unclear, but seems to have been named after a railroad figure. The modern town has a population of 19,889 [2010].
Mile 12, just south of the Interstate junction, and a ghostly mesa in the background obscured by the rain which was now falling hard. The remaining pictures are under glass, sorry about that. US 6 diverts here. We turn right to begin segment 006C at Mile 37.161.

US 6

Distance signage leaving Clifton and BL 70 at Mile 38.
EB US 6.
Mile 40.
Solo US 6 shield.
Entering Palisade.
Palisade was named for the palisade features of the Mancos Shale, just north of the town, formed by aeons of erosion by weather and the Colorado River cutting into geologic uplifts. White settlers arrived in the 1880s, but found fruit farming difficult due to limited water supply which was not rectified until the US Bureau of Reclamation established an irrigation network in 1913 to support them. Peach groves still flourish in Palisade, which picked up the name of Colorado's "Peach Capital." The modern city was incorporated in 1904 and has a population of 2,692 [2010].
More mesas. US 6 continues straight on to unconditionally merge with EB I-70 (at the end of this section); westbound traffic must use this diversion, amusingly called 37 3/10 Rd.
Mile 43 through Palisade.
Leaving town on EB US 6, with a green directional banner for some reason (possibly borrowed from the Business Loop, which is ironic because of exit 44; see below).
Mile 45. The Colorado River is beside us, coming up from the south where it has paralled us largely sight unseen from the highway, and will remain beside us well into the next Part, where we will talk about it a little and its incredible effect on the surrounding terrain.
Junction I-70 (I told you the merge was unconditional) and the end of segment 006C at Mile 46.058.
Distance signage looking back. And hey, mesas.
Interestingly, despite the fact that BL 70 proper (i.e., segment 070B) ends at exit 37, I-70 gives US 6 a business shield here at exit 44, where they intersect (again, note river and mesas).
My nicely appointed room in Fruita and the end of today's travel.
Continue to Part 11
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