Grand Junction Area, Colorado
- Interviews By
- John Daley
- Photos By
- Hart Van Denburg
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The arid Book Cliffs dominate the view from Palisade and Grand Junction. The highest point on the iconic geologic formation is Mt. Garfield. This photo was made in October looking across freshly cut hayfields from G Road.
Colorado has a lot of unaffiliated voters, essentially independents who don’t formally back either party. And it has voters who didn’t really want to talk a lot about which candidates or party they back; it seems in part to be a reflection of the contentious national political scene. Brian Hessling helps run a family-owned peach farm in Palisade. He’s an independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. He thinks a lot of people are just turned off by politics, on many levels. “I think that the larger body politic is poison right now. And it’s divisive and it’s causing more harm than help,” Hessling said. “I think that if a voter finds issues that matter to them they should follow those threads based on what’s most important to them and not be concerned about whether the person is a Democrat or a Republican. Because I think that stuff is done, in my opinion, to be productive, moving forward.”
The Book Cliffs rise behind orchards in Palisade. A combination of soil, sunshine, irrigation and hard work has transformed this area into an important region for growing peaches, apples, apricots, cherries, pears, plums, melons, chili peppers and other produce. Vinyards, wineries, distilleries and breweries have also set down business roots.
In Grand Junction, we spoke with Phyllis Hunsinger. She’s a retired school superintendent and Trump supporter. She backs Republican Walker Stapleton for governor and opposes the oil and gas setback ballot measure. She worries that it’ll be bad for the state if both Democrat Jared Polis is elected, and the setback measure passes. "Walker Stapleton is the only one that could possibly keep the economy going in this state,” said Hunsinger. “We can’t afford to have Jared Polis any more than we can afford a state without the oil and gas industry.”
Nikki Halladay, born and raised in Grand Junction, is an administrator for small businesses. Her husband is a finish carpenter; the family has three daughters. Her #1 issue: healthcare. “I feel like my family has kind of been in the middle, kind of stuck in between this paradox of the government trying to expand health care for people and then health care costs going up.” She says her family is currently uninsured, because health coverage was simply too expensive. “It seems like there could be a reasonable fix.”
Jacob Thaden is the owner The Gear Junction, a shop in Grand Junction that sells outdoor gear. Thaden is a mountain biker and he worries about efforts to develop or sell off public lands. “A lot of it seems to be on the verge of going away,” Thaden said. “It’s public lands, it’s supposed to be free space for everyone to enjoy and recreate on. And depending on what you do, you hunt, you four-wheel, you just enjoy being outside, it’s there for a reason. It should be protected.”
Sam Duquette works at The Gear Junction in Grand Junction. He moved from North Carolina to Flagstaff and then arrived in Grand Junction six months ago. The big issues on his mind? Drought and wildfires. What I noticed originally moving up here is the lack of water from a pretty rough winter. I worked at a ski hill down in Arizona and we were in a drought there, the same as it was up here. All summer long we had low water,” said Duquette, who likes to raft. Wildfires around the region brought wildfire smoke into the city over the summer. “The air quality is huge, along with the drought, with all the fires we have around here. The fire fighters have been pretty busy this year.”
Devin Mumblo, center, works for the nonpartisan voter engagement group New Era Colorado, which put up its tent recently at Colorado Mesa University. “It’s a midterm so it’s a little bit challenging, but I would say overall people are very positive, people are looking forward to having their voices be heard,” she said. “They’re interested in this midterm I would say more than other midterms. I think it’s a heated climate right now and I feel that there’s a lot of publicity out there and there’s a lot of media coverage.” Which political party is signing up the most voters? Mumblo said it’s hard to say, but “I feel like I register a lot of non-partisan” voters.
On National Voter Registration Day, the nonpartisan group New Era Colorado hosted a voter registration drive at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Jacorri Daughtry from Aurora, 19, is a freshman at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. He says he plans to vote for the first time in the 2018 election. Daughtry says his top priority is “education, making things better for the students.” He says, regarding the governor’s race he’s “heard about Jared Polis and I like what he’s doing. He’s just working on making things better for the community and I like that.”
The towering red rock cliffs and spires of Colorado National Monument are just a few miles outside of Grand Junction — public land close enough to enjoy up close and personally after a day at work for anyone in the city so inclined. This is a view from Red Canyon Overlook on Rim Rock Drive, on the way up from the East Entrance.
A motor home passes a bicyclist as both make their way up Rim Rock Drive into Colorado National Monument on early October. The park was established by presidential proclamation in 1911 by William Howard Taft. Work on the road began in 1931.
John Noyes is studying environmental science at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Noyes and his family raise goats on their land near the Colorado River. He describes himself as a “full-time student, part-time dairy farmer, full-time dad.”
One of John Noyes’s goats greets a visitor. Noyes says he likes to hunt, fish, hike and head out to the woods in his jeep, and worries about too much energy development. “Colorado as a whole is doing good. My biggest concern, my biggest issue is public lands,” said Noyes, who is a libertarian. “I’m a big advocate for our public lands. It’s very important to me that we keep our American heritage of our public lands that we have open, that every American gets to enjoy. Our public lands are being attacked by our president and the Republicans that are in office right now. I feel they don’t really care about our public lands.”
The sun sets in De Beque Canyon. Interstate 70 through Colorado measures just a hair shy of 550 miles. Construction began at the eastern end in 1967. On the western slope, this stretch between Clifton and Hwy 65 was completed in 1963.