Through strong stewardship and relevant programming, the Museums of Western Colorado strive to inspire the community to preserve its heritage and tell its story.
Purpose Statement: The Museums of Western Colorado inspire people to experience and value our region through the collection and preservation of historical and fossil resources. We engage our audience through exhibitions, educational programming, research, and publications.
• Dinosaur Journey collects, preserves, interprets, and displays evidence of the history of life and environs of Western Colorado and geologically related surrounding areas.
• The Loyd Files Research Library provides learning and research opportunities for exploring and interpreting Western Colorado's past, present, and future.
• The Museum of the West is dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and interpretation of artifacts that represent the rich heritage and history of Western Colorado and the contiguous areas of the American West.
• Cross Orchards Historic Site utilizes living history to preserve, interpret, and educate the public on agriculture, transportation, and the social history of the region.
In 1949, a group known as the Memorial Museum Association purchased 24,000 adobe bricks and began construction of a building in the Intermountain Veteran's Memorial Park in Grand Junction, CO. The building was never completed, but in 1953, the Memorial Museum Association reorganized as the Western Slope Museum Association, and the artifacts the group gathered would later constitute a major portion of the Museum's present-day collections.
In 1966, the Museum of Arts and Sciences finally opened to the public in the former Whitman School Building. In 1968, the institution was renamed the Historical Museum and Institute of Western Colorado. In 1971, the Museum received its first accreditation by the American Association of Museums. It was the twenty-eighth Museum in North America to qualify for this professional distinction and only the second in Colorado.
In 1974, Mesa County voters approved a mil levy in support of Museum operations. By a margin of more than a three-to-one, voters assured the presumed financial stability of the Museum. The Museum, renamed the Museum of Western Colorado in 1979, was re-accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1982. This renewed endorsement is a distinction shared by only 10% of all Museums in the United States.
Today, the Museum of Western Colorado is the largest Museum between Denver, CO and Salt Lake City, UT. It comprises four major Museum facilities, four outdoor sites, and a multitude of programs and services. The Museum of the West, formerly known as the Regional History Museum, is located at Fifth and Ute Streets in Grand Junction and is the main historical division of the institution. It is housed in the former C.D. Smith building, which was renovated and reopened in 2000. The Museum of the West contains exhibits on Western Colorado history, an area for traveling exhibits, and most of the Museum's historical collections. The building also contains the administrative offices, archives, research, and storage facilities and includes the Sterling Smith Observation Tower. The Whitman Education Center, adjacent to the Museum of the West, is the former home of the History Museum and was renovated and remodeled into conference and classroom space.
Beginning in 1985, the Museum of Western Colorado operated the Dinosaur Valley Museum in downtown Grand Junction. During the summer of 2000, the Museum moved this operation to Dinosaur Journey, a site located ten miles west of Grand Junction, in Fruita, Colorado. This facility includes robotic dinosaur replicas, a working paleontology laboratory, fossil collections, exhibits, and hands-on activities.
In 1980, the Museum acquired its fourth facility, the Cross Orchards Historic Site, which is located on the north side of Grand Junction. Once one of the largest orchard operations in Western Colorado and in serious need of repair, Cross Orchards was acquired after a community-wide fund drive to save the threatened historic site from destruction. Ongoing restoration of the site has returned the farm to early twentieth century appearance and visitors now enjoy the only living history farm in Western Colorado.
Outdoor areas have also become a major component in the Museum's operations. In 1985, the Museum signed an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, the first of its kind in the nation, to co-manage the 286-acre Rabbit Valley Research Natural Area located west of Grand Junction, near the Colorado-Utah border. The "Trail Through Time," an interpretive nature trail developed by the Museum, opened there in 1986.
Also in 1986, the Museum purchased Riggs Hill on the west side of Grand Junction. This was the site of Elmer Riggs' 1900 discovery of the world's largest known dinosaur, the Brachiosaurus. Since 1986, the Museum has established an interpretive trail to the quarry site and developed an outside amphitheater for interpretive programs.
Currently, the Museum, Bureau of Land Management, and the City of Fruita jointly manage Dinosaur Hill, the site of Elmer Riggs' 1901 discovery of an Apatosaurus. In 1987, the Museum constructed an interpretive trail around the hill leading to that historic quarry, which includes interpretation of other natural and geologic features of the area.
The Museum is the third largest tourist attraction in Mesa County, with only the Colorado National Monument and the Grand Mesa drawing more visitors. Well over 70,000 people annually participate in Museum programs and visit Museum facilities.
And in 2015, the name was changed to Museums of Western Colorado--a small change with a big meaning. The new name reflect the fact that the organization is more than just one facility--Museum of the West, Dinosaur Journey and Cross Orchards Historic site
The Museums of Western Colorado has opened the eyes of my family to the exciting world of paleontology and the rich history of the West. Where else can you explore prehistoric creatures that roamed Western Colorado in the morning and our Western heritage in the afternoon. My family has enjoyed the exhibits and programs at the Museum for over 3 decades, and I would highly recommend a visit to anyone living or visiting Western Colorado.
--Linda Penry, Grand Junction, CO
"We thoroughly enjoyed the few hours we spent going through (Dinosaur Journey) Museum. It is an absolutely astonishing array of items that have been collected through the years from this great historical area. The docent was informative and friendly and added to our visit. Our friends have been there several times and enjoy taking new friends to it every chance they get. If you want to find out about the history of the people who settled this area, this is the place to learn!"
--Karen D., Minocqua, Wisconsin
"This little museum (Museum of the West) is a quaint surprise. One might think it doesn't look like much from the outside, and how much history can "Western Colorado" boast on its own? But it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon whether you are a local or a visitor. It will increase your understanding of the area from pre-historic natives and Spanish exploration to the modern gas and oil dynamic. It is a bit eclectic, but most the exhibits provide interactive bits that help keep younger ones going."
--Rebekah Z., Grand Junction, Colorado
"There is nothing else like (Cross Orchard Historic Site) in the Grand Valley. This used to be an agricultural business and farm owned by Cindy Cross's family. The variety here is remarkable. There is a huge HO scale model train layout in a barn-like building, and even a G gauge model train layout outdoors. A Marine friend of mine worked with the resident blacksmith for over a year, making a Japanese Katana sword: folded thousands of times. There is so much to see and do here that it would take a large book to describe it all. A truly wonderful place to visit often."
--Nancy N., Palisade, Colorado