A stream trickling out of Rocky Mountain National Park joins its first major tributaries—the Fraser and the Blue rivers—to become the Colorado, the mightiest canyon cutter in the world. Below Grand Lake the Colorado River valley widens into Middle Park, which occupies most of Grand County. Middle Park is rimmed by the Continental Divide on the east, the Rabbit Ears Range on the northwest, the Gore Range on the southwest, and the Williams Fork Mountains on the south.
An influx of settlers in the 1870s led to the establishment of a county named for the Grand River, as the upper Colorado was called until 1921. The elevation severely limits farming, but ranching has been a mainstay of the economy. Reforestation hides most of the scars of a once significant lumbering industry. Roughly 55 percent of the county is national forest land or in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As a transmontane, freeway-less county spared intensive development, Grand retains much of its pioneer log and frame architecture. The Coulter, Cozens, 4 Bar 4, Gaskill, Kauffman, and Pinney Ranch log stage houses survive along the Berthoud Pass route (later U.S. 40), established during the 1870s. David Moffat's railroad, the Denver, Salt Lake & Pacific, climbed over Rollins Pass and crossed the county in 1906. This 11,680-foot-high pass, often closed by snow, was replaced in 1928 by the 6.2-mile-long Moffat Tunnel, with its east portal on the other side of the Continental Divide, in Gilpin County ( GL23) and its west portal in Grand County ( GA05).
The iron horse promoted tourism in a county famous for dude ranches. The Holzwarth Ranch (1917) in Rocky Mountain National Park is preserved as a rustic ranch which worked dudes as well as live-stock. Hay racks, barns, and antique outbuildings dot a county with lush meadows and rich hayfields, grazed by fat cattle.
Since the 1960s skiing has been Grand County's major source of revenue. Ski area development has produced innovative contemporary vacation houses, condominiums, and commercial structures, some with solar features. The county has grown gradually from its 1874 establishment to a 1990 population of 7,966.
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