Although Whitewater is just a few minutes away from Grand Junction, growth has been slow to come to the area, which seems to suit its residents just fine. Most of the people who live out in the area are happy to have a little larger lot, with a lot fewer neighbors and HOA regulations.
"Properties are moving a little slower than in town, but really fast for Whitewater," said Shelly Ramos, a RE/MAX 4000 agent who recently sold a Whitewater property and who's also lived in the area for 15 years. "Buyers are looking for something with space. They want to be able to park an RV; a few people want land for horses."
There are three newer neighborhoods of small acreage properties in the Whitewater area: Elk Run, which is closest to Grand Junction, Pronghorn Estates and Bean Ranch, which is farthest out, across the Highway from Kannah Creek Road, which heads up the side of Grand Mesa. Although those neighborhoods are newer, and occasionally someone will build a new house on a lot they've had for years, none of the neighborhoods are brand new. They've all been part of the real estate market for more than a decade.
The most exciting new development in Whitewater is actually happening on Purdy Mesa, several miles up the mesa from Whitewater, where John and Vicki Mansur have built Grand Mesa Observatory. Vicki Mansur grew up on a ranch less than a mile from the observatory and John took a class in astro photography from Terry Hancock, a pioneer in the field of astro photography. The Mansurs live in Florida, but wanted to do something special with the land they still owned in Colorado, so they decided to build the observatory and hired Hancock to serve as the director. Hancock packed up everything from his Michigan home and move to western Colorado in 2016 to supervise the construction of the observatory, which opened in 2017.
The main observatory building is rather unique, housing six telescopes that are capable of remote astro photography. The entire roof of the building slides to one side, giving the telescopes clear access to the night skies.
"People can log in from anywhere in the world," said Hancock. People who live in light-polluted parts of the world can buy a subscription to Grand Mesa Observatory, where Hancock will operate the telescopes and take photos. Subscribers will then download the data and process it using special software that allows them to create out-of-this-world photographs.
In addition to the main observatory, there are two other domed telescopes at Grand Mesa Observatory. One represents a partnership between Colorado Mesa University and the Air Force, and is part of the USAF Academy Falcon Telescope Network. The other one is in the final phases of construction, and will be used by astrophysics researchers.
The observatory is unique in that it is a nonprofit, and is dedicated to public outreach and education. There is a large 50 by 50 foot concrete observation pad for people to come and bring their own telescopes. With the help of the Western Colorado Astronomy Club, the observatory hosts public viewing nights when the general public is invited to come up to Purdy Mesa and use the telescopes on the outdoor observation pad that are owned by club members.
Volunteer staff members have also done presentations at the library, to various groups and as an outreach to local schools, teachers and students.
"Vicki and John wanted to leave a legacy," Hancock said. "They wanted to provide astronomy education and leave a legacy for the people of western Colorado."
The Whitewater community has embraced the observatory, and there is one of Terry Hancock's astro images on display at the Whitewater post office.