Rifle / The Rock That Burns / Colorado Wilderness / Rifle Country

Rifle / The Rock That Burns / Colorado Wilderness / Rifle Country (HM29S9)

Location: Rifle, CO 81650 Garfield County
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Country: United States of America
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N 39° 31.47', W 107° 47.217'

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During the U.S. Geological Survey of 1876, A.C. Peale wrote the word "rifle" on his map to mark the location of a misplaced firearm. The gun was never found, but the name stuck. Founded in 1882, Rifle attracted a steady flow of settlers seeking good land and convenient railroad access; tourism emerged as a third staple after President Theodore Roosevelt's well-publicized 1905 Garfield County bear hunt. The twentieth century brought a series of brief mineral rushes—the uranium used in the atomic blasts that ended World War II was processed near here—but Rifle avoided some of the boom-bust upheavals that rocked many neighboring towns. With its solid base of agriculture, hunting, and recreation, Rifle remains a community of sure and steady aim.

Christo's Curtain

Bulgarian-born artist Christo called his creation "a pure and beautiful tribute to the imagination of man." Local promoters hoped it would bring a windfall in tourism, but the public couldn't decide whether it was a work of art or a $700,000 publicity stunt. From any standpoint, the 360-foot-high, quarter-mile-wide translucent orange curtain spanning Rifle Gap was a monumental undertaking. An initial attempt in October 1971 ended disastrously when gale-force winds shredded the fabric.

The second attempt, on August 10, 1972, also hit a snag, but a worker's high-wire heroics freed some tangled fabric and allowed the unfurling to proceed. Christo's Curtain hung for twenty-eight hours, long enough for the artist to declare triumph; then inevitably, the canyon gusts asserted themselves, forcing a hasty dismantling.

The Rock That Burns

The First Boom

It didn't glitter like gold, but oil shale promised to be every bit as valuable. Western Colorado had huge amounts of it the equivalent of two trillion barrels of oil, geologists estimated—and when World War I created a sudden pinch in the fuel supply, the rush was on. Between 1916 and 1920 speculators filed thousands of claims in and around the Piceance Basin, and two hundred oil shale companies formed. However, refining oil shale was literally like wringing water from stone; the costs far exceeded the yield. As a result, this vast fortune stayed in the ground —there for the taking, yet absolutely unobtainable. By 1930 investors seen enough of this maddening state of affairs, and the oil shale business hit rock bottom.

Black Sunday

Colorado had seen busts before, but the oil shale bust of 1982 was the first one caused by a corporate balance sheet. Soaring energy prices in the late 1970s had driven U.S. oil

companies back to western Colorado's petrified petroleum, and Rifle, Parachute and neighboring communities briefly enjoyed the boom that had eluded them decades earlier. Then, unexpectedly international oil prices sagged; though oil shale remained a recoverable, marketable resource, the expected profits were no longer there. on May 2, 1982—"Black Sunday" —Exxon abruptly terminated its multimillion-dollar project and fired 2,100 workers; by summer's end the industry had collapsed, costing Garfield County thousands more jobs. Once again the oil shale windfall proved a mere mirage, vanishing without a trace.

Colorado Wilderness

White River National Forest has played a central role in American conservation since the movement's inception. Created in 1891 as one of the country's original woodland preserves, it served notice that the West's natural resources were finite. Colorado settlers hardly welcomed that idea; they flagrantly ignored regulations on mining, logging, and grazing, shot at the rangers who tried to enforce the laws, and sued for their right to free use of the public domain. Compromise began during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, a staunch conservationist who enjoyed a strong rapport with westerners, and over time local ranchers and timbermen came to recognize the wisdom of sound environmental management.

By 1913 they had come around entirely, helping thwart a campaign by Denver businessmen to open the land for development.

The United States Forest Service's traditional mission was to put land to its best, most efficient use. But in the case of Trappers Lake, a pristine jewel in the heart of White River National Forest, best use was no use. So said Arthur Carhart, a Forest Service official sent to evaluate the area in 1919. Carhart argued that the area's intrinsic character outweighed the financial value of its resources; instead of managing the land, the Forest Service should let the land manage itself, banning roads, buildings; and all forms of economic development. Carhart's vision gave birth to the American wilderness system. In 1920 Trappers Lake became the nation's first wilderness preserve, the first of more than five hundred such areas set aside over the next eighty years.

Rifle Country
{Area map of historical & geographical highlights}
HM NumberHM29S9
Year Placed1998
Placed ByThe Colorado Historical Society, Colorado Department of Transportation
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 at 1:01pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)13S E 260446 N 4378692
Decimal Degrees39.52450000, -107.78695000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 31.47', W 107° 47.217'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 31' 28.2" N, 107° 47' 13.02" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)970
Closest Postal AddressAt or near Lion Park Cir, Rifle CO 81650, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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