Instead of driving the standard route from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction along I-70, we got a random hair and veered off course. The bedroom community of New Castle invited us to exit and we struck out to the north towards Grass Valley, determined to leave the interstate behind. We tempted the day to navigate us. I’d taken this back route between New Castle and Rifle once before while doing some work with a local ranch family. This was Liz and Z’s first time passing through this blessed country.
Even in early October, the irrigated bottoms of Grass Valley popped like an emerald. The Grand Hogback dominated the southern skyline, while the Flat Tops Wilderness flashed her grandeur to the north. Sheep scattered everywhere amongst the green fields. A handful of clouds floated through Colorado’s blue sky.
Grass Valley forms the eastern doorway to three amazingly beautiful Colorado State Parks. Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap State Parks are reservoirs that offer fishing and other recreational opportunities. Rifle Falls is a scenic, tucked away state park that has a stunning waterfall, peaceful camping, and world-class rock climbing.
All of the sudden, while traveling about 30mph down the twisting road, I caught glimpse of a sun-weathered arm sticking out of a seasoned truck cautioning us to slow down. About 100 yards ahead a small cattle drive was unfolding before our eyes. The hearty, bumbling creatures leisurely yielded as we inched down the asphalt. With the black and white sea of bovines behind us, I hit the accelerator.
The passage continued to wind this way and that until we ran dead smack into Rifle Gap State Park. The clean, transparent waters of Rifle Gap State Park’s 350-acre reservoir provide some of the best boating, fishing, swimming, and water-skiing in Colorado. I jumped out of the car to take the preceding photo – how could anyone resist?!?
With some Bob Dylan blaring out of the windows, we passed through the point where Rifle Creek slices through the Grand Hogback. Striking fins of rock jut out of the earth from every direction. Geology has a way of capturing my imagination. The Grand Hogback is a 90-mile-long ridge of defiant, inclined rock layers of the Mesaverde Formation. It is one of the longest and most continuous hogbacks in North America. And it’s easily visible from space.
Liz, Z, and I were all glad we took the road less traveled. The day felt like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. We met back up with I-70 a few miles later and headed towards further adventures in Palisade.