USGS Logo Geological Survey Bulletin 707
Guidebook of the Western United States: Part E. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Route

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Elevation 6,119 feet.
Denver 350 miles.

From this apparently interminable narrow labyrinth the traveler at length emerges into a more open part of the canyon, where he may well be surprised to find dwelling houses and the station of Shoshone. (See sheet 5, p. 150.) Here is the intake of the great hydroelectric plant of the Colorado Power Co., whose transmission lines the traveler may have seen near Leadville and near Idaho Springs, west of Denver. The river is dammed at the small railroad tunnel just below Shoshone, and the water is carried through a tunnel cut in the solid rock to the power plant, which is 3-1/2 miles farther down the canyon.41 The traveler may not realize the quantity of water carried in this tunnel, but if he is making his journey in summer he is soon aware that practically all the water of the river has disappeared into the open mouth of the tunnel.

41In the canyon near Shoshone the Colorado Power Co. has built a large plant for generating electricity by water power—a hydroelectric plant. By means of a diversion dam built just below the station the water of Colorado River is turned into a large concrete-lined tunnel, which carries it along the north wall of the canyon for 3-1/2 miles. When flowing at its full capacity this tunnel will deliver 1,250 cubic feet of water every second to immense steel tubes called penstocks, into which it is dropped to river level, 175 feet below. In its fall it drives two large turbine wheels with a total capacity of 18,000 horsepower, which in turn drive generators of 14,000 horsepower. The electric current is transmitted at a voltage of 100,000 through wires carried on high steel towers for a distance of 180 miles to Denver and is used also at several intermediate points.

The general attitude of the rock beds in this canyon and the adjacent plateaus on the north and south is shown in figure 34, which represents them as they would appear in a deep trench cut across the canyon at Shoshone. The beds dip to the south, and the Leadville limestone forms the surface of much of the plateau on the north, but the limestones and sandstones on the south are covered by a great sheet of basalt, which is not visible from the train but which completely conceals the underlying rocks. A few miles north of the river there is a break (fault) by which the beds on the north are raised higher than those on the south.

FIGURE 34.—Section across canyon of Colorado River at Shoshone.

Below Shoshone the canyon is cut so deep in the granite core of the great anticline that the sedimentary beds which overlie the granite can be seen only here and there. The traveler may get occasional glimpses of the rim of the canyon and may be surprised to see that the country into which the river has cut this deep gash is level or only gently rolling. This region may be regarded as the southern part of the White River Plateau, and the picturesque scenery of the narrow canyon is due simply to the fact that the plateau here is composed of hard rocks, which wear back slowly into moderate and subdued forms. If, however, the crust of the earth remains stationary for a long time—thousands, perhaps millions, of years—even these hard rocks will be worn into a broad valley, bounded by the moderate slopes of low hills. No rocks are hard enough to resist erosion for all time, and it is evident here that Nature has had abundant time at her disposal, and there is no reason to suppose that she will have less in the future or that the future will be greatly different from the past.

The walls of the canyon are rough and rocky, affording excellent feeding ground for mountain sheep when the surface of the plateau is deeply covered with snow. Bands of 40 or 50 sheep are said to be frequently seen in protected places, quietly feeding on the grass and shrubs that grow in the crevices of the rocks and also on the narrow benches on the precipitous slopes. Plate LVII, A (p. 132), shows the leader of such a band standing guard at the edge of the cliff.

A short distance beyond milepost 353 is the hydroelectric plant of the Central Colorado Power Co., with its great penstock through which the water is dropped 175 feet to the turbine wheels beneath, and also the spillway for the excess water to escape. Beyond the plant may be seen the transmission line, strung on high steel towers, spanning gulches, and finally scaling the south wall of the canyon. The line takes a short cut for the valley of Roaring Fork, up which it is carried to and across the Continental Divide at Hagerman Pass.

So far the geologic structure of the great upfold (anticline) is comparatively simple, having been broken at one point only. The highest point in the fold, the axis, is passed near milepost 354, and beyond that point the quartzite rapidly approaches railroad level, but it is broken by so many faults that few travelers can trace the formations and understand the manner in which they appear and disappear. By the aid of the map, however, those who are interested in geologic structure may obtain a fairly good idea of what has happened here and of the shape in which the rocks were left.

All the formations are regular as far as milepost 355, near Grizzly siding, where the quartzite has been abruptly dropped from a height of at least 350 feet above the railroad to water level. This change in the position of the rocks is the result of a fault,42 which trends slightly west of north, probably cutting the high bluff on the west side of Grizzly Creek, which here enters the river from the north. Beyond this fault the beds rise gradually until the white quartzite, which is at water level at Grizzly, is above the railroad and the canyon is rough and rugged, as shown in Plate LIX. Half a mile beyond milepost 356 about 50 feet of the pink quartzite has made its appearance. At this point the granite on the opposite side of the river rises to a height of at least 300 feet. This discrepancy marks another fault, which does not cross the railroad but trends nearly east and west directly along the stream. The rocks on the south side of this fault have dropped about 300 feet, or those on the north have been lifted a similar distance.

42As the term "fault" means a break in the rocky strata of the earth and as the breaking is always accompanied by slipping and crushing, one might expect to find the surface of the ground disturbed along a fault. It undoubtedly is disturbed when the movement takes place, but all the faults seen from the Denver & Rio Grande Western trains occurred so long ago that any break or disturbance of the surface they caused has been obliterated by the streams and the weather. Examples of the lack of evidence of faults on the surface are shown in Plate LXXXVII, A and B.

PLATE LIX. LOWER PART OF CANYON OF COLORADO RIVER. This view shows the river at flood stage, when the water is lashed to spray by the boulders that obstruct its channel. Since this picture was taken the new automobile highway has been constructed on the right bank. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

Beyond the point where the railroad approaches the fault most closely the rocks descend, and within a short distance most of the quartzite has disappeared; but the road here enters Noname Park, and it is almost impossible from the moving train to determine the structure. However, a little farther along the Leadville limestone also dips steeply toward the south and is broken by a fault that runs nearly parallel with the one just described. This fault lies near the south wall of the park. The Leadville limestone is dropped on the north side of the fault and may be seen topping the cliffs on the south. The stream cuts into the upraised block of strata on the south of this fault, and its south bank is followed by the railroad through many cuts in the quartzite and finally in the underlying granite. About half a mile beyond milepost 358, at a sharp bend of the stream around a narrow point that projects from the south, at least 50 feet of granite is exposed, and the massive layers of the Leadville limestone lie like plates on the hillside across the river. As the Leadville limestone never rests normally on the granite it follows that the fault must lie in the river and has caused the formation of Noname Park.

This fault is the last of the series; and, as the train swings around the sharp bend toward the tunnel, the traveler may see the beds descending rather steeply downstream. Here the stream turns once more and cuts back toward the fault in a sharp curve, but the railroad pierces the rocky point, and when the train emerges from the inky blackness of the tunnel the traveler finds himself passing through the rock formations for the last time. The quartzites disappear first below the stream, and finally the massive ledges of the Leadville limestone; and then the train enters the open valley formed by the erosion of the upper Carboniferous rocks and approaches Glenwood Springs.

Here, on the right, is a grove of cottonwood trees, which surround the bathing pool of hot sulphur water that has made this a famous health and pleasure resort, and one may catch glimpses of the towers of the Hotel Colorado, which stands somewhat higher on the mountain slope and overlooks the lower part of the valley.

Glenwood Springs.
Elevation 5,758 feet.
Population 2,073.
Denver 360 miles.

Springs are also abundant in the river and beside the railroad track just above the station. Glenwood Springs (see Pl. LX) is at the junction of Roaring Fork with Colorado River. Roaring Fork flows in a broad valley that it has eroded in the soft Carboniferous shale—a valley so broad that it seems like the principal valley. The town is noted for its shade trees and its homes and for its accommodations for the travelers who are attracted here by the reputation of the springs. An added attraction is the famous "Hanging Lake" (see Pl. LXI), which lies high up the slopes of the canyon of Colorado River, about 12 miles from the town. Glenwood Springs might also be called a coal-mining center, for although no coal is mined at or near the town it furnishes an outlet for a great coal field that lies to the south and west. A branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad turns to the south at Glenwood Springs and connects with the coal-mining towns of Sunshine and Spring Gulch. Forty miles south of Glenwood Springs and connected with it by rail are the famous Yule marble quarries, which are now sending their output to all the large cities of the East. A notable example of the fine buildings constructed of Colorado Yule marble is the new Lincoln Memorial at Washington. At the town of Marble, near these quarries, there is said to be the largest marble mill in this country.

PLATE LX. GLENWOOD SPRINGS. View from hill back of the town, looking west down the valley. Roaring Fork enters Colorado River from the left. The canyon of Colorado River ends just at the right of the view. Hotel Colorado and the famous hot sulphur-water bathing pool are in the foreground on the right. Dark-red sandstone forms the hills on the left and crosses the valley in the distance. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

PLATE LXI. HANGING LAKE. A natural wonder on the rim of Colorado River about 12 miles from Glenwood Springs. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

At a point a short distance west of the station at Glenwood Springs the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad crosses Colorado River, and here the mouth of Roaring Fork may be seen on the left. The Ouray (Leadville) limestone, from which the hot sulphur springs issue, may be seen extending to the right for about a mile to a point where it passes into the hills and is lost to view. It is succeeded by the soft shale and sandstone of the Weber formation. The Denver & Rio Grande Western follows the right bank of the river.

When the train has passed through the railroad yards and is making a rather sharp curve around an eastward bend of the river, the traveler may see Mount Sopris away off to the south (left), framed by the canyon walls of Roaring Fork. Mount Sopris is one of the high mountains in this part of Colorado, and it is one of the most beautiful, because it is a single mass that towers far above the surrounding country.

The mountain side across the river has been gashed by rain and frost, exposing the brick-red Triassic sandstone and shale. The same red beds may be seen on the north side of the river, but before the train reaches them it must cross the maroon, white, and green beds of the Maroon formation. These beds may be seen in the low hills on the north (right) and also in places along the river, where they have been exposed in the excavation made for the road. The brick-red sandstones are the most resistant beds in this part of the series, and the point where the river cuts across them is therefore marked by a canyon which, although not so rugged nor so narrow as other canyons along Colorado River, has a richness and brightness of color that is excelled by few. The base of the Triassic beds is crossed near milepost 364, and the river here cuts nearly through the formation before it turns to the right and follows the strike of the rocks for several miles. At the sharp bend mentioned above the top of the formation is not clearly marked. Usually this formation contains rocks of no other color than brick-red, but a short distance beyond the river there is a band of white sandstone nearly 100 feet thick and then about 300 feet more of a brick-red color. As the brick-red color is generally regarded as the distinguishing feature of this formation the line separating it from the overlying Gunnison shale is drawn provisionally at the upper most bed that has the characteristic color.

On the river bank opposite milepost 365, which is about half a mile beyond the sharp bend mentioned above, is the tipple of the South Canon Coal Co. The coal is not mined at this place, for the rocks here are the red sandstone and the Gunnison formation, neither one of which contains coal. The mine is about 1-1/2 miles up South Canyon, in the Mesaverde formation, the great coal-bearing formation of western Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. In the old geologic reports this formation was called "Laramie," a formation at the extreme top of the Cretaceous system, but it is now known to be very much older than the Laramie and has been named the Mesaverde formation, from the Mesa Verde (may'sa vair'day, Spanish for "green table"), in the extreme southwest corner of the State—a mesa that has now been set aside as a national park on account of its ruined cliff dwellings. The coal is brought from the mine in tram cars.

For about 2 miles below the coal tipple the river follows in a general way the outcrops of the formations, the alternating red and white beds on the mountain side on the left and the beds of solid red color on the right. The beds of sandstone dip steeply to the west, and they stand above the railroad on the right in great slabs 20 or 30 feet high. The surface of these slabs is covered with ripple marks identical with those now being formed in shallow water along the coast, which indicates that the red sand forming these rocks was washed into some shallow basin where it was distinctly rippled by each passing wave. These ripples may have been made millions of years ago, yet they are as perfect as if they had been made but yesterday.

A little below the exposure of ripple-marked sandstone the top of the bright-red sandstone (Triassic) is well shown in a hill across the river. (See fig. 35.)

FIGURE 35.—Top of red sandstone (Triassic) forming crest of hill below south Canon Coal Co.'s coal tipple. Beds. dip southwest.

Near milepost 367 the valley opens and is irrigated, and the deep red of the sandstone is relieved by the bright green of alfalfa, sugar beets, and apple orchards, which are irrigated by water taken from the creek that comes in from the right. Below this point the river turns more toward the west, and it soon cuts through the red sandstone that has bordered the valley most of the way from Glenwood Springs.

As all the beds here dip toward the southwest the river cuts through a formation from bottom to top and then passes into the overlying formation. The top of the Triassic system is crossed at milepost 369, or about three-quarters of a mile beyond the siding of Chacra. The Gunnison formation, the next formation in the series above the Triassic, is only about 300 feet thick, and as it dips at an angle of about 45° it is soon crossed. It is characterized by a variety of colors, but maroon, green, and white predominate. Across the river on the left there are some small conical hills composed of this formation, which are capped on the far side by massive beds of the Dakota sandstone, which marks the base of the Upper Cretaceous series and is one of the most persistent and widespread formations in the Rocky Mountain region. It is generally thin, at few places exceeding 80 feet in thickness. It was deposited on the surface of the Gunnison formation. During the deposition of the Gunnison formation the region was land, though probably of low relief, but the deposition of the Dakota marks the end of land conditions and the beginning of the occupancy of the region by the sea, which continued during the deposition of the succeeding thick shale. The Dakota sandstone is generally massive and very resistant to erosion, so that where it is upturned at any considerable angle it makes hogbacks, such as those seen back of Canon City. Although the Dakota is not exposed near the railroad its beds, concealed beneath the surface, are crossed by the track about halfway between mileposts 369 and 370. The relation of the Dakota to the rocks above is shown in figure 36.

FIGURE 36.—Section through Grand Hogback at Newcastle.

The rocks above the Dakota for a long distance are very soft shale or shaly limestone, so they have been eroded into a wide valley that lies between the little hogback formed by the Dakota sandstone and the mountainous ridge on the left, which trends nearly parallel with the line of the railroad and is composed of the Mesaverde formation, also of Upper Cretaceous age. The first shale to be seen is exposed in a cut in the side of a hill, but it is so close to the moving train that its character can not easily be determined. It is, however, very limy, and many of its layers consist of soft, white, impure limestone. This formation is the Niobrara limestone, and it is characterized by shells (Inoceramus) from 8 to 10 inches in diameter, which occur in great abundance. These shells are of peculiar construction, for the grain of the shell runs directly through it instead of along or around it as in most shells, both fossil and living, and this structure makes the shell very weak and easily broken. At the time this shale and limestone were deposited there were, so far as is now known, no mountains in this region, and the sea had an unbroken sweep from the site of Missouri River on the east to the site of the Wasatch Mountains on the west. Many persons may find it hard to believe that changes so great have taken place in the face of the earth, but one who diligently studies the rocks is impressed more with its instability and change than with its stability. He soon learns that change has been the rule rather than the exception—that the rocky crust of the earth, which is so frequently referred to as "everlasting," is not everlasting in the sense of unchangeable. The earth's crust has been and doubtless is to-day like thin ice that bends under the skater's weight but seldom breaks, and a depression in one place gives rise to an elevation in another. Depressions in the crust of the earth, if they were at all profound, have led to the invasion of the sea, and elevation has caused the formation of dry land and possibly mountains.

The shale over which the traveler is passing is known in most of western Colorado and Utah as the Mancos shale, but toward the east the middle part of the shale changes to limy shale and then to limestone (Niobrara), and where this limestone is found the shale underlying it is generally called the Benton shale. That the rocks which form the large ridge on the left are coal-bearing is shown by old prospects and mine dumps that at many places scar the slopes. The first old mine to attract attention may be seen on the left just before the train passes milepost 370. This mine was near the top of the ridge, and the coal was lowered to the valley by a long inclined tramway, but Nature is fast removing the scars made by man, and they will soon not be noticeable. The first active operation to be seen is the Garfield (Vulcan) mine, opposite milepost 371, which is on a coal bed 14 feet thick. Coal from this mine also is lowered to track level over an inclined tramway, but this tramway is comparatively short. Farther along the mountain side the traveler may see smoke escaping from an opening nearly on the same level as the mouth of the Garfield mine. This smoke comes from a fire in the mine that has been burning for several years. Such fires may be started in many ways, but this particular fire is supposed to have started spontaneously in broken coal. Coal of comparatively low rank, such as that mined at Vulcan, is subject to spontaneous ignition, especially when crushed and undergoing alternate wetting and drying, by which the carbon of the coal is oxidized or combined with the oxygen of the air or the water so rapidly as to start a fire. In the old Wheeler mine, which was opened years ago in the mountain point on the north side of the valley, just beyond the village of Newcastle, it was found impossible to prevent the coal from taking fire, and many years ago, after repeated and unsuccessful attempts were made to extinguish it, the mine was abandoned, and the coal is still on fire. Spontaneous ignition of coal has occurred not only in mines but on the outcrop of coal beds of rather low rank, and these fires have burned as long as air was available, making the adjacent rocks bright red and, where the heat was especially intense, melting them to slag or clinker.

Elevation 5,562 feet.
Population 447.
Denver 373 miles.

The railroad swings to the right along the banks of Colorado River and enters Newcastle. This place is well known as a coal-mining center and is one of the points for reaching the great hunting ground of the White River Plateau to the north. It was to Newcastle that Theodore Roosevelt came in 1904, while he was President of the United States, on one of his famous hunting expeditions. From the station may be seen the bottom layers of the Mesaverde formation in the hills immediately back of the village, and on the north (right) and ahead may still be seen the scars on the mountain side and the dump of the old Wheeler mine that was abandoned because of fire. The red color, due to burning, and possibly the smoke of the fire may be seen from the train. The Mesaverde is one of the greatest coal-bearing formations in the world. In the end of the Grand Hogback, on the right (see Pl. LXII, A), the aggregate thickness of coal in beds over 4 feet thick is about 109 feet. One of these beds—the Wheeler—is 40 feet thick, and several others are more than 10 feet thick.43 At the time these coal beds were formed the climate in this region was very different from that which prevails there to-day, as is shown by the kind of plants which grew at that time and furnished the material for the beds of coal. Palms then grew here luxuriantly, and many fragments of impressions of palm leaves have been found in the rocks that are associated with the coal. Plate LXII, B, shows an usually fine specimen found by the miners at Newcastle.

43The coal-bearing rocks (Mesaverde formation) dip toward the west under the overlying rocks and then reappear between DeBeque and Palisade. These two areas of sandstone constitute the edges or rims of a great structural trough known as the Uinta Basin. A section across the trough is shown in figure 37. This basin forms one of the great reserves of coal in the Rocky Mountain region. It extends from Crested Butte in Gunnison County nearly to the Wasatch Mountains in Utah and is estimated to contain 160 billion tons of coal. The coal is mined in the Crested Butte district, at Newcastle and for several miles to the south, at Cameo and Palisade, at Thompson, Utah, and at Sunnyside and Castlegate, near the west end of the field. Coal is not mined in other parts of the basin either because the beds are not accessible by railroad or because the coal is so low in rank that it could not be sold in competition with the coal already on the market.

The quality of the coal differs greatly in the different parts of the basin. The highest rank—anthracite—is found near Crested Butte, and the lowest rank—subbituminous coal—at points on the upturned rim. Coke is manufactured south of Glenwood Springs, Colo., and at Sunnyside, Utah.

PLATE LXII. A (top). GRAND HOGBACK. View of the Grand Hogback where it is trenched by Colorado River at Newcastle. Old dump heaps show where coal has been mined, but all the mines have been abandoned. The Wheeler mine, at the extreme right, was abandoned on account of fire, and the coal is still burning. In this hill the workable coal beds have an aggregate thickness of 109 feet. Photograph by Hoyt S. Gale.

B (bottom). PALM-LEAF FAN GROWN IN COLORADO. Long ago in geologic time palms grew luxuriantly in all parts of Colorado, and the coal miners about Newcastle when they want a fan merely quarry one out of the rock. Here is a group of miners and a fossil palm-leaf fan they have just found. Photograph by Hoyt S. Gale.

From Newcastle the trains of the Colorado Midland formerly ran to Grand Junction over the tracks of the Denver & Rio Grande Western. On account of this double use the roadbed between these points is treated as a distinct unit, and the mileposts do not conform to the general scheme of numbering consecutively from Denver but are independent, beginning at Newcastle and ending at Grand Junction.

About 1-1/2 miles below Newcastle the traveler passes out of the Mesaverde formation and into the overlying Wasatch. This formation is of Tertiary age and is the first rock as young as Tertiary that the traveler has seen since he left the vicinity of Denver and Palmer Lake. It is characterized generally by coarse conglomerate and in places is composed of boulders many inches or even several feet in diameter. It is reddish or pinkish in color, or it is made up of bands of red alternating with bands of white or light green. It was not formed immediately after the Mesaverde, on which it rests here, but after the Mesaverde had been laid down, consolidated, raised above drainage level, and remained a land surface for a long time. At last the mountains were partly uplifted and great lakes were formed, and into these lakes boulders worn from the older rocks, as well as fine material, such as clay and sand, were washed, and the whole mass was finally consolidated into rock. The time which has elapsed since it was deposited and the pressure of the overlying rocks have not been sufficient, however, to make it very hard; it is much less coherent than the Mesaverde and consequently gives a greater width of valley than the older rock. The Wasatch beds near the outcrop of the Mesaverde dip steeply to the southwest, or into the great Uinta Basin, but at a greater distance from the hogback the beds flatten and become nearly level as they approach the middle of the basin. (See fig. 37, p. 148.) From Newcastle to Rifle the most prominent surface features on the right are the sharp conical hills of the Wasatch formation, in which the beds apparently stand on edge.

Elevation 5,441 feet.
Population 379.
Denver 380 miles.

The soft Tertiary and Cretaceous formations have been eroded very rapidly, and vast quantities of clay, gravel, and sand have been washed into the basin-like valley below the narrow canyon which the river has cut through the Grand Hogback. This loose material once filled the valley to a considerable depth, and the streams then removed part of it, leaving the remainder as great sloping terraces, which come down from the sides of the valley and would meet in the middle were it not for the trench which the river has cut. The presence of this fine material has given to one of the villages the appropriate name of Silt. On the old maps of this region this broad valley was called Cactus Valley, on account of the barrenness of the region and the presence of many forms of cacti. To-day the parts on which water has been taken bear little resemblance to a cactus valley, but the unreclaimed part is extremely barren. Here for the first time on this journey the traveler is coming into the real semiarid region, where precipitation is so slight that crops can not be raised without irrigation and where the unreclaimed tracts are either barren of vegetation or have the kind that is characteristic of the more nearly desert regions. On the south (left) the traveler may see the east front of Battlement Mesa, which is capped by a layer of basalt that has preserved the even surface over which it flowed as lava. Its east front, which is seamed and scarred, presenting a very rugged face, is one of the highest points in the vicinity, having an altitude of over 10000 feet. The even surface upon which this flood of lava was poured is probably a part of the peneplain of which the White River Plateau is another remnant. Those who have made no study of geology may think that all plateaus are formed by the uplift of parts of the country to a greater altitude than that of the surrounding regions—in other words, that they are on anticlines or upfolds of the rocks, but this is not uniformly true. The White River Plateau is on such an upfold, but Battlement Mesa is in a downfold, and generally upfolds and downfolds have no necessary connection with the formation and preservation of plateaus.

Elevation 5,310 feet.
Population 885.
Denver 387 miles.

Rifle, on Colorado River at the mouth of Rifle Creek, although not a large town, is one of the most important points on the railroad. The irrigated land along the river near Rifle yields abundant crops, but they are somewhat different from those that are raised about Glenwood Springs, for the land here stands at a lower altitude and the summer temperature is consequently higher. Potatoes and grains are not large crops about Rifle; sugar beets, alfalfa, and fruits are more common. From Rifle a stage line, 42 miles long leads northward to Meeker, the largest town in the irrigated valley of White River and a noted outfitting point for hunters of big game. This road continues northward from Meeker to Craig, the present terminus of the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad ("Moffat road"). This part of Colorado has long been noted for the raising of horses and cattle, and for many years Rifle was the shipping point from which train after train of fine range cattle went to the eastern markets. The dry-land farmer has materially cut down the extent of the open range, so that the herds have been greatly reduced in number and size, and many of the cattle that are now raised reach the market by other routes, so that Rifle is no longer preeminently a cattle-shipping point.

Opposite Rifle is a marked terrace about 400 feet high, which forms a sharp boundary to the irrigated part of the valley. Like all the terraces so far seen, this one is doubtless a remnant of the old floor of the valley—a floor formed by the river when it was flowing some 400 feet higher than it does to-day, or when the surface of the land was that much nearer sea level than it is now. Remnants of what appears to be this same high terrace may be seen almost continuously below Rifle for a distance of 25 or 30 miles.

Beyond Rifle the great, broad swell of Battlement Mesa is the most conspicuous feature on the south side of the valley, but the reason for its name does not become apparent to the traveler until he has reached a point farther down the valley. As seen near Rifle Battlement Mesa is a great rounded mass in which very few ledges of rock crop out at the surface. It also bears very few trees, but parts of it, as well as of Grand Mesa, farther south, are covered with a thick growth of timber, and these two mesas constitute the Battlement National Forest. As the principal industry in this region is stock-raising one of the important features of the administration of this forest is the treatment of the "range" and the adjustment of grazing permits. For the information of those who wish to learn more about the administration of the national forests and the Government's method of dealing with grazing privileges, Smith Riley, district forester, has given a brief description in the footnote.44

44The barren piñon and brush covered foothills seen from the train between Rifle and Grand Junction give the traveler no idea of the fertile interior valleys and table-lands that comprise the Battlement National Forest—the largest grazing forest in the State of Colorado.

The forest proper, which lies somewhat remote from the railroad and covers an area of 677,340 acres, comprises two great table-lands known as Grand Mesa and Battlement Mesa. Fully 50 per cent of the area of the Battlement Forest is covered with timber. Wild grasses and weeds, which grow in abundance in open parks and in the less densely wooded parts of the forest, furnish excellent summer pasture. The foothills between the national forest and the valleys also provide valuable winter range, and the irrigated bottoms along the streams are admirably adapted to raising hay and to the winter feeding of stock. Such, in brief, is the character of the lands that furnish pasturage for more than 43,000 cattle and horses every year.

The natural grazing advantages of this part of Colorado attracted cattlemen long ago and led to the first development of the country. Those were days without laws or regulations, when the more powerful cattle owners had everything their own way, "running" as many cattle and sheep as they wished, rapidly overgrazing the accessible tracts and getting little or no benefit from the others. This "open-range" system, as it was called, resulted in the gradual accumulation of more live stock than the country could properly maintain, and during unfavorable seasons it produced severe losses.

In those early days the market was very unstable. Prices were less than half those of the present day, and there was a great deal of animosity between cattlemen and sheepmen. So strong was this animosity that between 1890 and 1892 several encounters occurred in which at least one man was killed and thousands of sheep were wantonly butchered or driven over precipices. Ultimately the cattlemen proved to be the stronger and drove the sheepmen from the range.

By this time the territory then in use had become overgrazed, the range depleted, and the water-supply contaminated and diminished. The struggle therefore took on a new phase—it became one for the control of range and water. Homesteads and water holes were taken up in such a way as to control large areas, some homesteaders controlling as many as 10 sections of grazing land.

After this struggle for supremacy the fruit industry was started and ultimately took possession of much of the fertile valley lands in and adjacent to the forest. For a time this new industry flourished, and the value of land increased to a point that prohibited its acquisition for grazing. The fruit industry in turn had its drawbacks, and now many of the orchards are being turned into fields of alfalfa. To dispose of this crop properly live stock is necessary, so there is now a revival of the cattle business.

Since the Battlement National Forest was established, in 1892, the grazing industry of this region has been reduced to a science. Range privileges have been equitably distributed by the Government on the basis of the bona fide development of permanent homes. Control of the range by rule of might has disappeared, overgrazing has been stopped, and the forest ranges are now used without injury to them. Most important of all, the live-stock business has been placed on a secure and profitable basis, and stockmen have come to look upon the Forest Service as their friend.

One of the first considerations in the proper administration of a grazing forest is the establishment of "grazing periods" consistent with the protection of the forage plants. Under the supervision of the Forest Service the periods for grazing have been so adjusted that the cattle are not allowed on the range until the grass and soil are ready. This permits the full utilization of the forage without overgrazing or denudation. A careful study is also made of the "carrying capacity" of each individual range—that is, of the ability of a given tract to sustain stock in good condition without deterioration of the forage.

The construction and maintenance of drift fences (see Pl. LXIV. B) for properly handling stock on the range and of pastures for gathering stock and for weaning calves; the establishment of salt grounds, for salt is as necessary for beasts as for man; the construction of wagon roads and trails to open up new and unused parts of the range; and the improvement of springs and water holes—all this work and much of other kinds that have a vital bearing on the grazing industry has been done by the Forest Service in cooperation with the stockmen.

All grazing privileges in national forests, except for 10 head or less of milch cows or work horses, are granted under a formal permit that can be procured on application to the Forest Supervisor, though each year, with the increasing demand for range, the equitable allotment of these privileges is becoming more difficult. In its grazing policy the Forest Service takes the position that it would rather help the small man to make a living than the big man to make a profit. The development of local ranges and the production of winter feed is therefore encouraged, and within certain limits grazing privileges are granted to new settlers, even to the extent of reducing the privileges of those who have been "running" a large number of cattle. On the other hand, the so-called "vested rights" of the large owner are respected and his privileges maintained except where the small owner is being unduly crowded or denied consideration. Maximum limits as to the number of cattle and horses that may be "run" on the forest by the owner have therefore been established in order to prevent monopoly. The small stockman is also safeguarded by a "protective limit," which is the number of cattle the settler must have in order to make a living on his property. The small man is thus able to build up his holdings to this limit, and stockmen who claim larger privileges are assured that they will not be reduced unreasonably by the demands of the small man.

As the live stock that is grazed on the national forests furnishes a considerable part of the meat supply of the country, the Forest Service feels that it should promote the use of our grazing resources as fully as the proper care and protection of the forests and the water supply may permit.

When Battlement Mesa is first seen from the railroad, near Rifle, no hard rock can be discerned on its surface, but near the village of Rulison small streams that come down from the mesa have made sharp cuts through the terrace on the opposite side of the river and have deposited at the foot of the terrace a great quantity of boulders in the form of alluvial cones. These boulders are composed of basalt, a dark rock that is very unlike any others which are seen in this vicinity. This basalt was once molten lava that was poured out over the even surface and now caps the mesa and protects its from erosion. Battlement Mesa was so named because of the fancied resemblance of its north front to the walls of some old castle, but the traveler can not see these rugged points until he has passed the east end of the mesa.

Beyond Rifle the most conspicuous features on the north (right) side of the valley are the great white cliffs of Mount Logan. When the traveler first sees them, near Rifle, they are in the distance, but as he goes westward he approaches them, and before the train has covered many miles it is running at their bases. Many of the maroon beds of the Wasatch, which came in so prominently on the west side of the Grand Hogback west of Newcastle, have passed below the level of the river; only a few hundred feet remains in sight to form a reddish band about the foot of the white cliffs. The relation of these beds to the Uinta Basin is shown in figure 37.

FIGURE 37.—Section across Uinta Basin from Newcastle (on the right) to Palisade (on the left).

In the vicinity of Rulison the cliffs are very conspicuous, and from Rulison to Grand Valley the train runs practically at their feet. These cliffs. which tower to a height of 3,500 feet above the railroad, are but the points of long spurs which far back from the river unite in a broad, unbroken plateau. The upper part of the cliffs is composed of white shale and sandstone known to geologists as the Green River formation. These rocks, although originally dark, weather uniformly to a dull white. The base of the cliffs is made up of the maroon shale of the Wasatch formation, which is exposed at several places between Grand Valley and Salt Lake City. As shown in Plate LXIII, the Green River formation makes prominent cliffs on the north side of the valley and occurs also in the high parts of Battlement Mesa, on the south. Its presence is generally indicated by its white color, which shows wherever the cover of brush and trees has been removed. In such places it is soon cut into castellated forms.

PLATE LXIII. GRAND VALLEY CLIFFS. The picturesque cliff back (north) of Grand Valley, as seen from the south side of Colorado River. This country is a vast plateau in which Colorado River has carved its valley to a depth of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. The cliffs are the cut edges of the beds that form the plateau. The lowest beds are Wasatch, but those near the top of the plateau are oil shale of the Green River formation. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.
Grand Valley.
Elevation 5,104 feet.
Population 257.
Denver 404 miles.

Most of the lower part of the valley is irrigated and produces good crops and considerable fruit. A sloping terrace on the south side of the river, opposite the village of Grand Valley, is irrigated by streams that come down from the higher parts of Battlement Mesa, and the scene here is a pretty picture of rural peace and prosperity. The principal scenic feature is the great white cliff (Pl. LXIII) immediately back of the village. All except about 600 feet at the base of this cliff is composed of shale of the Green River formation, which, aside from its striking color, is notable because it contains a large amount of organic material, mostly remains of plants, from which oil may be obtained by destructive distillation. Oil has not yet been produced commercially from this shale, but it probably will be when crude oil from wells be comes scarcer and the demand for gasoline is greater than it is to-day. This shale has been studied, tested, and mapped by Dean E. Winchester, of the United States Geological Survey, who describes it below.45 A moderate estimate, made by him, of the quantity of oil that may be obtained from the Green River formation in Colorado alone is 40,000,000,000 barrels.

45Before petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania, in 1859, the Mormons distilled it, in an experimental way, from shale of the Green River formation near Moab, Utah, where the ruins of their old still may yet be seen. Experiments in other parts of northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado have confirmed the results obtained at Moab. For many years oil has been distilled from similar shale in Scotland, where large plants have been erected for this purpose, but the supply of crude petroleum in this country has been so great that no one has been willing to invest capital in such an enterprise. The growing demand for gasoline, however, has made it imperative to seek further supplies of oil, so the United States Geological Survey has been testing the so-called oil shale of the Green River formation to find how many gallons of oil it will yield per ton and mapping its geographic distribution so as to be able to make some estimate of the total quantity of oil that may be obtained from it. A conservative calculation of the oil content of the shale in Colorado shows that it will yield at least 40,000,000,000 barrels of crude oil. The yield of gasoline would be one-tenth as much, and with a little added expense 300,000,000 tons of ammonium sulphate would be obtained as a by-product. The sulphate is an excellent fertilizer and would be highly valuable to the farmers in this and adjacent regions.

The Green River formation, which is so well exposed in the great white cliffs at Grand Valley, consists predominantly of shale, but in places it includes beds of sandstone, oolite, and conglomerate. The general white color of the weathered outcrops is varied near the top of the big cliffs by hard bluish beds, which when freshly broken are dark brown or black and give off an odor of petroleum. This hard, dark shale is destined to become a valuable source of crude oil and its refined products, such as gasoline and kerosene, as well as of nitrogen compounds. Good oil shale is tough and remarkably flexible. Thin splinters will burn and give off an asphaltic odor when ignited with a match. Oil shale contains a vast amount of organic matter, largely vegetal, which appears to be the source of the crude oil that may be produced from it by destructive distillation.

The average oil shale mined in Scotland will yield about 25 gallons of crude oil to the ton, but there is an abundance of shale in Colorado and Utah that will yield a barrel (42 gallons) to the ton. The crude oil, when refined by ordinary processes, will yield from 10 to 15 per cent of gasoline.

Experiments are now in progress both in the laboratories of the United States Bureau of Mines and in many private establishments to devise a method of retort treatment that will most successfully produce a distillate that can readily be refined into standard products at a profit. Such a method will no doubt be found, and this region in northwestern Colorado will probably be the scene of a great industry in the production of artificial petroleum by the distillation of these deposits of oil shale.

The oil shale is within view from the railroad for only a short distance in Colorado, near Grand Valley, and is not seen again by the traveler until he reaches Colton, Utah, but the two areas are connected north of the railroad by an almost unbroken outcrop, and shale of sufficient thickness and richness to warrant mining is supposed to underlie an area of at least 5,000 square miles in the Uinta Basin of northwestern Colorado and northeastern Utah.

The features below the town of Grand Valley are much the same as those above it. The same white cliffs, with the maroon band about the base, rise above the railroad on the north, and the broad swell of Battlement Mesa rises on the south. Between lies the open valley, with its band of trees fringing the river and its patches of farm land where the surface is sufficiently level for irrigation. In midsummer the valley displays beautiful shades of green, but in autumn, after the early frosts have touched the cottonwood trees along the river and the aspens on the slopes above, it bears a beautiful mantle of green and gold.

The hills across the valley, although they lie within the Battlement Forest, are composed of the red and green shale and sandstone of the Wasatch formation and are almost devoid of vegetation. (See Pl. LXIV, A.)

PLATE LXIV. A (top). BARE HILLS OPPOSITE DE BEQUE. Although these hills are in the extreme west end of the Battlement National Forest they bear very little timber or in fact vegetation of any kind. They are composed of the same kind of material as that shown in Plate LXV, A. Photograph by the U. S. Forest Service.

B (bottom). STOCK FENCE IN A NATIONAL FOREST. A drift fence for controlling the pasturage of stock in the Battlement National Forest. To one accustomed to a humid climate the vegetation on this land does not appear promising, but the cattle can find good pasture between the bunches of sage. Photograph by the U. S. Forest Service.

De Beque.
Elevation 4,945 feet.
Population 292.
Denver 417 miles.

After being crowded close to the river by the high bluffs of the maroon shale and sandstone, the railroad suddenly emerges into the broad valley of Roan Creek at the little village of De Beque, which is flanked on the north by the high turrets, towers, and minarets of the White Cliffs. As Roan Creek heads on the high plateau it contains a never-failing supply of water, which is used over and over again in irrigating the level land within its valley. The pasture on the plateau is excellent, so that the principal industry in and around De Beque is stock raising.

West of the river there is a slight arch in the rocks on which a number of wells have been drilled in search of oil. Some of these wells have found small quantities of oil, but most of them have been "dry holes"—that is, holes that yield little or no oil. The slight arch in the rocks is regarded as favorable for the accumulation of oil, for oil and gas are generally associated with water in the rocks, and as they are lighter than water they are forced up into the high places or arches, as shown in figure 38, but in the region about De Beque there seems to be little or no oil in the rocks to accumulate.

FIGURE 38.—Relation of oil, gas, and water to an anticline. In a porous sandstone gas may be forced to the top of the arch, oil will come next, and water will lie in the lower part.

A short distance west of the station at De Beque the railroad crosses Roan Creek, and beyond for some distance it runs through a rolling country, most of which is irrigated and contains good farms. The river bottom on the east (left), which occasionally may be seen from the train, is also largely under cultivation, and beyond it the high land rises, terrace above terrace, up to the crest of Battlement Mesa.

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Last Updated: 16-Feb-2007