Moffat County may be bigger than the state of Rhode Island, but a little driving time will reveal a great deal of Old West history for those with the spirit of adventure found in the early settlers.
Museum of Northwest Colorado
Moffat County has been a stopping place for travelers and settlers for hundreds of years.
Modern-day visitors can find evidence of both native and early white settlers at the Museum of Northwest Colorado, 590 Yampa Ave. in downtown Craig. Along with relics from early inhabitants of the Yampa Valley, and artifacts from the turn of the century homesteaders, the museum is known for its Cowboy and Gunfighter Collection, one of the finest displays of pistols, rifles, spurs and saddles in the world today.
On the east side of town, visitors will find the historical Marcia Car, a private, luxurious railroad coach built in Chicago in 1906 for David Moffat, Denver banker, businessman and railroad financier.
Named after Moffat's daughter, Marcia Moffat McClurg, the car is a unique view into early railroad travel from a wealthy owner's point of view. Moffat's planned railroad from Denver to Salt Lake City ended in Craig, but the rail line through the mountains became a vital link for the cattle and sheep industries in Northwest Colorado. Tours of the Marcia Car are available Monday through Friday throughout the summer by stopping in the Craig Chamber of Commerce, 360 E. Victory Way.
One of the hidden historic gems of Moffat County can be found northwest of Craig near the Greystone settlement, where turn-of-the-century miners found it unprofitable to ship their copper ore out by rail. The solution was to build a smelter and remove the copper from the ore for shipment. Although the smelter is now just history, the charcoal kilns remain for historians to enjoy.
Worth the drive alone, or as a side trip to or from Browns Park, the kilns were used to turn firewood into charcoal, which burns hotter and was needed for melting the copper out of the huge quantities of mined ore. One of the most well-preserved set of kilns remaining in Colorado today, the four structures recently were turned over to the Museum of Northwest Colorado and entered into the National Historic Landmarks registry.
For a feel of wide open spaces and the wild horse herds that call the area home, head northwest of Craig to the Sandwash Basin. A drive north up Moffat County Road 67 off of Colorado Highway 318, leads to the home to nearly 300 wild horses and burrows. This Bureau of Land Management herd-management area covers more than 160,000 acres crossed with roads open to hiking, biking, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, as well as horseback riding. During the dry summer, a two-wheel drive vehicle is sufficient to explore this area where wild mustangs roam free. Maps are available from the BLM's Little Snake Field Office in Craig.
Now a National Wildlife Refuge, Browns Park was once a favorite wintering home of the Ute and Shoshone Indians. An oasis featuring mild winters in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, "Browns Hole" as it was called a hundred years ago, found itself used as a hideout for cattle rustlers, outlaws, and gangs, most notably that of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
From Vermillion Falls, a 25-foot waterfall visible from Colorado Highway 318 before you enter the park, to the Utah border 60 miles from Maybell, Browns Park has many historic sites to experience and photograph.
The old Ladore Hall schoolhouse and meeting place has been restored to its original condition, complete with a nearby cemetery, the final resting place of many settlers and homesteaders, where visitors can also see Indian rock carvings.
The Gates of Ladore, accessed from Browns Park but lying just inside of Dinosaur National Monument, separate the Green River from any riverside trails as the canyon narrows to steep cliffs that squeeze the river into Class 4 rapids. Whitewater boating is by permit only from this point on.
The wildlife refuge itself is home to deer, elk, antelope and numerous waterfowl, including blue herons and sandhill cranes. Boating is allowed, and fishing is open to license holders as the Green River meanders through the reserve before disappearing into the canyons at the Gates of Ladore.
The Two-Bar Ranch is in the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. The log buildings, corrals and sheds were built out of hand-hewn logs around 1887, and visitors are allowed to explore the area.
At the entrance to Irish Canyon, American Indian rock carvings are accessible to the public; a wheelchair ramp is available. Just up the canyon, there are some fine picnic areas just off the road in the aspen groves.
Before the paved road turns to gravel at the Utah border, there is a marked turnoff for the swinging bridge. The swinging bridge is a test for those brave enough to cross the river on an old, wooden-plank suspension bridge that is certainly high enough and just narrow enough to make it a white-knuckle driving adventure.
Browns Park can be accessed by Colorado Highway 318 just outside of Maybell. The park lies 50 miles north of Maybell, with the park headquarters just south of the swinging bridge turnoff. Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge is operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dinosaur National Monument
Although much of the park containing the dinosaur bones is in Utah, the Colorado portion holds many old homesteads and artifacts from Northwest Colorado's early pioneer days. Indian rock carvings, caves and historic cabins can be found on your way to the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. Canyon walls rise 200 feet above the water, creating a Grand Canyon-type atmosphere with improved campgrounds at Echo Canyon. Steamboat Rock, where the rivers merge, is one of the most photographed places in the monument.