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Garfield County

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Garfield County's main street, the Colorado River, has cut into the Flat Top Mountains the 2,000-foot gorge of Glenwood Canyon. This corridor for Amtrak and automobiles allows passengers a grand view of the cliffs of sandstone, limestone, and granite.

White settlers came in search of gold, silver, and coal in 1881, the year President James A. Garfield was assassinated, hence the county name. The mineral search shifted during the 1920s to oil shale and in the 1950s to radioactive metals. A much bigger boom came in 1980 with Exxon's $5 billion Colony Oil Shale Project. Exxon exited abruptly in 1982, laying off 2,100 workers. Hundreds of others also left, unable to afford even cheap pre-fabricated and mobile homes.

While flirting with various metals and oil shale, Garfield has been steadily supported by coal mining, tourism, and agriculture. River valley farmers and ranchers raise hay, potatoes, strawberries, sheep, and cattle. Skiing, hunting, river rafting, fishing, and the Glenwood Hot Springs, Colorado's most popular watering hole, make tourism the county's major draw. To build the Hotel Colorado and the Hot Springs Lodge, Walter A. Devereux, a mining engineer trained at Columbia University, opened up the Peach Blow Quarry on the Frying Pan River in nearby Eagle County. The stone, colored a rich golden-orange like peach blossoms, was used widely, especially along the line of the Colorado Midland Railroad, which served the quarry on its route between Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.

Deer, bear, and elk have attracted hunters, including President Theodore Roosevelt, whose ghost haunts local folklore. Three fish hatcheries and the Rifle Gap State Recreation Area help lure fishermen. The small Sunlight Ski Resort borrows its name and site from one of the county's many abandoned coal camps. Glenwood Springs, the county seat and only sizable city, has half the county's 30,000 residents.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Thomas J. Noel

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