6 Reasons Why Rangely is a Summer Destination Like No Other
Petroglyphs at The Crook's Brand Site in Canyon Pintado near Rangely. Photo Courtesy: Town of Rangely
Remotely located in in the northwestern corner of Colorado, in the center of one of the last areas of the West to be settled, Rangely is a small community perched beneath looming mesas along the banks of the White River in the high desert plateau.
About 300 million years ago the area was covered by a shallow sea, home to marine creatures from which fossils are still found here today. Sand dunes were built by the wind and waves, and over time that sand compressed to form a geological mass known as the Weber Formation. The numerous canyons and gullies in the area were cut by the creeks and streams that eventually attracted the area’s earliest native inhabitants.
It is these prehistoric legacies that have shaped many of the attractions that are still remarkable about Rangely today. Here are six reasons to plan a trip here this summer.
1. Mysterious Messages from the Ancients
In 1776, two Spanish friars christened the canyon 20 miles south of Rangely “Canyon Pintado” (The Painted Canyon) after the petroglyphs and pictographs they saw here. But the canyon has been inhabited by humans for as long as 11,000 years, first by the Fremont Culture, followed by the Shoshone and Ute Indians — all of whom left their marks on the canyon walls. There are a total of 16 designated rock art sites along Highway 139 and Rio Blanco County Road 23.
A red figure beckons your attention from The Waving Hands Site at milepost 53.5 of Highway 139, waving to you from the cliff face, and around the corner is an overhang where Ute figures, horses, arrows and outlined hands are depicted. At milepost 10.1 of County Road 23, you’ll find the Crook’s Brand Site featuring incised figures of horses and a Ute depiction of a white man with a top hat. The Carrot Man Site at milepost 11.6 of County Road 23 features both petroglyph and pictograph art of soaring “carrot men” on the roof of the overhang on the side of a gully.
2. Echoes of History … and of a Really Big Tank
An acoustical wonder known as The TANK is located at 233 County Road 46. Constructed in 1940 for railroad water treatment, the 60-foot-high tank was discovered to have an unintentional cathedral-esque reverb by a travelling musician in the mid-1970s. It has since been used as a studio by musicians and recording artists from across the country. Several years ago funds were raised to turn The TANK into a Center for Sonic Arts, and it is now also used as a concert venue.
The Rangely Automotive Museum houses an amazing collection of automotive history that will impress even the most jaded enthusiast. The collection includes rarely seen automobiles and motorcycles — including a 1912 Pierce-Arrow Motorcycle — only 12 of which are believed to still exist.
Three historic buildings at The Rangely Outdoor Museum house extraordinary local history exhibits on topics that range from the prehistoric dinosaurs and Fremont people to the pioneers, ranchers and oil field workers of more recent eras. Other displays include an early cable oil rig, the old Wolf Canyon School, the Raven 1A Memorial Pump Jack (pivotal to the oil history of the area), oral histories from early locals, Rangely’s first jail and more.
3. A Trip Back — Way Back — to the Jurassic Age
One-third of the enormous 512-mile loop that is the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway is in Colorado, with Rangely being one of the four Colorado communities it passes through. Paleontologists have been coming to this area for over a century to look for fossils and they are still making new discoveries today. The natural and scenic resources here are so spectacular that two national parks and two national monuments can’t even contain all of them.
Dinosaur National Monument was established in 1915 to preserve one of the world’s largest discoveries of Jurassic-age dinosaur remains — fossils that represent 10 of the dinosaur species that existed on earth some 160 million years ago. The entrance to the park and the Canyon Area Visitor Center are only about twenty miles from Rangely, and although there are no dinosaur bones displayed on the Colorado side of the monument, the scenery is amazing, and the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry is only 55 miles from Rangely (at the Utah entrance).
4. You Can Swing for a High-Desert Hole-in-One
The desert sunshine at Cedar Ridges Golf Course allows golfers to play a round eight months or more out of the year. Located about two miles east of Rangely off Highway 64, the course is affordable, well maintained and challenging due to its deceptive and uneven terrain. Architect Frank Hummel, who has designed more than 200 courses, saw potential in the desert setting and proceeded to create this nine-hole, par-36 course that opened in 1985. Today the course is well established, with mature turf and trees, expansive greens, hills, water, rolling swells, sand traps and level areas. It offers a practice putting and chipping green, as well as a driving range. Patrons can walk or rent a gas-powered cart, and the pro shop also offers rental clubs and push carts. Golfers can enjoy flexible schedules as they plan tee-time around visiting Rangely’s other attractions.
5. Blazing Trails and Rock Crawling
Off-highway vehicles come in all shapes and sizes — Jeeps, ATVs, trucks, motorcycles, even some SUVs — and Rangeley is proud to be an “OHV-friendly community.”
On the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Recreation Area in Rangely, The Wagon Wheel West OHV Trail System offers about 360 miles of trails with five interconnecting loops, ranging from expert to beginner. Trail locations range from 4 to 35 miles from the center of town, and most are accessible without trailering. The trails vary from mostly groomed, to loose gravel, and mild to wild.
Just a few miles southwest of town is the only designated natural rock crawling park in the state of Colorado, the Rangely Rock Crawling Park. Rock crawling is an extreme version of off-road driving, using vehicles specifically built to overcome obstacles that appear insurmountable. With more than 560 acres of natural terrain, the park has one of the largest areas in Colorado to crawl, and entrance to the park is free.
6. Water Sports in the Desert
Located five miles east of Rangely on Highway 64, Kenney Reservoir contains approximately 5,000 acre-feet of water that provides plenty of room for water sports. You can swim, cliff dive, fish, or bring your boat to go waterskiing or sailing, and there are plenty of campsites for tent camping or self-contained campers.
Five thousand rainbow trout are stocked into the lake each spring, with crappie and catfish also being popular game fish in these waters. Many Rangely locals enjoy fishing at the reservoir, and most know that the best fishing spot is right below the dam. The reservoir sits on the White River, with the wetlands area at its tailwater providing cover and food for wildlife like waterfowl, bald eagles, osprey, blue heron, mule deer, elk and beaver.