The Legend of Kitty Rock
                                                      By Merrill O. Murphy

The following story, having little to do with faceting or even minerals, is a true recounting from long ago when I was 18 or 19 years old. I have used the real names of the people involved and where they lived. I think it is very possible that I am the only living person to know the specifics, but should anyone claim the story to be untrue, send them to me. As some of our readers know, I grew up near the little town of Rifle, Colorado, and the characters in my story were all from the same area.

There were farmers, cattlemen, and sheep owners in the general area of Rifle. The ranchers and cattlemen had nothing to do with our story, but the sheep owners were directly involved. There were three or four of them in the immediate area who, individually, owned too few animals to obtain a grazing permit in the Flat Top Mountains to the north. So, in the springtime, they combined their sheep into one large band of about 2,000 head and drove the entire group to the mountains. This drive to the mountains took place in three stages. The first move brought them to a scrub oak and brush area at an altitude of about 6,000 feet above sea level. The second move took them farther north to an altitude of, perhaps, 7,500 feet, moving higher as the snow melted away from the high mountains. The first and second moves were to leased, privately owned land. The third move, about the first of July, took them to leased federal grazing land in the Flat Tops. Sometimes during a move, part-owners of the herd would accompany the herders to help keep all the sheep in one group. At other times, the herders would do all the work alone. In this particular first move, my Uncle Bert Randolph and I were the herders, and one owner, named Johnny Green, helped us with the band of animals.

     About a dozen miles north of Rifle, the dirt road reaches an abruptly rising mountain chain named the Hog Back. The road passes through the Hog Back via a narrow cut called the Rifle Gap. The Gap, worn through the mountains by the waters of Rifle Creek, is no more than 150 yards wide at the bottom. So steep is the mountain that rock-climbing gear would be required if one wished to climb either side of the Gap. The Gap itself is probably no more than a mile long from entry to exit. About half way through the Gap, a modern day Daniel Boone-type had built a small house for his wife and one child (I think). I no longer remember this man’s first name, but his last name was Hallenbeck. Anyway, this fellow was a real backwoods guy, gone into the high mountains most of the time, even in winter. This was one those “gone” times. Hallenbeck’s wife was rather pretty, and Johnny Green, though married himself, rather liked the lady of the house.

     Our band of sheep moved slowly, eating shrubs as it went, and this time, reached the Gap in later afternoon. With night coming on, we gathered our sheep toward the north (upper end) of the Gap. Uncle Bert and I got the sheep into a close grouping, cooked a meal, and spread our bedrolls just north of the sheep. Johnny Green spread his bedroll at the south end of the band, behind a boulder and just across the dirt road from the Hallenbeck house.

     The night was star-studded, bright and clear. The sheep were quiet and happy far into the night. Then, all of a sudden, things changed! Half dressed and barefoot, Johnny Green came running, scattering sheep every which way. It took us at least a half hour to settle the sheep down again and another half hour to calm Johnny Green. He swore he had awakened to see a huge mountain lion looking down on him from the top of the boulder.

 With the coming of daylight, we went down to Johnny’s Boulder. Sure enough, there in the dust of the road were the tracks of an enormous lion. Johnny’s wild yell had frightened the lion as much as the lion had frightened Johnny. Its tracks were spaced at least 15 feet apart in the road dust. If I remember correctly, Johnny never again accompanied us on a sheep move.

     But, this is written for readers who are interested in gems and geology. So, I think it appropriate to add a paragraph or two on those subjects.

     The Hog Back is almost entirely made up of huge sandstone masses tilted at about 60 degrees from horizontal. Soft coal veins dot the spaces between the sandstone masses. There is now a dam and reservoir at the upper end of the Gap. The main fork of Rifle Creek flows into the northeast end of the reservoir. The combined middle and west forks flow into the northwest end of the reservoir. A dry fork enters from the north. (I have forgotten its name). There is an old vanadium/uranium mine up the east fork of the creek, and there are minor veinlets of these minerals up the dry fork.

     The road up the east fork of Rifle Creek is paved nowadays. It leads to an interesting falls, and a few miles beyond the falls, is a wonderful canyon with nearly vertical walls 150 feet or more high. There are old lead prospects into the lower edges of the canyon. Perhaps 3/4 of a mile short of the canyon and on the upper side of the road is an interesting deposit of gypsum, carvable, I think. Once upon a long time ago, this canyon was a wonderful place to picnic or to cast a fishing lure into crystal waters. Now, too many people have discovered my canyon. Hordes of visitors, rock climbers, and what-not pollute the once pristine canyon.

     The road up the west fork is far less dramatic. About 5 or 6 miles northwest of the reservoir, the creek and road forks again. There are ranches up both the middle fork and the west fork. A small creek flows in the middle fork and an even smaller one flows from the west fork. There was once a few gold prospects of no consequence up the middle fork but none that I know of up the west fork. There are a few petrified bones have been found along the upper side of the west fork road a mile or so above the confluence of the middle and west forks. The fossil remains would probable lend themselves to cabochon cutting but are too nearly opaque for faceting.

     My Randolph grandparents once lived on a small ranch high up the west fork of Rifle Creek. All of their 13 children were born there. Of the 13, only 5 lived to maturity. The life they lived was incredibly harsh. That’s the way it was a long time ago.

True or False?
Is it true that a tiny zircon, found in Western Australia, is the oldest bit of earth known - 4.4 billion years old?