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?