History of Rifle

1“Where did Rifle get it’s name?” is usually the first question most often asked by visitors coming into Rifle. Although no one can tell for sure the true naming of our town, most stories lead to the conclusion that Rifle got it’s name from an old cowboy surveyor that had left his rifle/gun leaning against a tree near a local creek. Since then he had referred to this area as “Rifle” and the name has just keep living on.

Along with the naming of Rifle, Rifle, Colorado is “rich” with western heritage and history. Many of Rifle’s downtown businesses and local residences currently reside in historical buildings dating back to the early 1900’s. Take a walk through our history with this “Historical Walking Tour”

Christo’s Valley Curtain 1970 – 1972
Artist Chriso Javacheff, and his wife Jeanne-Claude, had chosen Rifle, Colorado and the entrance of a canyon into the Grand Hogbacks as the site of one of their elaborate locations for their unique artwork displays known as the Christo’s Valley Curtain.
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Construction of this art project started in 1970 at a cost of $250,000.00. The first attempt to raise the curtain failed as the wind blew it down. The second attempt in August 1972 was successful, however, the wind blew it down the next day. The final cost was over $600,000.00. the curtain fabric was a parachute like material of woven polyamide. Curtain size was 250,000 square feet and weighed 6 tons. It rose above the valley floor 350 feet at the ends. The sagging center had an archway at the bottom to permit traffic through on highway 325. Anchors weighed 70 tons with reinforced concrete underground. Lateral reinforcement was concrete block anchors mounted against sandstone ridges and fastened to them by 59 stressed steel rods that went 40 feet into the sandstone.

Black Sunday

May 2, 1982 will always be remembered as Black Sunday in Rifle, Colorado. It was the day Exxon locked the gates and more than 2,000 people were suddenly unemployed. People came from all over to work in the oil shale business. Rifle’s population doubled nearly overnight, jumping from 2,700 to around 4,500 people. There were thousands of workers in town.

On May 2, 1982, the Colony oil shale project came to a sudden and dramatic halt. Workers were locked out of the site when they reported to work on Monday, May 3. Initially, the reaction from the Rifle community was defiant. But the impact was felt community wide. The banks began to have problems, people left town immediately, and local U-Haul businesses instantly became the busiest place in the United States.

The county didn’t really begin rebounding financially until the 3/4 cent sales tax passed in 1996. Despite the great impacts and the stark events that transpired in 1982, oil companies brought great benefits to the communities in millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements.

The Yellow Slide Meteor

It is said that there was a Yellow Slide Meteor which had landed in a remote location called the Bookcliffs area west of Rifle during the 1700’s. The impact site is believed to be considerably larger than a football field. In 1946, three men hiked to the craters location and recovered a meteor fragment that weighed 237 lbs and was approximately 18″ across. The meteorite was found about 3 miles from the believed initial impact site this rock, now resides in the Museum of Natural History in Denver, CO. There are some mistakes in the labeling of the meteor at the Museum that the piece was found in Arizona. Although Rifle residents have tried to get the museum to re-label the meteor, to date the label remains the same.

The crater itself consists of a surface layer of fine sand and dirt with a layer of breccia underneath consisting of pulverized and fused oil shale (due to the heat of impact). The yellow color is the direct result of super heating. There is little to no re-growth of vegetation in to the crater due to the age of the strike and the sandy nature of the soil. The steepness of the slope and the sandy soil also leads to lack of water retention.


Vanishing Point – 1970s

Over the years, many big screen motion pictures have been filmed in Colorado. Rifle’s no exception. Take a look at the movie Vanishing Point with actors: Barry Newman, Timothy Scott, the Dodge Challenger; watch the movie—then visit Rifle. See a list of other Famous Movies Filmed in Colorado.