New Orleans Rangely is on the western slope of Colorado, a long way from the front range cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Fort Collins. When talking to people from Colorado, I often find that they have no idea where Rangely might be. Mentioning Rio Blanco County or the slightly larger town of Meeker, might get a nod, but you can tell from their eyes, they have never really been there unless they were lost. When I tell them that Rangely is near the Colorado border with Utah and Vernal, Utah, the home of Dinosaur National Monument, I get a bit more reaction. They may not have ever been there, but at least they think that’s a good idea.
When I say “near,” that’s a relative term when you’re living in the West. It’s not next door or around the corner. Vernal, Utah is more than 50 miles away. The Utah border is about halfway between Rangely and Vernal. The town of Artesia since the 1960s has been called Dinosaur and is hard on the Utah border as US Highway 40 runs through. They changed the name back then in hopes of getting a bit of the tourism overlap from the long tail of the dinosaur’s popularity, and they aren’t going back. The names, Rangely and Artesia, speak to what these towns used to mean for the early settlers who were ranchers.
The last time I reported on Rangely was in 2017 about the amazing sound effects of their 60-foot tall water tank, which has become quite the thing since then for the town and home of the Tank Center for Sonic Arts. I’m going to claim that Rangely is in the news again, because opening up a recent High Country News there was a full two-page spread early in the issue of a dinosaur called Walter. The story goes that in 2014 some folks walking their dog, named Walter, “on public land south of Rangely, Colorado…stopped near a strange rock…” The rock turned out to be an almost perfect skeleton after excavation of a 74-million-year-old “hadrosaur, a group of duck-billed dinosaurs”…which some paleontologists refer to as the “cows of the Cretaceous” since they “once grazed in herds across prehistoric North American and Eurasia.”
Now that’s something to talk about, and Rangely could use the press, but that wasn’t exactly the point of this story. Somehow, and I guess this is generally good news, a paleontologist convinced the Bureau of Land Management to not move the skeleton to Denver or Washington repositories as mandated by federal law, but to relocate the skeleton to Craig, Colorado for display there in cooperation with the Colorado Northwestern Community College. High Country was touting this as part of what might remake Craig from being a coal town to a dinosaur tourist town.
Rangely is oil country, not coal country. My family lived in a California Oil company camp five miles out of town where the Rangely field and refinery was located for five years. My brother was born there. For years, we would go back there every summer for my dad’s job, even when we were long gone. California Oil Company became Chevron. They closed the camp and either sold the houses to the residents or let them rot some years ago. They off-loaded the field to Scout Energy Management, LLC in 2021, so all that remains of Chevron there now is a gas station on Chevron Road.
Rangely won’t get much benefit from its dinosaur. Craig is not in Rio Blanco County but in the county next door. If Rangely townspeople want to visit their dinosaur, they have to drive almost 80 miles and an hour-and-a-half east to Craig. It’s not always an easy drive. One of the legendary stories of my youth was when my parents would tell the story of trying to make it from Craig to Rangely with me, as a baby, in a jeep during a blizzard in one of those near-death, “how did we manage to make it” stories.
In Rangely, it’s hard to catch a break. If you ask the internet whether Rangely is a good place to live now, the answer is interesting, even if not exactly encouraging to many:
If you like dark skies, ATV fun, rock crawling, water sports, hunting & you enjoy having lots of space to do these things with few people, then Rangely is perfect. Housing prices are incredibly low compared to the rest of the state of CO. The Town has a great police force & as a whole the town is safe & quiet.
There are about 2300 people in the town. It’s 17-feet, over a mile-high. They may not have been able to hold onto the dinosaur or Chevron, but at least they have the tank. What more could you want?