COLORADO CITY • If you’ve driven south on Interstate 25, south of Pueblo to the countryside here, you’ve probably passed the exit for Graneros Road and given no thought to whatever might lie less than a mile off the highway, out there in the prairie.
Graneros Gorge cannot be called a secret. There are signs at the exit pointing to the public land.
But it’s easy to feel as if you’ve made a discovery along the rutted, double-track road through grasshopper territory. A groundbreaking discovery, you might think, where the ground indeed breaks — opening wide to a stunning view.
Make the right turns, and suddenly you’ll find yourself at an unkempt parking lot. Step among shrubs, cacti and juniper trees, and behold the gorge: ancient cliffs rising 500 or 600 feet above a green floor. The Wet Mountains roll in the near distance, including the prominent, storied Greenhorn Mountain. Farther out, the Spanish Peaks soar before the shimmering Sangre de Cristo range.
At your feet you might find bluebell and red Indian paintbrush sprouting from the rugged ground. And you’ll likely also find some mix of cigarette butts, liquor shooters, shattered glass and shotgun shells.
There are the crumbled ruins of a stone gazebo the local government erected in 1964, the centerpiece for the 45-acre Graneros Gorge Park. At last visit here, we found half-empty beers from last night’s party, or maybe last weekend’s.
For as long as he’s been around the valley, Terry Kraus has known Graneros Gorge to have a party reputation. He’s been around since 2005 — long enough to know how easy small-town tensions flare.
“I want to be careful how I say this because I don’t want to get in trouble with the locals, but I think they kind of just take it for granted,” said Kraus, recently elected to a second term as chair of the Colorado City Metro Board.
So it seemed to someone who wrote a letter to The Pueblo Chieftain. “This is a forgotten jewel in Pueblo County,” the letter read, going on to make a lofty comparison: “It is like the Royal Gorge without people.”
This was published in 2012, the last time Graneros Gorge made headlines in the Greenhorn Valley View, the weekly newspaper that Kraus runs. However underappreciated the gorge might seem, a petition ignited against a proposed shooting range in the vicinity, causing quite the controversy.
The petition cited the gorge’s place within the Frontier Pathways Scenic and Historic Byway, which covers southern Colorado’s mysterious and marvelous geology crafted by prehistoric uplift. Dakota sandstone was shaped by wind and water and the hardened earth that dinosaurs roamed. Meanwhile, dark Graneros shale and bright Greenhorn limestone also added to that tale of deep time, that sense of wonder.
But researchers have not scratched the surface of Graneros Gorge. Opponents of the gun range cited what was known — Comanche and other tribes camped and hunted in the gorge — and what has been speculated: Could this be where Chief Cuerno Verde met his demise and had his “green horn” head dress removed in the famed campaign by Juan Bautista de Anza?
Along with those archaeological and anthropological curiosities, the petition stood up for the gorge’s residents, with mountain lions, bears, golden eagles and rattlesnakes — lots of rattlesnakes — among them. Gunfire would disturb these rightful inhabitants, advocates argued, as well as the cattle grazing the privately owned floor of the gorge.
The gun range idea was scrapped. But now, eight years years later, it’s hard to track down anyone actively stewarding Graneros Gorge.
Colorado City’s top official wasn’t aware of any. Kraus, like other valley representatives The Gazette contacted, recommended Cheryl Huban. She, too, said she didn’t know of any such advocates.
But with her family roots going back 80 years in the valley, and with local history being a hobby, she is very familiar with the family who has owned the gorge’s interior for more than a century. It is a family who, judging by Huban’s written account, very well might have found refuge in the gorge through the hardships of the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and World War II. They might still today. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.
This is a valley that prizes privacy, Huban reminded, a population wary of Front Range boom reaching them.
She is eager to share other great, lesser-known ventures in the surrounding wilds, other canyons, waterfalls and summits to enjoy. As for Graneros Gorge, “it’s not the kind of place I would encourage people to go,” she said.
Huban recalled summer days as a girl picnicking along the gorge’s rim. “Now there’s no place you could put a blanket down, there’s so much glass and debris,” she said.
There's a safety issue. One wrong step and someone could fall to their death. A memorial on the bluffs honors someone who did in 2004.
“Unfortunately, it’s just not as good a site as it could be,” Huban said, “and Colorado City has not chosen to develop it.”
In a 2002 comprehensive plan, the Pueblo Area Council of Governments listed Graneros Gorge as an “environmental concern” that could help the regional need for more developed parks and open spaces. That’s been difficult to achieve, and for a simple reason, Kraus said.
“Like all really small government entities, we never have enough money.”
In terms of recreation, the Colorado City Metro Board’s latest priority has been trying to secure grants from lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado for trail work around popular Lake Beckwith. Graneros Gorge could be “a logical next step,” Kraus said.
“It’s a really neat place, but for it to become a destination-type place, it would need some development. And there’s just never been the right people interested or, again, enough money to do that.”
Once there were scenic tours — apparently in the ‘70s or ‘80s, according to a Greenhorn Valley Library archivist who provided an undated brochure. The gorge was heralded as “a beautiful unspoiled area,” promising “a new experience!” Visitors were told to come with cameras: “Be ready to film some of the most fantastic scenery in the area.”
Later, an official valley guide called the gorge “truly an amazing site.” The guide, still found online, gives the simple directions off the highway.
“What makes this gorge amazing,” it reads, “is that something so massive, so impressive, could be hidden from view even a few hundred yards away.”
Surely some would like it more in the public eye, Kraus said. Perhaps those wanting a course of action, wanting to see the gorge protected.
Just as much, some would prefer it remained hidden, Kraus said. “To see it kept their own little secret.”