Rio Blanco Journey: Meeker
“Northern Utes and their ancestors inhabited mountainous Colorado and Utah for centuries. White settlers in the Colorado Territory brought competition and conflict for the land. The Ute Reservation and Agency at White River were established by the treaty of 1868. Settlers violated the treaty encroaching onto Ute lands. Utes and local traders previously engaged in a friendly “buckskin” economy through trading posts along the Yampa and Little Snake Rivers.
In 1878, White River Indian Agent Nathan Meeker imposed a mandatory lifestyle conversion upon the traditionally nomadic Utes to agriculture which was resented and resisted. Finally, Meeker ordered the plowing of the Ute horse racing track which resulted in a quarrel that put fear into Nathan Meeker. When Meeker requested military assistance, Major T.T. Thornburgh and troops were dispatched to aid Meeker, and crossed Milk Creek onto reservation land, where they were engaged by the Utes in a fierce battle September 29th – October 5th 1879. Thornburgh, many soldiers and Utes were slain. Concurrently, at the Indian Agency, Utes attacked and killed Nathan Meeker and all the male employees.
A military cantonment was subsequently established in the present site of downtown Meeker. By 1883, congress ordered the eviction of all Utes from their beloved homeland onto reservations in Eastern Utah and Southern Colorado where they remain today. When the U.S. Cavalry received orders to leave in 1883, the buildings were sold and the town of Meeker was officially incorporated in 1885.”
Meeker sits at 6,240 feet above sea level and is nestled into the White River Valley on the outskirts of the White River National Forest. The town has a population of 2,475 “Damn Good People!” Meeker is a great place to visit to escape the bitter cold of the more northern towns of Colorado. Temperatures in the winter average a low of 28 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the summer, the highs average at a comfortable 59 degrees. Meeker boasts it’s own airport that serves business and private jets, recreational flying and more. The main attractions in Meeker include camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, photography, biking, horseback riding, OHV riding, snowmobiling, skiing and so much more.
Wildlife: Rabbits, bobcats, mule deer and elk, Sandhill cranes, bald eagles, wild turkeys, red fox, moose, black bear and mountain lions.
What to See:
Historic Meeker Downtown Walking Tour: Thirty historic buildings are included in this tour from historic homes to the Rio Blanco Court House to the Historic Meeker Hotel and more. Pick up a map from the White River Museum.
Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials: Established more than 25 years ago, the Sheepdog trails are held every September drawing contenders from around the world to compete for the $20,000 purse. http://meekersheepdog.com
Meeker Massacre Monument: Visit the site where Nathan Meeker lost his life and the Utes lost what was left of their nomadic ways of life.
Directions: Get there – travel west on Hwy 13 approx 2.7 miles to Hwy 64 (junction at hwy 13 & 64 (Kum & Go). Take 64 approximately 2 miles – a small pull-out can be found on the south side of the road. The site is marked by wooden marker on south side of the highway but is located on a privately owned meadow on north side of White River. A few traces of building foundations reveal the location of the Indian Agency. A monument indicates where Meeker died (Meeker Massacre)
Milk Creek Battlefield: Visit the site where Major T.T. Thornburgh met his fate during the Milk Creek Battle. This battle was the last major battle engagement with a Native American Tribe and the United States Army. A memorial park has been dedicated at this site in honor of all of those who lost their lives. The iron gates at the entrance of the park tell the story of the battle with one side representing army soldiers and the other depicting Native American Indians. The gates were created by master craftsman and artist, Mark Scritchfield.
Directions: Take Hwy 13 towards Craig. There is a “Thornburgh Battle Field” sign in the bar ditch at County Road 15. Turn onto CR 15 (you can only turn one direction onto CR 15. Go approx 17 miles on CR 15. On the west side of the road is Milk Creek Battlefield Park sign with two stone columns and a custom made metal gate – three monuments within the fenced area.
Phillip and Dorcas Jensen Memorial Park: Located at the north end of Meeker, 57 acres of open space offers access to hiking and biking trails and a mountain bike flow course. This area is non-motorized and non-equestrian. Main trailhead access is from Sanderson Hills Park located at 1092 Sanderson Drive.
Range Call 4th of July Celebration: This celebration is known as the “Oldest Annual Rodeo in Colorado” dating back to 1885. During this celebration both the Meeker Massacre is re-enacted by townspeople as is the famous attempted robbery on the Bank of Meeker in October 1896, which was thwarted by Meeker citizens when they took matters into their own hands. The celebration also includes a parade, fireworks, range call rodeo and range call concert.
Rio Blanco Historical Society & White River Museum: The White River Museum is housed in two of the original seven officer’s quarters built in 1880 by the U.S. Army to keep the peace following the Meeker Massacre and the Milk Creek Battle. The collections range from the 1880’s to the 1950’s and include the original stagecoach that ran between Meeker and Rifle (Teddy Roosevelt rode on this stage for his 1905 mountain lion hunt in Meeker) and a Victorian Mourning Wreath made of real hair. Other points of interest include Indian artifacts and the plow that Mr. Meeker used to plow up the Ute pony track, which pushed the Utes into starting the Meeker Massacre. Admission to the museum is free but donations are accepted. 565 Park Avenue in Meeker.
Fly Fishing: There are numerous opportunities to catch rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook as well as white fish from points in and around town including the Meeker City Park, Meeker Pasture, SWA, Sleepy Cat Ponds and Lake Avery.
Geocaching: Over 500 geocaches can be found within a 50 mile radius of Meeker. This is a great activity for families using a GPS device to navigate waypoints for hidden treasures.
Meeker Recreation Center: This 25,000 square foot facility has a family aquatic center with lap pool, leisure pool, zero depth entry, water slide, lazy river and hot tub and also offers a modern fitness and exercise room.
OHV: Meeker boasts over 250 miles of OHV trails and is designated as an “OHV friendly community,” which means OHV riding is permitted within town limits. Ride the Wagon Wheel OHV Trail or come out for the annual Wagon Wheel OHV Rendezvous and Adventure Motorcycle Rendezvous. For more info contact Chamber of Commerce 970-878-5510.
Restaurants: Almost all of Meeker’s restaurants are family owned. Be sure to visit Ma Famiglia, the Meeker Hotel & Café, Mexican House Restaurant, Trappers Lake Lodge, Hollidays Bar & Grill (they offer music throughout the year) and Smokin’ 101 BBQ, and Wendll’s
Wild Horses: In 1971 Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act to protect, manage and control wild horses and burros on public lands. The legislation declares that: “wild free roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west.” Just 25 miles west of Meeker in the Piceance Creek Basin wild horses can still be found. For updates on herd movements and locations, call 970-878-3800.
Directions: The Flat Tops Scenic Byway can be accessed from Meeker to the west and Yampa to the east. This journey makes a great loop. From Meeker head two miles west on Highway 13 then turn right onto County Road 8 and follow the signs.
The fall colors along this journey are nothing less than breathtaking. The journey itself runs 82 miles or approximately 2-4 hours of drive-time depending on how many times you stop along the way. The byway can also be combined with a loop that runs from Meeker (the west portal of the Flat Tops Byway) to Yampa (the east portal), north through Phippsburg, Oak Creek. Where Highway 131 meets Highway 40 turn west to Steamboat Springs. From Steamboat continue west through Hayden to Craig. At Highway 13, turn south to return to Meeker. Yampa (the east portal of the Flat Tops Byway) to Meeker (the west portal), north to Craig then east to Steamboat Springs and back south to Yampa. The trip can also be done in reverse. The road along the way changes from smooth gravel to dirt. In the winter the byway is not maintained past Lost Creek. If snow is in the forecast, plan on returning another time.
The Flat Tops Scenic byway bisects the original White River Plateau Timberland Reserve. This area was the second unit to be incorporated into what later became known as the National Forest System. The byway is an entrance to over 350,000 acres of public land managed by the US Forest Service (Blanco Ranger District).
Along the way you may encounter sheep and cattle herders with their livestock still living a life connected to the land. The past history of the area is remembered through active mines, ranches and timber harvests.
Camping sites abound throughout the area in both the Routt National Forest and White River National Forest. Activities popular along the byway include biking, hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, OHV trails, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and wakeless boating on trappers Lake.
There are no services along this 82-mile stretch (Trappers Lake Lodge has a seasonal restaurant and fishing supplies but no gas or groceries), so be sure to fill-up with gas, water and snacks before you begin.
Points of Interest:
• The Yampa River is the longest free-flowing, dam-free river in the state.
• Ripple Creek Pass rises 10,343 feet from sea level and offers views of the White River Valley and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
• Forest Road 205. Detouring off the byway onto Forest Road 205, travel for eight miles to Trappers Lake, the birthplace of the Wilderness Act. Arthur Carhart, a young Forest Service employee, was so taken with the beauty of Trappers Lake that instead of going forward with his survey for development of the area he recommended to his boss that the area should be preserved as a roadless recreation area. Surprisingly his boss supported the idea and the model for wilderness preservation within the Forest Service was born. Trappers Lake has been visited by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts and helped gain Yampa and Meeker their reputations as hubs for big game and wildlife hunting and viewing.
• Trappers lake is otherwise known as the ‘Cradle of Wilderness’ and was #3 on the list of postcard places in Colorado according to Colorado Tourism.
• Trappers Lake Lodge. This is a seasonal lodge open from late May through September and located 50 miles east of Meeker and 70 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs, CO. Boats, cabins and horses are all available for rental. A general store, laundry, bathhouse, restaurant and full bar also await.
• In winter cross country skiers and snowmobilers can find groomed trails and powder from the Lost Creek Trailhead at mile marker 30 (on the Meeker side). There is no road maintenance past the Lost Creek Trailhead in the winter months.
Two-Day Fishing Trip: Stop by the Meeker Chamber of Commerce for a two-day fishing journey itinerary that begins in downtown Meeker at the Town Park and works its way up the scenic Flat Tops byway through the White River National Forest. Along with Trappers Lake Lodge, guests can stay at the Ripple Creek Lodge and many others, contact the Chamber for a full list of accommodations.
Dinosaur Diamond: Meeker and Rangely are part of the Dinosaur Diamond that loops through Dinosaur lands. (will insert link for more information as I’m covering that more extensively for the Rangely trips as they have less than you if that works)