The geography of Colorado’s Western Slope ranges from alpine valleys nestled between ice-topped peaks, through juniper-clad hills downward to slick rock deserts, mesas and deep river gorges. In the heart of the Western Slope lies a fertile valley, which the North Fork of the Gunnison River has carved between the West Elk Mountains to the East and Southeast, the canyons and deserts to the southwest and west, and the Grand Mesa (claimed to be the world’s largest flat-topped mountain) to the North. Sedimentary Mancos shale and eroded granites and basalts from the surrounding heights create a rich soil, which nourishes a native fauna of juniper, piñon and sagebrush.
This valley, settled long ago, has developed a unique heritage and character.
Since the 1880’s the North Fork Valley has been home to generations of hard-working ranchers, shepherds, farmers, orchardists and coal miners. Clear Rocky Mountain water flows through a carefully maintained network of reservoirs, irrigation ditches and water rights, allowing crops, animals and humans to flourish on the mesas and bottomlands in this high desert. The North Fork Valley once hosted the largest fruit and wine harvest in the west. Upwards of 100,000 people came annually to harvest and celebrate its bounty. The valley’s high altitude and mild autumns cornered the market for late-season fruit, which was shipped across the U.S. thanks to another sort of harvest — winter ice from the 300+ lakes on Grand Mesa, stored all summer in large icehouses. The advent of refrigeration and large-scale imports severely impacted the valley’s agricultural enterprises, and hundreds of acres of orchards and farms have reverted to sagebrush since WWII.
In recent decades, vintners, winemakers, organic growers and urban refugees seeking a wholesome and authentic community in which to raise families or retire have joined these ‘old-timers’. They too have discovered the difficulties of wresting more than a subsistence living from this beautiful but physically and economically isolated area.
The Town of Crawford has long been known as a cow town and for its cattle drives down our main street, which is Hwy. 92, each spring and fall. Our beautiful town was named after Captain George A. Crawford, whose idea to start a post office in this area resulted in the growth of a town. Crawford is the high-altitude beauty of the North Fork Valley.
Many areas in Crawford Country are natural migratory routes for both elk and deer making Crawford a great place to come and hunt! The outlying areas are popular birthing grounds for hundreds of cow elk and doe. At various times during the year, you may see bear, wild turkey, pheasants, hawks eagles, bob cat, fox, coyotes, rabbits, an occasional mountain lion as well as Gunnison sage grouse.
Our small Town of 1000 has become the home of the Hotchkiss Sheep Camp Stock Dog Trials, the Delta County Fair, and some of the best Champion Fly Fishing on the nearby Gunnison River. Hotchkiss is nestled in one of the most beautiful, breathtaking environments, having so much to offer for those looking for a getaway, getting back to nature, or just experiencing some of the most delicious tastes in Wine and Food.
As every year passes, the Town becomes more and more of a location where people travel to hunt, fish and take in the local atmosphere. Fresh fruits from our local orchards, tasty wines from our local vineyards and fresh vegetables from our local farmers offers some of the most sought after flavors not found anywhere else other than the North Fork Valley.
Paonia is naturally air conditioned by warm air flowing up the valley at night and cool air from the mountains during the day resulting in optimal conditions for growing cherries, apricots, grapes, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines and apples. Vast reserves of coal lay buried in the area. The advent of the railroad made the shipping of coal economical and today, coal mining is our major industry.
Paonia is a focal point of back roads and trails leading into the forest, attracting hunters, hikers bicyclists and cross-country skiers. Hunters outfit themselves in Paonia before setting out to get their elk, deer, and bear. Few places offer such a wonderful combination of climate, scenery, lifestyle and recreation.