Crawford is a small cow town of around 400 residents, situated in the North Fork Valley, on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, and bordered by some of the most diverse and stunning scenery in the state. Needle Rock, a 700 foot high volcanic monolith, stands as sentry just about four miles east of Crawford, with the West Elk Mountains rising majestically as its backdrop. Just as spectacularly as the West Elks command your attention for their climb towards the heavens, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a beautiful 13 mile drive southwest of Crawford, inspires gasps of disbelief from visitors as they peer 2,000 feet straight down to the Gunnison River below. The Grand Mesa National Forest, a one hour drive to the northwest boasts of being the world’s largest Mesa, or flat top mountain, complete with over 300 lakes, and beautiful evergreen and aspen forests. Grand Mesa is home to diverse wildlife including deer, elk, black bear, beaver, marmots, mountain lion and even moose!
While lacking the full stunning visual impact of these wonders, the outlying high desert area, referred to locally as the ‘dobie badlands, may seem a bit understated, but tell a story no less compelling… Imagine the petrified ash mounds before you, the result of thousands of years of volcanic activity, as resting at the bottom of the shallow inland sea that once submerged the North Fork Valley. Pick up ancient shark teeth at 6,500 feet in elevation and try to keep your imagination in check. It’s all fascinating - every square foot of this beautiful area.
Crawford is situated at the southern edge of the agricultural area known as the North Fork Valley. The North Fork Valley has been referred to in an article in Forbes magazine as “The Golden Triangle”. Crawford is the southern point on the triangle; the other two points are made up of Crawford’s sister towns of Hotchkiss and Paonia. Noted geographer, Thomas Huber, has referred to the North Fork Valley as an "American Provance" - and penned a book by that name about the area. What makes this area noteworthy is not only the spectacular surroundings, but the quality of life found in the North Fork Valley. Old and new ways of life intersect and tend to complement one another. Tradition is still strong in the Valley and expresses itself, among other ways, in the many cattle and sheep ranches found here. Cattle drives, with cowboys often on horseback, are still common in early summer and late fall/early winter, as ranchers move their cattle between valley pastures and the warm weather grazing lands of the high country.
But for every old time cattle ranch, there’s an organic orchard or commercial garden, a vineyard, or a rancher raising elk, buffalo... or even yak! Small-scale farmers and producers relying on hard work, creativity and a willingness to diversify, have forged a new economic direction for the North Fork Valley. And with each passing year this reputation has spread further, attracting a new breed of visitor – those seeking an authentic experience centered on an appreciation of the bounty of the Valley… Wine tastings, farm dinners and produce purchased directly from the farmer are attracting the attention of those serious about the quality of their gastronomic experiences.
The creative spirit that is so well-manifest in the local approach to agriculture is also expressed in the creative and performing arts. It would be hard to imagine another small rural community so rich in creative spirit. The Valley boasts an enormous number of talented individuals, skilled in everything from the creation of art glass, to bronze sculpture, to fine art, to musical expression, to the written word. And the Valley is home to many institutions supporting the arts: The Blue Sage Center in Paonia, The Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, The Paradise Theatre in Paonia, the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, and KVNF Public Radio, to name only a few. There is no question that the natural beauty of the area, combined with a general creative culture, has resulted in an area very attractive to those who highly value creative expression, and this rich cultural presence is a benefit to the resident and visitor alike.
As for Crawford itself… Crawford tends to see itself as the more traditionally ‘western’ of the three towns; with all three lending a distinct personality to the overall experience of the North Fork Valley. Crawford and the surrounding area features a general/feed store/motel, a world famous art glass studio, a gift shop, a popular coffee shop/gathering place, an art gallery, a book store and a handful of service businesses (including a gas station and convenience/liquor store just south of town). There is currently one food service provider - Chico's Burgers a half mile south of Town. In 2022 your innkeepers will be opening a visitor center with supplies for the explorer, as well as curiosities, ice cream and cold drinks.
Crawford has a ‘western feel’ which is imparted by its variety of historic false front, stone and clapboard buildings downtown - and even a few old settler log cabins on the west end of Cedar Avenue. Crawford itself, while truly charming, will likely not take a full day to explore; however, Crawford makes an excellent central location from which to explore the surrounding natural and cultural beauty of the North Fork Valley. For itinerary ideas please review our "Itinerary Ideas" page. For an extensive look at the North Fork Valley, please visit these helpful online resources:
Other sites of interest...
Delta Chamber of Commerce
Delta County Government
Black Canyon National Park
Crawford State Park
Colorado Division of Wildlife
Town of Crawford
Town of Paonia
Town of Hotchkiss
Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery
KVNF Community Public Radio
Blue Sage Center for the Arts - Fine and Performing Arts Center, Paonia
Creamery Arts Center - Fine Arts gallery in Hotchkiss
Valley Organic Growers Association - Local Organic Growers Assn - list of farms, etc.
Paradise Theatre - Community theatre in Paonia
Tru-Vu Drive in - Drive in Theatre in Delta
Pickin in the Park - Free outdoor music series in Paonia - Thursdays in August
Eagle Rock Shelter - Archeological site west of Hotchkiss
Marrow Point Boat Tours - Gentle water tours into the Black Canyon (not the Park area)
West Elks AVA - Wine region designation website
West Elk Loop Scenic & Historic Byway - Passes through Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia, Gunnison, Crested Butte
Grand Mesa National Forest
Delta County Library System
Western Slope Environmental Resource Council
Western Slope SUP - Stand up paddle board and raft trips