Can you imagine setting out to leave your Colorado hometown multiple times, but then coming back after every attempt? Leaving for college, completing your degree, and then reluctantly moving back home?

From a young age, my generation of Grand Junction friends watched as the seniors would graduate, make a life plan — and then struggle to leave the invisible grasp that the Grand Valley had on them. Some managed to leave for college only to return at the completion of their degree. Sure, you could blame the worsening economy, the difficulty finding jobs, or the esoteric art history degree that some decided to pursue.

Instead, we blamed the curse of the Grand Valley. But where did this curse come from?

The origins of the curse

The story of the curse varies depending on who you ask but the most common response ties back to 1881. During that time the Ute Indians that called the Grand Valley home were forced to leave and live on reservations. According to this story, as they left, the Utes cursed the valley — or maybe they cursed the white people who displaced them —  so that those who came to settle it would never be able to leave it.

Besides these stories commonly told by college-bound high school students, there is no historical evidence that this curse ever even existed. Nonetheless, the story is told year after year to the next generation and further nurtured by the many that return to the beautiful valley. With all of this superstition, there is bound to be a quick fix, a remedy to a successful breaking of the curse.

That remedy is dirt.

Yes, just dirt. You fill a jar with it, take it with you, and you’ll return to the valley only of your own volition. But this isn’t just any jar of dirt. It is special, tedious to obtain, and holds a good percentage of sandstone.

Obtaining this jar is enjoyable too. It involves visiting four specific sites unique to the Grand Valley and collecting a handful of dirt from each.

First stop

The first sample is from the ever-watching Mount Garfield — the mountain everybody looks to when verifying which direction is north. Nestled among the dry and textured Bookcliffs, Mount Garfield stands out like a proud lion looking over its kingdom — not like Simba would, but like Mufasa did before Scar’s betrayal. It’s loyal and always welcoming to everyone who arrives home after any trip. Whether you fly in or take Interstate 70, it’s the first thing anyone notices about Grand Junction, and that’s why Mount Garfield’s soil is in the jar.

Getting muddy

The next stop involves getting muddy, likely wet, and possibly taking a fishing break. This stop takes the hopeful escapee to the south end of the valley, to the confluence of the Colorado and the Gunnison rivers. And although there may not be much to see as one parks off Riverside Parkway, you are forced to take in the strength of two giants colliding as you walk down to where the rivers converge. Not only is your view impressive, but your feet are forced to feel how refreshing the rivers can be on a hot summer day, or just how peaceful the riverbank becomes in the dead of winter with the Colorado National Monument serving as a backdrop. And that backdrop happens to be the next stop.

The giant to the south

The next stop is unique in the valley because it is as beautiful as it is accessible, the Colorado National Monument. As you leave Orchard Mesa, you can watch as the Monument grows larger and larger until you are finally met by the giant that cradles the valley from the south. There is no alternative but to make the drive up to Cold Shivers Point and just listen to the eternal wind that blows through the canyon and down to the postcard valley below. It’s the perfect opportunity to be at peace and listen to the warblers sing.

As you leave and drive down from that vantage point, the city emerges below. It might look clustered but you always know where you are looking since the St. Mary’s Hospital Tower serves as a reference point in the distance.

And now the jar is three-quarters of the way finished.

Last stop

The last stop is deceivingly far away. It is a wall to the east that is visible from anywhere in the valley: the Grand Mesa. But the distance is what makes this last stop the most important. It gives you time to reflect. Time to remember all the memories of racing up the Mesa to make sure you caught early snow at Powderhorn. Or the time your father drove everyone up on a snowy day to get the sleds broken in for the year. And maybe that’s the perfect spot to fill your jar from, the base of that treasonous sledding hill that made sure everyone sliding down would feel fear during the ride, even if for just a second. But that hill always made sure you walked away satisfied with the adrenaline it provided.

Free to go

Driving around the valley will make anyone wonder if maybe the story of the curse was created for a reason — as a way for the hopeful traveler to visit all the landmarks of their home and bid them a proper farewell. Maybe the jar is symbolic and forces the traveler to always have a piece of home.

Or maybe it’s just a jar of dirt that cost a gas tank to collect. Either way, it’s priceless. So with a jar full of dirt, you’re ready to jump in the car with no curse to give chase, heading wherever your heart desires.

Will it work? I can’t say for sure. All I can provide are facts: I’m writing this piece from my residence in Washington state, but I’ll be home for Christmas.

Alex Rico, of Seattle, is a Grand Junction native.

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Alex Rico, of Seattle, is a Grand Junction native.