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Independence, Colorado is a well-preserved ghost town dating to 1879, located just below timberline on the western slope of Independence Pass between Twin Lakes and Aspen on Highway 82.

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Indpendence was named following the discovery of lode gold on July 4, 1879, it also went by the name Chipeta, in honor of Ute Chief Ouray’s wife, for a short time before the townsfolk settled on Independence.

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At the height of its boom Independence was home to around 1,500 people, home to 40 businesses, as well as three post offices.

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Life in the town, located at 11,000 feet elevation, was difficult, and winters were extreme.  As the lode gold played out Independence’s population plummeted, by 1890 there were less than 100 residents.

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In 1899 snows were so heavy that the last 75 residents of the town were cutoff from the supply centers of Aspen and Twin Lakes, and were on the verge of starvation. The remnant population of Independence decided theoir only chance for survival was to flee towards Aspen. The snowed-in inhabitants stripped boards from the remaining structures in town and built skis and sleds out of them for their trek to Aspen,which all 75 residents successfully made.

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Since 1899 only a few prospectors and hermits have called Independence home.Today, the town is totally abandoned, preserved as a historical park. Visitors can park in a small parking lot just below the summit of Independence Pass, and take a short hike down into the townsite. a Forest Service caretaker is sometimes present at the site.

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Balfour is one of the least-known ghost towns in the state of Colorado, and for good reason- The town existed for only five short years between 1893 and 1898 before it was abandoned!

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Remains at Balfour today

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Dugout cabin at Balfour today

Prospectors had dug around sporadically in the area since the 1860s, but it was not until 1893 that gold deposits of profitable quatities were discovered. Balfour is located on the southeastern edge of South Park, roughly 25 miles from Fairplay, or seven or so miles from the tiny town of Hartsel off of Highway 9 as you travel towards Guffey.

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Balfour, at oinly ten days old in 1893!

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Balfour cabin today

When Balfour boomed in 1893,a town appeared literally overnight. Photos taken when Balfour was only ten days old already show frame buildings in equal or greater number than tents in the new gold camp.  Before Balfour faded, there were three hotels, a saloon, post office, chruches, school, general store, and around one thousand residents.

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Second shot of Balfour at ten days old in 1893

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Balfour, 1893

Today scarcely a trace of Balfour remains, just a scattered handful of tumbledown cabins and barns. It is hard to imagine the site was once home to a thousand people, and had been billed as “the next Cripple Creek” when gold was discovered in 1893.

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Balfour cabin today

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Leadville, Colorado, one of the highest incoporated cities in the world at 10.152 feet elevation, and the Silver Queen of Colorado actually began life as a gold camp in 1859 when 49ers from California found rich deposits of gold and named the spot, appropriately, “California Gulch”.  By 1860, California Gulch had morphed into “Oro City” and mining was hot an heavy for the next few years. When the gold deposits played out, Oro City declined, but in the 1870s massive deposits of silver-bearing lead and galena ore were discovered. Silver was more complex than gold, and rarely appeared in a “pure” form like placer gold in river and creek beds- Silver ore required processing to extract the precious metals contained within.

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Stringtown, just a mile southwest of Leadville proper, was born to handle the processing of ore from the booming Leadville-area silver mines which radiated outine every direction for miles. a massive smelter was built at Stringtown, and crude worker housing- Usually primitive log cabins and clapboard shacks sprang up around the smelter property. Railroad lines intersected the smelter site from the east, north, and south.

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Workshop at Stringtown smelter: Correction, a viewer informed me this is the old Leadville Train Depot which has been moved to the smelter site at Stringtown.

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Stringtown was the largest of  Leadville’s three ” smelter suburbs” which included Little Chicago, and Malta. These wre the places the poorer families lived and died during the silver boom of the 1870s-1890s. When the silver market crashed in 1893, Leadville’s suburbs suffered and many families were left destitute. Malta faded away almost completely. Centrally located Little Chicago was swallowed up by Stringtown and Leadville. Stringtown hasmanaged to hang on until today, a collection of abandoned and occupied dwellings, now considered part of Leadville.

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Colorful dweiiling at Stringtown

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The legacy of Stringtown is mountians of ingots of black slag, the byprodcut of the smelting process, which dominate the landscape today. Colorado’s Highway 24 which connects Leadville and Buena Vista passes right through the heart of Stringtown, and tourists pack a popular gas station-convenience store-sporting goods shop across Highway 24 from the old Malta schoolhouse every summer weekend.

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Malta schoolhouse, just a mile beyond Stringtown

A few years ago, by random chance,  I met a retired body guard for the late-Ross Perot, former Presidential candidate and eccentric Texas billionaire- In the sahdows of Stringtown he scrolled through his phone showing me candid photos of Perot and telling tall tales of his days as a bodyguard.

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse near Stringtown

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse

 

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There is a special place in Colorado called “The Gunnison Country”- An expanse of the Rockies sandwiched between the Collegiate Peaks and the San Juan Mountains, birthplace of the Gunnison River, and ranging from arid prairie land to snow capped peaks and towering passes cloaked in black timber where the snow doesn’t melt until mid-July, the Gunnison Country is something special.

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A cabin at Powderhorn

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Powderhoirn Ranch

In the heart of the Gunnison there is a small jewel dating to the 1870s which has weathered the winds of time remarkably-Powderhorn. Located on Cibola Creek between the town of Gunnison and Lake City in Hinsdale County,high in the San Juans, Powderhorn was once a major farming and supply center for the region.

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Powderhorn

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Once known as “The Breadbasket of the San Juans” Powderhorn farmers supplied the hungry miners of the San Juan range with root vegetables,mutton, and whatever else could be raised or grown in the short-lived summer of the Gunnison country.

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Powderhorn has faded in importance since the boomdays of the 19th Century, but a few cowboys still call the place home. There is plenty to see at Powderhorn today- Several abandoned buildings, a few occupied homes and ranches dating to the 1870s, and some seasonally occupied cabins dating to the town’s heyday.

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The eastern plains of Colorado are home to a large number of ghost towns, “almost” ghost towns, and small towns that feature abandoned buildings, both business and commercial. Here is a quick trip to 20 of them-

1. Cafe- Karval, Colorado

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2. Schoolhouse- Clifford, ColoradoNoColo47

3.  Hardware Store- Matheson, ColoradoNoColo50

4. Grocery Store- Agate, ColoradoNoColo6

5.  Service Station- New Raymer, ColoradoNoColo71

6. Bank Building- Brandon, ColoradoNoColo25

7. General Store- Willard, Colorado
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8.  Garage-  Briggsdale, ColoradoNoColo102

9.  General Store- Aroya, ColoradoNoColo94

10.  Wonder Tower- Genoa, ColoradoNoColo76

11. Schoolhouse- Thatcher, Coloradothatcher1

12.  Storefront- Nunn, Coloradonunnx1

13. Railroad Roundhouse- Hugo, Colorado

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14. General Store- Fondis, Colorado

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15.  Storefront- Dearfield, ColoradoNoColo18

16.  Schoolhouse- Arriba, ColoradoNoColo32

17.  Methodist Church- Keota, Colorado

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18. Hotel- Last Chance, Colorado
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19. Church- Deer Trail, Colorado

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20. Business district- Seibert, Colorado

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The Final Day of A Ghost Town a Day feautures Garcia, Colorado and its sister-community Costilla, New Mexico

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Garcia is the oldest permanent European settlement in Colorado. Originally called “Plaza de los Mananares” the spot was settled by Hispanic families from Taos County, New Mexico. Adobe plazas with thick, windowless walls protected the early settlers from raids by Ute warriors.

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Located in the far southeast corner of the San Luis Valley just two miles north of the New Mexico border, Garcia was part of the once sprawling network of Rio de Costilla Valley settlements, which at their height in the mid-1800s numbered over 4,000 inhabitants. Today Garcia, and the sleepy village of Costilla across the border in New Mexico are home to roughly 475 people,  1/10th of the regions peak population, and very few of that 475 live in Garcia or Costilla proper, most reside on ranches and farms scattered in the hills nearby.

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The histories of Garcia and Costilla are so intermingled that Costilla County, Colorado is named for Costilla, the village in New Mexico- Costilla once being part of Colorado Territory, until a surveying error was discovered in 1869, which gave Costilla back to New Mexico. When Costilla, which pre-dated Garcia by a few years, returned to New Mexico, Garcia became the oldest settlement in Colorado.

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Today Garcia is a collection of homes, many abandoned adobes, and a few occupied. A stunningly beautiful church, and the remains of several adobe plazas. When traveling south out of Garcia, it is hard to tell where Garcia ends, and Costilla, New Mexico begins.

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Day #29 feautures Boston, Colorado

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Boston, at the head of Mayflower Gulch

Boston is an 1890s era mining camp situated at the head of Mayflower Gulch in Summit County.  There are around a half-dozen log cabins in varying states of decay, the sagging ruins of the boarding house, and rusted mining implements scattered around the site. Boston sits in a natural bowl, or ampitheater, and is surrounded by snow capped crags on three sides, making for some great photos. When I visited, there was a dense fog, and I was not able to capture the rocky spires that make a stunning backdrop to the camp.

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A cabin along the trail to Boston

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A combination hiking trail/seldom used 4×4 trail leads two miles into the site from a parking lot just off the side of Highway 91 that runs from Copper Mountain to Leadville. It is a popular hiking spot, and it is usually overrun with people on weekends. It is best to visit Boston early in the morning on weekdays to avoid crowds. Unfortunately, easy access also means Boston has suffered heavy vandalism and the trail in to the site is strewn with garbage from unscrupulous hikers who think it is the Forest Service’s job to clean up after them. Some “visitors” have even torn down log cabins at the site and burned the logs in bonfires.

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Day # 28 feautures Keota, Colorado

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The Methodist chrch and water tower at Keota

Keota dates to the 1880 when sisters Mary and Eva Beardsley built a homestead at the spot on the eastern Colorado plains in present-day Weld County. The sisters sold their homestead in 1888 to the Lincoln Land and Cattle Company. A few more farmers and ranchers establsihed roots at the spot.

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When the Colorado-Wyoming spur of the Burlington Railroad passed through Keota in the late-1800s, it allowed the birth of the town- The railroad brought water, which was stored in the huge water tank on the northwest corner of town. The water tank still stands today and is emblazoned with the name “Keota” and can be seen for miles of the flat, open expanse of prairie surrounding the town.

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Keota faded in the middle-20th century, the railroad stopped running through town, and tracks were ripped up in 1975. Most of the town’s residents moved away, the last in 1999. Up until very recently, those who grew up in Keota would return each for a reunion and picnic. At Christmas time each year, an unknown visitor still places a wreath on the door of the old Methodist church.

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Keota today is uninhabited. A few modern homes have been built on the prairie near Keota, but no one resides in the town itself anymore. Weld County has a heavy equipment shed at the site, and oil exploration companies and workers pass through once in a while. A couple of homes, the church, water tower, general store, and some barns and sheds remain at the site.

 

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Day # 27 features Geneva City, Colorado

 

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Geneva City is one of the most remote ghost towns in the Centennial State located at the headwaters of Geneva Creek in Clear Creek County and sitting in a bowl at timberline. Surrounded by snowcapped year-round, Geneva City can only be reached in the summer months, usually late-July through early-September, outisde of that the narrow, rugged 4×4 trail into the site is covered in snow.

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Geneva City is an old-timer- Prospectors first set up camp here after the end of the Civil War in the mid-1860s. Sturdy log cabins were built at the very edge of the pine trees to shelter prospectors from the harsh elements and electrical storms that plague the basin where Geneva City is located.

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The mountains surrounding Geneva City are rich in iron deposits, and Geneva Creek itself features extremely rare natural iron fens- a geological occurence where iron rich mineral water springs bubble up from the ground and creates rusty colored natural terraces. The high iron content of the Geneva basin area makes metal detecting nearly impossible, and attracts fierce electrical storms.

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Prospectors and miners have worked the rock in Geneva basin for over 100 years, finding small deposits of gold, and largeer depositis of silver, along with the plentiful iron. A smelter was built in the valley far below Geneva City in 1870, and the primitive rfining methods result in the slag from the old smelter still holding about a 10% silver content. The smelter has long since tumbled down, but crumbling red bricks and piles of black slag mark the spot. A sawmill was once operated nearby as well providing support beams and other wood products for the mines of Geneva City.

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The Brittanic Mine was the last mine in operation at Geneva City, and small scale operations were still carried out there into the early-1960s. Geneva City is unique because it never had a year-round population in its entire 100-year history. The winters at the site were just too harsh, and the town too remote to warrant year-round settlement. A number of log cabins, a large saloon/mess hall, a boarding house, and at least one small home, built of milled lumber which still exists, albeit precariously today. Mining remnants can be found all around the Geneva City site, as well as the Brittanic Mine site.

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Day # 26 features Modena, Utah

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Modena was a railroad town born in December of 1899 when tracks from the Utah and Nevada Railroad reached the area. Located west of the iron mines at Iron City, Utah, Modena  grew into an important shipping and supply center, as well as a water stop for the steam engines of the railroad.

 

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It is said the town was named after the Chinese cook on the railroad crew who laid the tracks to the site- He would call from his stoves “Mo dinna! Mo dinna!” (More dinner! More dinner!) each evening. Another tale claims the town was named after Modena, Italy. There was also famous mountain man in the Rockies at one time named Manuel Modena. Exactly how Modena was named seems to be lost to time.

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Brigham Lund established a freighting business serving the region, based in Modena, and successful mercantile/hotel in the town.  In 1903 a U.S. government Weather Station was established in the town. By 1905 the Los Angeles and Salt Lake City Railroad routed its line through Modena and brought more commerce to the town.

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Water tank and pump house for the Utah and Nevada Railroad at Modena

 

 

 

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Today Modena is largely abandoned or vacant, a few residents remain in the residential section of town, but the old business district is vacant.  The train still passes through Modena, but no longer stops. Brigham Lund’s Merchandise & Hotel building dominates the town site. A false-fronted shop next door to Lund’s Hotel along the dirt main street looks could be a still shot from any “Wild West” movie of the 1950s. Modena sits just a few feet off the railroad tracks, and it must have been quite an experience to be a guest in the hotel when the steam engine came rolling into town, blaring its whistle more than a Century ago.

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Lund’s Merchandise and Hotel

 

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