The prairie land of northeastern New Mexico is home to a large number of ghost towns and among them is the old ranching center of Mills. Located on Highway 39 eleven miles north of Roy, New Mexico, Mills is a wide spot in the road with a handful of picturesque homes in varying states of decay. A tiny Post Office which dates back to 1889 is still open, serving nearby ranchers, and sits along the one dirt street that runs north-south through town. Other than the Post Office, Mills rests quietly, a silent reminder of better days in Harding County.

 

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Took advantage of the first snow of the season to go grab some photos of the historic Knights of Pythias Cemetery above Central City, Colorado. Enjoy!

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Once a year, around the second or third week of September I make a pilgrimage to a very tiny and almost forgotten town in Colorado- Vicksburg. Some call it a ghost town, but to me, it does not fit the bill, Vicksburg is different, it doesn’t feel like a ghost town, although almost always void of human presence when I visit, and having only once in my yearly pilgrimages seen another soul in town, it’s well-cared for, and none of the cabins are ramshackle or in disrepair.

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Vicksburg, founded around 1880 and named for Vick Keller, an early prospector and resident of the town, sits just beyond the eyes’ reach, off of Chaffee County Road 390 which follows the path of Clear Creek, and across the road from the Missouri Gulch trail head. A tiny parking lot and a steel gate are located at Vicksburg itself, or you can park at the Missouri Gulch trail head lot. From either parking lot you will not be able to see Vicksburg, which is less than a hundred yards away hidden amongst the trees. On busy summer weekends, hundreds of campers, fisherman and hikers drive right past Vicksburg without even knowing it exists. To me, this is what makes Vicksburg so special- You literally can not see the town until you are standing in the middle of it!

From the iron gate at the little parking lot along County Road 390, a short, maybe 50 yard walk, takes you into a dense aspen and pine grove, you’ll first notice a tumbledown outhouse, then some old cast iron mining machinery which has been painted with a protective grayish primer to ward off the winds of time. Then, you will start to see the cabins that make up Vicksburg.

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A neat and tidy row of low-roofed log cabins is situated along a lone lane with ruts worn in it decades ago by horse drawn carriages and wagons. On both sides of this lane, towering Balm of Gilead trees, planted in the late-1800s offer a shady canopy for the sleepy town hidden within- In mid-September that canopy turns golden and fiery orange, and fallen leaves drift down the lane on gusts of wind. Other than the wind, all is silent and serene.

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All of the cabins in town have been restored or maintained and are privately owned and used as summertime hideaways. Running the length of the lane is a wooden fence, simple wooden mailboxes nailed to posts line the way. On the edge of town, near the parking lot, are two cabins which have been dedicated as museums and are open to the public during the summer months, the yard around these two cabins is filled with antique mining equipment, old wagons, and other daily items of a long-ago time when Vicksburg, and it’s contemporaries of Beaver City, Rockdale, and Winfield along Clear Creek were more boisterous than they are today.

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Vicksburg, to me, is as magical as it is frustrating- I personally think Vicksburg, at any time of the year, but especially in the early-fall, is the embodiment of paradise, solitude, and peace. But, trying to capture the magic of Vicksburg on film is maddening! This little gem is so shadowy and overgrown, the cabins so low to the ground in relation to the towering Gilead trees, that it is impossible to snap a photo that catches the idyllic and almost “lost in time” or “fairy tale” setting of Vicksburg. What you see with the eye, can not be seen in any photo I have ever taken. Vicksburg is a place you just have to see for yourself!

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Several times throughout the course of the year I am contacted by individuals asking me about metal detecting or relic hunting at ghost towns, numerous times I’ve also had individuals who want to share their finds with me, or ask that I share them on my Facebook page or on blog. Unbeknownst to many, metal detecting and relic hunting at ghost towns, mining camps, old structures, etc. on public lands is a felony offense.

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It has been my standard practice to politely inform these people of the Federal laws protecting historic sites over 50-years-old, and inform them of the harsh consequences they face if caught in the act- A felony charge with fines ranging from $500 to $20,000 and/or up to one-year in prison. In most cases those who have contacted me are unaware of these laws, and thank me for alerting them prior to their planned adventures. In some instances however, I get the more confrontational types who want to challenge me (as if I am the one who wrote the law) and argue the law. And, often, I get the lame old “Well I won’t get caught” or “Does anybody really enforce it?” response, which is discouraging.

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A rusted button at an old mining camp, tempting to pocket, but by the word of the law it is illegal

Lately, I have experienced a noticeable increase in people asking about metal detecting and relic hunting at ghost towns. One of the cool, behind the scenes features of my blog is a record of “search terms” people have used while visiting my blog, and “metal detecting ghost towns” has become a popular search term much to my dismay. I understand the allure of snooping around an old cabin or town site and seeing what you can find- I’ve been there, done it. It is a romantic vision in many of our minds that we’ll be the one to stumble across a rusted Colt pistol, or an old gold coin under the floorboards of a cabin. We are not vandals out to destroy anything, our intentions are good and it is a fun hobby, we are focused people looking for something cool to hang on the wall. I get it, I’ve done it, but I now know we can’t do it. Relic hunters, as harmless as our intentions are on the surface, take a severe toll on our historic sites, and, by the word of the law, relic hunters and metal detectors are one in the same with the vandal who tears down the wall, or the arsonist who burns the old building. If it is on public land, i.e., National Forest, State Lands, or BLM lands, we can look, but we can’t keep, and we can’t excavate. If we find relics we can enjoy them, but we have to leave them at the site where we found them.

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It is frustrating, and there is great temptation, after all, who will notice if I take a handful of square nails, or it won’t hurt that building at all if I take that old doorknob, or somebody threw these bottles in the dump a hundred years ago, what’s the big deal if I take them home? If it was only one of us who did that, it would not be a big deal, but multiply that by one hundred or one thousand and in a decade there will be nothing left of our ghost towns and historic sites- And this does not even take into account the natural ravages of time and weather, forest fires and floods, and the still rampant vandalism and arson that has always plagued our ghost towns.

I myself was unaware of these laws until the last ten years or so,  and I myself am guilty of taking objects I found on public lands prior to my knowledge of the laws. There are several on the books- the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and numerous revisions to said law, the National Historic Preservation Act 1966 with revisions in 1980 and 1992, the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, Abandoned Shipwreck Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

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The Wapiti Mine Office and General Store 2016

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The Wapiti Mine Office and General Store after vandals ripped it down 2017

All of these laws were designed to protect our cultural heritage and our Nation’s rich history, so that it may be enjoyed by our children, grandchildren and generations yet to come, but many do not know about these laws, and some do not care, viewing the laws as largely unenforceable measures, and governmental overreach.

As my involvement in the historic site/ghost town field has grown over the years I have become acutely aware of the reason for, and the need for these laws- Recently, in the last three years, I have witnessed the destruction of several historic structures in Colorado, I have witnessed a family of four, mother, father, and two young children, deface an historic and clearly marked “PROTECTED” mill building with graffiti, I have seen an entire rusted automobile disappear from the Sego ghost town in Utah…after it had been defaced with graffiti the year before, and I have stood in shocked disbelief as I watched a family from Minnesota climb over a well-marked, protective fence erected by the Forest Service so they could “touch” ancient Native American rock paintings with their hands.

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This old coupe which had sat at Sego, Utah for 60 years was illegally hauled away in 2017.

As our society grows increasingly ignorant, uneducated, and self-serving, the need for these protective laws will only increase, unfortunately, enforcing these laws is nearly impossible without the help of others- As ghost-towners, road trippers, and history buffs, we all need to help spread the word that metal detecting, relic hunting, defacing, damaging, or taking anything, even the tiniest nail or shard of pottery from historic sites over 50 years located on public lands is illegal. Permits to metal detect and relic hunt at historic sites are available and are Federally monitored- Normally, permits are only issued to actual, historic or archaeological research parties, and not private citizens. What you do on private land is entirely up to the discretion of the land owner and the parties involved.

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Vandalism right next to a sign asking visitors NOT to destory the historic Magnolia Mill in Montgomery, Colorado.  This is not art, this is vandalism.

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Furthermore, we are the first line of defense of America’s history, our history- If you see someone relic hunting, defacing, or destroying a historic site, either kindly inform them of the law, or if you do not want to confront someone, get photos and their license plate number and turn it over to the Forest Service in the area. It is a difficult thing to do, but the Forest Service can not possibly patrol every site every day, so it up to us to protect our historic and cultural heritage.

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A family I witnessed defacing the Magnolia Mill right in front of the signs. I turned their license plate number into the Fairplay Ranger Station and they launched an investigation.

Take only pictures. Enjoy our heritage, don’t destroy it!

American Antiquities Act of 1906

16 USC 431-433

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bonafied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.

Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.

Approved, June 8, 1906

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St. Elmo, Independence, Ashcroft, Nevadaville…the usual suspects come to mind when Colorado ghost towns are discussed, but how many of you have heard of or been to Manoa and Whitehorn? I know I had never heard of either just a year ago.

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Whitehorn

I found Whitehorn on an old map, then found a few mentions of the old mining camp online and in some old dusty books. Whitehorn, in its heyday around 1900, was a booming place, claiming ten developed blocks, numerous businesses, boardwalks along the streets, and a population of around one thousand. Whitehorn even had its own newspaper for 15 years! By 1912 Whitehorn was dead, the gold ore having played out and the people having moved on.

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The Whitehorn Post Office and General Store circa 1900

I had a look at a modern satellite image that showed a few structures and foundations were still there, so I headed out to see firsthand what Whitehorn was all about. When I reached the site, I found it just out of reach a couple hundred yards beyond a fence, on private ranch land. I zoomed in as far as I could with my camera from the county road, and snapped a few photos of what was left- A few log cabins, a large swaybacked building, an outhouse, not much to indicate that a town of one thousand residents ever existed at the spot.

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Whitehorn

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On the road into Whitehorn I had noticed an impressive and out-of-place two-story log home on a hillside a few miles away. There were no visible roads leading to this picturesque home, which appeared to have recently had a fresh coat of red paint and a new steel roof applied to it, other than that it looked to be abandoned. I assumed it must be an old ranch house, and snapped a photo of it from the road, not thinking much of it at the time. A few days later, after I returned home from my trip, while doing some reading on the history of Whitehorn, I found an old newspaper clipping about another town in the same area called “Manoa” a bit more sleuthing, and I learned that the stately two-story I had photographed on that side hill was actually the Hershberger home, the owner of the gold mine at Manoa, and that it was no ranch house at all, but the old Manoa townsite! Of course I had to check satellite images to see what I had missed in my initial visit, and from what I could see, there appeared to be at least one more structure adjacent to the red two-story. Well, I had to go back and have a better look.

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Manoa Newspaper Article

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Hershberger Home at Manoa

Very little information can be found regarding the history of Manoa. It had a short life, living and dying between 1902 and 1908. No record can be found of the population, and Manoa is only mentioned in a few old newspapers as a byline of articles pertaining to Whitehorn.

I returned to Manoa and took a short hike up the hill to the red house. A fence had been erected around the structure and signs indicating that it was private property belonging to the Lantz Ranch were clearly posted. Like its neighbor Whitehorn, Manoa was just beyond my reach, this time only feet way, not hundreds of yards like Whitehorn. Beyond the fence were a number of well-preserved cabins, their rusted tin roofs covered in thick green moss. Manoa was absolutely beautiful, situated among tall pines and willows. It was a perfect setting for a town, and the foliage just beginning to change with the coming of autumn made a perfect backdrop for my photos. Respecting the private property boundary, I was able to snap my photos from the fence line.

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Thanks for Visiting!

 

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I had heard rumors of a “lost” ghost town high in the Gunnison Country of Colorado a few times over the years. Being an avid “ghost towner” these rumors always piqued my interest. Nobody seemed to know much about this “lost” ghost town. There was even confusion over the name- “Cameltown” seemed to be the consensus on what this place was called, but why would a remote mining camp in the black timber of Colorado be named “Cameltown” Colorado is a long way from any camels, except for a few in the regional zoos, and I’d never heard of any camels being imported and used to haul supplies to the mines like they had been used elsewhere in the world.

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Hours of research, countless dead ends, and I finally found myself on the right path, and it was obvious once I saw it- I was looking for “Campbell Town” not “Cameltown.” Named for its founder Campbell Town was somewhere in Gunnison County, rumored to be known by only a handful of locals, and even among the locals it was somewhat of an enigma, only a few had seen the place themselves, but it did exist!

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So I began another earnest search for information, this time for “Campbell Town” and, like my previous search for “Cameltown” I was striking out. I couldn’t find any information, no matter where I looked. None of my ghost town guide books made any mention of it, I found one small blurb online mentioning it was near Ohio City and Pitkin, but it was hidden amongst the trees in a maddening maze of off-road trails. I poured over my topographic maps and marked potential or likely spots, I double-checked my paper maps against modern satellite images. Then, as I delved deeper into the internet, a scan of an old topographical map showed up listing a “Cameltown” a couple miles above Ohio City…So after all that I was back to looking for “Cameltown”!

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I had another look at the old topo map and found the spot on a satellite image, and when I zoomed in I could see a mine dump and what looked like a couple of structures. Close enough for me! I hopped in my Jeep and headed for “Cameltown.” A rocky, steep, and overgrown trail led me to a weathered and dilapidated wooden Forest Service sign that read “Campbell Town est. 1880 Population Max. 44” so we were back to “Campbell Town” again! I had a good laugh and decided that whatever the place was named, I had finally found it.

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At first sight, Campbell Town looks like a small meadow with only two tumbledown cabins, but then, buried in the trees on the side of a steep slope is another cabin, rather well preserved considering the remote location and severe winters, and then down a spur road from the main trail the ruins of several other cabins appear as well as three more relatively intact cabins. A large mine dump leads to the ruins of what was once a large mill. High on another hillside, hidden in the trees, is one more cabin, far removed from the others.

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Rusted cans and broken shards of porcelain litter the landscape. Here and there you’ll find the remnants of an old leather boot, or a well-worn rubber boot sole. What appeared at first to be a birdhouse hanging from a tree branch was, in fact, an old solvent can the branch had grown through long ago. Inside the best preserved cabin is a collection of artifacts found by others lucky enough to find Campbell Town- A boot, the iron head of a pickaxe, an old salt shaker, various cans, bottles, nails, etc. License plates dating back to 1933 have been nailed to the walls by visitors. Names of visitors and dates all the way back to the 1920s can be found scrawled on the walls of the cabin.

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Campbell Town instantly earned a spot in my “Top 10 Colorado Ghost Towns”- Not only did I enjoy the search for this little beauty, I loved what I found- A place largely intact and untouched, just like the rumors said it would be. I will share my photos of Campbell Town,  but I’ll keep the whereabouts to myself. Campbell Town needs to be “found” to be truly appreciated, and if you are lucky enough to find it, you are lucky enough!  Good Luck in your search, it is well-worth the effort!

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Abandoned iron- To some it is an eyesore, to others it is a thing of great, almost artistic, beauty in its own strange way. I fall into the latter category, finding the cast-aside implements of yesterday’s industry extremely beautiful.

I imagine if these rusted relics and shops could tell a story, it would parallel my own- Men who did a job because they had to, not because they wanted to, who faced the same frustrations, anger, and stress I’ve faced in my own time inside the factory.

I can look at these old machines and see myself cussing them, as some high-pressure bossman leans over my shoulder, clipboard and pencil in hand, asking a series of stupid, irrelevant questions, and second-guessing my every move while I try to make the iron monsters live again.

Perhaps it’s just me, or maybe it’s just another of the many symptoms of blue-collar life, but when I put a hand on these great iron beasts, I can hear them come back to life- The grand cacophonous thunder of industry.

(Due to the rarity and historic value of the following, and the increasing instances of theft and vandalism currently afflciting Colorado’s historic sites, I’ve chosen not to disclose the locations to prevent futher destruction.)

 

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