Archive for May, 2013

Leaving Interstate 70 and traveling down Highway 6 you find yourself surrounded  by posh timeshares and luxury mountain condos in the towns of Dillon and Keystone.  Yachts and sailboats sit in the bays of Lake Dillon, and everywhere on this path you are surrounded by modern comforts and conveniences.  Prices here are adjusted accordingly as well- prepare to pay 30% more for anything from fuel to food in these parts, it’s just part of “the charm” of  trendy mountain ski communities, and if you wish to “see and be seen” you pay for it, summer or winter.

But travel just past Keystone, and the modern world and it’s high-pressure, in-your-face angst quickly begins to fade.  A careful eye can pick out bears foraging through the landfill, and once in a while they come lumbering clumsily over the hill and down towards Highway 6 escaping the clanking mechanical tractors pushing in another day’s worth of trash.  Just beyond the landfill,  the road splits, and heading right on to Montezuma Road you begin a rapid descent back in time.

Montezuma is a small “almost” ghost town that has somehow managed to survive for well over 100 years in a cold high valley south of Keystone.  Montezuma has survived the booms and busts typically associated with mining, and several fires that have burned much of the old, original part of the town.  A few original buildings from Montezuma’s first incarnation survive, a few more from after the first fire, a few more from after the second fire, and a few more of newer, more modern construction.  The town’s population is an eclectic mix of the wealthy, hippie dropouts choosing to live a simple existence off the grid, rugged, cranky prospectors who trace their roots back to the first inhabitants of the “first Montezuma” who still hump the dream of striking it rich…because they know they will, someday, and at this point, there is no other option- their fates are tied to Montezuma, and lastly, as is the norm in all off the beaten path mountain towns, a handful of artists.  Montezuma is a neat place well worth a visit, but it is what lays above Montezuma that brought me here.

A rugged 4X4 trail, about halfway through Montezuma shoots up the side of a mountain in a series of switchbacks. This is the old Saints John Road (Yes, SAINTS John, that is the correct name) that leads to the ghost town of the same name.  A few cabins dating to the 1860’s still stand at Sts. John, high above Montezuma, and 2 or 3 people still spend their summer’s here, but mostly Sts. John is a pile of toppled buildings and lumber drowned in an ocean of shrubs, pine and willows that have overgrown the area in the last 100 years.  It is hard to imagine a town once stood in this dense rat’s nest of undergrowth and overgrowth and growth all in between. A giant mill once stood here, but today is just a scrap heap of sun-bleached boards and crumbling bricks.  The remains of the red brick chimney mark the oldest smelter in the state of Colorado- stubbornly clinging to the side of  a hill just behind the collapsed mill, it was built in the 1860’s with bricks and bricklayers shipped all the way from Wales! 150 years down the road, the chimney is a testament to their quality work, in a town otherwise erased by time. The few who make it up this way often pass by without noticing it, and I scanned the mountainside for quite a while until I picked it out among the rocks and trees.

But I didn’t come to see Sts. John, still higher was my objective.  Continuing on up the side of the mountain, I climbed the rapidly worsening 4X4 trail in search of an 1870’s era silver mine and it’s corresponding camp known as “The Wild Irishman”.  First I came across a lone miner’s dugout carved into the side of the mountain next to a small creek where the land had been worked long ago in search of riches.  This dugout was surprisingly intact considering it dated from the 1860-1880 era.  There was, of course, some modern garbage inside the dugout,  indicating that people still use it occasionally for camping.

After leaving this isolated dugout, I climbed higher up the side of the mountain until, just at timberline, the long forgotten “Wild Irishman” settlement emerged in the last stand of trees below the tundra.  Three or four cabins remain there today, a couple in remarkable condition, as well as an old outhouse that has oddly been painted red by someone in recent years.  Collapsed cabins and mine buildings are found buried in the shrubs, and a giant tailings pile marks the site of the Wild Irishman silver  mine.

Only a few people visit this site, mostly 4X4 enthusiasts on their way to the summit of Glacier Mountain.  You aren’t alone when you find the Wild Irishman however, deer, chipmunks and mountain goats roam the area, and are so unaccustomed to humans that they show no fear whatsoever.  I was shocked when a giant mountain goat appeared high above the tailings pile at the mine, and slowly made his way down the side of the mountain to come investigate me.  He showed no fear or aggression at all, he was simply curious and calmly walked over to within 10 feet of me.  He sniffed the air and looked at me, grazed a little, posed for some pictures, then turned and climbed back up the side of Glacier mountain.

Montezuma, Saints John and The Wild Irishman made a for a wonderful outing,  but the mountain goat who came for a visit will go down as one of my fondest memories.

The old miner's dugout

The old miner’s dugout


My first glimpse of "The Wild Irishman" from the 4X4 trail below

My first glimpse of “The Wild Irishman” from the 4X4 trail below

The gate keeper of "The Wild Irishman" who guards the road.

The gate keeper of “The Wild Irishman” who guards the road.


My mountain goat friend as he made his way down Glacier Mountain to see what I was doing

My mountain goat friend as he made his way down Glacier Mountain to see what I was doing

The mountain goat stopped and stared at me and sniffed the wind.

The mountain goat stopped and stared at me and sniffed the wind.

My friend turning and heading back up the mountain after his visit.

My friend turning and heading back up the mountain after his visit.

A busy little chipmunk who carefully watched me from atop his rock.
A busy little chipmunk who carefully watched me from atop his rock.

Utah-56 heads straight west out of Cedar City into some of the most  beautiful country I’ve ever seen…then again my idea of  “beautiful country” may be different than that of most. Utah-56 is a shimmering belt of two lane blacktop, now faded to gray that crosses rolling hills dotted with cedar, broken up here and there by red sandstone formations before dropping into a wide basin or park of green ranch land as far as the eye can see, bordered far in the west by the arid sandy mountains that mark the border with Nevada.

This quiet part of Utah is “my” type of place- great views in every direction, fresh air, and only the sound of the wind, or a lonely semi truck far off in the distance break the silence in this part of the world.   There are a few wide spots in the road where a traveler can stop, stretch their legs, buy a pack of smokes and a gallon of gas- but be prepared to be given the old “hairy eyeball”  from the local cowboys lingering around the lunch counter cussing at the outdated TV clumsily mounted high on the adjacent wall. It’s clear not too many people pass through this part of Utah, and those who do bring a little excitement and gossip for the locals.

On the far edge of this expanse, just before the Nevada border I reached my destination- The ghost town of Modena.  Modena was surprisingly more alive than any information I could find indicated. After a couple hours on the road without seeing another vehicle, I pulled into Modena thinking I would have the town to myself.  To my surprise,  just as I reached the railroad crossing leading into Modena, a Union Pacific train came speeding by, blaring it’s horn.  Here I was, in the middle of nowhere waiting for a train to pass!

After the train disappeared over the ridge, I began to shoot some pics of the great old storefront and Lund Hotel.  Then, again, to my surprise, I found I wasn’t alone.  An oldish woman emerged from a distant house down the street and leaned over the fence, staring at me as she smoked a cigarette.  I waved, but she just continued to puff away and stare.  Then a mangy looking dog ran down the street and disappeared into an abandoned shed. The oldish woman kept staring and smoking.

I finished up taking my pics, and waved goodbye to the oldish woman, she just stared…and smoked.  As I pulled back on to the interstate a Dodge truck slowly rolled down the dusty main street of Modena, kicking up a cloud.  The oldish woman disappeared back into her house. The dog barked.

Modena was an interesting place.

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Took an easy 120 mile round trip south of Denver today to see if anything was left of Russellville (or Russelville) in Douglas County.  Russellville is the oldest settlement in Douglas County, and was founded by the William Russell Party (of Russell Gulch fame) of prospectors in the winter of 1858.  Traces of gold were found in the area and the party busied themselves through the winter panning and collecting what they could find.  In 1859 William Russell and a few others from the party decided to head west into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and try their luck there.  The Russell Party came upon the rich diggings of the area that would soon become Russell Gulch, Nevadaville and Central City.  It was Russell’s party who was largely responsible for the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859, and Russellville is their little known first camp.

Prospecting and scraping an existence from the slim pickings at Russellville continued for the next few years, and it is said that at one point 1,000 or more people worked the area living mostly in a tent city.  As the gold played out and the tales of rich lodes to the west in Russell Gulch and Nevadaville spread, the population soon faded.  By 1861 Russellville was nearly deserted. Those who stayed were mostly from Georgia and some say Alabama as well.  They continued to scratch at the dirt looking for gold, and some took up ranching.  In 1861 a stage barn was constructed.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, the sympathies of those left in Russellville naturally fell in line with their Confederate homelands of Georgia and Alabama.  Confederate leaning renegades throughout the region knew Russellville offered sanctuary, and caches of arms, munitions, gold, silver and other plunder that had been robbed were hidden in the surrounding hills.

 In 1864 five members of the then infamous “Reynolds Gang” who had terrorized the Fairplay/Platte Canyon area robbing ranches and hijacking stagecoaches were marched into the town en route to their trial at Ft. Lyon to the east.  However, upon reaching Russelville the five were executed, their bodies tied to trees and left to rot to presumably serve as a warning to other Confederate sympathizers in the area.  Russellville was abandoned shortly afterward.  Today Russellville sits on private property, but can be seen just off Russellville Road near Franktown, Colorado.  To this day the occasional cache of Civil War era .58 caliber musket balls or other hidden booty is found in the hills near the old settlement, but luxury mansions and gated driveways are found more often.  The stage barn built in 1861, as well as an ice house/root cellar, and what appears to be a boarding house or home that has since been converted into a barn are all that remain at Russellville today.  It’s a great spot to visit in a beautiful part of Colorado…if you know where to look.rv1 RV2 rv3 rv4

Rhyolite, Nevada-  This is by far one of the coolest places I have ever visited. A boring 2-hour drive north of Las Vegas through the Nevada nothingness brings you to the remains of this once bustling metropolis.  One hundred years ago Rhyolite boasted a population of over 10,000.  Today no one lives here except the seasonal care taker who watches over this “Ghost City” on the very eastern edge of Death Valley.  Unparalleled as a boom and bust town, Rhyolite sprang up and disappeared almost completely in the short span of 15 years.  The rich vein discovered in the surrounding hills rapidly played out, and the one time jewel city of Nevada disappeared almost overnight.  Today the towering facade of the bank building still stands, complete with the fortified concrete vault still inside.  The stone fronts and walls of a few other buildings remain.  The Rhyolite mercantile, although moved from it’s original location, still makes for some great pics.  A few other miner’s shacks and out buildings scatter the desert landscape, and mining debris and machinery can be found in all directions.  Modern day artists have erected some interesting sculptures on the south end of Rhyloite.  I was lucky enough to visit Rhyolite on a brisk February day, the clouds and intermittent rain and snow showers (yes, snow in Death Valley) provided a spectacular backdrop for a few of my shots. A truly great ghost town.


Cisco, Utah is just down the road, along the pock marked and pot holed remnants of old Highway 6, from Thompson Springs.  You can hit both towns in a half an hour or less, and you’ll probably be the only person in both- Everyone else speeds by on Interstate 70, either on the way to or from Salt Lake City, Las Vegas or Denver.  These days there is no other reason to find yourself in this desolate hellscape of  Utah.  Nothing grows here, except for sharp things- cacti, thistles, shrubs, tamarisks. Very little lives here except for a dazzling array of reptiles- multicolored lizards of all shapes and sizes and  few rattlesnakes…although the only one I have seen in my trips was dead, laying across the road.  A few antelope roam the bluffs, and will stop just long enough to allow the visitor to snap a quick photo before disappearing into the next draw or ravine. Then there are the people who still hang on here.  I’ve never seen them, but in both Cisco and Thompson Springs, there are inhabited dwellings- A falling down shack with boarded up windows and a shiny new satellite dish. A distant trailer house with a new Dodge truck.  A well manicured green lawn with a sprinkler serves as a welcome oasis in this dry, dusty, wind swept corner of Utah.  But strangely, no people.  It is clear people still live here, but they can not be seen.  Perhaps they don’t want to be seen, so I respect that wish and never probe to deep, and I steer well clear of any inhabited looking property.  But I still wonder who they are and what they do here?  There is nothing in this place. A hundred years ago Cisco and Thompson Springs served as rail sidings and waterholes for the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  In the first half of the 20th Century they were stops along old Highway 6, and there was an Amtrak station in Thompson- food, fuel and lodging for weary travelers during they heyday of the great American “road trip”.  Those days are long gone, and with them went Cisco and Thompson. But today, in one stop, you can visit the 1890’s and the 1950’s- Both Cisco and Thompson are littered with falling down buildings of both eras.  Abandoned cars and machinery dot the horizon around the towns. In one direction all you see is the 1800’s, turn around and it’s the 1950’s.  Strange places.  If you pass through Cisco, take a minute to locate the 1890’s era Post Office. (Pictured at the very bottom)cisco7 cisco6 cisco5 cisco4 cisco3 cisco2 cisco1

Sego, Utah Cemetery

Posted: May 21, 2013 in Cemeteries and Graves

Some people think it is strange, morbid or even disrespectful. Others visit to trace family history. Some stumble across them unknowingly.  I can not explain what draws me personally to the cemeteries and grave sites of the old west- All I know is that I can spend an afternoon alone, totally content, walking among the overgrown plots, the toppled headstones, the rusting fences, and the dilapidated wooden crosses that dot the hillsides and meadows. To me, there is great comfort in the solitude of these places. I’ve often been called an “old soul” and perhaps that “old soul” inside of me feels compelled to stop and walk among the past, looking for familiar names of long ago friends. These old graveyards just have an “energy” or a “feel” about them, some good, some bad, there’s just a presence that can be felt, and when you spend as much time in them as I have, you know without a doubt, that “souls” exist even after the mortal body ceases to. I don’t know, and I can’t explain it, all I know is cemeteries are some of my favorite subject matter- Whether a grave be marked by the simplest wooden cross or  barely perceptible pile of rocks, or be it topped with a hand carved marble tombstone and surrounded by an ornate iron fence, all I do know is forgotten cemeteries make fantastic photographs.

These photos were taken at the cemetery in Sego Canyon, Utah

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Thompson Springs, Utah-  One of those tiny reminders found all across Utah of another time.  A few people still linger in Thompson Springs, located on the old Highway 6 that runs along Interstate 70 between Grand Junction, Colorado and Green River, Utah.  ts5 ts4 ts3 ts2

A few images of Ashcroft, Colorado taken May 6, 2013.  ash6ash9ash8ash7ash5ash4ash3ash2ash1