Archive for July, 2013

Two great ghost towns 30 minutes west of Denver above Central City.

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Heading for the Black Hills of South Dakota in early June, 2013, just before dusk, in a cold rain storm that intermittently switched to snow,  I dozed behind the wheel and tried to stay awake. I was an hour or two out from Hot Springs, South Dakota, my destination for the night, and in this part of the world, lodging options are few and far between.

I drowsily pushed onward, rumbling down Highway 85.  The bluffs surrounding the road stood out above the dense fog that hugged the old highway. In one spot, as I looked out the passenger’s window of my car, I saw a sight that I will never forget- A herd of buffalo, on the stampede across the prairie, surrounded by fog. Old buffalo, buffalo calves…tromping at full speed through fog and rain.  It was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed, and with exception of the headlights of my car, this scene and moment could’ve (and  had) taken place in this part of the world for thousands of years. I won’t lie, it brought tears to my eyes…I guess because I’m a sappy, sentimental sort and I’ve always felt I was born 200 years too late.

Shortly after my chance encounter in the fog with the charging buffalo, I saw a sign that said “Historic Jay Em, Wyoming” with an arrow pointing left of the main road.  I had to make it to Hot Springs that night, so I decided to stop on my way back home a few days later.

I’d never heard of “Jay Em” before, but apparently it was named after a rich local rancher who funded its building around the turn of the last century- his initials were J.M.  It was laid out as a stopping and supply point for travelers and ranchers heading to or from the Black Hills region in the early 1900’s. It never materialized due to it’s proximity to Lusk, Wyoming, and rapidly faded. By 1920 the grand plans for “Jay Em” had been forgotten, and the town faded.

Today, Jay Em, Wyoming still has a few residents, and a Post Office that serves the local ranchers. No other businesses (as far as I could tell) call Jay Em home.  The old business district of Jay Em is well worth the stop. The buildings have been maintained by the few remaining locals, and you’ll more than likely be the only one there to enjoy the sights and take photos. An old lumber mill, a machine shop, a mercantile, an old garage and water tower, all painted white are an interesting step back in time.  Jay Em never had a paved street, and around the “business district” several old homes dating to Jay Em’s prime still stand.  Several newer houses dot the surrounding area, and like most ghost towns or almost ghosts of the west, a watchful local will always peer out a window or come out and stand by their fence and stare until you leave.

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On my way home from my Black Hills excursion, having righted my course after a wrong turn led me 30 miles too far south down Hat Creek Road in search of old Fort Hat Creek, I found my tires back on blacktop and heading the right direction towards home.  (I never did find Fort Hat Creek by the way, even though I was within 2 miles of it when I took the wrong fork of the road and ended up deep in the Wyoming nothingness! A deer, lazily foraging along the bottom of Hat Creek stopped and posed for a pic (see below), so startled by my appearance it stared at my with a look of confusion, wondering what a strange human type was doing so far from anything “human.” That’s when I knew it was time to turn around!)

Rolling through Lusk, then on through Lingle, I headed west for a stop at Fort Laramie, then further west, then north to the little towns of Hartville and Sunrise.  My grandmother on my mom’s side was born in Sunrise, Wyoming in the early 1920’s- a small company town run by the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company.  Her father was a miner who worked in the copper mine at Sunrise.  The family soon left, rumor saying my great grandfather didn’t want his daughter to go to school with Italians, who composed a large portion of the population at the time.

Hartville and Sunrise are virtually one in the same town. Hartville was first settled by miners in the 1870’s, incorporated in the 1880’s, and has lived on, although just barely, ever since.  Sunrise is along the same road, just about a mile up the narrow rocky canyon from Hartville. Today, all of Sunrise lies behind a gate, on private property. But you can look over the fence and still see many of the old buildings.  Hartville, down the valley is a quaint, quiet, treed and green oasis in this rocky, sagebrush canyon,  that proudly boasts it’s place in history as Wyoming’s oldest incoporated town that’s still alive.  Many old buildings and storefronts from Hartville’s heyday line the tiny main street, and a few have had recent renovation work done.  Others are left in disrepair and show the ravages of time.   The surrounding hills are dotted with crumbling rock foundations and toppled wooden structures that remind the visitor of more booming times in the region.

Top 2 photos were taken on Hat Creek, Wyoming, the remainder were taken at Sunrise and Hartville, Wyoming.

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