Archive for December, 2013

The road over Cottonwood Pass west of Buena Vista, Colorado is traveled by thousands every summer on the way to and from scenic Taylor Park, Cottonwood and Rainbow Lakes, and the numerous campground throughout the valley.  This is one of the more picturesque regions of Colorado, surrounded by the 14,000 foot snow capped summits of the collegiate peaks, and bordered by alternating stands of Aspen and dense pine, broken up by meadows with small trout filled streams and beaver ponds.

One hundred and fifty years ago, during the early days of the Colorado Gold Rush, Cottonwood Pass served as a major artery for prospectors seeking fortune deep in the Colorado mountains. From the Arkansas River valley gold hunters would traverse Cottonwood Pass on their way to the mines in Taylor Park, and the town of Tin Cup that sprang up later in the century. An important stagecoach stop sprang up on the east side of Cottonwood Pass just before the long and steep ascent to the top. The stop was named Harvard City, and for a few years from the 1860’s to 1880’s a small community flourished there, offering supplies and provisions for the hearty souls venturing over the pass.

Today as tourists and campers buzz down the road, few if any, stop to admire a few tumbledown buildings on the side of the road.  What looks to most like a pile of rubbish and an eyesore is actually the remains of the Harvard City stagecoach depot.

Harvard City Stagecoach Depot

Harvard City Stagecoach Depot

Harvard City

Harvard City

Harvard City

Harvard City

Tin Cup, Colorado

Tin Cup, Colorado

Tin Cup

Tin Cup

Tin Cup

Tin Cup

Tin Cup

Tin Cup

Tin Cup, Colorado

Tin Cup, Colorado

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There is a famous old building located along the Crystal River, along a hellish and brutal 4X4 trail seven miles above Marble, Colorado. Nestled in a  remote and remarkably beautiful canyon is the Crystal City turbine house and the accompanying ghost town of the same name.

The turbine house is a favorite target of photographers and tourists in the area and it is truly a fantastic structure dating back to 1893.  The turbine house has graced the pages of many Colorado ghost town books and travel brochures, but few actually know what the odd building sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the turquoise waters below is.  Some identify it as a pump house, others say a water wheel used to accompany the structure.

Actually, the photogenic building was a hydroelectric power plant built in 1893.  The “ladder” (as described by many) that leads down to the Crystal River below housed a shaft that was in turn spun by the current of the river. The rotation of the shaft spun a turbine which generated electricity inside the building sitting on the cliff. The electricity produced provided power for the isolated town of Crystal City.

Today, most people stop at the turbine house take a few photos and turn around to brave the harrowing 7-mile 4X4 trek back to Marble, Colorado.  But continuing on past the turbine house you’ll find the remains of Crystal City, and even one or two summer time residents.

Below is a “then” and “now” photo of the turbine house at Crystal City, Colorado as well as photos of the little known ghost town above the turbine house.  All photos were taken by me last fall.

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14 December 2103- I sit in my chair with a bad case of “saddle ass” following an impromptu 350 mile mini-road trip this morning. I awoke before dawn and had a quick breakfast of smoked hog jowl and coffee before firing up “Basil” my Range Rover and heading east on Interstate 70 for a look an up close and personal look at a few dots on the map.

Most of my wanderings lead me to the mountains or the desert- to mining camps and their associated ghost towns.  Today marked a rare trip (only my second) to the barren, endless sea of prairie to the east of Denver. I’ve never had much interest in the prairie. It’s flat. It’s windy. It all looks the same.  But, recently I’ve grown to appreciate the plains a little more. There is something beautiful and clean and pure about the austerity of the flat lands that make up eastern Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska (and I imagine a few other of those “square states” on the map).  I learned this on my first exploration of the flats around a month ago when I visited the ghost town of Keota.  A long drive down a dirt road surrounded by nothingness is quite soothing- a welcome respite from the high-pressure of the city.  Clean. Pure. Refreshing. Desolate. Alone.  Just the right ingredients for a proper road trip.

Humming east on  I-70, serenaded by the angleic voice of Lemmy from Motorhead, I reached my first stop- Deer Trail, home of the World’s First Rodeo which was said to have taken place on July 4, 1869- seven years before Colorado became state. A quick trip through the town left me wondering if that was the only event to have ever happened in Deer Trail.  The town has several well-laid out blocks with full-time residents, a school and business district, but there is no indication of any kind of “life” in Deer Trail.  Every storefront and shop in the business district is empty…very empty. The vintage advertising faded in the windows and painted on the walls leads one to believe that Deer Trail died suddenly overnight at sometime in the 1980’s.  Was Deer Trail the victim of an undisclosed nuclear attack by the Soviets?  Did Deer Trail fall victim to some macabre infestation ala “The Crazies”?  A gas station along the interstate appeared to be the only viable industry left in Deer Trail, the small ice cream shop next door appears to now be a private residence.  The Deer Trail Tribune building has burned. What looked like the grocery store was guarded by a squirrel standing on his haunches looking at me.  Not much going on in Deer Trail, but the community church and United States Post Office were well maintained and still open for business. (The three images below were taken in Deer Trail, Colorado.)

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Leaving Deer Trail with a strange and unsettling feeling that I was being watched, I hopped back on I-70 and headed for my next destination- Agate.  Just past the bend in the interstate I took the Agate turnoff and amid forceful winds and a sorrowful, gray winter sky I stopped for a quick look (that’s all it takes) at Main Street.  More of the same as I had found a few miles back in Deer Trail- evidence of habitation both past and present, but largely desolate and forgotten. There was a school that had the look of the 1950’s that apparently still served the community. The grocery store was long abandoned, as were a handful of other storefronts. A sign advertised the Agate Motel, but closer inspection revealed the Motel had been converted in to a private dwelling.  A fat black cat lazily crossed the road in front of me, stopping briefly to give me a scowl for interrupting his lazy jaunt. But, like Deer Trail, the community church and post office were still alive and kicking.  (The photos below were taken in Agate, Colorado)

lc5 lc6Further east I went, this time towards the town of Genoa.  Genoa once boasted a small bit of fame- A tower was constructed in the 1920’s atop a promontory point, and was marketed to travelers as “The Highest Point Between the Rocky Mountains and New York City!”  where a visitor could climb the tower and “See 6 States” from the observation deck (Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma…and some other state I can’t remember probably Delaware).  Today the tower still stands, and the signs still exist, but the black spray paint “CLOSED” across them and the locked gates clearly indicate the tower is no longer open for tourism. The rest of Genoa is equally as dismal. There are several blocks making up the town, and from the looks of it, at some distant point long ago, Genoa must have been a fairly decent place to call home.  There were several empty storefronts, and even a few two-story business buildings. One shop had a crude epitaph “1922-1994” painted on it’s facade, apparently marking the birth and death of the business it once housed. Today Genoa is another one of the creepy “almost” ghost towns that litter the plains. The business district is entirely dead, although, oddly, someone still takes the time every year to hang up Christmas decorations on the light poles.  An old man peered at me from under the hood of an old Dodge truck next to a sign that read “Mile High General Store”.  The garage and gas station are long dead. The “Farmer’s Hotel” doesn’t look like it has seen a farmer in many moons. The two story schoolhouse was shrouded in overgrown pine trees, and a 1950’s vintage travel trailer with no tires sat curiously in the front lawn.  The grain elevator creaked and some sort of loose metallic sounding apparatus banged distantly in the wind. No other sign of life could be found in Genoa…except for at the community church which had a full parking lot, and at the post office where an oldish woman, with a handful of letters, came out the door and stopped dead in her tracks and looked at me as if startled to see someone actually driving through town.

lc7 lc8 lc9 lc10 lc12 lc13 lc14 lc15 lc16 lc17 lc18 lc19I decided it was time to leave Genoa when a Ford truck with a burly and not so friendly looking cowboy pulled up next to me as I was taking photos. He said nothing, just glared at me, and I realized by the look of things, I must have been on someone’s property, although I saw no signs.  I’m not the sharpest marble, but I can take a hint, it was time to go.

I continued my eastward trek, getting dangerously close to the hell known as Kansas.  A hot, windswept place I knew vaguely from my youth. As a youngster, I was punished every other year or so with trips to “Kansas”, I never knew what I did, but while other kids went swimming and to Disneyland, I was strapped into the seat of Chevrolet and found myself being roasted in a convection oven of heat and wind, surrounded by senior citizens and wheat fields in this hellish place. I’ve feared the east and Kansas ever since.

Luckily, today I would stop at Arriba, then turn north so as to avoid Kansas Territory and it’s inherent sufferings. Arriba is located ten or so miles eat of Genoa…hell maybe it’s 20, it all looks the same out here-flat and gray. Pulling in to Arriba I was surprised to see human activity, there were people milling about the parking lot of the all-in-one gas station/cafe/general store.  But, a quick glance of the situation and I realized it was a crew of pipeline workers who were as lost and out of place in this strange land as I was. They had stopped to ask for directions, and the startled employee of Arriba’s all-in-one everything shop just stood in the front door agape at two full-sized trucks full of people and me and Basil the Rover in her parking lot. We were the most activity Arriba had seen since the fertilizer truck blew a tire in 1974 and crashed and the State Patrol stopped by town to investigate.  Just like Deer Trail, Agate and Genoa, Arriba was a haunting reminder of a far off time. The storefronts were all empty, an assortment of animals both domestic and wild scurried about the streets.  An out of place looking teenager dressed like a “big city gangsta” walked down the dirt road past the boarded up “Hair ‘n’ Head” salon.  To it’s credit, Arriba had two finely maintained churches and clean and tidy post office where a white haired woman sat staring out the window from behind the counter. (The photos below were taken in Arriba, Colorado)

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I traveled straight north out of Arriba on County Road 43 so as to avoid Kansas.  County Road 43 led me out of Lincoln County and into Washington County where I hoped to find Thurman, a small reportedly “great” ghost town dating to the 1880’s. As Basil and I rumbled down the dirt road I stopped to check my maps, and realized I had passed Thurman, so I turned around and headed back a mile or two, thinking I might have missed it while I was daydreaming about boobies and beer (which I was at the time).  But, to my dismay, I hadn’t missed Thurman. Thurman was right where it was supposed to be, the only problem was Thurman wasn’t there. It seems that the new owner of the town site felt it a judicious and prudent decision to bulldoze the  historic school, stagecoach stop, and general store which had weathered the elements for the last 130+ years.  A clump of trees, a pile of boards, and a couple of foundations marked the sight of Thurman. Sadly, in the last 10 years numerous historic buildings and ghost towns have fallen victim to overzealous morons with bulldozers. (Below is a photo of Thurman “was” for 130 years before the bulldozers arrived)

thurmanDisappointed I left the sad remains of Thurman and passed by the pioneer cemetery just north of town with it’s dilapidated sign reading “THURMAN C M T R” and dotted with a few headstones. After a short drive I reached Anton, a small community, now mostly abandoned that served (still does) as a post office for the surrounding farms. Largely vacant since the “Dust Bowl” days of the 1930’s Anton still hosts the only grocery store for miles in any direction and an interesting assortment of abandoned buildings.  The buildings look like the small dwellings often found at railroad sidings, but I could find no evidence of a railroad. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough. (Below are photos of Anton, Colorado)

lc38 lc37 lc30 lc26I took a short 22 mile drive southeast of Anton on Highway 36 to Cope, Colorado.  I was familiar with Cope having received a $275 and 6-point speeding ticket there two years ago for traveling 95 miles and hour in a 60 mile per hour zone on the way back from a funeral in Nebraska. Cope is a fitting for this small settlement, although it was named “Cope” after the town’s founder in 1880, I think “Cope” is all one could do if they lived there today.  Cope boasted the standard eastern plains dead business district, abandoned school, and array of empty houses along with a few occupied residences. To my horror and heartbreak, on one of Cope’s streets I found a beautiful 1968 Oldsmobile 442, that had been converted into a chicken coop complete with cages in the back seat and chicken wire screens in the windows!  This car would be worth more than all the real estate in Cope combined were it restored and put on auction.  It is representative of a strange rural phenomenon I have witnessed countless times in my travels- People will live in tumbledown shacks and eek out a hand-to-mouth existence not realizing the “junk” abandoned in their barns and yards is worth thousands of dollars on today’s collector market.  And, often is the case, that these valuable articles, be they cars or guns or whatever, are not for sale.  The owners would rather be left alone, or the trinket of desire is not for sale for some sentimental purpose, or it is not for sale out of pure ignorance “Why that old car has sat here for 40 years, it’s just a junker, what would anybody want with that!”  Being a lifelong Oldsmobiile man I snapped a few pics, looked around for any sign of life, and crushed having not found any, morosely drove away from the treasure mired in weeds, mud and chickenshit that will inevitably continue to rot away and become one with Mother Earth again.  Cope did have a nice looking church with shiny, newer model cars in the lot, and a post office…with, as you guessed an orderly looking white haired woman peering out the window at me. (Cope, Colorado seen in the photos below)

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lc29 From Cope I turned around and headed back to Denver.  Along the way I found the almost imperceptible site of Arickaree. Arickaree was a popular watering hole for bison and hunting ground for Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians long before the white man ever trudged into the territory.  After the pale faces arrived Arickaree served as a post office and school site for surrounding ranches and farms. Arickaree and most of it’s inhabitants disappeared in the 1930’s.  Today one modern house (which appears abandoned) and a cluster of small old structures mark the site on Highway 36 between Cope and Anton.  One of the structures is said to be the old Arickaree post office. (Arickaree below)

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My final destination on the way back home to the shitty city of Denver was Last Chance.  I had been through last chance numerous times as a child on my well to punishment in Kansas, and just a year or two ago on the way to the funeral in which I got my hefty traffic citation from the right honorable constable in Cope. Even as a child I remember Last Chance as being nothing more than abandoned buildings.  A couple years ago it was a ghost town. Today I wanted to stop and see what was left, in 2012 a prairie fire ignited by a sparking rim from a flat tire obliterated much of the nothingness that surrounded Last Chance.  Reports on the local news and online said much of Last Chance went up in flames as well, and since the site was mostly abandoned fire crews didn’t even respond, they just let the town burn.  Well, honestly, I can’t say that I noticed any difference in Last Chance. It was still abandoned, and the only two things I’ve ever remembered about the town- the hotel and the Dairy King were still intact…and abandoned as they have been since the beginning of recorded history. Basil requested I take his photo next to the Dairy King. (Last Chance below)

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In reflection I am sad by what I found on the prairie- Once small, but vibrant agricultural communities now nearly abandoned and forgotten.  Farmers, ranchers and cowboys, small town mechanics and grocers and clerks replaced by gigantic corporate farms, dealerships, supermarkets and chain stores. Close knit communities that have lost entire generations to the city- the young and able having sought careers in the city. Crumbling reminders of former glory, now occupied only by the elderly and the poor. The one thing I can see in common with all these communities is the church and post office are all that remains- the faith of the those left behind and the hope of tomorrow’s delivery from today’s reality.

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On the road between Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado, along the banks of the Arkansas River you’ll find the skeletal remains of Granite.  For a few years in the mid to late 1800’s Granite was a busy town, serving as a both a supply station to and from the mining camps of the Arkansas River valley, and as a mining camp itself.  Granite was a true “Wild West” town, it’s citizens taking the law into their own hands and murdering the town judge after he struck his gavel with an unpopular decision.  Today, Granite is just a wide spot in the road where fly fisherman park and wade the Arkansas.  A handful of original buildings dating to the 1860’s remain, as well some newer ones and a few residents.

Old storefront in Granite

Old storefront in Granite

Cabin in Granite

Cabin in Granite

Cellar door under a barn, Granite, Colorado

Cellar door under a barn, Granite, Colorado

Barn, cellar and outhouse, Granite, Colorado

Barn, cellar and outhouse, Granite, Colorado

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Just southwest of Leadville, Colorado, shortly after you drive through  the dingy black slag piles and the tumbledown buildings of Stringtown (Leadville’s smelter community during the mining days) a sharp eye will notice a beautiful red and white schoolhouse standing forlorn on the side of the highway.

This is the last remnant of Malta, Colorado, a once important town in the silver boom years in the region. The schoolhouse was built in 1902, and has stood the test of time. The rest of the town and it’s residents are long gone, but the old schoolhouse still remains to mark the spot of Malta.

Schoolhouse at Malta

Schoolhouse at Malta

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I hopped in my Dodge on a bitter cold morning in early November. Being a night shift worker, I was battling another bout of insomnia, and I decided to hit the road for parts unknown instead of tossing and turning in bed until sunrise.  I rolled east down Interstate-76, and headed for the northeast corner of Colorado. Well before dawn the city lights of Denver vanished in the rear view mirror and I hummed down the highway alone.

The school house is all that remains of Buckingham, long abandoned, the rest of the town was lost to a prairie fire.

The school house is all that remains of Buckingham, long abandoned, the rest of the town was lost to a prairie fire.

Abandoned farm house near Grover
Abandoned farm house near Grover

Grover railroad depot built in 1888

Grover railroad depot built in 1888

Dearfield Negro Colony

Dearfield Negro Colony

Main Street Keota

Main Street Keota

Keota

Keota

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The second book of my three part series “Life. Death. Iron.” is now available through the publisher (Volume I: LIFE is also available)

“Volume II: DEATH” showcases the forgotten graveyards of the High Plains, Rocky Mountains and Desert Southwest.  Price is $29.99

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