Atchee, Colorado

Colorado is famous for its Gold Rush era and Silver Boom ghost towns. South of the Arkansas River ghost towns from Colorado’s “coal belt” are plenty. The eastern and northern plains house the remnants of the farming and ranching centers of yesterday. But the far western slope along the Utah border is almost devoid of ghost towns.

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Cabin along the old Uintah Railroad grade near Atchee

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Another view of the same cabin. The unique tight fit “puzzle” style construction of the cabin is something I have found unique to this isolated corner of Colorado/Utah. Perhaps it was the signature style of a local craftsman, or maybe the hand-select, tight fit, was a regional neccessity to keep the abundant lizards, scorpions, and snakes out- Scorpions, Sun Spiders, Rattlesnakes and Western Coachwhips outnumber humans 100-to-1  in this part of the world!

There isn’t much, and wasn’t much in the far western portion of the state, but chalky, sandy cliffs, scrub brush, and cacti, prior to the oil boom. Towns in this part of Colorado can almost all trace their origins to the railroads that once criss-crossed the region and followed the route of the mighty Colorado River as it meandered its way west to its terminus at Mexicali in Baja Mexico.

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A sense of the desolation and solitude of the area- The County Road today over Baxter Pass into Utah is the old Uintah Railway grade. In the Spring deep, soupy, mud can make it impassable.

Atchee, north and slightly west of Fruita near Grand Junction, Colorado, is now a 100% ghost town, with only one standing structure and the foundations of others, was founded in the 1880s. Atchee occupies a unique spot in Colorado history as one of the few far-western ghost towns in the state.

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A glimpse of Atchee from the railroad grade above as it ascends Baxter Pass

Atchee came to life in the 1880s as a railroad station along the tiny, narrow-gauge, Uintah Railway which served the Gilsonite (huh? what???) mining camp of Dragon, Utah which lay on the western side of Baxter Pass. The entire length of the Uintah Railway was only 62.8 miles in total length, running from Mack,Colorado to Watson, Utah, which was nothing more than a named place with a water tank, coal shed, and wye where the train turned around.

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Atchee, Colorado 1880s

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A Uintah Railway engine at Atchee around 1900

Atchee lay at just under the halfway point of the Uintah line- 28 miles to be exact. Atchee featured a wye, coal shed, water tank, machine/repair shop, and a couple rows of simple houses for railroad employees and their families. Atchee was situated in a arid, but beautiful basin,dotted with sage brush, scrub, and short pines on the slopes surrounding the town. Water was scarce and both summer and winters at Atchee were harsh. Atchee was named in honor of Ute Chief Atchee- A man of which little is known, but must have made a positive impression on his contemporaries.

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Chief Atchee, of whom the town was named

Gilsonite, the mineral mined at Dragon and Rainbow in Utah, where the Uintah Railway passed, was first discovered in the 1860s by Sam Gilson, a prospector.  Gilson discovered rich veins of black, shiny, oily substance in the sandy hills of the Uintah Basin. The substance looked like coal, was flammable, but was hard to keep burning. His discovery was also flexible and sticky. Gilson knew it had to be worth something to someone, but a use for the substance did not exist…yet.

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Gilsonite

 

Gilson tried to refine his strange mineral into a fuel source like coal, but it never could maintain an even slow burn. He discovered it could be used in varnishes and paints with moderate success- But the only color would be jet black, and it never really dried properly, always remaining tacky to the touch, and more troubling, flammable.

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Sam Gilson

 

Around the turn of the 20th Century Gilson, and his mineral, now called “Gilsonite” found their place in the world- Mixing Gilsonite with gravel created a smooth, durable, long-lasting surface for the city-dwellers and their velocipedes and new-fangled horseless carriages to ride on. Gilsonite, a naturally occurring, semi-solid, soluble, hydrocarbon-  The strange, sticky, black muck of the Uintah Basin would become a key ingredient in what we know as “asphalt” or “bitumen” today.

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Atchee at its peak around 1900. The “peaked” building at the far righ of the photo is all that remains today- The machine shop/repair shop for the Uintah Railway train engines.

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The machine shop today.

Atchee is all but gone now- One structure, or more appropriately, the walls of one structure remain- The old machine and repair shop for the steam engines that once passed through the town.  Numerous foundations can be seen in the scrub surrounding the machine shop. All the remnants are on clearly posted private property, but this has not stopped idiots from spray painting their names on the last remnants of the town. The rest of us who respect our Nation’s history can safely and legally take photos from just a few feet away alonmg the county road which passes through the site. The county road is the old railroad grade which crosses Baxter Pass into Utah.  When my brother and I visited winter snows were still melting and had turned the track into a swampy morass that became impassable shortly before we reached the summit of Baxter.

 

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Comments
  1. Masterbuild says:

    I have enjoyed these posts over the last few months. This structure may have Been built from railroad ties, or from timbers originally Fabricated for Use in mining frames.

    Jim S Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. […] Atchee- Photo Blog Colorado’s Least Known Ghost Town- Thank You Gilsonite! […]

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