Archive for the ‘Colorado Road Trips’ Category

Colorado has plenty of ghost towns but what about “lost” towns- Towns that have disappeared entirely, or almost entirely from the face of the earth?  It is hard to imagine but there are “lost cities” here in Colorado. Cities and towns and settlements that have vanished almost completely over the years. Most appeared and disappeared with the boom and bust days of the gold and silver rush. Others were ranching and farming towns hit hard by the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Still others came and went with the fortunes of the railroads.  These make up Colorado’s “lost cities” and below is a collection of then and now photos of six of them. (Click on the circles for larger images.)

1. Querida, Colorado

Querida in Custer County was once a booming mining town laid out at the base of the Bassick Mine.  Today nothing remains but one old house, some debris from other buildings, and the massive tailings pile from the Bassick Mine.

2. Independence, Colorado

There was more than one “Independence” in Colorado- This is the Independence in Teller County near Cripple Creek and Victor. Independence was one of many towns that sprawled out around the mining operations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in the late 1890s. Today some mining structures and equipment mark the spot, and a one or two homes can still be found scattered among the workings. Most of the town however was buried under the tailings from the mine, or torn down.

3. Caribou, Colorado

Caribou was one of Colorado’s top producing silver mining towns in the 1870s and 1880s boasting a business district, hotels, saloons and schools. The silver crash of 1893 spelled doom for the thriving community located on a windswept mountainside eight miles above Nederland at nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. Most of the population left around 1895, but a few struggled on in the mines until around 1920. Today a couple of stone buildings and one tumbledown log cabin are all that mark the spot of Caribou- The rest of town having been lost to forest fires, dismantling, and the elements over the years. A few foundations can be found in the deep grass at the site but its hard to imagine thousands once lived here.


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4. Manhattan, Colorado

Deep in Larimer County northwest of Ft. Collins a couple of gold discoveries were made high on Elkhorn and Manhattan Creeks. Manhattan once had around 500 residents, but the ore was low-grade and there wasn’t much to be found.  An accident in a shaft took the lives of several miners in 1892, and shortly after Manhattan was abandoned.  Sometime in the 1950s or so, the Forest Service had the log buildings of Manhattan torn down.  All that marks the town site today is a tiny graveyard on a hillside where the miners from the 1892 accident are buried.

5.Berwind, Colorado

In the sandy foothills northwest of Trinidad numerous “company towns” existed. These towns were built by mine owners for their employees and their families. One of the larger company towns was Berwind. Berwind once had over 3000 residents, hundreds of homes, a two-story schoolhouse, railroad station, businesses, and a jail.  When the coal mines closed, the mine owners evicted the families and bulldozed the housing so they wouldn’t be taxed on the structures. Berwind Canyon today is lined with concrete foundations, staircases to nowhere, and modern day “Roman Ruins” overgrown with shrubs and trees. The tiny jail house remains and is guarded by a fat squirrel.

6. Carrizo Springs, Colorado

Carrizo Springs in the far southeastern corner of Colorado in remote Baca County was a very unusual place- It was a mining town on the great plains.  Around 1885 a group of prospectors from Missouri were looking for the Rocky Mountains and became lost as they traveled through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. When they had just about given up they saw hills and bluffs that they assumed were the Rocky Mountains. They began prospecting along Carrizo Creek and found some streaks of copper ore and a few streaks of silver as well. The Mexican ranchers in the area told the miners they were still a couple hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. The miners decided to stay at Carrizo Creek and soon word spread of their strike. Around 1887 the town of Carrizo Springs was born, and one account says 2000-3000 people flocked to the settlement. Carrizo Springs lived a short, violent life. Cattle rustlers and horse thieves wandered through town from Kansas and Texas, gamblers and prostitutes set up shop in the saloons, marauding bandidos all the way from Mexico terrorized the town on occasion. Soon though it was realized the copper and silver ore along Carrizo Creek was poor and the town vanished. By 1889 Carrizo Springs was empty having lived only two years.  Today it takes a very sharp eye to spot anything marking the site- A few crumbling stone foundations, a weathered hitching post here and there, and shards of broken glass and porcelain on the prairie are all that is left.  No period photos of Carrizo Springs exist.


I just returned from a short but satisfying trip through the San Luis Valley of Colorado and a small chunk of northern New Mexico between Taos and Chama. I was out to snap a few photos of the past- The faces of the forgotten and forlorn buildings of the region- A region still very much alive, but where the past coexists side-by-side with the present.


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Garcia, Colorado

There is a unique energy in this part of the world. I can not describe it, but things just look and feel “different” in some way as you travel down the lonely stretches of blacktop that run the length of the San Luis Valley and North-Central New Mexico. There is something about this area and it’s vast openness and sweeping views, the surreal aspect of the Great Sand Dunes butting up against the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Taos plateau and the great defile of the Rio Grande Gorge that rips through the middle of it- This is an area of intense natural beauty and quiet, peaceful, solitude. Some even say this is an area of supernatural or otherworldly energy- Cattle mutilations, UFO sightings, and the “Taos Hum” which reportedly only about 10% of people can hear, are evidence of this theory.


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Hooper, Colorado


Along a back road in northern New Mexico


Mosca, Colorado


Moffatt, Colorado


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico


Tres Piedras, New Mexico


Garcia, Colorado


Moffatt, Colorado


18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Moffatt, Colorado

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Garcia, Colorado


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico


Hooper, Colorado


Costilla, New Mexico


Moffatt, Colorado


Abandoned Church, New Mexico


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


New Mexico


Costilla, New Mexico


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico


Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

Highway 12, known as “The Highway of Legends” heads west from Trinidad, Colorado along the Purgatoire River into the foothills. Along this strip of highway from Trinidad to the east base of the Sangre de Cristos are numerous plazas- small communities punctuated by their picturesque Catholic churches, tiny congregational cemeteries, and small clusters of homes. Many of these plazas date back to the 1860’s when thirteen families from Mora, New Mexico settled the area, although the Purgatoire valley had been frequented and populated intermittently long before that by Spanish and Mexican ranchers. The plazas took the name of the founding family such as “Cordova Plaza” and “Parras Plaza.”

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s coal mining revitalized some of these little communities, and evidence of the coal mining era can be seen along way as you wind westward through the valley. When the coal mines closed, and the plazas returned to their sleepy existence as ranching   communities. Some of the plazas that dot the road are still occupied, a few are abandoned. A trip down the Highway of Legends today gives you a chance to view the crumbling adobe of these early Colorado settlements.


Church at Tijeras Plaza


Tijeras Plaza Cemetery with Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance


Abandoned home along the Highway of Legends


A weathered headstone at one of the tiny cemeteries


Another of the abandoned catholic Churches along the way




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Abandoned cars at Valdez







Crown of a human skull exposed by time and the elements at one of the tiny cemeteries along the route.

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General Store at Weston

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Weston Elementary School


Unique House at Weston

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Church at Vigil



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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza


Parras Plaza


Parras Plaza