Archive for the ‘Colorado Road Trips’ Category

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Abandoned Northern Colorado: Ghosts of the Great High Plains is a collection of photographs taking you on a tour of Colorado’s Northern High Plains region. Author and photographer Jeff Eberle spent much of the last decade traveling the back roads and 4 x 4 trails of Colorado in an effort to capture a few final images of the state’s rapidly vanishing past. Covered in this book are the areas of Colorado north of the Arkansas River and east of the Rocky Mountains. Inside you will find images of the ghost towns, dormant grain elevators, forgotten cemeteries, and abandoned homesteads of Colorado’s prairie. The author hopes to help raise awareness and public interest in the preservation and protection of Colorado’s historic sites and structures. What one might see as merely an old, rusty eyesore, another sees as an aged beauty who stood silent witness to the hard work and struggle that gave birth to the Colorado we know and love today.

 

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Fondis, Colorado

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Not too many people visit Fondis these days. In the hustle and bustle of the modern world which encompasses most of Colorado in nearby counties, Fondis is a forgotten remnant of days gone by.

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No one knows for sure how Fondis was named, some sources say it was named for a hotel in Italy, where one of the town’s first settlers had met his wife. Other sources claim the town was named after the town of Fondi, Italy.

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Fondis came into existence as a farming, ranching, and logging center. Yep, logging on the high plains! The hill country of Elbert County was, and still is, dotted with dense stands of pine trees- An anomaly among the high plains region. Throughout the 1800s and early-1900s, Elbert County supplied much of the wood used to build the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs.

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Fondis dates to the 1890s. A Post Office was founded in 1895 and served local residents and ranchers until 1954. There were a pair of General Stores, on opposite sides of Fondis’ one intersection of roads- One, a wooden frame structure dating the 1890s, the second a red brick building built in 1902. Both stores still stand today, the brick building in an advanced state of decay, and the wood frame store undergoing restoration on mylast visit.

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Fondis is located in the gorgeous, pine dotted, hill country 40 miles east of Castle Rock, Colorado at the junction of County Roads 98 and 69, which are south of Highway 86 and west of County Road 77 (lost yet?)

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There are a hanful of people wholive in and around the old Fondis town site still. There is an operational church, and some of the historic buildings were being refurbished as part of a Veteran’s project when I visited last.

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In the far northern reach of Jackson County northwest of Walden, Colorado, just a mile or so shy of the Wyoming border sits Pearl. Pearl is long-forgotten copper mining town which boomed from the 1880s to around 1910.

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Pearl was home to a couple of mines and smelter- The red brick smoke stack of the smelter still exists today on hillside southeast of the town. The Pearl town platt covered some 14 blocks,  but they never quite filled up. There was however a school, Post Office, a couple of hotels, a butcher shop, and three saloons.

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A few precious stones were also found around mineral- Rubies and diamonds, though rare did exist in the volcanic sands of the area. When the copper mines played out in the early years of the 20th Century, it is said that one of the last die-hards in Pearl bought up all of the abandoned properties, then “salted” the earth around Pearl with rough diamonds and rubies he had purchased in bulk from a jewelerin Denver. The trickster then offered the Pearl townsite up for sale to speculatorsand prospectors. The unknowing buyers conducted samples in the area and were excited to find diamonds and rubies in large numbers. The buyers snatched up all of the land around Pearl, only to learn later that they had been tricked and the gems they had found in their samples had been placed in strategic spots around town.

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Today Pearl is a cluster of around a dozen cabins and frame homes which appear to be used seasonally,or atleast maintained by the current owner of the townsite.  All buildings at Pearl are private property, and the town itself sits just hundred or so yards beyond a barbed wire fence. Photos can be taken with a zoom lens from the nearby County Roads that circle the site.

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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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Ghost Town- Rocky, Colorado

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Between Lake George and Hartsel, Colorado, along Highway 24 is a small cluster of buildings,cabins and foundations just off the edge of the road on private property.  I have not been able to confirm with 100% certainty, but these may be the ruins of the long-forgotten town of Rocky.

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Very little information exists regarding Rocky. From 1880s era maps I own, Rocky was situated where these ruins exist today. Rocky was supply station and ranching center, and some small-scale mining was reported in the area as well.

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It appears that Rocky lived and died between around 1880 and 1910.  If anyone has any additional information on this site please contact me.

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Independence, Colorado is a well-preserved ghost town dating to 1879, located just below timberline on the western slope of Independence Pass between Twin Lakes and Aspen on Highway 82.

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Indpendence was named following the discovery of lode gold on July 4, 1879, it also went by the name Chipeta, in honor of Ute Chief Ouray’s wife, for a short time before the townsfolk settled on Independence.

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At the height of its boom Independence was home to around 1,500 people, home to 40 businesses, as well as three post offices.

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Life in the town, located at 11,000 feet elevation, was difficult, and winters were extreme.  As the lode gold played out Independence’s population plummeted, by 1890 there were less than 100 residents.

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In 1899 snows were so heavy that the last 75 residents of the town were cutoff from the supply centers of Aspen and Twin Lakes, and were on the verge of starvation. The remnant population of Independence decided theoir only chance for survival was to flee towards Aspen. The snowed-in inhabitants stripped boards from the remaining structures in town and built skis and sleds out of them for their trek to Aspen,which all 75 residents successfully made.

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Since 1899 only a few prospectors and hermits have called Independence home.Today, the town is totally abandoned, preserved as a historical park. Visitors can park in a small parking lot just below the summit of Independence Pass, and take a short hike down into the townsite. a Forest Service caretaker is sometimes present at the site.

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Balfour is one of the least-known ghost towns in the state of Colorado, and for good reason- The town existed for only five short years between 1893 and 1898 before it was abandoned!

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Remains at Balfour today

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Dugout cabin at Balfour today

Prospectors had dug around sporadically in the area since the 1860s, but it was not until 1893 that gold deposits of profitable quatities were discovered. Balfour is located on the southeastern edge of South Park, roughly 25 miles from Fairplay, or seven or so miles from the tiny town of Hartsel off of Highway 9 as you travel towards Guffey.

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Balfour, at oinly ten days old in 1893!

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Balfour cabin today

When Balfour boomed in 1893,a town appeared literally overnight. Photos taken when Balfour was only ten days old already show frame buildings in equal or greater number than tents in the new gold camp.  Before Balfour faded, there were three hotels, a saloon, post office, chruches, school, general store, and around one thousand residents.

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Second shot of Balfour at ten days old in 1893

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Balfour, 1893

Today scarcely a trace of Balfour remains, just a scattered handful of tumbledown cabins and barns. It is hard to imagine the site was once home to a thousand people, and had been billed as “the next Cripple Creek” when gold was discovered in 1893.

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Balfour cabin today

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Leadville, Colorado, one of the highest incoporated cities in the world at 10.152 feet elevation, and the Silver Queen of Colorado actually began life as a gold camp in 1859 when 49ers from California found rich deposits of gold and named the spot, appropriately, “California Gulch”.  By 1860, California Gulch had morphed into “Oro City” and mining was hot an heavy for the next few years. When the gold deposits played out, Oro City declined, but in the 1870s massive deposits of silver-bearing lead and galena ore were discovered. Silver was more complex than gold, and rarely appeared in a “pure” form like placer gold in river and creek beds- Silver ore required processing to extract the precious metals contained within.

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Stringtown, just a mile southwest of Leadville proper, was born to handle the processing of ore from the booming Leadville-area silver mines which radiated outine every direction for miles. a massive smelter was built at Stringtown, and crude worker housing- Usually primitive log cabins and clapboard shacks sprang up around the smelter property. Railroad lines intersected the smelter site from the east, north, and south.

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Workshop at Stringtown smelter: Correction, a viewer informed me this is the old Leadville Train Depot which has been moved to the smelter site at Stringtown.

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Stringtown was the largest of  Leadville’s three ” smelter suburbs” which included Little Chicago, and Malta. These wre the places the poorer families lived and died during the silver boom of the 1870s-1890s. When the silver market crashed in 1893, Leadville’s suburbs suffered and many families were left destitute. Malta faded away almost completely. Centrally located Little Chicago was swallowed up by Stringtown and Leadville. Stringtown hasmanaged to hang on until today, a collection of abandoned and occupied dwellings, now considered part of Leadville.

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Colorful dweiiling at Stringtown

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The legacy of Stringtown is mountians of ingots of black slag, the byprodcut of the smelting process, which dominate the landscape today. Colorado’s Highway 24 which connects Leadville and Buena Vista passes right through the heart of Stringtown, and tourists pack a popular gas station-convenience store-sporting goods shop across Highway 24 from the old Malta schoolhouse every summer weekend.

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Malta schoolhouse, just a mile beyond Stringtown

A few years ago, by random chance,  I met a retired body guard for the late-Ross Perot, former Presidential candidate and eccentric Texas billionaire- In the sahdows of Stringtown he scrolled through his phone showing me candid photos of Perot and telling tall tales of his days as a bodyguard.

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Malta

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse near Stringtown

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Crystal Lakes schoolhouse

 

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There is a special place in Colorado called “The Gunnison Country”- An expanse of the Rockies sandwiched between the Collegiate Peaks and the San Juan Mountains, birthplace of the Gunnison River, and ranging from arid prairie land to snow capped peaks and towering passes cloaked in black timber where the snow doesn’t melt until mid-July, the Gunnison Country is something special.

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A cabin at Powderhorn

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Powderhoirn Ranch

In the heart of the Gunnison there is a small jewel dating to the 1870s which has weathered the winds of time remarkably-Powderhorn. Located on Cibola Creek between the town of Gunnison and Lake City in Hinsdale County,high in the San Juans, Powderhorn was once a major farming and supply center for the region.

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Powderhorn

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Once known as “The Breadbasket of the San Juans” Powderhorn farmers supplied the hungry miners of the San Juan range with root vegetables,mutton, and whatever else could be raised or grown in the short-lived summer of the Gunnison country.

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Powderhorn has faded in importance since the boomdays of the 19th Century, but a few cowboys still call the place home. There is plenty to see at Powderhorn today- Several abandoned buildings, a few occupied homes and ranches dating to the 1870s, and some seasonally occupied cabins dating to the town’s heyday.

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The eastern plains of Colorado are home to a large number of ghost towns, “almost” ghost towns, and small towns that feature abandoned buildings, both business and commercial. Here is a quick trip to 20 of them-

1. Cafe- Karval, Colorado

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2. Schoolhouse- Clifford, ColoradoNoColo47

3.  Hardware Store- Matheson, ColoradoNoColo50

4. Grocery Store- Agate, ColoradoNoColo6

5.  Service Station- New Raymer, ColoradoNoColo71

6. Bank Building- Brandon, ColoradoNoColo25

7. General Store- Willard, Colorado
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8.  Garage-  Briggsdale, ColoradoNoColo102

9.  General Store- Aroya, ColoradoNoColo94

10.  Wonder Tower- Genoa, ColoradoNoColo76

11. Schoolhouse- Thatcher, Coloradothatcher1

12.  Storefront- Nunn, Coloradonunnx1

13. Railroad Roundhouse- Hugo, Colorado

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14. General Store- Fondis, Colorado

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15.  Storefront- Dearfield, ColoradoNoColo18

16.  Schoolhouse- Arriba, ColoradoNoColo32

17.  Methodist Church- Keota, Colorado

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18. Hotel- Last Chance, Colorado
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19. Church- Deer Trail, Colorado

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20. Business district- Seibert, Colorado

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