Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Ghost Towns’

Tucked away in Gamble Gulch about halfway between the towns of Black Hawk and Nederland, Colorado stand the sparse ruins of Perigo.  Perigo was a busy gold mining town in the latter years of the 19th Century and was home to several prosperous mines including the Golden Sun, Tip Top, Perigo and the Free Gold. A massive 60-stamp mill was erected at the town to crush the ores from the nearby mines.

Perigo had around three-hundred residents during it’s peak years. There was a general store, mine offices, the mill, several saloons, a social club and many private dwellings ranging from crude log cabins and tents to lavish two-story homes that would’ve been considered mansions in the day. Perigo’s social club put on plays and banquets, and tried on a number of occasions to entice the leading opera stars and actors from Central City and Denver to hold shows in the town- It is unknown, and doubtful that any ever accepted the offer.

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Perigo- A View Down Main Street Around 1890

When the mining industry collapsed in the 1890s Perigo began a steady decline into oblivion. The mines were all closed and the mill was shut down. Struggling on for a few more years was the general store that served the needs of those who still lived in Gamble Gulch, but soon, it too faded and was abandoned.

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Tourists visit the abandoned stamp mill around 1930

Sometime around the middle of the last Century a man purchased the entire town site, the mill, and all the remaining buildings and homes of Perigo.  The now ghost town of Perigo could still be visited and admired from the narrow and rocky road leading through Gamble Gulch.  Then one day the new owner was hit with a tax bill he could not pay. Gilpin County expected the man to pay property taxes on each of the structures on his property. He informed the county that all of the buildings were long abandoned and in various states of decay, but the tax man didn’t care, the law was the law and the taxes had to paid. Inviting the county tax assessor to Perigo, the owner showed him the rotten and collapsing buildings, but the county stood firm and demanded he pay up. A simple solution presented itself- If there were no standing structures on his property, the tax bill would vanish. So, unfortunately for old Perigo, the man filled the buildings at the town site with dynamite and blew Perigo off the map.

 

Today you’ll only find the twisted and shattered remains of the mill, some wood structures flat on the ground like a stack of popsicle sticks, a stone or concrete foundation tucked in the grass, and a couple of old tumbledown tin sided shacks being reclaimed by the earth.  One small Victorian era house still stands intact way back in the trees, and giant, still occupied, two-story Victorian style which may or may not be original to the site can be found near the mill wreckage.

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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.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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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.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Along a back road in northern New Mexico

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Mosca, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Garcia, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Abandoned Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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New Mexico

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

Quite often I get asked if I have any photos of Independence. The answer is yes, but I don’t think they are very good, and I need to make a trip back to Independence to get some better shots. I took these several years ago when I just started developing an interest in both ghost towns and photography- This was also many only trip to date to Independence.

The subject matter at Independence is fantastic, I just didn’t really know much about angles, light, and framing my subject back then (still don’t know much now!)- You can see it in these photos. For me these are a fun trip back to one of my first outings with a camera.  I decided to do these in black & white, and overexpose the hell out of them because that makes the gigantic speck of dirt that was in the middle of my lens that day disappear!

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There are hundreds of ghost towns in Colorado, but few can match the beauty of Crystal City, especially in the autumn when the leaves change colors, the air gets crisp, and the clouds cling to the tips of the rugged peaks that surround this tiny hamlet in Gunnison County. Prospectors first came to the valley where Crystal City lies in the 1860’s, finding good ore, but the remote and treacherous climb into the valley discouraged any serious effort to develop the area until the 1880’s. From the 1880’s through around 1915 Crystal City was home to a small community of miners and their families. The population of Crystal City never amounted to much more than 500. The town did have a newspaper, a store, and a the Crystal Club- The hot spot of Crystal City’s social life in the boom years. Today, a handful of people spend their summers here, having restored some of the historic cabins at the site, but nobody lives in Crystal year round. The old Crystal Club with it’s faded sign still stands along the main street through town.

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Fall colors along the upper Crystal River valley

Crystal City is about as remote as a town can get. It lies situated in tiny valley high on the Crystal River at the foot of Schofield Pass. The only road into the town is a narrow, brutally rocky, 4×4 trail from Marble, Colorado which is about seven miles away. There are stretches of this road that are hardly a vehicles width, with sheer drop offs to the river below. The drive into Crytsal City could be described as both “thrilling” and “white-knuckle.” The harrowing seven mile journey to Crystal City is done at a snail’s pace, taking over an hour, the road too narrow and rough to travel at much more than a crawl, but this is one of those magnificent places in Colorado where you want to take it slow- The steep canyon walls leading to Crystal City are overgrown with all different kinds of trees and shrubs, which, in the fall, take on contrasting hues of red, orange, yellow-green, and gold. When looking down into the river below, the crystal clear waters rush over white, blue, green and gray marble stones on the river bottom. A trained eye can watch brook trout playing in the currents. A picturesque lake along the way, and numerous small waterfalls cascading down the cliffs add to the stunning, almost surreal setting of the upper Crystal River valley.

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Picturesque lake along the trail to Crystal City

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One of the tiny waterfalls along the way

After thrashing and bouncing down the road to Crystal City, the first building you encounter at the town site is one of the most photographed buildings in Colorado- The Crystal City Mill. This unique structure perched on a cliff  above the river, with a wooden shaft running down to the water was an early hydroelectric power plant.  Historic photos show there was a dam next to the power plant, water draining out of the reservoir behind the damn would spin an impeller inside of the wooden shaft, which in turn would spin the turbine of an electric generator housed inside the building atop the cliff. The electricity was then fed to the homes and mining operations of the town.

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Power Plant at Crystal City

Surprisingly, this is where most people stop, take a few photos, turn around, and bounce back down the road to Marble. Many people don’t realize that there is a lot left to see just a couple of hundred yards past the mill. The rest of Crystal City is just as picturesque as the power plant. It’s a nice place to park your 4×4, stretch your legs, and take a walk through the little kingdom paradise, secluded from the rest of the world in it’s idyllic setting. The rows of neat and tidy log homes, some occupied, some vacant, give you the impression that Crystal City must have been a nice place to live in it’s glory days.  The only bad part of Crystal City is when you realize you have to leave! 

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Books and eBooks by Jeff Eberle

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Last week I took some time off from work to hit the open road and absorb the sights. I covered nearly 1,500 miles- in a seven day span I went from my home in Central City, Colorado to Las Vegas, New Mexico and all parts in between, then returning home, I rested for a day then took off for the Yampa River valley northwest of Kremmling, Colorado. I made it as far north as Oak Creek, then turned around, camped for a night on the edge of the Flattops Wilderness, then just barely out ran a late-summer storm that felt more like winter and returned home to Central City.

Rambling down the sage brush covered hills and oil shale slopes that make up the scenery along Highway 9 running north out of Silverthorne, Colorado, I pulled off the road and up a short muddy 4X4 trail to inspect an old log homestead just east of Green Mountain reservoir.  Against a backdrop of sandy bluffs sat this lonely cabin, long abandoned and alone.  It was a beautiful setting, but it would have certainly been a tough life in this harsh, treeless, windswept setting. I imagined what stories this old homestead could tell, took a few photos and took a short hike around the area.  I found the skeleton of a cow elk nearby the old cabin, and kept the skull for souvenir of my visit.

Old homestead on Highway 9

Old homestead on Highway 9

Elk skull near the homestead

Elk skull near the homestead

 

I hopped back on Highway 9 and continued north, cresting a small hill that looks out over a wide valley and the meandering expanse of the Colorado River below. I crossed the bridge of the Colorado, as I have many times before as I have since my father first brought me to this area when I was a small child. I rolled through Kremmling, which has long been one of my favorite towns in Colorado. I cruised the side streets and admired the old buildings, some occupied, some vacant, then stopped off at the grocery store at the end of town.  I picked up all the things I forgot to buy for my camping trip, grabbed a case of beer, and held the door for the prettiest game warden I’ve ever seen as I left- something about a woman in uniform with a gun on her hip is oddly attractive. She smiled wide and thanked me, a warm reception I’m not accustomed to coming from Denver where holding the door for a lady usually results in a scowl and snide remark.

Winchester Buildimng, Kremmling

Winchester Buildimng, Kremmling

 

As Kremmling disappeared in the rear view mirror I turned west on Highway 134 and climbed the mellow slope of Gore Pass. On the south side of the road just before climbing the steep part of the pass, lay a series of abandoned log buildings and cabins. At one point long ago this was the site a large ranch of small settlement. A number of the structures appeared to be private cabins, and they were laid out along an east-west  “street” if you will, which makes me think this might have been a town or possibly a stage stop at some point. Today, modern homes surround this tiny cluster of log dwellings and the area is known as “Old Park”.

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

 

Cresting Gore Pass, Highway 134 drops down through a series of meadows, aspen and pine stands and small winding creeks and beaver ponds.  One of the larger creeks, Rock Creek, cuts across Highway 134 and taking the dirt road south along Rock Creek takes you to the Rock Creek Stage Stop, a beautiful two-story log building that served as a private residence, hotel, stage stop and polling station in ti’s lifetime which began in the 1880’s.  Today, it sits alone on a high bank above Rock Creek and has, in recent years, been preserved by the Routt County Historic Society.  Visiting the Rock Creek Stage Stop is free, and you can even enter the old building.

Rock Creek Stage Station

Rock Creek Stage Station

 

Inside stage station

Inside stage station

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Leaving Rock Creek, a large valley opens up with the Flattop Mountains dominating the horizon to the west.  Just as you descend the last hill before the valley, a large, out of place rock formation juts out on the north side of Highway 134. This is “Toponas” meaning, in the Ute Indian language, “the sleeping mountain lion”, and if you use your imagination you can see the big cat sleeping to this day. Toponas has been used as a landmark by Native American tribes, pioneers, and modern day travelers, the world changes around us, but Toponas holds silent vigil over the valley as it has for centuries. Just a mile or two west of the rock formation at the junction of Highway 134 and 131 lies a small cluster of buildings and homes, this is the tiny town of Toponas, long a wide spot in the road to buy a gallon of gas and 6-pack of beer.  The tiny Toponas General Store on the east side of the road always has a few cars parked outside, an American flag flying flapping in the breeze and, to the chagrin of many who stop and visit, a neglected 1969 Mustang rotting in the weeds. I stopped in to buy some fishing worms, and as I roamed around the store aimlessly looking for them a voice called out “can I help you find something?” from behind a towering stack of old magazines and newspapers on the counter. It was the owner of the store, a friendly and personable older gentleman, who pointed me in the direction of the worms. We had a nice long talk about the current fishing conditions around Toponas, and he told me how he was out of gas and waiting for the next tanker to pass through, losing a bit of business along the way. As I left he smiled and wished me luck and waved as I drove down the road.

Toponas, the sleeping mountain lion

Toponas, the sleeping mountain lion

Nine miles north of Toponas lies Yampa. A picturesque and quiet little town on the banks of the river that bears the same name. Yampa was first home to the Ute Indians who long used this ideal spot of the valley as a camp, many of the rocks in the valley still bear drawings made by the Utes hundreds of years ago.  In the 1870’s and 1880’s the first European settlers set up ranches in the region. During the gold rush, Yampa was a stop for many would-be millionaires on their all-to-often futile pursuit of striking it rich in the gold camp of Hahn’s Peak a to the north. Today, Yampa is mostly noted for being a “sportsman’s paradise” a logical hub for hunters and fisherman who frequent the Flattops Wilderness that surrounds Yampa, an area abundant in big game and excellent trout fishing.  The people of Yampa have done a nice job of preserving their past, many historic buildings have been saved and restored. The Royal Hotel and Antlers Cafe along the wide, dirt, main street in Yampa are two of the more notable features in town. Just off main street you’ll find the jail, built in 1907, the Crossan’s General Store which is currently undergoing restoration and a fantastic Victorian home.

The Royal Hotel, Yampa

The Royal Hotel, Yampa

The Antlers Cafe

The Antlers Cafe

Crossan's General Store, Yampa

Crossan’s General Store, Yampa

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Yampa

1907 Yampa Jail

1907 Yampa Jail

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Yampa

Victorian home in Yampa

Victorian home in Yampa

 

About seven miles north of Yampa you’ll enter another small town called Phippsburg.  Phippsburg is an “almost ghost town”, the businesses are all long abandoned, only the Union Pacific Railroad switch yard and the Post Office remain open.  A few people still live in neatly kept, small homes in the two or three block residential area of town.  Unlike many of the small towns I visit, the yards are nicely mowed, the houses painted and clean. As I was taking photos of the row of abandoned false-fronted businesses that line Highway 131, a woman came out of the Post Office and waved me over.  She introduced herself as “CeCe” and told me she was the Phippsburg Post Master.  She was quite a character and gave me a short history of the town, what the old buildings once were, and who had once owned them. We talked for quite a while about Phippsburg and the other towns in the Yampa valley.  A truck pulled into the Post Office and an old bent cowboy and his tiny wife climbed out, he took his wife by the hand and he smiled and greeted me as they walked into the Post Office. Cece welcomed them by name, shook my hand and told me she had to get back to work. I bade them all farewell and continued my journey up Highway 131. If I’m ever in Phippsburg again, I’ll make sure to stop in to the Post Office and visit Cece.

Phippsburg

Phippsburg

Phippsburg

Phippsburg

Phippsburg storefront

Phippsburg storefront

Old railroad building at Phippsburg

Old railroad building at Phippsburg

Abandoned storfronts in Phippsburg

Abandoned storfronts in Phippsburg

 

A handful of miles up the road from Phippsburg I entered Oak Creek. Oak Creek was a bit larger than Yampa and Phippsburg, and had a bit more “touristy” feel to it than the previous quaint communities. Along main street were several businesses- cafes, art galleries, a bar or two, a mining museum, and I think I saw a coffee shop as well.  The side streets also housed or formerly housed a few small businesses. Among the old buildings I found one with a giant hardwood door of remarkable craftsmanship not seen today.

Oak Creek

Oak Creek

Oak Creek

Oak Creek

Elks Tavern, Oak Creek

Elks Tavern, Oak Creek

Remarkable door, Oak Creek

Remarkable door, Oak Creek

 

Leaving Oak Creek, I returned back south along 131 back in the direction I had came, passing back through Phippsburg and Yampa.  I then traveled 15 miles by dirt road to the edge of the Flattops to my “secret” camping spot, set up my tent, did a little fishing, had a campfire, and got blind drunk to the howl of coyotes and the companionship of camp robber birds.

Camp near Yampa

Camp near Yampa

A little fishing

A little fishing

Camp Robber bird

Camp Robber bird

 

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