Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Town Photography’

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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Colorado Ghost Travels- The Gold Belt Region Guide Book by Jeff Eberle Only $20!

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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

2016 Ghosts of Colorado Calendar by Jeff Eberle only $14.99!

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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

Having had enough of Colorado’s never ending winter of 2013 my friend Jered and I, one night in a drunken stupor, decided it was time to force the issue of the spring thaw and go camping in warmer climes. It seemed only reasonable that we pick the arid Book Cliffs region and the ghost town of Sego, Utah- a five hour drive across the snow capped peaks of the Rockies. Weather reports indicated that the mid-March temperatures in the area would be in the balmy 50’s which was about 40 degrees warmer than the eternal icebox Colorado had been suffering through for the last several months.

In the days leading up to our desert journey my partner and I secured our provisions which consisted largely of cheap domestic canned beer, cigarettes and beef jerky. We departed our snowbound gulag and made good time crossing the continental divide and beginning our descent into the semi-desert corner of Utah where we’d camp, stopping one last time in Grand Junction, Colorado to requisition more beer…just in case.

Crossing the border in Utah we left Interstate 70 for the less traveled remnants of old Highway 6, long neglected, beaten, broken, and pock marked. We bounced down the road until we came to the big, sweeping bend that marks your arrival to the “almost ghost town” of Thompson Springs, Utah. It was my third trip through Thompson Springs, and it looked no worse for the wear than it had in my previous visits. Isolated and remote, Thompson still hangs on, with around ten hearty souls remaining.

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Thompson Springs was a small railroad terminal on the Amtrak line for many years, as well a place to stop for a meal or catch some rest along old Highway 6. Thompson Springs began it’s decline when Interstate 70 bypassed the town a mile or two to the west, and Amtrak followed suit a short time later, closing the terminal which hastened the communities demise.

My friend and I didn’t waste much time as we passed through Thompson, we were on our way to Sego, which lies a few miles north east of the town.  As we left town, a sign on the fence of one of the few occupied homes in town read “In this Vale all knees shall be bent, and all beards shall remain untrimmed”- clearly in reference to the owners’ Mormon faith. We wound up the narrow sandy canyon, stopping to admire a grouping of ancient rock paintings, said, by the local Native American tribes to represent the “Star People” who visited earth in the days before time, and brought us knowledge. It is estimated that these magnificent paintings are anywhere from 4,500 to 10,000 years old!

The Star People

The Star People

Standing with the Star People

Standing with the Star People

A hand print, many thousands of years old.

A hand print, many thousands of years old.

Leaving the Star People we stopped to explore the ghost town of Sego, a small collection of ruins that mark the sight of coal mining town that once operated in the canyon from around 1890 to 1950. The company store still stands proud, and a forlorn Chevy coupe used for target practice for many, many years are the main attractions at Sego. Carefully tip-toeing through the thick sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, and other things that poke and sting, keeping a vigilant eye out for rattlesnakes, several other fallen down buildings, and a few more bits and pieces of old cars can be found at the site.

The company store at Sego

The company store at Sego

We left the town site and continued up the narrowing canyon in search of a suitable campsite, beer thirty was rapidly approaching and we’d spent enough time in the Rover for one day.  Finding no spot in Sego Canyon large enough for our tent, we took the branch leading up Thompson Canyon, and found a perfect spot at the site of “old” Thompson Springs. Beneath several gigantic and very old cottonwood trees was small flat clearing, surrounded by rugged canyon walls. Two or three old stone dwellings marked the site, half carved into the walls of the canyon.  The “spring” from “Thompson Springs” bubbled up through the ground and ran out of an old iron pipe into the tiny creek bed below our camp. Although we brought plenty of water with us, It was reassuring to have a fresh water source in the middle of the desert.

Stone houses carved into the rock at Old Thompson Springs

Stone home carved into the rock at Old Thompson Springs

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We set up our tent, and then Jered was assigned the task of making fire- No person on earth create fire as quickly and effectivbely as Jered can. We’ve camped often, and if Jered can not make fire, we break camp and call it off because it is a bad omen. Having established a fire, we got drunk, and proceeded to tell each other lies about how great we were and all the grand and fantastic things we were still planning to do. 

Jered, the fire maker, precariously perched above a desert chasm

Jered, partner on many camping trips and the top fire maker in the world, precariously perched above a desert chasm

Around noon the next day, hungover and confused, I tumbled out of the tent and made a very poor pot of coffee and made enough noise to wake my partner up.  We decided to drive back in to Thompson Springs and see the sights.  

We parked the Rover and started to walk around downtown Thompson, which is one east-west street and one north-south street. We peered in the open doors and broken windows of the abandoned businesses, and snooped around the old Amtrak station which still had a sign warning “Parking for Amtrak Customers Only”.  A small group of men at the RV Park, one of Thompson’s only active businesses, were lazily putting up a storage shed, and one man on a riding mower watched us carefully for a minute or two before waving then going about his business.

Walking in downtown Thompson Springs

Walking in downtown Thompson Springs

The Amtrak Station

The Amtrak Station

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As we were leaning through the door “almost” trespassing into an old shed, snapping photos of a great old 1950’s era diner sign, a small truck appeared on the road to the east and a cloud of dust kicked up behind it as it made it’s way towards us. As it approached I noticed an older man with long white beard driving, and he slowed down and parked right in the middle of  Main Street. I was sure we were about to get an earful and the customary twenty questions about who were where, where were we from, why were we there and when were we leaving. I also feared the long white beard meant this was the Mormon elder of the town and being from a state with few Mormons, and only tall tales about them, I felt a little bit scared.

The great old sign I was photographing when the local came by in his truck.

The great old sign I was photographing when the local came by in his truck.

My worries were quickly put to rest when the local approached us with an open hand and greeted us with “Welcome to Thompson Springs, I’m just a lonely desert dweller.”  We chatted for a few minutes with the friendly stranger who showed us the work he was doing on the old diner, and said he hoped to be up and running selling simple sandwiches and soup in the summer months to the few visitors who pass through Thompson. Then, as we were winding up the conversation he asked “You guys wouldn’t happen to have any weed would you?”  Not expecting that, Jered and I snickered and looked at each other and informed the stranger that no we didn’t. Sadly, he explained to us that saw our Colorado license plates the day before as we came through town, and knowing that dope was legal in our state, he was hoping we had brought some along. He told us how the two biggest problems he faced as a weed smoker was- 1) Living in Utah and 2) Living in the desert “Where the air is so dry all I can grow is stems!” We informed him that we didn’t smoke marijuana, and we were sorry we couldn’t help him out.  He was shocked we weren’t enthusiasts, and he made sure we at least drank beer, and telling him that, yes, we drank beer, he seemed to feel a little bit better and he bade us farewell saying he better get back to his old lady before she drank the last of his beer. As he opened the door of his truck a couple of empty beer cans cascaded out the door and he picked them up and threw them in the back. He waved goodbye with a fresh beer in his hand and headed back from whence he came, disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Laughing about our strange desert encounter Jered and I hopped back in the Rover and headed for the gas station along the I-70 frontage road a mile or so west of Thompson Springs. I topped off the gas tank and headed inside to grab some peanuts and a coke. I opened the door and standing there in front of me was my second biggest fear when traveling through Utah- the Grand County Sheriff. Rumors abound regarding the harsh and sinister ways of Utah law enforcement officers and in ten previous trips through the  Industry state, I had avoided contact them, now I stood face-to-face with John Law. He was a tall and solidly built man, with short cropped light hair, a dark green shirt with gleaming badge, and tan polyester pants with large chrome plated revolver hanging from his hip. My initial reaction was to stop, turn around, and leave, but this would have been suspicious, so I nervously wandered the aisles searching for peanuts in a cold sweat. The Sheriff, noticing me, nodded his head, and went back to talking with the cashier at the station as if I wasn’t there. My fears soon faded when I heard him discussing the previous night’s poker game down the road at Crescent Junction, and how he had to tell a couple of underage kids not worry, that he was off duty and there to play cards and get drunk too.  He laughed and joked with cashier and proved himself to be the exact opposite of all the horrible and dreadful things I had heard about Utah Sheriffs. He even wished me a good day as I left, and paid me no further notice as we drove away.

Back at camp Jered and I laughed about our new friend in Thompson Springs, and what an unexpected encounter that had been, as we enjoyed our dinner of buffalo steaks and wild sage. Later that night as we sat around the wood stove in the tent bullshitting, a rogue gust of wind blew back a spark out of the stove and our tent caught on fire.

Our tent that caught on fire.

Our camp at Old Thompson and the tent that caught on fire.

 

 

 

I set out in late December of 2013 between Christmas and New Year for a long road trip and some soul searching following some problems in my personal life back in Denver…not the type of problems that land a guy in jail, just woman problems that lead a fella to drink grain alcohol and use harsh words and get down on himself and the world around him.

I chugged down U.S. 350, a 73-mile long stretch of two-lane blacktop that cuts diagonally in SW-NE direction between LaJunta and Trinidad, Colorado. My old Range Rover humming along at a slow, spirit cleansing pace over the low hills and rises that make up this desolate stretch of road.

Ruins of places that “once were” dot U.S. 350, tucked in among the sandy buttes and dry washes.  A tumbledown house here, an abandoned school there. A crumbling adobe building with an outdated radio tower in disrepair.  A concrete foundation.  In the days prior to “The Dust Bowl” of the 1930’s, there were numerous small farming and ranching communities along this route, but today, not much but these few traces remain.

As I continued on down the road, my thoughts lost in the open the expanse around me, another small town appeared on the road ahead of me. This was the largest of them I had seen so far on U.S. 350, and as I approached, I assumed it must still be occupied.  As I pulled off the shoulder of the road and hopped out with my camera, it became clear that this place, like the places I had passed before, was entirely empty.

 

The residential district of Model 1913

The residential district of Model 1913

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After snapping a few shots of the vintage advertisements on the side of the abandoned general store, I climbed back in the Rover and had a look at my map.  I was in the town of “Model 1913” a town founded in 1913 and proclaimed to be a “Model” community, hence it’s unusual name.  Unfortunately, Model 1913 lasted only a few years and was about empty by the time Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor drew the United States into WWII.

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Model 1913 General Store

Model 1913 General Store

Model 1913 General Store

Storefront in Model 1913, For Sale believe it or not!

Storefront in Model 1913, For Sale believe it or not!

I continued to walk around and take photos and look inside open doors.  It was a standard ghost town, buckets and cans, and bottles, a broken desk, assorted piles of rust and bird poop everywhere. Of course, what ghost town is complete without at least 20 modern era mattresses thrown in every available nook and cranny between and under buildings…

One of the many mattresses that inhabot Model 1913, just inside the door of this old shed

One of the many mattresses that inhabit Model 1913, just inside the door of this old shed

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Then, I noticed a strangely new and clean sign hanging from a post pointing the way to the “Model Post Office”.  I hopped in the Rover and headed for the Post Office, which appeared to be a dilapidated, abandoned looking house on the edge of town. Within seconds, as I began my drive to the so-called “Post Office” a vicious and seemingly rabid dog appeared out of nowhere at full sprint towards my Rover.  Being used to cowardly city dogs that are all bark and no bit, I naively slowed to a stop and started to talk to the dog through my open window.  The dog continued his charge towards me snarling and growling and that is when I knew this wasn’t a typical city dog.  I began to roll the window up as the dog jumped at my door barking and slinging dog slobber 47 feet into the air. I tried to drive forward down the road towards the “Post Office” by the angry canine ran in front of my vehicle and jumped at the bumper. So, I backed up, and the beast followed in hot pursuit snarling and spitting and lunging at my Rover.  I looked around assuming this must be the guard dog of the last lonely resident of Model 1913, and as I searched all the homes along the street, I could see no peering eyes.  The angry dog continued his assault on my Rover biting the front bumper, attempting to jump on the hood several times, and scaling my door barking numerous times.  I had made the decision to run the dog over if necessary to escape the street I was pinned down in, but finally, the dog backed down, growling and following me at a short distance as I backed out of downtown Model 1913.

The Model 1913 "Post Office" apparently still in service??? Looked rather abandoned to me, and was guarded by the meanest dog this side of hell!

The Model 1913 “Post Office” apparently still in service??? Looked rather abandoned to me, and was guarded by the meanest dog this side of hell!

 

My encounter with the savage dog left me feeling thankful, just five minutes earlier, I was out on foot literally 25 feet away from where the dog was hiding- that could have been a very bad situation for me!  Anyhow, I never did make it to the Post Office in Model 1913, but later research showed that it was in fact still open and serviced a few hardscrabble ranchers that still hung on in the hills surrounding the abandoned town.  I never found out anything about the dog, but I urge anyone who stops in Model 1913 to stay in their vehicle with the windows up.

Model 1913 quickly became one of my favorite ghost towns in Colorado, evil demon dag and all.

Adobe shack in Model 1913

Adobe shack in Model 1913

I remember my first trip to Apex as a child very distinctly- We chugged down the bumpy dirt road in my dad’s old green Chevy pickup to a “neat place” he knew about just up the road. I was a little guy, probably 7 or 8 years old and my entire life at the time was fishing and baseball. Being in the mountains, I assumed Apex must be some place to fish, because, in my mind at the time, the only thing you did in the mountains was fish for trout. We finally reached a wide spot at the end of the road, and I was a little confused- there wasn’t anywhere to fish, just a cluster of falling down shacks and a few old buildings. I couldn’t understand why my dad had driven me up to this place where there were no fish??? I couldn’t understand why anyone would live in the mountains where there wasn’t a good trout stream or pond??? I was a little too young at the time to understand greed and “gold fever” and all those things that make men do strange things and travel to strange places. I wasn’t too upset though, because the tumbledown buildings were pretty interesting to a little kid.

That initial trip to Apex for me must have been sometime in the mid-1980’s. The memory always stuck in my mind for some odd reason, and the swaying, false-fronted building I first saw as a little kid at Apex is probably what got me hooked on the hobby of “ghost towning” today.

The old leaning false-fronted "hotel" in Apex. My first memory of the town.

The old leaning false-fronted “hotel” in Apex. My first memory of the town.

I ventured back up to Apex a couple of years ago to see what, if anything, remained of the strange place with nowhere to fish that I remembered as a kid. Although nearly 30 years had passed since that first glimpse of the town, I was happy to see Apex was still, relatively the same.

The first structures you'll encounter marking the Apex town site.

The first structures you’ll encounter marking the Apex town site.

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Main Street Apex

Apex Hotel

Apex Hotel

The old swaying false-fronted building still stands proud, and is listed as “Site #001” in the Gilpin County Historical Society register. A small brass plaque is affixed the front of the precariously fragile old structure recognizing it’s historic significance. Apparently this was one of the Hotels in Apex during the boom years of the 1890’s, but I question that, the building seems a little to small to harbor more than one or two guests.

There is another tall, swayback, rickety building next door to the “hotel”. I can’t find any information on what this building was, but it was most likely a business of some sort. It is heavily overgrown and although a beautiful old building in many aspects, it just doesn’t photograph well. I’ve tried repeatedly to get a good angle on it, but the overgrowth around it, and the dark stained timbers that make up the building just make a good shot difficult…if I actually knew anything about photography I might get a decent image, but I’ve had no luck yet.

The great old building I can't get a good photo of.

The great old building I can’t get a good photo of.

It’s hard to imagine that this tiny cluster of cabins used to be a bustling city that served as the “capitol” of the Pine Creek Mining District in the 1890’s. An Idaho Springs newspaper wrote, during the boom years, that Apex boasted over 100 businesses on it’s Main Street and nearly 1,000 residents. Several stage lines ran through Apex daily, as well as daily mail service. The main gold mine in the area assayed at $1,800/ton by 1890’s numbers which today would equate to $110,500/ton! Vintage photographs show Apex had two, possibly three, north-south streets and one major east-west street (modern day Elk Park Road). Apex had several saloons and dance halls, a grocery store, hotels, mining company offices, a post office, a newspaper “The Apex Pine Cone”, and even a school house which still stands today just across the street from the leaning hotel. Apex fell victim to at least two forest fires which ravaged and destroyed much of the original business district, which is why so little of the town remains today when compared to old photographs. Oddly, for a large business center, I have found no record that Apex ever had it’s own cemetery. I assume residents were taken down the hill and buried in one of Central City’s cemeteries.

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Main Street Apex in the 1890’s before the first forest fire.

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The second street of Apex which still exists today, buried in the woods and marked “White Gulch Road”. One or two of these structures still stand, but I assume this road is on private property today.

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Another shot of Main Street in Apex around 1900.

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This is a view looking northeast at Apex. The highlighted buildings are the structures that remain to mark the site today. The false-fronted “hotel” can be seen at the upper left, highlighted, as the dirt road turns towards the right and heads up the hill out of town.

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Another image showing remaining structures circled in red.

Apex is mostly abandoned, except for two or three people who have summer cabins in the area, and one extremely colorful year-round resident. If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to meet the Mayor of Apex, be prepared to spend 15 or 20 minutes listening to all kinds of tall tales and fantastic stories of adventure, intrigue, espionage and the science of radio wave frequencies. I’ve met “The Mayor” twice, and he is a friendly and likable fellow…although I do suspect he may be a little on the insane side. He lives up Elk Park road in the cabin surrounded by snow mobiles in varying stages of decay. The Mayor will greet anyone with a smile and a handshake. He is unique though, and once he starts talking you won’t get a word in edgewise until he’s said his piece, so if you stop to shake hands, make sure you have some time to spare.

Heading up Apex Valley road off of Colorado 119 just past Black Hawk on the way to Nederland, a decent graded dirt road will take you to what’s left of Apex. At the town site the road branches- the left fork (Elk Park Road) will take past a few old cabins and up to “The Mayors” residence, after which the road gets rocky and steep and turns into a 4X4 trail that leads to the mining camps of Nugget, American City and Kingston up on Pile Hill, before dropping down into Mammoth Gulch. By going straight or taking the right fork of Apex Valley Road at the town site you will find the hotel, school house, and the other old structures marking what’s left of Main Street in Apex. The road continues north up Dakota Hill but there isn’t much to see.

Modern satellite view showing Apex Valley Road, the junction with Elk Park Road (left fork) and the road up Dakota Hill (straight, slight right)

Modern satellite view showing Apex Valley Road, the junction with Elk Park Road (left fork) and the road up Dakota Hill (straight, slight right)

My recent snooping around Apex also revealed a second north-south street buried in the trees. Just after you turn left on the Elk Park Road, a sign in the trees says “White Gulch Road” and you can see a couple of old cabins buried in the woods. I do not know if this road is public or private, so approach it with caution if you choose to investigate. I drove up the road once, and there are several foundations and an abandoned cabin or two along it. The road dead ends at gate marked “KEEP OUT” and what looks like a modern small-scale mining operation. My gut tells me it is probably a good idea to stay off this second road in Apex unless someone gives you permission.

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One of the “Fancy” houses in Apex

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Main Street

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A cabin buried in the woods at Apex

Apex March 2014, still hanging on!

Apex March 2014, still hanging on!

Apex has had a strange hold on me ever since my first visit. It’s not my favorite ghost town, and it’s certainly not the most interesting ghost town, but I always find myself in Apex when I’m in the area. When the winter snows begin to melt, Apex is one of the first high-country ghost towns you can access, and each thaw it amazes me that that old leaning false-fronted building has survived another winter without falling down.

 

MY GHOST TOWN PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT:

http://www.blurb.com/user/store/Vicha603

I would like to sincerely thank Laura Latham and Jason Ganong of Arvada Dental Excellence for their support and for displaying several canvasses of my work in their office. It’s truly an honor to have someone like my work enough to display it in their business. I never thought in a million years my hobby would one day hang on someone’s wall. I’d also like to thank Dave Guerrie at Dreamer Studios who printed the canvasses and Laura Latham for her work in stretching and framing them. Thank You All!

Examples of my work on display at Arvada Dental Excellence 15530 West 64th Avenue Unit J, Arvada, Colorado 80007.

All canvasses displayed measure 3 feet by 4 feet.

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One of the greatest aspects of living in Colorado is being surrounded by such rich history. Colorado was a major crossroads in it’s early days- mining, ranching, farming, lumber, railroads, manufacturing. You name it Colorado had it.

Today, virtually everywhere you travel in the state you will find reminders of the past.  I spend as much of my free time as I can hitting the road and seeing what relic awaits me over the next hill.  These are just a few more of the images I have captured on my recent travels across Colorado.

For A Copy of My Book Visit:

http://www.blurb.com/user/store/Vicha603

For Tours of Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps as Well as Prints and Canvasses of my Work Visit:

http://www.lifedeathiron.com

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