Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Town’

Twice in the past month, as part of the research I am doing for a book I’m writing, I have visited a secluded area of Douglas County, Colorado where the Confederate underground was known to have operated in the 1860s- An area where several buried caches of Civil War era arms and ammunition have been found through the years. I set out to search for any signs or evidence of these long-forgotten Confederate agents who smuggled weapons and supplies through Colorado Territory.

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Old Stage barn constructed in 1861 in Douglas County, Colorado. The Confederate underground operated in the hills nearby throughout the Civil War.

Known as the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) the Confederate underground was a secretive, fraternal order loosely based on the Masons. Active throughout the southern states, and western territories in the waning years of the Civil War the KGC possessed a tremendous amount of wealth and influence. Many high ranking officers of the Confederacy were KGC members, and thousands of rank and file soldiers were initiates in the secret order as well. Among the most notable members of the KGC were Frank and Jesse James, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, John Wilkes Booth, General Douglas H. Cooper, Colorado pioneer Alexander “Zan” Hicklin,  James and John Reynolds (see my previous blogs regarding the Reynolds Gang in Colorado) would-be assassin Lewis Powell (Payne) and the well-known Freemason Albert Pike (who many believe founded the KGC.)

Famous Freemason Albert Pike, Thought to be the Founder of the KGC

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The primary objective of the KGC was to accumulate wealth (aka gold and silver) and weapons by any means, which usually meant robbery, for use in a future “second” Civil War against the Union. Hidden in caches across the south and west, the KGC employed agents or “sentinels” that stood guard over the buried treasure for many decades. Dating back to the days leading up to the Civil War, KGC initiates used a series of “grips” or hand signals to indicate their membership in the order- To the casual bystander, the “grips” wouldn’t seem unusual, but to a fellow KGC member they would be easily recognized.

Four famous members of the KGC demonstrating one of the Orders’ “secret” grips-

The right hand grasping or tucked inside the lapel.

Left to Right- “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jesse and Frank James, John Wilkes Booth.

KGC initiate Lewis Powell (Also Known as Lewis Payne) attempted to kill Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865. These photos taken after his arrest show him giving what former members of the KGC confirmed were secret “grips” of the order.

Also employed by the KGC in their nefarious activities was a secret alphabet or code, and messages would be carved in trees, rocks, or passed between members on scraps of paper. A first hand account given by a ranch hand of Alexander “Zan” Hicklin of a guerrilla traversing Colorado Territory  bound for Confederate lines in New Mexico in 1862 states:

“Hicklin was suspicious of the man at first. I saw him hand Hicklin a scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles. Hicklin then eased and provided the man with food and provisions for his journey.”

It is clear the “…scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles…” was a message in the KGC code vouching for the wayward guerrilla.

Key to the KGC Secret Code

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The KGC was a very real, very powerful order which lasted well into the 20th Century. Reports of second and third generation KGC sentinels standing vigil at burial sites persisted until the 1930s! In the late 1800s and early 1900s numerous cases of confrontations and even shootings at the hands of mysterious armed men deep in forests have been attributed to KGC sentinels watching over their loot. Around the outbreak of WWII, suspected KGC activity seemed to disappear.

KGC

KGC cache sites were marked with a series of nondescript signs- Treasure hunters have spent years deciphering the signs of the KGC and documenting anomalies found at known KGC cache sites. A common series of markers used by the KGC, which would go unnoticed by the casual passerby, has been documented-

  1. “Hoot Owls”– Trees which have been deformed, grafted or otherwise “engineered” into unnatural shapes are the most common KGC marker. “Twin” “Triplet” or unusual clusters of trees the exact same height and age also indicate KGC activity, as they were purposely arranged in such a fashion.

Examples of KGC “Hoot Owls” found at cache burial sites in the south/west.

2. Rock Carvings– Some complex, such as those using the KGC code or symbols-pyramids, eyes, numbers, etc. Other carvings were as simple as a cross or a series of holes bored into the rock.

Examples of known/suspected KGC rock carvings (complex)

Examples of suspected KGC rock carvings (simple)

3. Marker Stones– A series of stones, often triangular or “arrowhead” shaped placed along the path to a cache, these stones would appear ordinary to most, but to a KGC agent, they would point the way to buried goods. Also used as marker stones were ordinary looking rocks that might not be of a type native or normally found in the area, for example quartz markers left in an area where there is only sandstone.

Examples of KGC marker stones from confirmed cache sites.

4) Burned out tree trunks and holes bored into tree trunks-The burned out stump was a popular KGC marker meaning “Buried cache in a hole nearby.”

(No photos available of “burned tree trunk/stump markers”- Information based on data and claims compiled/made by Military Historian Dr. Roy William Roush, Ph.D., in his book “Knights of the Golden Circle Treasure Signs”)

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Colorado Ghost Town Guide Book- The “Gold Belt Region” by Jeff Eberle Only $19.99!

 

Using the known examples of KGC markers, I set out to find if any of these KGC markers were present at the Douglas County site- I didn’t expect to find much, but I was surprised at what I found, and I believe that a KGC cache once existed at the site, or still exists waiting to be discovered. My findings-

1. “Hoot Owls”– I stood on a small rise over the creek bottom I was investigating and scanned the treeline looking for anomalies- Anything that didn’t look right, any tree that wasn’t growing in a natural way. I found several examples of “Hoot Owls” over a one-mile stretch of creek bed, including a near perfect “arch” made by two trees bent inwards towards each other, and a “triplet” tree of nearly perfect proportions, both pictured below.

“Hoot Owls” found at the Douglas County, Colorado site- Including an “arch” and a nearly perfect “triplet”- Highly unusual for such a large concentration of “naturally” occurring anomalies to be present in an area of less than a mile. Also of note- Each of the trees was large/old enough to date to the Civil War era.

 

2. Rock Carvings– Across the one-mile stretch I investigated I found several rock carvings of the “simple” style- A “key”, a “cross”, two “eyes”, and series of stones with between one and four holes bored into them. There were tons of boulders and rocks in the area- Only about eight had carvings, and the stones bearing “eye” carvings all had a distinct depression or hole in the ground directly below the “eye”…former site of a buried cache???

Cross, key, and eye rock carvings found in Douglas County, Colorado.

“Eye” and simple hole pattern carvings at the site-

3. Marker Stones– Rocks that shouldn’t be there, or arrow shaped stones in unusual places. I found only one “arrow” shaped stone that was 110% out of place, sitting on top of a rounded, water worn boulder in the creek. An angular, pointy stone is very out of place in a creek bed. It was definitely put there by human hands- When?  Who knows, maybe three days ago, maybe 150 years ago by a KGC agent.  What was intriguing was the huge open hole in the rocks just beyond the “arrow”  looked like a perfect spot to hide something.

“Arrow” marker stone and hole in the rocks behind it.

I also noticed red stones, all of a uniform size, placed at regular intervals along the creek. The stones were roughly fist sized, and unlike the native stones in the area. When I reached the near perfect triplet “Hoot Owl” tree, the trail of red stones stopped. I found no more for the next half-mile before I turned around and headed back.

Red marker stones found at regular intervals along the creek.

4. Burned Out Tree Trunk– I was not expecting to find a burned out tree trunk, but on a steep side slope of the tiny valley cut by the creek this old stump, clearly cut off by the hand of man many, many years ago caught my eye. It was so old that it was dry rotting and would crumble in your fingers, and the base had been hollowed out long ago by a fire.  It was the only tree cut down by human hands on the whole hillside, and was located at a steep point next to a promontory rock that caught your eye. Directly across the creek from the burned out stump was the “Hoot Owl” arch mentioned previously.

Three views of the burnt out stump, and the “Hoot Owl” arch directly across the creek.

 

5. Strange circular clearing surrounded by very old felled timber- From the burnt out stump, I crossed the creek and walked through the “Hoot Owl” arch. On the other side of the “arch” was a large patch of felled timber, very old and gray with age, obviously having been down for many years. In the center of the felled timber was a nearly perfect circular patch, void of timber with the exception of one very young pine tree and short grass. I’ve seen similar circular patches in the Rockies where meteors fell, or at the site of dormant freshwater springs. This spot was similar, but the felled timber surrounding it seemed to be situated in a uniform depth of 6-8 logs which seemed unusual to me. Is this clearing the site of a forgotten KGC cache???

Circular clearing beyond the “Hoot Owl” arch.

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Buried Confederate arms and ammunition have been found in this same vicinity of Douglas County in the past. Based on the evidence I found, I think that more waits to be discovered.

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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

Yampa

Yampa

1907 Yampa Jail

1907 Yampa Jail

Yampa

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

 

http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/jeff+eberle/all

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.

 

 

 

As I sit on my balcony above Central City, Colorado, I look west and watch the sun sink behind the high snow-capped peaks to the west.  Yesterday I was hiking a slope on those very mountains following a grueling two-hour 4X4 trek in my ugly old Range Rover. The “road” I traversed was the old stagecoach line that ran from Central City to the mining camps of Alice, Fall River and then on to Georgetown in the heyday of the Colorado gold rush. Along it’s way, the stagecoach passed over a high windswept knob at roughly 11,500 ft. elevation. Covered by only a handful of scrubby, wind blown pines, low patchy grasses, lichens, and surprisingly in the summer months, a dizzying array of beautiful and fragrant wildflowers of all shapes, colors and sizes, lay “Yankee Hill”.

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Rumor has it Yankee Hill was named after Union sympathizers that poked around at the ground looking for gold and other precious metals on the hill during the Civil War. Soon, a settlement or more likely a small camp sprang up on the slope and declared itself  the town of “Yankee Hill”.  Very little is known about the earliest days of Yankee Hill, although it is clear that people were there looking for gold as early as 1860. The Russell Brothers of Central City fame had even constructed a canal across Yankee Hill bringing water from Fall River to Russell Gulch by the early 1860’s- a truly amazing feat if you have ever seen the hellish landscape between Yankee Hill and Russell Gulch.

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

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Square nails in the cabin wall

Square nails in the cabin wall

As time passed Yankee Hill scratched out a name for itself an important stagecoach supply and rest stop on the road to and from Georgetown and Central City.  A hardy bunch managed to bust through the crust of the hill and locate a few paying veins of gold, silver, copper and iron ores.  Prospect holes, or “coyote holes” dotted the hill, and many are still visible today along with some of the larger, more profitable workings.

Steel button from a miner's coat

Steel button from a miner’s coat

YHM9

Root cellar

Root cellar

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

Bed frame

Bed frame

Nature takes her course

Nature takes her course

Room with a view

Room with a view

The citizens of Yankee Hill, whipped by endless winds, vicious electrical storms, blizzards and every other imaginable alpine hardship some how hung on to their precarious post on top of the world, and made it work.  The people lived in any imaginable type of shelter- tents, huts compiled of the low scrubby pines on the hill,  sturdy log cabins, dressed lumber houses, rock huts, even caves and dugouts composed of both rock and timbers.  By the 1880’s what few records exist suggest Yankee Hill had a hotel and at least one saloon, the stage stop, and a handful of other mining related businesses. In the late 1890’s a couple of mills were erected with concrete foundations in an attempt to make refining the low-grade and complex ores of Yankee Hill profitable, but, they were of little success and by 1905 the mines had all closed down and Yankee Hill was abandoned following 45 very hard years of existence.

Columbines

Columbines

Cellar full of debris

Cellar full of debris

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Part of a "false front" to an old building

Part of a “false front” to an old building

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Very little is known of the people and businesses in Yankee Hill. No photographs exist to show what it looked like in it’s prime. The few people who passed through Yankee Hill or lived there are long deceased. What little we can glimmer into the past of Yankee Hill comes from minimal and spotty records, a newspaper clipping, an old story told long ago. Yankee Hill is largely a Colorado mystery these days.

Mine "cut"

Mine “cut”

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner's dugouts

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner’s dugouts

Collapsed mine building

Collapsed mine building

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

But there is one interesting story surrounding Yankee Hill and it involves a legendary man that, like Yankee Hill, has been forgotten by time.  His name was Willie Kennard, a black man and former slave. Kennard was freed from slavery sometime prior to the Civil War and he joined the U.S. Army where he worked as a weapons expert for reportedly 25 years.  At the ripe old age of 42, Willie Kennard found himself in Colorado Territory looking for work. the year was 1874.

An advertisement appeared in the Rocky Mountain News seeking a town Marshall for Yankee Hill- the town’s previous Marshall having been shot dead by an outlaw, murderer and rapist by the name of Casewit who had terrorized Yankee Hill for around two years.

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Another faint reminder of the past

Another faint reminder of the past

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Kennard traveled to Yankee Hill to investigate the rumors and respond to the advertisement he had read. The townspeople were stunned at the sight of a black man arriving in Yankee Hill, and the town council was even more shocked when he informed them he had come to be Marshall.  After some tense negotiations the council agreed to give Kennard a shot at being Marshall of Yankee Hill and he sworn in to duty.

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Nature reclaiming herself

Nature reclaiming herself

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Rock foundation

Rock foundation

Among Kennard’s first matters of business was to hunt down the rapist and murderer Casewit that had held Yankee Hill in a state of siege for so long. Kennard soon found Casewit playing cards in the town saloon and as Casewit went to draw for his guns Kennard pulled his twin .44 caliber Colts and fired on Casewit. The bullets from Marshall Willie Kennard’s .44’s pierced the leather of Casewits holsters and damaged his guns rendering them useless.  Casewit was placed under arrest, tried the next morning for the rape of a 15 year-old girl and the murder of her father who had come to her defense. Found guilty, Kennard ordered Casewit hung, and from a beam behind the blacksmith’s shop the villain Casewit met his end.

Chimney from long gone cabin

Chimney from long gone cabin

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

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As for Marshall Willie Kennard- He remained at his post in Yankee Hill until 1877 when racial tensions overlooked Kennard’s record as a fair and just lawman. Kennard was either removed from his post, or resigned to avoid conflict. Willie Kennard left Yankee Hill in 1877 and was never heard from again. No photo exists of Kennard, and no record of his burial is on record. As mysteriously as the “Black Marshall of Yankee Hill” arrived in Colorado, he disappeared into the pages of history and Wild West lore.

Today, Yankee Hill is just that- a hill.  The literal “winds” of time have toppled what few permanent structures once marked the spot.  Grasses and wild flowers and tiny pines struggling to survive dot the hillside and have swallowed up much of the remains of the town.  Here and there you’ll see very trace remnants of human habitation- a tumbledown rock foundation, an old rusty nail, a tin can, broken porcelain or a shard of glass.  But mostly, nothing. And each weekend in the summer throngs of 4X4 enthusiasts and ATV riders buzz past the site, unaware they are riding over the streets Willie Kennard once restored order to with his lightning fast .44’s over 140 years ago.

Rock foundation

Rock foundation

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I visited the site twice this week, and took photos of what little is left before it is all gone.  A made a crude map of what ruins I found and how the town may have been laid out so long ago.  I even found one lonely grave high on the windswept slope of Yankee Hill marked “RF”.  It is hard to imagine people lived and died and gun battles were fought on this isolated, rocky stage so many years ago.

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

Yankee Hill will soon fade into obscurity, these are some of the last photos that will record the site before it is totally reclaimed by time and earth. Today, the only residents of Yankee Hill are a few marmots that peer at you curiously from their rocky thrones high above the valleys below, and colony of chipmunks and ground squirrels that have turned the hollowed out stumps of trees cut down over 100 years ago into a metropolis of their own.  We are often told and taught that once a man cuts down a tree or digs a hole, or clears a patch of land for a building or a roadway, that that damage can never be overturned- Man’s destruction is final and nature can not recover.  Yankee Hill is living proof that nature is resilient and vibrant and strong, and can and will recover from our abuses if given the chance.  Yankee Hill began as a mystery, lived as a mystery, and soon when she is reclaimed by nature, she will die a mystery.

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

A curious marmot investigates what I'm doing

A curious marmot investigates what I’m doing

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Rock and log cabin remnants

Rock and log cabin remnants

 

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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