Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Town’

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Manoa

St. Elmo, Independence, Ashcroft, Nevadaville…the usual suspects come to mind when Colorado ghost towns are discussed, but how many of you have heard of or been to Manoa and Whitehorn? I know I had never heard of either just a year ago.

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Whitehorn

I found Whitehorn on an old map, then found a few mentions of the old mining camp online and in some old dusty books. Whitehorn, in its heyday around 1900, was a booming place, claiming ten developed blocks, numerous businesses, boardwalks along the streets, and a population of around one thousand. Whitehorn even had its own newspaper for 15 years! By 1912 Whitehorn was dead, the gold ore having played out and the people having moved on.

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The Whitehorn Post Office and General Store circa 1900

I had a look at a modern satellite image that showed a few structures and foundations were still there, so I headed out to see firsthand what Whitehorn was all about. When I reached the site, I found it just out of reach a couple hundred yards beyond a fence, on private ranch land. I zoomed in as far as I could with my camera from the county road, and snapped a few photos of what was left- A few log cabins, a large swaybacked building, an outhouse, not much to indicate that a town of one thousand residents ever existed at the spot.

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Whitehorn

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Whitehorn

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Whitehorn

On the road into Whitehorn I had noticed an impressive and out-of-place two-story log home on a hillside a few miles away. There were no visible roads leading to this picturesque home, which appeared to have recently had a fresh coat of red paint and a new steel roof applied to it, other than that it looked to be abandoned. I assumed it must be an old ranch house, and snapped a photo of it from the road, not thinking much of it at the time. A few days later, after I returned home from my trip, while doing some reading on the history of Whitehorn, I found an old newspaper clipping about another town in the same area called “Manoa” a bit more sleuthing, and I learned that the stately two-story I had photographed on that side hill was actually the Hershberger home, the owner of the gold mine at Manoa, and that it was no ranch house at all, but the old Manoa townsite! Of course I had to check satellite images to see what I had missed in my initial visit, and from what I could see, there appeared to be at least one more structure adjacent to the red two-story. Well, I had to go back and have a better look.

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Manoa Newspaper Article

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Hershberger Home at Manoa

Very little information can be found regarding the history of Manoa. It had a short life, living and dying between 1902 and 1908. No record can be found of the population, and Manoa is only mentioned in a few old newspapers as a byline of articles pertaining to Whitehorn.

I returned to Manoa and took a short hike up the hill to the red house. A fence had been erected around the structure and signs indicating that it was private property belonging to the Lantz Ranch were clearly posted. Like its neighbor Whitehorn, Manoa was just beyond my reach, this time only feet way, not hundreds of yards like Whitehorn. Beyond the fence were a number of well-preserved cabins, their rusted tin roofs covered in thick green moss. Manoa was absolutely beautiful, situated among tall pines and willows. It was a perfect setting for a town, and the foliage just beginning to change with the coming of autumn made a perfect backdrop for my photos. Respecting the private property boundary, I was able to snap my photos from the fence line.

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Manoa

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Manoa

 

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I had heard rumors of a “lost” ghost town high in the Gunnison Country of Colorado a few times over the years. Being an avid “ghost towner” these rumors always piqued my interest. Nobody seemed to know much about this “lost” ghost town. There was even confusion over the name- “Cameltown” seemed to be the consensus on what this place was called, but why would a remote mining camp in the black timber of Colorado be named “Cameltown” Colorado is a long way from any camels, except for a few in the regional zoos, and I’d never heard of any camels being imported and used to haul supplies to the mines like they had been used elsewhere in the world.

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Hours of research, countless dead ends, and I finally found myself on the right path, and it was obvious once I saw it- I was looking for “Campbell Town” not “Cameltown.” Named for its founder Campbell Town was somewhere in Gunnison County, rumored to be known by only a handful of locals, and even among the locals it was somewhat of an enigma, only a few had seen the place themselves, but it did exist!

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So I began another earnest search for information, this time for “Campbell Town” and, like my previous search for “Cameltown” I was striking out. I couldn’t find any information, no matter where I looked. None of my ghost town guide books made any mention of it, I found one small blurb online mentioning it was near Ohio City and Pitkin, but it was hidden amongst the trees in a maddening maze of off-road trails. I poured over my topographic maps and marked potential or likely spots, I double-checked my paper maps against modern satellite images. Then, as I delved deeper into the internet, a scan of an old topographical map showed up listing a “Cameltown” a couple miles above Ohio City…So after all that I was back to looking for “Cameltown”!

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I had another look at the old topo map and found the spot on a satellite image, and when I zoomed in I could see a mine dump and what looked like a couple of structures. Close enough for me! I hopped in my Jeep and headed for “Cameltown.” A rocky, steep, and overgrown trail led me to a weathered and dilapidated wooden Forest Service sign that read “Campbell Town est. 1880 Population Max. 44” so we were back to “Campbell Town” again! I had a good laugh and decided that whatever the place was named, I had finally found it.

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At first sight, Campbell Town looks like a small meadow with only two tumbledown cabins, but then, buried in the trees on the side of a steep slope is another cabin, rather well preserved considering the remote location and severe winters, and then down a spur road from the main trail the ruins of several other cabins appear as well as three more relatively intact cabins. A large mine dump leads to the ruins of what was once a large mill. High on another hillside, hidden in the trees, is one more cabin, far removed from the others.

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Rusted cans and broken shards of porcelain litter the landscape. Here and there you’ll find the remnants of an old leather boot, or a well-worn rubber boot sole. What appeared at first to be a birdhouse hanging from a tree branch was, in fact, an old solvent can the branch had grown through long ago. Inside the best preserved cabin is a collection of artifacts found by others lucky enough to find Campbell Town- A boot, the iron head of a pickaxe, an old salt shaker, various cans, bottles, nails, etc. License plates dating back to 1933 have been nailed to the walls by visitors. Names of visitors and dates all the way back to the 1920s can be found scrawled on the walls of the cabin.

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Campbell Town instantly earned a spot in my “Top 10 Colorado Ghost Towns”- Not only did I enjoy the search for this little beauty, I loved what I found- A place largely intact and untouched, just like the rumors said it would be. I will share my photos of Campbell Town,  but I’ll keep the whereabouts to myself. Campbell Town needs to be “found” to be truly appreciated, and if you are lucky enough to find it, you are lucky enough!  Good Luck in your search, it is well-worth the effort!

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Travel pretty much anywhere in the western half of the United States and you’re sure to come across the iconic “false front” store. False front architecture is almost as synonymous with the Old West as the Colt Pistol and John Wayne- We see examples of the false front in nearly every vintage photo of the Old West, and any classic western film would be incomplete if it didn’t contain at least one false fronted store somewhere in the story.

But what is the reasoning behind this strange architectural style? There are several answers, and they are all based in practicality-

First, the false front was often added to impermanent structures such as large tents for stability. Tent colonies were commonplace in the early years of westward expansion and the gold rush era. People would flock to an area and the quickest, easiest and most affordable dwelling to put up was the tent. As prairie or mountain winds whipped, and the colder weather moved in, settlers would shore up the sides of the tent with logs, making somewhat of a “half-cabin.” Others, in many cases businesses being run out of tents, would add a false front with a formal door. This gave an impression of permanence, as well as providing additional security to the contents inside via the proper locking door on the front.

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As time went on, and the tent colonies grew into permanent log, brick, and milled lumber towns and cities, the false front carried on- This time the false front served both as advertising space, and as a decorative facade. The large flat surface was perfect for painting the name of your hotel, saloon, or general store. The wealthier and more prosperous you were, the fancier and more ornate your false front would be, featuring time consuming scrollwork, cornices, and gingerbread trim. The false front soon became the status symbol of the Old West, and merchants and hoteliers would engage in spirited attempts to one-up each other, much like men do today with their pickup trucks.

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Today, the false front hangs on across the West. Some retain their their glory, and for many others that glory has faded to a forlorn, splintered, black-brown-gray of rotted and neglected wood.

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We’ve all heard of Wall Street, Boston, Hollywood, London, and Manhattan, but did you know Colorado has a Wall Street, Boston, and Manhattan too? Wall Street in Boulder County and Manhattan in Larimer County were small mining towns in the late-19th and early-20th Century, Boston, in Summit County, was a seasonal mining camp in that same era. London (there were actually two “North” and “South” London) were a pair of camps located a mile apart on Mosquito Pass in Park County, and were inhabited until the 1930s. Hollywood began it’s short life as a suburb of Victor, Colorado in Teller County, and was swallowed up by Goldfield as that town expanded. The names of these tiny communities represented the high hopes of the miners and their families who once called them home- High hopes that faded and vanished when the veins of gold and silver played out.

Wall Street still has a small population and is home to a quaint mining museum housed in the old Assay office. All that remains of Manhattan is a tiny cemetery, high on a hillside, with the graves of a handful of miners killed in an underground explosion in 1892 which spelled the town’s doom. What remained of Manhattan’s structures were burned to the ground by the Forest Service in the 1930s, and only a few photos remain. Boston, high above timberline, surrounded by snow-capped spires of rock at the head of Mayflower Gulch between Copper Mountain and Leadville still has a scattering of cabins, the fragile remnants of the log boarding house, and rusted relics of mining machinery.

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Wall Street, Colorado- Boulder County

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Wall Street

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Wall Street in the boom days

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The monstrous chlorniation mill used for seperating gold from host rock at Wall Street- The first of it’s kind in the United States, and cutting edge technology in it’s day

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Remains of the chlorination mill today

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The “fancy house” at Wall Street, heavily damaged in the floods of 2013 and since torn down

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A glimpse of Boston, Colorado in Summit County, located high above timberline

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Boston

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Relics of yesterday in a miner’s cabin on the trail to Boston

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Boston

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The awe inspiring setting of Boston, Colorado

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Boston

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The boarding house at Boston

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Boston

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Hollywood, Colorado- A far cry it’s more famous namesake!

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Hollywood

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London, Colorado

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Boarding house at London

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London

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Mosquito Pass from the inside of the mill at London

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Miner’s cabin at London

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This tiny, hillside cemetery is all that remains of Manhattan, Colorado

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Grave of George Grill, one of the miners killed in the 1892 Manhattan explosion

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Another Manhattan burial

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Manhattan

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A tiny fleck of gold from Manhattan Creek

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Manhattan at it’s peak around 1890

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Manhattan, Colorado in better days

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Manhattan circa 1930

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Manhattan around 1930- It had been abandoned for 30 years by the time these photos were taken, the Forest Service burned the buildings shortly after, nothing remains today

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Manhattan, Colorado

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Checkout My Other Photo Blogs!

Photo Blog: Colorado’s High Alpine Mining Camps- What Remains Today

Colorado’s Lost Highway- A Photo Voyage Down Highway 350 From La Junta to Trinidad

Photo Blog: Coal Towns of Colorado- Ghosts of the Southern Foothills

Abandoned Faces of Colorado’s San Luis Valley and Northern New Mexico.

The Gray Ghosts of Colorado Book- $19.99 CLICK HERE!

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Jail at the abandoned coal town of Berwind, Colorado

Colorado mining history is usually thought of in terms of gold and silver, but coal mining in the state also dates back to the earliest days of the state’s existence. Coal was found in large seams along the foothills shortly after John Gregory, the Russell brothers, and George Jackson made their more famous gold strikes in 1859.

Coal isn’t glamorous, or precious- It’s dirty, it smells, and those who toiled underground to extract it were faced with the grim aspect of underground fires and explosions and pockets of poison gas which could extinguish life in the blink of an eye. The future wasn’t much brighter for those who were lucky enough to avoid disasters, as inhaling the powder fine dust of the mines resulted in “black lung” and various cancers which cut many a life short.

But coal was vital to the industrialization of America and the westward expansion- Coal was used to fire the furnaces that smelted the gold, silver, and copper ore mined in the mountains. Coal fueled the giant boilers of the steam railroad engines that connected the United States, transporting people, goods, animals, and armies across the continent. And, for many miners who failed to find riches in the gold mines, there was always plenty of demand for coal miners.

Traveling south along Interstate 25 in Colorado, just as you cross the Arkansas River and leave the city limits of Pueblo you enter the heart of Colorado’s coal country. A quick side trip down nearly any of the many exits along this southern stretch of I-25 will lead you to sandstone and concrete ruins- The final reminders of the many small coal towns which once dotted the foothills in the late-1800s through through the 1950s- Places like Lester, Rugby, Tioga, Tobasco, Ludlow, Pryor, Valdez and Berwind.

Here is a collection of random images of these fading faces of Colorado’s coal industry:

(Click on image to make larger)

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25 Abandoned Buildings In Colorado You Must See Before They Are Gone

25 (More) Abandoned Buildings in Colorado You Must See Before They Are Gone

25 Forgotten Cemeteries and Burial Plots of Colorado

Autumn Colors in Colorado’s Ghost Towns

Abandoned Faces of Colorado’s San Luis Valley and Northern New Mexico.

“The Gray Ghosts of Colorado- Book I: The Copperheads” The True, Suppressed History of Colorado’s Secessionist Movement of 1860-1861, and the Coloradans Who Fought for the Confederacy During the Civil War $19.99

 

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.

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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.

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”.

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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

 

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