Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Towns’

Colorado has plenty of ghost towns but what about “lost” towns- Towns that have disappeared entirely, or almost entirely from the face of the earth?  It is hard to imagine but there are “lost cities” here in Colorado. Cities and towns and settlements that have vanished almost completely over the years. Most appeared and disappeared with the boom and bust days of the gold and silver rush. Others were ranching and farming towns hit hard by the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Still others came and went with the fortunes of the railroads.  These make up Colorado’s “lost cities” and below is a collection of then and now photos of six of them. (Click on the circles for larger images.)

1. Querida, Colorado

Querida in Custer County was once a booming mining town laid out at the base of the Bassick Mine.  Today nothing remains but one old house, some debris from other buildings, and the massive tailings pile from the Bassick Mine.

2. Independence, Colorado

There was more than one “Independence” in Colorado- This is the Independence in Teller County near Cripple Creek and Victor. Independence was one of many towns that sprawled out around the mining operations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in the late 1890s. Today some mining structures and equipment mark the spot, and a one or two homes can still be found scattered among the workings. Most of the town however was buried under the tailings from the mine, or torn down.

3. Caribou, Colorado

Caribou was one of Colorado’s top producing silver mining towns in the 1870s and 1880s boasting a business district, hotels, saloons and schools. The silver crash of 1893 spelled doom for the thriving community located on a windswept mountainside eight miles above Nederland at nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. Most of the population left around 1895, but a few struggled on in the mines until around 1920. Today a couple of stone buildings and one tumbledown log cabin are all that mark the spot of Caribou- The rest of town having been lost to forest fires, dismantling, and the elements over the years. A few foundations can be found in the deep grass at the site but its hard to imagine thousands once lived here.

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

4. Manhattan, Colorado

Deep in Larimer County northwest of Ft. Collins a couple of gold discoveries were made high on Elkhorn and Manhattan Creeks. Manhattan once had around 500 residents, but the ore was low-grade and there wasn’t much to be found.  An accident in a shaft took the lives of several miners in 1892, and shortly after Manhattan was abandoned.  Sometime in the 1950s or so, the Forest Service had the log buildings of Manhattan torn down.  All that marks the town site today is a tiny graveyard on a hillside where the miners from the 1892 accident are buried.

5.Berwind, Colorado

In the sandy foothills northwest of Trinidad numerous “company towns” existed. These towns were built by mine owners for their employees and their families. One of the larger company towns was Berwind. Berwind once had over 3000 residents, hundreds of homes, a two-story schoolhouse, railroad station, businesses, and a jail.  When the coal mines closed, the mine owners evicted the families and bulldozed the housing so they wouldn’t be taxed on the structures. Berwind Canyon today is lined with concrete foundations, staircases to nowhere, and modern day “Roman Ruins” overgrown with shrubs and trees. The tiny jail house remains and is guarded by a fat squirrel.

6. Carrizo Springs, Colorado

Carrizo Springs in the far southeastern corner of Colorado in remote Baca County was a very unusual place- It was a mining town on the great plains.  Around 1885 a group of prospectors from Missouri were looking for the Rocky Mountains and became lost as they traveled through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. When they had just about given up they saw hills and bluffs that they assumed were the Rocky Mountains. They began prospecting along Carrizo Creek and found some streaks of copper ore and a few streaks of silver as well. The Mexican ranchers in the area told the miners they were still a couple hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. The miners decided to stay at Carrizo Creek and soon word spread of their strike. Around 1887 the town of Carrizo Springs was born, and one account says 2000-3000 people flocked to the settlement. Carrizo Springs lived a short, violent life. Cattle rustlers and horse thieves wandered through town from Kansas and Texas, gamblers and prostitutes set up shop in the saloons, marauding bandidos all the way from Mexico terrorized the town on occasion. Soon though it was realized the copper and silver ore along Carrizo Creek was poor and the town vanished. By 1889 Carrizo Springs was empty having lived only two years.  Today it takes a very sharp eye to spot anything marking the site- A few crumbling stone foundations, a weathered hitching post here and there, and shards of broken glass and porcelain on the prairie are all that is left.  No period photos of Carrizo Springs exist.

I just returned from a short but satisfying trip through the San Luis Valley of Colorado and a small chunk of northern New Mexico between Taos and Chama. I was out to snap a few photos of the past- The faces of the forgotten and forlorn buildings of the region- A region still very much alive, but where the past coexists side-by-side with the present.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

There is a unique energy in this part of the world. I can not describe it, but things just look and feel “different” in some way as you travel down the lonely stretches of blacktop that run the length of the San Luis Valley and North-Central New Mexico. There is something about this area and it’s vast openness and sweeping views, the surreal aspect of the Great Sand Dunes butting up against the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Taos plateau and the great defile of the Rio Grande Gorge that rips through the middle of it- This is an area of intense natural beauty and quiet, peaceful, solitude. Some even say this is an area of supernatural or otherworldly energy- Cattle mutilations, UFO sightings, and the “Taos Hum” which reportedly only about 10% of people can hear, are evidence of this theory.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Along a back road in northern New Mexico

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Mosca, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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

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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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

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Garcia, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Abandoned Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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New Mexico

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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

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

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2016 Colorado Ghost Town Calendar by Jeff Eberle Only $14.99!

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2016 Historic Gilpin County Calendar by Jeff Eberle Only $14.99!

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No doubt about it Colorado is a wonderful place to live- It started around 10,000 years ago when the earliest ancestors of today’s Native Americans began coming to what is present day Colorado to enjoy the bounty of this wonderful region. We’ve had farmers, ranchers, miners, railroaders,tech wizards, musicians, nature lovers, skiers and snowboarders, and marijuana enthusiasts all flock here to set up roots. We have everything you could desire except for maybe a white sand beach and an ocean to surf in, but who needs that when you have the Rocky Mountains? In recent decades Colorado experienced a couple of distinct population booms which have drastically altered the look of the Front Range and seen the entire I-25 corridor from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs turn into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis.

Can Colorado's historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Can Colorado’s historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?

Colorado has had booms throughout it’s modern “American” history, which began when the Spanish conquistadors first came through the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. They told of the great natural wealth of the area, and a few hearty Spanish ranchers would lead their herds and flocks into what is now Colorado. Following the early Spaniards came fur traders of all origins, although the French showed a particular fondness for Colorado. On the tails of the fur trade came the prospectors who found gold in large quantities in 1859 which sparked the great “Colorado Gold Rush.” After the Gold Rush, Colorado had the silver boom of the 1870’s and 1880’s. The railroads provided work and a reason for even more to come here. Then we had the ranchers, farmers, and the industrialists with their mills a smelters for refining the ore mined in the mountains.

The first of the recent “modern era” booms came in the late 1980’s and 1990’s- What became known as the “Tech Boom” brought thousands to the state to work for the technology and computer giants based at the foot of the Rockies. Towards the end of the 1990’s the Tech Boom slowed and population growth in Colorado mellowed. Then, in recent years, Colorado has experienced another boom. Some of the new boom is more affluent people fleeing urban centers on the east and west coast, bringing their wealth to Colorado in search of quieter, less stressful living. And, like it or not, the other cause for the recent population spike in Colorado is the “Weed Boom” following the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

According to census statistics and projections found on the State of Colorado website colo.gov. the state has seen 16.9% increase in population since the year 2000- That’s around 1.6 million people in the last 15 years!  Growth in the early 2000’s was around 1.1% annually, increasing in the years 2010-2012 to around 1.5% annually. Following marijuana legalization the state has seen growth jump from 1.5% in 2012 to 1.75% currently, with a projection of 1.9% for 2016. According to studies conducted by CBS News, 60 Minutes and The Business Insider nearly 25% of those coming to Colorado since 2012 fall into the 18-34 year old age bracket. Denver proper is the 6th fastest growing city in the United States, and, overall, Colorado’s population growth is double the national average.

The urban sprawl of Denver...once described as

The urban sprawl of Denver…once described as “…a dusty little cow town on the plains…” now one of the Top 10 fastest growing cities in the United States. Denver’s rapid expansion has led to an influx of visitors to the mountains nearby.

This massive influx of over a 1.5 million new residents, many of whom are young and active, seeking fun and adventure in Colorado’s great outdoors, brings with it a burden on our National Forests Colorado was not prepared for. From lack of parking and facilities at hot spots such as the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Guanella Pass, Herman Gulch, etc., to traffic congestion on the weekends on nearly every road and trail on the east slope of the Continental Divide, Colorado’s mountains are groaning from the pressure.

Can we find a balance between the encroaching wants and desires of the modern world and the reminders of our past? How do we satisfy the the growing demand for “organized recreation” in our National Forests? By “organized recreation” I mean today’s weekender in the National Forest expects to find zip line tours, rafting trips, comfy “civilized” dude ranches with horseback rides, guided nature walks along groomed trails, lodges offering 5-star dining, and paved campgrounds with electrical hookups and flushing toilets…and maybe a few trails to take their ATV’s or mountain bikes out on in the afternoon. How do we accommodate those who want all the creature comforts of the city AND the great outdoors experience at the same time? Dying are the days of the outdoorsman who ventured into the back country in his beat up 4X4 with a can of Vienna Sausages, some beef jerky, a tent, fishing pole and some water.

Today’s Coloradan (native and new) is largely urban born and bred, with little or no real “back country” experience. This isn’t an attack on anyone, it’s just the plain truth. Colorado is urban these days, most of us are city people. And, for the most part, urban people, especially the younger ones, have not been raised on weekend camping trips to unknown spots deep in the mountains. As a result, they have not been taught to respect the wilderness. Protecting the environment to most modern city dwellers is putting your dog poop in plastic bag, attending a “Save the Whales” protest, or car-pooling to work- But when it comes to handling environmentalism in the wilderness close to home on the weekends, most would get failing grades for the path of garbage and destruction they leave behind when they transfer their city practices to the mountains.

In defense of the the urbanites flocking to Colorado they have come from cities that are no where near any wide open forest areas and/or mountains like we take for granted as native Coloradans. And, those who have come from areas where there were at least public recreation areas like parks and lakes, etc. they became accustomed to creature comforts like toilet facilities and trash cans. Many have never been exposed to back country camping where you are expected to clean up after yourself. “Pack it in, pack it out” the  well-known mantra of natives here, is an unknown concept to new arrivals who are accustomed to park rangers and waste management crews taking care of the debris field they leave in their wake.

Unfortunately, many of the historic sites within our National Forests and on BLM land open to the public are falling victim to those who come seeking weekend adventure and relaxation. Increasingly on my personal trips to the mining camps and ghost towns of the Rockies I’m finding more and more discouraging signs of modern man’s encroachment- old buildings stripped of their wood for use in camp fires, antique mining equipment shot full of holes or simply stolen from where it has sat for the last 100 years, graffitti scrawled into the walls of buildings and cabins, headstones toppled, vandalized or stolen from historic graveyards, evidence of 4X4’s and ATV’s going off designated trails and damaging sites and destroying wetlands. And trash, trash everywhere- plastic bottles, beer and liquor bottles, black trash bags full of garbage ripped open by animals and the contents strewn all over the surrounding mountainside. Yes, this has ALWAYS happened in modern times, but being someone who spends the majority of my time in these once hard to reach, remote places, it has really become an epidemic in the last five years or so as the population has surged, back country roads have been improved, and overall human pressure on the wilderness has increased.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I've seen similar too many times to count in recent years.

Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I’ve seen similar too many times to count in recent years. This illustrates the importance of teaching the “pack it in, pack it out” principle.

What can we do to help stop the destruction of Colorado’s history and forests? We must understand that most of the people in Colorado, native and new, don’t have much interest in the state’s history, and they don’t think twice about that old cabin or that rusty old boiler alongside the trail as they whizz by on their dirt bike. They’ve come for the trail, and the camping, not the cabin and the boiler. To them, it’s just “old junk” so what’s the big deal if they shoot it full of holes or tear boards off of it to throw in the campfire?  Some even think they are helping by tearing down old structures that they personally deem “unsafe.”

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.

The big deal to those of us who are history buffs, is that these piles of “old junk” represent Colorado’s past- Whether they be a Native American site or a rusty stamp mill at a mine, they are equally valuable and important to Colorado’s history, and they are protected by the law. They are our connection to the early days of the state, from the indigenous populations who once called Colorado home, to the hearty miners and prospectors, pioneers and trappers who set up roots here and helped create the fantastic state we live in today. These piles of “old junk” are their legacy to us, and are sacred to many of us, and are disappearing at an alarming rate from the forces of Nature, and sadly, the destructive forces of man.

History, not rubbish.

History, not rubbish.

As our mountains get more and more pressure from our growing population- both native and new, our past is being destroyed and lost forever. In recent decades we have lost entire historic sites to man’s destruction- The ghost town of Tiger was burned to the ground by the Forest Service in the 1970’s to rid it of the hippie colony that had squatted in the abandoned buildings. The simple marble tombstone of two-year-old Clara Dulaney who died in 1865, was stolen from the Missouri Flats site by some sick pervert in recent years. ALL of the tombstones have been stolen from the Caribou cemetery above Nederland.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.

Manhattan was torn down by the Forest Service because it was a “fire hazard.” We lost the old ghost town of Ninetyfour near St. Mary’s glacier to private owners who bought the land and built a custom home- This once public ghost town still stands, but is now off-limits to visitors, although you can still sneak a photo of the old post office with a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.

About a decade ago an annoying, immature, and inconsiderate radio host from Denver who could be described more accurately with the use of profanity, illegally held a 4X4 rally on clearly marked private land above the Hendricks Silver Mine near Nederland and destroyed a couple of acres of wetlands that the mine owner had spent many years rehabilitating and returning to health. American City and Baltimore above Central City had their historic buildings ripped down by developers and replaced with modern summer cabins and the sites have been closed off to the public.

Places like Dyersville which were long lost to history and found in an almost undisturbed state many decades later have fallen victim to vandals who destroy the cabins and loot the artifacts left at the site. In the subdivision of Ken Caryl Ranch many homeowners have long called for the demolition of the historic Bradford House (because it is an “eyesore” in their prestigious community) which was a stagecoach stop and Civil War era recruiting station, only through the efforts of a group of preservationists was the building allowed to remain. Near Cripple Creek, the old blacksmith shop and schoolhouse that marked the site of Anaconda were bulldozed around a year ago by the owners of  the Anglo Gold-Ashanti CCV gold mine in order to expand operations, when they could have easily and cheaply been moved and preserved among the other historic artifacts displayed in the area.  The buildings of Waldorf were lost to an arsonist a while back.

Old abandoned buildings...such a temptation to arsonists.

Old abandoned buildings…such a temptation to arsonists.

Countless numbers of old mining machines have been illegally hauled off hillsides and sold for scrap or put on the market in recent years to satisfy the desires of collectors, fashionable bar and restaurant owners, and interior designers capitalizing on the trend of “re-purposing” old industrial equipment. TV shows even glamorize and document the theft of historic artifacts that are in turn sold for profit.

In recent years, some City/County Governments, the EPA, and other environmentalist organizations have jumped in on the act and have taken great pride in trying to erase Colorado’s past as a mining state- Boulder County being a prime example- Boulder, along with the EPA has taken almost orgasmic pleasure in the destruction of old mining camps in the name of “restoration and environmental cleanup” as a result the numerous ghost towns and camps that dotted the hills above Boulder have been completely erased. Boulder County seems so vindictive of their past that it almost appears that they want to rewrite their own history and make no mention of the gold mining that created their present day. Boulder County even brazenly turned the historic Catholic Church in Ward into the community garbage collection and composting site for a few years, but recently they stopped this practice, although they still use the church to store road construction equipment. Magnolia, Lakewood, Balarat, Tungsten, Camp Tolcott, Camp Francis…the list of historic sites now lost in Boulder County goes on and on- How much longer will it be before Summerville is destroyed? And, lest we forget natural disasters out of our hands like the forest fires and floods of the last few years that took even more of Boulder County’s history- Soon there will be nothing left of Boulder County’s past.

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it's "unsightly" or "unsafe" and needs to be destroyed?

How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it’s “unsightly” or “unsafe” and needs to be destroyed?

One of those misguided souls who set out to “help” make Colorado “safer” wound up in Federal Court about 6 years ago, being sued for millions of dollars and looking at jail time, after he bulldozed an entire ghost town in the San Juan Mountains on public land!  His defense was he thought it was “unsafe” because people were stopping and taking photos of the tumbledown buildings- He truly felt in his own mind he was doing the right thing to protect public safety by destroying the ghost town!!!

Everyday historic sites across Colorado are demolished to make way for new housing, parking lots, resorts, luxury condos, ski runs, and the “organized recreation” the new Coloradan wants in favor of the “outback wilderness experience” many of us natives grew up on. But where does it stop? Where does our responsibility as Coloradans come in to play in the preservation and protection of our history and heritage? We can’t simply bulldoze, pave, and stripe off  the Rocky Mountains in the name of comfort, ease of access, and safety, which seems to be the desire of so many these days. There has to be, and needs to a disconnect between the modern world and the wilderness- That is what wilderness means.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and a sacred place to many.

Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and churches are sacred places to many.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880's. in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won't be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

Dyersville, dating to the 1880’s  in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won’t be long until Dyersville is totally gone.

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationsists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an

The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an “eyesore” in their opinion. This was Colorado’s Union recruiting station in the Civil War!

What can those of us that want to protect Colorado’s history do to stop this unfortunate destruction of our past?  There are Federal laws already in place that strictly prohibit taking, destroying, or metal detecting for any items or structures at historic sites over 50 years old. (I believe the law makes it a felony to metal detect at historic sites, and a felony to remove any item over 5 pounds, I’m not 100% sure though.) The problem with these laws, like most laws, are they are virtually unenforceable.  Who among us hasn’t taken home an old rusty nail, a bottle or a rusty can you found along the way? I know I have! These laws were designed to stop people from outright looting of historic sites like taking doors and windows, furnishings, machinery, and even grave robbing. Realistically, it’s not the nails and the tin cans the law set out to protect. There is absolutely no way the Forest Service can patrol every historic site in Colorado, and they shouldn’t have to. How can private citizens like most of us who consider ourselves “ghost towners” and amateur historians do anything to help?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes?

How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes? This is what the Federal laws protecting historic sites are designed to save, sadly the laws are hard to enforce.

There are many state and local historic preservation clubs and societies that exist that we can join, and many of them are actively taking steps to protect and preserve sites, but funding and time constraints limit the extent of their efforts. We can stay in contact with each other and share remote sites we’ve found, and make our own efforts to at least clean up the modern trash we find left at the sites by those who don’t care. We can lobby and request our lawmakers do something to protect more historic sites. But, all of this stuff has been done before, and clearly, it isn’t working well enough. The efforts are appreciated, but somehow more needs to be done to stop the onslaught of destruction. Too many people just don’t care, and somehow we need to change that.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.

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My only thought is those of us who do care and want to keep Colorado’s history in a state of “arrested decay” for future generations to enjoy, is that we spread the word to everyone we know. Just ask them to respect and appreciate the history that surrounds us in Colorado, the history that made Colorado what it is today. And, even if you don’t care about the history, just don’t destroy something for the sake of destroying it. Treat every old cabin and every old mine like a grave, and show it some reverence and respect. If you’re out and find a spot that has been trashed or vandalized, clean up the mess. If you see someone taking something from a site or defacing a structure, ask them to stop and explain that it’s not just “old junk”, it is Colorado’s past they are ruining, and it is protected by Federal laws. Take only photos to document the fading reminders of the past, even without man’s destruction and abuse, nature will soon swallow what little is left, we can preserve it forever through photographs and written descriptions.

The schoolhouse at Malta, preserved for future generations instead of destroyed.

The schoolhouse at Malta, the only structure left to mark the towns location, preserved for future generations instead of being destroyed or vandalized.

It is my greatest fear that in the very near future in Colorado our only historic sites and ghost towns will be turned into “pay-at-the-gate” tourist traps and fabrications made to look and feel old like Bodie and Calico in California. Colorado has a great wealth of free history to be found in the forests, but we have to educate the people using the forests these days not to destroy what they find. It might not make a bit of difference, but maybe if enough of us who care become active, and stop and explain the history of these places in a friendly manner to the people we find there, they will leave with a new found appreciation for what they viewed as merely “old junk”. I’ve done it a few times myself and I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from the people I’ve stopped and talked to. We just need to find some way to protect what is left and we should all exchange ideas and suggestions.

“Pay-at-the-gate” Calico, California, a largely fabricated ghost town tourist trap. Is this the future of Colorado? Let’s hope not, we’re better than this.

I was raised to respect the wilderness and whatever I might find lurking within the trees be it an animal, or an old cabin, or a mine shaft. There are just a few simple rules when enjoying the wilderness that all of us should remember and share with our friends. If we can just follow some basics the wilderness will be better for all of us:

-Treat every old cabin or structure like a grave. Look at it, explore it, but leave it as you found it, don’t vandalize or destroy it.

-Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in. Leave the forest better than you found it. Take out someone else’s trash along with your own and make the woods better for everyone.

-Keep your ATV, dirt bike or 4X4 on the trail, There are so many trails in Colorado it is unnecessary to go “make your own”, and keep them out of the wetlands and beaver ponds where they will do serious damage to the ecosystems.

-Don’t shoot your guns on holiday weekends when the forests are crawling with people. Don’t shoot into old buildings, vehicles or equipment you find, and don’t take your old TV’s to the woods to shoot!  (I’ve seen about 10,000 shot up TV’s in the past year and they make an awful mess!) We recently had an innocent man enjoying a campfire with his family die due to a stray bullet fired irresponsibly on the 4th of July weekend. Discharging firearms within 150 yards of ANY road, dirt or paved in the National Forest is illegal, please exercise your gun rights responsibly. If all of us gun owners act responsibly fewer people will attack our rights, it’s common sense. Go above and beyond with your gun safety in the woods and never fire over a hill, into the air, or on a busy weekend or holiday when others are camping in close proximity.

-If you are on the trail use trail etiquette and always yield to allow the vehicle coming uphill the right of way.

-Never kill an animal unless you are going to eat it.

-Always put your campfire completely out. Douse it in water, bury it in dirt.

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics...disgusting!

Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics…disgusting!

We all have the right to access and enjoy our National Forests, but like every right, there comes responsibilities as well.

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don't destroy it!

Colorado History- Enjoy it, don’t destroy it!

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

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

Old homestead on Highway 9

Old homestead on Highway 9

Elk skull near the homestead

Elk skull near the homestead

 

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

Winchester Buildimng, Kremmling

Winchester Buildimng, Kremmling

 

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

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

Old Park

 

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

Rock Creek Stage Station

Rock Creek Stage Station

 

Inside stage station

Inside stage station

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

Toponas, the sleeping mountain lion

Toponas, the sleeping mountain lion

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

The Royal Hotel, Yampa

The Royal Hotel, Yampa

The Antlers Cafe

The Antlers Cafe

Crossan's General Store, Yampa

Crossan’s General Store, Yampa

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Yampa

1907 Yampa Jail

1907 Yampa Jail

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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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

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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

 

Early last September I made a solo voyage into the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. Armed with my cheap camera, a few maps, and enough “magic plastic” to ensure I wouldn’t run out of gas, I headed to parts unknown.

I had been to the San Juans once as a child and didn’t remember much, I did remember they were rugged and beautiful and unlike the other mountain ranges in Colorado.

Weaving my way through a never ending maze of road construction and detours which, historically, plague Colorado every summer do to myopic government bureaucrats, I finally made it to Silverton…nearly five hours behind schedule. Silverton would be my base camp for the night before I set out in the morning for the fabled ghost town of Animas Forks.

One of the many great old buildings in Silverton.

One of the many great old buildings in Silverton.

I stopped by the historic “Bent Elbow Saloon and Restaurant” and managed to score the last chunk of prime rib, a bowl of the second best potato soup I’ve ever had, and cold beer right before they closed up for the night. As the staff cleaned up for the night, I watched a group of  middle-aged Polish tourists take numerous shots of hard liquor and toast all things big and small in the world, which is the jovial custom of most eastern European cultures. The Poles left and as I finished up my dinner their laughter and merriment could be heard fading away as they walked down the dark and dusty main street of Silverton. I tipped the bartender and made my way back to my motel room.

Silverton

Silverton

The next day after a simple, but great breakfast at “Mattie & Maude’s”, I hopped in my Dodge Charger R/T and began my quest for Animas Forks. My maps showed the road to be dirt, but maintained, I had read several accounts stating the road could be navigated in a 2-wheel drive vehicle…then again I had read several more stating a 4X4 was required to make it in to Animas Forks. I figured I’d give it a shot.

I had been warned the night before that a few days earlier snow had made the road in to Animas Forks impassable, and that I should proceed with great caution because the steep, narrow road drops off sharply into the gorge of the “Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio” (the River of Lost Souls in Purgatory” or, as it is called today the “Las Animas”.  But, I’m young…well, not really anymore, but I’m not quite “old” yet, headstrong and tend to make stupid decisions when I’m on a “quest”.

 

Anyhow, I began my climb up the road towards Animas Forks in my Charger- a 2-wheel drive, high-performance street car with very little ground clearance.  I covered the first 8 or 9 miles with ease, the road was flat and level and was well-graded, then the road rose sharply towards the sky and became very narrow as it began the climb towards Animas Forks and entered the gorge of the river.  A few hundred yards up the incline a large sign warned “4X4 TRAIL BEYOND THIS POINT. HIGH GROUND CLEARANCE REQUIRED”    My heart sunk…piss!  I had driven halfway across the state and had suffered through the indignity of waiting in road construction all day the day previous, only to make it to within 3 miles of Animas Forks to find out I needed a 4X4!!!

The road to Animas Forks before the steep ascent

The road to Animas Forks before the steep ascent

 

I made the executive decision to go on- one of two things was going to happen, I would make it in to Animas Forks in the Dodge, or I would get stuck trying. Luckily for me, I made it in, experiencing only one slight “ah-shit” along the way, when I scraped hard over some rocks that had come down in the snowstorm a few days earlier, which resulted in a dented muffler and a slightly different exhaust note on the Dodge.

 

I made it in to Animas Forks, truly “a ghost town above the rest”  situated at timberline at roughly 11,200 feet elevation.  Animas Forks once boasted itself to be “the highest city in the world” but that was just the farcical dream of the locals…the town is however way the heck up there, and if you have bad lungs or are a flatlander from the midwest, you’re bound to get altitude sickness and spend the day feeling like you drank a bottle of cheap vodka the night before.

My First Look At Animas Forks, Way Up at 11,200 feet!

My First Look At Animas Forks, Way Up at 11,200 feet!

The mine at Animas Forks

The mine at Animas Forks

Cabin at Animas Forks

Cabin at Animas Forks

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Animas Forks is well preserved- partially by the climate, partially by it’s inaccessible location, and partially by man.  I was thrilled to see so many structures in such a fine state of preservation, but I was somewhat saddened to see “The Walsh House” had been fully renovated and preserved by a historic society in recent years. Many of the photos you find of “The Walsh House” show a ghostly, abandoned two-story Victorian with a large bay window looking out over the mine across the creek.  “The Walsh House” now sports plexiglass windows, refurbished or replaced siding, and a gaudy coat of “Forest Service” brown stain has been slopped on every square inch of the structure. I understand this was done to preserve the home for future generations to enjoy, and I truly admire the hard work that went in to restoring the home, but it doesn’t look “right” in the middle of a decaying ghost town.  It’s photographic appeal has been severely diminished in my opinion, but still is a very worthy subject.

The Walsh House

The Walsh House

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I spent the morning walking around Animas Forks, checking out each building, snapping photos, and taking a walk through “The Walsh House” which is open for public exploration, and is nice place to escape the cold winds…even if it is that damn modern plexiglass keeping the wind away!

Inside the Walsh House

Inside the Walsh House

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I returned to my Charger and began my descent back down the valley to Silverton. As I rounded the first bend in the road I pulled off the shoulder to let a pair of heavily outfitted Jeeps up the hill.  As they slowly navigated the rocky road past me, their occupants stared out the window in bewilderment at the sight of the crazy man smiling at them from his two-wheel drive city sports car.  One guy even shook his head and gave me a thumbs up. I waved and made my way on down the hill back to Silverton and rambled on down the road to the next stop on my journey.

The Dodge on the "4X4" road to Animas Forks

The Dodge on the “4X4” road to Animas Forks

Lonely Cabin High on the Hillside

Lonely Cabin High on the Hillside

Old suspension bridge over the Las Animas River

Old suspension bridge over the Las Animas River