Posts Tagged ‘Ghost Towns’

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

 

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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

 

 

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

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

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 A crumbling adobe building with an outdated radio tower in disrepair.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

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

 

The residential district of Model 1913

The residential district of Model 1913

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

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Model 1913 General Store

Model 1913 General Store

Model 1913 General Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Adobe shack in Model 1913

Adobe shack in Model 1913

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

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

All canvasses displayed measure 3 feet by 4 feet.

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Cripple Creek, Colorado is a fantastic town filled with legends and lore dating back to the gold rush that swept the area in the late 1800’s.  The town, like all “Wild West” towns and mining camps had it’s fair share of tragedy, violence and intrigue.  Cripple Creek even burned to the ground twice, as was rebuilt from the ashes.

Cripple Creek’s history mirrors that of so many other mining towns of the west- Boom or Bust. Good or Bad. For most of the 20th Century Cripple Creek lay dormant, nearly a ghost town, with only a few hearty folks still lingering in town, scratching at the rocks for a few specks of gold, and selling novelty bric-a-brac to tourists passing through.  More often than not the pack of wild burros that roamed the streets of Cripple Creek outnumbered the human types in town.

In the 1990’s “limited stakes gaming” was legalized in Colorado…and by “limited stakes gaming” I mean gold old fashioned gambling.  Cripple Creek latched on to the idea and was reborn through the investment of casino operators and the revenue generated by the gamblers that flocked there on the weekends.

Cripple Creek today is still enjoying it’s rebirth as gambling town, and it has also managed to keep it’s “mining camp of the west” charm. Gamblers and tourists alike flock to Cripple Creek on the weekends, and, on most sunny days the wild burros still roam the sidewalks and streets of town. If you have trouble finding them, just sniff the breeze for a minute or two and you’ll soon know where to look, there’s an old mangy looking white one that is particularly pungent, but he’s real friendly and will let you pet him.

On my last couple of visits to Cripple Creek I have been drawn to a remarkable old house, left abandoned many years ago on top of a hill just west of the business district. It is a beautiful home, even in it’s decayed and neglected state. A testimonial to the craftsmanship of yesterday. It is a sturdy log structure, two stories tall, with two neatly peaked windows on the second floor. The upper level is finished in fish scale shingling, while the lower portion of the home is rough log.  It’s hands down my favorite abandoned house in the State of Colorado.

While working with my latest batch of Cripple Creek photos, I noticed something unusual in one of the photos I took of this exceptional house-

In the doorway, there appears to be a middle-aged or elderly man, dressed in the clothes of the day (1890’s), back to the camera, with hands crossed behind him. He appears to be bald on the top, with hair around the sides and back of his head, and possibly even a long beard is present. He appears to be wearing a 3/4 length dark jacket with high collar, and he is looking slightly to the right and down, as if lost in deep thought.  His impression is clearer towards the right, and fades to the left.

I have visited and photographed  numerous ghost towns, abandoned buildings, graveyards, etc. over the years, but this is the first image of a spirit I can say I have ever captured on film.  I am a believer in the paranormal, but not a fanatic or a preacher of the paranormal- I don’t seek out ghosts and ghost stories, and I don’t try to convert others to become believers.

I have a simple philosophy- I know spirits exist, I have felt them around me in various places and at various times in my life. I leave them alone, and they leave me alone. No one can say for sure what is on the “other side” or why, perhaps, a spirit gets stuck or chooses to stay on “this side”, these questions are best left unasked and unanswered, mankind does not need to know everything.

Below is my photo of “The Old Man in the Door” at Cripple Creek, Colorado, and an enlargement.

Who he is and what he is pondering I will never know, and don’t care to know.

"The Old Man"

“The Old Man”

Closeup of "The Old Man" wih his back to the camera, hands folded behind him, dark coat with collar, looking slightly right and down with beard and balding head.

Closeup of “The Old Man” wih his back to the camera, hands folded behind him, dark coat with collar, looking slightly right and down with beard and balding head.

 

There is a famous old building located along the Crystal River, along a hellish and brutal 4X4 trail seven miles above Marble, Colorado. Nestled in a  remote and remarkably beautiful canyon is the Crystal City turbine house and the accompanying ghost town of the same name.

The turbine house is a favorite target of photographers and tourists in the area and it is truly a fantastic structure dating back to 1893.  The turbine house has graced the pages of many Colorado ghost town books and travel brochures, but few actually know what the odd building sitting on the edge of the cliff overlooking the turquoise waters below is.  Some identify it as a pump house, others say a water wheel used to accompany the structure.

Actually, the photogenic building was a hydroelectric power plant built in 1893.  The “ladder” (as described by many) that leads down to the Crystal River below housed a shaft that was in turn spun by the current of the river. The rotation of the shaft spun a turbine which generated electricity inside the building sitting on the cliff. The electricity produced provided power for the isolated town of Crystal City.

Today, most people stop at the turbine house take a few photos and turn around to brave the harrowing 7-mile 4X4 trek back to Marble, Colorado.  But continuing on past the turbine house you’ll find the remains of Crystal City, and even one or two summer time residents.

Below is a “then” and “now” photo of the turbine house at Crystal City, Colorado as well as photos of the little known ghost town above the turbine house.  All photos were taken by me last fall.

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Just southwest of Leadville, Colorado, shortly after you drive through  the dingy black slag piles and the tumbledown buildings of Stringtown (Leadville’s smelter community during the mining days) a sharp eye will notice a beautiful red and white schoolhouse standing forlorn on the side of the highway.

This is the last remnant of Malta, Colorado, a once important town in the silver boom years in the region. The schoolhouse was built in 1902, and has stood the test of time. The rest of the town and it’s residents are long gone, but the old schoolhouse still remains to mark the spot of Malta.

Schoolhouse at Malta

Schoolhouse at Malta

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