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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Arlington

 

Number of years ago, I had been writing for a monthly paper/magazine in Denver.  On occasion I would write about some of the small towns on the plains, most had become ghost towns.  A reader wrote in to me saying I should write about her little town of Arlington.  Sure a I figured, it should be no problem.

I look up where Arlington is.  As the crow flies, a couple hours over that a way.  As the road goes, just over three hours.  I had been through there a few months earlier for a meeting.  On the way home I drove right through the place, at 0 dark thirty.  Only saw the lights of the ranch home there.  Otherwise passed it in a blink.

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It was one of those things I did not do right away because of where it was.  I put it in the mind back and figured some day I would go down through there again.  Well, that day arrived a few weeks ago.  There was talk that a scrapper was down there getting ready to pull the rails up.  I wanted some pictures and a story.  So off I went.

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When I got down there, there wasn’t any work going on the tracks but the once little town of Arlington awaited. 

I had also heard that there were some local people that wanted to but the church and fix it up and maybe restore it. 

There was a small roadside park that greeted me, nice tall shade trees and across the road was the ranch house.  Looked like ther may have been and emporium there at one time for passing travelers.  It is a busy road, about one car every 10 minutes. 

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Over on the NE corner of town stood the old church, barley hanging on.  I could see why the owner didn’t to sell.  It looked like a junkyard and Junkers want big dollars for their junk and have a hard time selling. 

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Things like this get maddening for some, they want to fix it up yet it is the owners storage for his junk.  I have seen it many other little towns. 

There are about 6 square blocks of the town and a couple of other shacks are standing and there is one home still in the village.

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This little house shows why so many left the plains, the Dirty 30’s.  Blow dirt piled up along the fence line.  Crops were destroyed by the dust, livestock died and it was a struggle to survive.  Many a settler packed up back then and left.  The dust Bowl created a terrible time for many and there is not much left from that era. 

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Around the town are various rubble piles, foundations, cellars and steps leading into nothing. 

The drought comes around now but the dust is mild compared to the 30’s.  People go about their business but the little burgs like Arlington are settling in the forgotten history pages.

Pause on a street corner, listen to the song of the prairie moan over the land.  Here there were dreams.  Owning their own land.  Starting a new life.  The lullaby reached to the clouds, many a person followed their dream to watch it disappear.

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Tenaciously a few cling to the land.  Living the dream, now their company is the ghosts of the past. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fondis,CO

 

Tucked away in the rolling hills of Eastern Colorado are the remains of a Fondis.  A once thriving ranching, logging community.  There are a few building still standing and a couple of families still inhabit a couple of the old buildings. The corner church has been made into a nice home and one of ranch houses if fixed up. 

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Located at the end of a T intersection, Fondis looks like a mountain town.  Yet it is on the high plains of Eastern Colorado.  Here the elevation ranges between 6000’ to 8500’,  Keeping the summers cool but a cold snowy winters.  The growing season is short, so not much farming but with the winter snows it is great tree country.

Tall majestic Ponderosa reach to the tickle the clouds, lodge pole clamor for their space.  Cattle graze the rich grasses in the meadows and Fondis grew up to meet the needs of these people.  There were numerous lumber mills in the area and the lumber was being hauled to the cities along the Front Range.  Well didn't the mountains to the west have trees, one would think.  Yes they did but they were scrawny and not ideal trees.  The slopes of the mountains were to steep for holding much soil or moisture and in the meadows not much grew there.  As Denver grew the demand for lumber grew.  It was a busy time on the plains. 

Times change, luber was cheaper from other parts of the country and there was not enough ranching to support the local businesses. 

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The General Store now looks across and empty valley.  A state of disrepair from neglect.  Time blown winds rattle through the vacant windows.  Snow howls through the openings, beating the store down.  A silent sentential it overlooks yesterday.

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Across the street stands another abandoned store.  It appears to of been used longer and had some care.  Someone has bought the land behind and began building a compound.  The lot next door has been dug out and will weaken the foundation of the old structure.  With the ravages of nature and the fiddling of man it will probably soon be a rubble pile in its cellar.

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Down the road further is another building.  It appears it had some recent care but now sits empty.  Many people dream of living in places like this and fix them up, only to find out how hard it is to live in the country and at times be isolated.  Unless a person is ready to live without electricity for a few days.  Winter can be pretty tough on the unprepared.  There are not stores within several miles and the nearest neighbors are way over there. 

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It is an interesting place to go out of the way to visit.  The ride is nice, through forested rolling hills, albeit dirt roads.  Most changes are for the deteriorations of the area.  Although the corner church residence has gotten a new coat of paint since when I drove through here some years back. 

Being on the eastern plains, few city folks venture out.  Dirt roads also give many to pause.  It is nice though to travel the roads and only meet the occasional car. 

There are few other old structures in the town, some real neat ranches in the area and oh yeah.  Over that a way a few miles in another ghost town and down that a way are some other old relics and couple of other ghost towns.  Maps talk so much more then the hi-tech of GPS.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Wonder Tower

 

Sitting on a ridge in eastern Colorado is the Genoa Tower.  At an elevation of almost 6000 feet its claim was one could see six states from the tower roof top. 

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It was built in the 1920’s as a roadside attraction.  America was discovering the car and traveling cross country in their automobiles.  Being on the ridge top the tower was sitting at an abundant spot for break downs.  Up the hill the tin lizzies would chug, spurting steam out the radiator.  It was a tough climb for the early cars and the builder of the stop was sharp enough to understand this.

The view in the pictures is the backside.  Old highway 24 went on the other side.  This the hillside where a prairie zoo tour was built.  There was a sequence of three hills for the early day traveler to navigate with each one a bit higher.  Many an early day traveler was ready for a break and the tower beckoned.

It was until Ripley’s Believe It or Not did a blub on the Wonder Tower that it gained International fame.  After that there were travelers that would stop at the place of wonder and see if they could see the six states from the top. 

The tower was added on to, there was a gift shop, coffee shop, service station, curiosities and the prairie animal collection.  The cross country bus would stop here here for breaks or lunch.  The driver used got comped a meal for stopping and the bus travelers would spend some money in the shops.

It was nice little businesses out on the high plains.  Across the country, travelers sent post cards, stories were written.  Its fame was growing over the land.

The west bound travelers were treated to an awe inspiring view of Pikes Peak from the summit of the ridge.  The east bound motorists wanted a break after struggling up the hills, that many referred to as a mountain. 

Then the highway department decided to straighten out the road and eliminate the little hills and have one big swooping hill.  To do that, the highway had to go wide of the tower and it was built as a four lane road.  Making access difficult.  Then a few years later the Interstate was built, isolating the prairie icon.  No longer were weary travelers passing by, they now whizzed by on the high speed roadway. 

For a time the Wonder Tower set vacant on the high ridge.  Then it was purchased by a character, that operated it as a part time operation of a museum and curio shop.  He had a very distinctive style and there were a few that would stop in just o hear what stories he had to tell that day.  He was also an arrowhead hunter and amateur archeologist.  Soon the main building and the adjoining rooms were full of arrow heads and assorted antiques. 

Groups would schedule torus out from the city to look at his collection of stuff and occasionally buy some arrowheads.  It had become a crusty looking business, weather beaten, looking on the brink of collapse and rather dangerous looking but people still stopped in.  Not by the droves but sporadic. 

As he grew older, there were numerous people who offered to buy the place.  The offers were refused and he kept the place open, even after he came down with cancer.  A battle he did not win.  He passed away just over a year ago. 

None of his children showed any interest in operating the place so after his death, it was closed. 

The process of going through and clearing thing out began.  Stuff was loaded up and hauled to an auction.  The money garnered was significant and eye opener for the children.  They always thought he had no money.  He had squirrelled away cash they were finding and the money from the auction was a surprise.  All of a sudden there was some interest in reopening the place… but.

They still have an on site auction scheduled in the middle of September.  One of his daughters if fighting cancer and apparently wants the money.  There is the family dynamics going also.

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What will happen after the auction is a big question mark.  It is a local land mark that is known throughout the country.  Some locals are trying to persuade the family to sell it or keep the place open. One of the biggest struggles is money for preservation. 

It is a puce of early americana that has survived many a storm throughout the years.  To lose it for some is like losing a part of them. 

Along the ridge are numerous springs.  Indian camp sites have been found in the area.  There are tepee rings and fire pits.  It was a great area for buffalo to graze and the water made it a place for Indians.  Indian artifacts have been found in the area.  Here is a place that is very unique and the history that surrounds it is beyond peer. 

Right now it is destined to become a hollow ghost rather a walking talking ghost.  The near by town of Genoa is a ghost.  The Interstate isolate the little prairie burg and it has settled into the dust.  Only one business left unless you count the part time post office and town hall. 

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This is where the old highway used to be.

Is it doomed for dust or will it rise from the past?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Following the old Roads

 

The railroad went across the Arkansas Valley in the 1870’s,building towards the pacific Ocean.  As rails were laid, stops were made to service the engines and replenish.  Many of these stops became towns along the way.  Providing business for the railroad.

The roads followed the tracks and became highways.  Then the highway department in all their wisdom, realigned the highways.  In so doing, many of these little towns were left high and dry and eventually did dry up. 

Some of these old roadways are still in use today, as a country dirt road. 

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I love to find them and follow along.  There usually remains or other bits and pieces left from what have now become ghost towns.  The old telegraph poles float across the land, the new utility lines follow on the other side, occasionally.  It is time throwback.  Here is what granpa and granma had when they first traveled out west.  It kind of becomes a melancholy ride, yet the sense of adventure is there.  What lies ahead, what is around the bend?  onwards I travel.

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There are diversions and treats ahead.  The car bounces over the roadbed, dust boiling up, windows flash up for passing vehicle and the cloud of dust.  The dust still sifts into the car becoming a dust collector. 

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What had been a store still stands, someone had taken care of it.  The water tower back behind, a few homes near by.  Over by the shed someone works on equipment.  Foundations line the tracks, dust bunnies swirl over the ground.  The land is quiet, times hav3e passed this little burg and the people have departed.   Emptiness is the air. 

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Further down the road are the homes of a few that have clung to their dreams.  An abandoned barn marks the time when things were different.  It is a journey back in to another era.  When life was different yet the same. 

The road winds next to the rails, crossing over to the other side.  Ahead are more ghosts waiting for my discovery. 

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High over head the railroad spans a side creek.  The road now winds back under the tracks.  Yet over there is another village that got left behind when the highway was moved.  Up the ridge, over a couple of ruts past a ranch house and ahead is the corner of main and main street.  Now vacant the stores whistle a tune from another day when they were a lively enterprise. 

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The empty storefronts look over and empty lot, where horses and wagons once parked.  The few remaining residents travel a good distance to the nearest town for shopping.  The corner store now collects dust on its counters, critters of dust float on the shelves and the cash register sits vacant. 

What are their stories?  In the back can be seen the living quarters.  Life was lived out in the little store until the highway went away. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Indian Burial/Pyres …..

 

It is interesting how things get twisted and distorted for personal selfishness.  Living in the middle of the Wild West Indian country I see a lots of it.Back in the early 1800’s the land around here was declared a reservation.  With the onslaught of gold seekers, settlers and other types, the reservation was forgotten.  The railroad got lots of the Indian land, the ranchers, then the homesteaders.   All settled on Indian land, it became their property, not the Indians. 

Over the years, various Indian groups have used this to leverage things from the government.  One of their  favorite tools was to declare certain spots of land, Sacred Ground or burial ground.  In most cases it has worked.  The apologists have given into the Indian demands.  Yet on close investigation, it was found there were no Indians buried there and there were no artifacts in the area.  They did find the bones of children the Indians had killed from an attack on the European settlers….. oops.

Yet when one thinks about things, very few Indians buried their dead.  Most of the dead were cremated, a funeral pyre.

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This barren empty prairie at one time was covered with buffalo and the sand creek had warder in it.  Here the Indians would camp out hunting buffalo.  The buffalo was a mainstay for the Indians survival.  Not only did it provide meat, the buffalo was also shelter and warmth in the winter. 

Besides the Indians following the buffalo, the wolves did also.  The wolves would cull out the weak and sick buffalo and if they could a buffalo calf.  If the Indian hunt was successful, the wolves would circle around wanting a part of an easy meal.

It was a dangerous life on the plains.  There were dangers and the Indian would meet his demise at the hands of many things, raging animals, bad food, snake bites or.  Rather then bury their dead and hope the wolves don’t dig them up.  They would cremate them  The funeral pyre was a ritual for the Indian family.  It also protected their dead family members from being gnawed up by wolves.

So when burial sites are mentioned, I question the veracity of the statement.  Oh, yes there are burial sites that have been found.  Yet what the archeologists have unearthed looks more like a dumping pile, mass gravesite.  A few have been elaborate burials, IE, a chief, brave warrior or medicine man. 

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The lone tree over there, is a at a small spring.  In the area, thousands of artifacts have been found, spear points, scrapers, grinders and the quintessential arrowhead.  Up on the hill can be seen the fence line of the rancher.  On the banks of the river on can imagine the Indian sitting on the hill side watching the buffalo graze.  Chipping away hat his arrowheads, fletching the arrows, attaching the arrow tips to the shaft, getting ready for the big hunt. 

Nearby is his family doing the same.  Soon down below there will be a stealth hunt of the buffalo.  Arrows at close range, driving into the hide of the buffalo(s), Soon the beast collapses to the ground.  Spear in hand, the Indian runs up, driving the spear point deep into the buffalos chest.  He goes off to help his family with their kill.  Soon there are mounds laying on the ground.  The women scurry over to begin helping with the processing of the buffalo. 

The hide is removed and stretched to dry and tan.  The meat is stripped off to dry or for pemmican.  Near by the wolves are circling and sniffing.  Soon it will be a battle with the wolves.  Some distance away is an isolated buffalo, skinned.  It is left for the wolves to gnaw on and also make easy targets for the Indian's arrow.  On far ridge can be seen smoke rising from a pyre. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Elbert…. A reviving ghost

 

 

Out on the prairie is the little town of Elbert.  Nestled on the valley of an interment creek, surrounded by towering pines. It has a nice setting on the wooded plains but it faded into almost oblivion. 

Its beginnings were as a lumber camp in the 1840’s.  A man by the name of Gomer had numerous sawmills in the area and a Post Office was established for the woodsmen. 

In the late 1880’s a railroad was pushed through the area.  The goal was the lumber mills and further south was some coal mines.  The town of Elbert was established and a stop for the Denver and New Orleans Railroad.  During this time the town grew and prospered.

The trains brought in goods and supplies and lumber was shipped out.  There was good commerce and Elbert became a weekend tourist town.  On weekends there were special excursion trains from Denver to the cool hills around the area.  A pavilion was built for the city people escaping the heat of the city.  There were concerts, games and picnics.

Life was good in the little country town.  Then the railroad went into receivership and some of the commerce was dropped but the town kept going.

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An early chain store, was located in numerous towns in Eastern Colorado.  It is still used today as a community center and monthly Pancake breakfast.

It took Mother Nature to bring the little town down.  The summer of 1935 the clouds opened up and washed the parries clean.  Small streams were raging torrents and Elbert was washed away.  The railroad tracks were gone.  On the higher banks some of the building survived.  Yet many had water damage. 

The railroad did not rebuild the ruined tracks.  Instead they shifted their trains to the west on other rails they owned.  The ghosts were knocking at the town gates.  No longer was the whistle of the trains echoing down the valley.  The saw mills were silent and the tumbleweeds rolled down main street.

There was some ranching in the area that helped to keep Elbert going but most of the businesses were gone.  For a few it was still a weekend destination.  The roar of motorcycles' livened up the city on Weekends.  There was a watering hole for them. 

As time marched on the fingers of urban life stretched out and people moved to the area and commuted to the big city.  Couple more businesses opened and a new school was built. 

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The ghosts of the town now had company.  No longer was the tumbleweed the only traveler on main street.  Some of the old homes were fixed up.  New homes were built and a new town is emerging.

The General Store gas station now has customers.  The nearby scout camp has more neighbors.  A new life ambles along the streets.  There are no longer the clacking of railroad wheels bringing city folks in for the weekend.  It is now the noisy silence of the burbs.  In between the screech of tires, the flying wheels to the whispering pines. 

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On Boot Hill, the early settlers and pioneers look down on the silent creek that washed their town away. 

 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Annual Fair

 

Once a year the County Fair rolls around.  A time for people to show off their work for the year.  Work of the hands, the canning, sewing and decorations.  The gardening and its fruits, a fashion show of hand made clothing and there are kinds of projects the youngsters made for their 4H project of FFA. Out in the barnyard are the animals.  The rabbits, goats, bleating sheep and the cattle, the pigs lounge around oblivious to the racket.  There are concession stands of buffalo burgers, shaved ice, homemade pie a la mode and the the western gear, saddles, spurs, bits etc.  It is a busy place a people scramble around wanting to be here or over there.

For some this is a culmination of a years work.  here is everything in the basket.  Do good here and they go on to the State Fair.  There the rewards are even greater.  Mom and Dad hovering over their little ones, grandpa helping, grandma encouraging.  There are sometimes four generations involved in their family at the fair.  It is a life style that is fading into the back pages and even ignored.  Yet in the small towns it comes to life once a year and the heritage of the pioneers is celebrated again. 

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The animals get special attention, whether for the rodeo or the show.  Many of the little people showing their best work, sometimes show up in the arena riding in the rodeo.  It is a rough and tumble life, dirt gets stirred up, manure is made to step in and things go spatter.  Pack the home up, go spend a week at the fair.

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There are the trophies from years past that shine on.  The result of training in the early days of going to the fair.  Learning how to work with the animals.  Understanding the nutrition for different animals.  How to train for their specific purpose.  It is a lifestyle that linger on over the years. 

 

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With patience, they await their turn in the spotlight. 

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Next year, many will return.