Saturday, March 25, 2017

Down In the SE Corner



Vilas, Colorado
            A small village, located in the far southeastern corner of Colorado, near the Oklahoma Panhandle and Kansas border.  It has survived the Dust Bowl and the other farming downturns over the past century.  Founded in 1888, Vilas began life as a ranching community but with the flat rolling land, it soon became farm land.  Today it has a population of just over 100 hardy souls.  The school is still active and that is probably what keeps the little town going. 
            Main Street is vacant, lined with vacant stores from another era.  Even the garage and cafĂ© appear to be closed.  The Post Office still flies the flag and the sounds of children echo across the village at recess time.  Otherwise one could hear a pin drop on the pavement leading into to town, it is that quiet and peaceful. 





The town sits a good distance off the highway and out there is where the grain elevators are located.  No longer do the rails get polished by trains.  The railroad stopped service some years ago. 
Vilas has become one of the wide spots on the highway from somewhere to over there.  Cars and trucks zoom past with the occasional local slowing down to go home. 


Vilas is becoming a classic ghost town, with a few residents.  Most of the store fronts along main are still standing, most overgrown with trees and weeds.  One of the stores has 1886 marked on its roofline.  It appears that most of the other stores lining the street were also built during the late 1800’s.  They are small, functional buildings and most around 400-600 square feet. 



In other towns, the old buildings on main street were burned down during a town fire.  Making the new stores bigger and usually made of brick.  In Vilas it appears there was not a major fire in downtown that burned up half of the town.  Here is a throwback to what many little towns on the prairie looked like during their early days.  


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ghosts on the Prairie




Abbott, Colorado
            Abbott, CO, is a small ranching and farming community is southern Washington County. The history map shows the first Post Office being established 1887 near where the church is located.   There is also a ranch house nearby, where the PO was located.  It is along the Deertrail wagon road and there are 3 other locations show for Abbott.  Another location for Abbott is a few miles north and showing the mail contract in 1924, 
            Today the land is pretty empty, a few homes dot the area but there are more abandoned homes lying in ruin.  Sometimes it is but a few trees marking where the homestead had been.  Small creeks run across the land and the occasional spring forms small ponds for wildlife and being attractive to the settler of the 1800’s. 
            Homesteading on the Colorado prairie during the late 1800’s was not very successful.  A quarter section of land would not provide much of a living for the farmer back then and most homesteaders failed.  The few that made it were cattlemen and the area around Abbott is mostly ranch land.  It is rolling hills of pasture and some hay fields.  So it is understandable why the 1887 post office would have survived. 
            Being along a wagon road helped the community also.  Supplies would of moved along this route, for the stores that served the community.  The land has not changed much in the past 100 plus years.  One can sit on a ridge overlooking the small valley and hear the creak of wagon wheels as they made their way along the route.  Cattle would have dotted the land, very few fences back then, the antelope would have stood on the horizon watching the traveler make its way over the short grass prairie. 


            The Abbott Church sits on a knoll overlooking a small creek.  A few trees have survived along the banks and the greener grass shows where the water runs along.  The view the other way is to rolling land falling away to the horizon.  The church is on one of those half section roads and one has to zig then zag a bit to get down the country road to get to it. 



            Riding along the dusty road, one climbs up a small hill and in the distance can be seen the church.  Very diminutive building that dominates the land with its distinctive steeple.  Here the local people gathered for celebrations, Weddings, funerals, baptisms, Sunday church and the potluck. 
            Today the little country church sits silent, a reminder of other days.  The pews are dusty, the pulpit awaits the preacher, the bell in the steeple sits at the ready. 
            Nearby is the cemetery and it is still used by a few.  It is unusual in that it is on a sloping hill going away from the church.  Down among the grasses are a variety of markers, some unmarked, with wild flowers and overgrown grasses. 

            The occasional breezes caress the land, ruffling the grasses, rearranging the dust, it is a land that has not changed much.  Yet it has, no longer are there the shuffling of feet in to the church, the laughter rolling out across the land, nor the conversations the day’s news. 


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Hiding in the Breaks

The Last Indian Village



            Tucked back in the Limon Breaks was a small band of Indians that refused to go to the reservation.  They managed to stay out of the governments’ sights until the 1940’s, the beginning of WWII.  The breaks is a rugged wilderness of steep ravines, gullies and canyons, dotted with thick stands of cedars, pines and scrub brush.  At an elevation that ranges from 6000 feet to almost 8000 feet, not many people settled in the breaks. 
            It was too rugged for large scale farming and the weather makes for some nasty winters and springs.  This type of landscape made for a great place to Indians to live and thrive. 
            Scattered among the hills are numerous springs, feeding small streams.  It is a haven for wildlife, there was water, ample feed and protection down in the ravine bottoms.  This was great buffalo country and the Indians had been coming to the area for centuries.  There are caves among the cliffs, providing shelter for the Nomads that roamed the area.  Deer roamed the land, as did rabbits, antelope, coyotes and numerous other critters.  These provided food and clothing for the Indians.  There was wild fruit in the breaks, such as choke cherry, a variety of herbs and tubers grow along the bottom meadows.  For a subsistence life, it was everything a person needed to live. 
            At the end of the 1800’s most of the Indian wars had ceased.  The Indians had been carted off to reservations to become domesticated.  Not all stayed on the reservation.  They would wander off and return to the lands they knew and set up living like they used to.  The buffalo had almost been exterminated but the Indians managed to live on the prairie.  There are stories of ranchers running across small bands living on their ranch. 
            For the most part, the cowboys let things be and left the Indians to their devices.  A few would help, bring food, blankets or clothing.  Eventually the government would hear of these little groups, round em up and take them to the reservation.  The band in the Limon Breaks avoided detection for a number of years.  The ranchers in the area would help them and even offered them livestock if they were hungry.  Quietly the Indians went about their life in the woods and ravines.  The caves they used are marked with smoke from their fires.  Rings of rocks can be seen where they had their tepees.  Fire pits can be seen nearby.

            Driving on Interstate 70 across eastern Colorado, one would not even consider there would be a thick forest to the north of Cedar Point.  On the ridges to the north can be seen groves of cedar stretching to the north for miles.  Over the ridge, the land drops down into steep ravines climbing back up cliffs to mountains of about 7500 feet.  There are no homes back in there and it pretty much open rugged wilderness.  Wildlife still roam the area, it is cattle now that graze the land.  Here for about 40 years, a group of Indians avoided the long arm of the government, living off the grid.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Navajo Monument ... Cliff Dwellings

The Trail Down


            Navajo Natl. Monument is a cliff dwelling on the other side of the canyon.  During the roasting hot sun of the Arizona desert, the village is in the shade of the cliff overhang.  Looking out across the valley, the dwellings can be seen among the trees that have just budded out for spring.  The water trickles out of the springs, keeping the bottom green and lush, an oasis for the desert. 

The sign said there would be a ranger guided tour at 9:00 am.  So returning the next morning at 8:30, it was anticipation I waited for the ranger.  It was a beautiful view looking down the valley at the green trees and shrubs on the bottom.  The ranger arrived, presented a short spiel on the people that used to dwell in the ruins.  The group then began the trek down the trail, following and listening to the ranger.  He pointed the different flora and fauna and explained how the vegetation zone changed as we descended. 



We reached the bottom and across the valley we walked to climb up into the ruins.  A few of the rooms had been restored to give an appearance of what the building would have looked like more than a 1000years ago. 
Out of the cool dampness we walked up the other side using the steps that had been carved out centuries ago.  Ladders poked out of as hole in the roof, this was the entry.  Across the narrow stone ledge we walked among the crumbling stone walls.  All the time the ranger pointing out the different features and talking about how they lived years ago. 
Walking among the rocks and taking pictures, it was time to walk back up the cliff side.  Looking up I could see people strung out along the path going uphill.  I gave it a long hard look, it was 1400 steps down, plus.  So it was 1400 steps back up plus. 


Upward I began my journey, stopping along the route to take pictures, well that was my excuse for pausing in the shade of the small overhang.  It had been a half hour trek down the hill, the uphill battle was now approaching an hours on the trail.  Legs were talking to me, breath was gasping, water was declining in the canteen.  There it was the rim of the canyon, just a few more feet up.  I sat on one of the benches and looked back across where I had been.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Golden Belt Route .... Part IV



Aroya
            Traveling southeast from Boyero, one will end up the last little bit of the Old Golden State Route village, Aroya.  Just south of Boyero is the junction of the old Colorado state highways, SH 63 and SH 94.  From here to the junction with the new SH 94 there will be no other crossroads for the next dozen miles or so.  Being ranch land it is still like it was more then a 100 years ago. 

            Couple of dams have been built on some of the draws that are spring fed, creating a small oasis on the prairie. Here the local wildlife will meander in for a taste of water.  Wylie coyote watches looking for a meal as the other critters stop by.  A herd of pelicans can be seen occasionally at the watering hole.  It is a bustling area for wildlife.
            There is one ranch house along the road between Boyero and Aroya.  Just to the east is where the Aroya stage station had been.  It was short lived, a few months until the RR showed up putting the stop out of business.  Bounding on down the road, one crosses a ridge.  To the east can be seen the Aroya schoolhouse on a knoll.  The crossing gates of the railroad stand at attention, waiting for the occasional train.  Traffic zips by on the blacktop.

            Cross the highway and one is on the last stretch of the old wagon road.  The few buildings of what remains of Aroya come into view.  Out on the roadway, there is an information board, giving a brief history of the town and the area.  The JOD Ranch is on down the road a bit.  It is one of the oldest continuous used ranch brands in the state, 1870.
            The remains of the service station still reside next to the highway, beside it a mercantile, then the Aroya store.  There are a few houses that still stand, most are overgrown with weeds, making for snake haven.  The population had been zero for years.  A family hauled a trailer to the town and the population quadrupled overnight.  The following year another trailer was drug out back next to the other one.  They did not last long, the following year they were vacant.  Somebody hauled one of the trailers off but the other one still sits back in the trees, empty. 

            A welder had lived in the town and he would scrounge all types of metal and weld the pieces together is a variety of things, gates, mailbox stands…. Etc.  After he passed on, vandals were scrounging around his property stealing many of his creations.  Some of the locals got a few of his things and gave them to the museum in Kit Carson.  His lighthouse dominates the machinery display.  Today people still go through things picking to see if they can find that treasure.  Otherwise the little prairie burg is quiet. 


            Aroya was built by the railroad in 1870 as a place to service their engines and maybe find some customers.  A well was drilled in Aroya gulch for water and the town was underway.  On the south side of the road can be seen where some of the railroad structures had been.  There is a bridge that crosses the gulch.  Today the railroad uses the siding as a storage lot for surplus rolling stock or maintenance of way equipment. 
            On the knoll stands the country school, a little bigger then a one room schoolhouse.  It is very visible from highway 94 and is the subject of numerous pixels.  It looks down on the town it once served.  No longer are sounds of children present.  The houses down below sit silent, a memory of another time. 

            The cemetery is a boot hill, sitting on the hilltop on the other side of highway 94.  It is in a pasture for the JOD Ranch.  Most of the graves are the 1900 and later.  No headstones for earlier are there.  So my guess is, the burials before 1900 used wooden crosses or markers.  It is now fenced off to keep the cattle from knocking over the few markers still there.  Like many little railroad towns back then, there would be the saloons and the conflict that comes from the over consumption. 
            When Interstate 70 was built across the nation, the Golden Belt Route was diverted at Oakley Kansas for political reasons to follow I-70.  Across eastern Colorado this little section of history remains with its little ghost town and memories. 
Conclusion

-----30----

Friday, January 27, 2017

Golden Belt Route ..... Part III

Boyero
            Continuing along the Golden Belt Route, one travels over one of the old concrete bridges from the early 1900’s, crossing Coon Creek.  Bouncing over the country road, is bouncing along with the wagons that traveled next to the railroad tracks more than 100 years ago.  Very few vehicles roll along the road and fewer trains sing on the iron rails.  On the road to Boyero, the land is mostly unchanged, it is open range, cattle stand on the road looking at the interlopers, deer lounge in the shade of the few trees and birds serenade the traveler. 

            It is traveling back to another era, listen to the land as it sings.  Here one can gaze across the emptiness and hear the creak of the wagons, see the puffs of dust from the wheels.  It is now cattle that graze on the grasses, sharing with the wildlife.  The eagles feast on the prairie dogs, the prairie falcon has a dove for a meal, the song birds sit on the fence line and the antelope watches from far ridge.  A land as it was centuries ago. 
            Rolling SE from Clifford, the Golden Belt Route passes through Boyero.  Situated on a bend of the creek and the tracks, the livery stable dominates.  Built by the railroad in 1870, Boyero’s purpose was to serve the railroad and keep it running.  The water in the area is ample but very alkali, not suitable for steam engines.  So a cistern was built and the RR brought in tank cars of water to fill the cistern.  Since most of the people that lived there worked for the railroad, they were allowed to get water from the cistern. 

            Over time the RR village grew into a prosperous ranching community and rail town.  Schools were built, there were churches, stores, shops and the saloons.  It was at the junction of a state highway and US road making it a good place for early day travelers to stop.  Then the government realigned the US highway and later the state highway was rerouted.  The decline of Boyero began.  Today there is one family that still lives in the remains.  Years ago they had an antique store there and a sign directing customers down the road to their shop. 

            Many of the town lots are still owned by former residents or their families.  Most of the streets have faded and are overgrown with grass.  North of the livery stable there is a stack of RR ties, it is this pasture where the schoolhouse used to be and there were some homes there also.  Along the old highway is the remains of a gas station/post office, the general store collapsed a few years ago and was cleared to a vacant lot.    A couple of streets can be seen going east and there are a few more buildings down them.  Mixed in with them are a few cattle, always watching the people that pass by. 

            Across the tracks sit a few more buildings, there is a street along the frontage with small side streets into the other places.  The large building had many lives, store, boarding house and home.  The drummer boys used the trains a lot for pedaling their wares and rooming houses were as popular as hotels were back then.  Let the mind wander, warm summer eve, on the porch.  The dim glow of a cigarette as the travelers wait for the cool of the evening to settle in.  Conversation floats off the veranda, it is a scene for the imagination to conjure up. 

            Before the auto, ranchers would ride their horses into town.  Put their horse up at the livery and walk down to the train.  They would ride the train to the county seat, take care of business.  Catch the train back to Boyero, walk over to the livery and pick up their horse for the return trip home.  Life had a different pace back then.

            There are ranches in the area that can trace their beginnings back to the late 1800’s.  Walking the cemetery, there are a few pioneers there born in the mid 1800’s.  Alongside are the railroad workers that built the little town.  Here the Spirit of the West lingers. 




Saturday, January 21, 2017

Golden Belt Route Part II

Clifford, Colorado
            On the western end of the remains of the Golden Belt Route is the little town of Clifford.  Of the three towns along the roadway, Clifford is the smallest.  There are still a couple of buildings still there, the schoolhouse and the Wards house.  What makes Clifford so interesting are the myths associated with it.  The buried gold treasure, the Indian battles, stage stops and the family that perished riding the train and they were buried at Clifford. 
            Clifford is just south of US 40 and can be seen from the highway if one looks closely.  Rolling down the country road towards the creek, one passes the one room country schoolhouse.  It sits in a pasture, dealing with the elements of time.  It is pretty much like it was over 100years ago.  Out back is the coal house with attached out houses.  Over the years some people have vandalized it, tearing screens off to get in or…. But it hangs in there.

            Going on south one can see the depressions in the pasture where the rest of the town had been.  At the railroad tracks, there are the foundations and footers for the railroad buildings and water tank.  On south of the tracks, behind locked gate in the ranchers pasture, is the mail order house.  Huge rambling building that may have been a rooming house.  The porches have caved in, the windows are gone and with some imagination one can see the ghosts floating around the weather beaten house. 
            The east edge of town is Coon Creek, the Mirage stage station had been here.  The Indians had also used the creek for a sweat lodge.  Through here Coon Creek is a pretty good sized steam, 10-15 feet deep and 20-30 feet across.  Looking to the north, about 6 miles are the grove of trees that mark Coon Springs, a stage stop on the Smoky Hill Trail.  Next to the railroad tracks is the small graveyard.  These three elements make for farfetched stories that probably have basis in fact. 
Looking up Coon Creek
In the distance can be seen the trees of Coon Springs

            The spring of 1864 an Army payroll wagon was robbed by 3 men near Coon Springs.  They were not very successful in their getaway.  The troopers were after them and catching up with them the robbers ducked into a gully.  Here they put the gold coins into dutch ovens and buried the gold, using stones to mark the spot.  They figured they would spend their time in jail, then return and dig up their loot.  One was killed in a gun fight after getting out of jail, another went back to jail after another robbery and the third disappeared.  So the legend of the buried gold grew and people would go out on the gullies looking for the buried treasure.
            Even a gentleman from England traveled to Clifford to search.  He spent over 6 months roaming the area looking for the buried gold.  One day he went to the train depot and very quietly left Clifford with his baggage.  Now if you found the gold, would you shout it from the rooftops or quietly go into the night? 
            When gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Hill Trail became a busy place and water on the prairie was important to the gold seekers and other travelers.  Coon Springs became an important stop and this did not set well with the Indians.  Then when the stage stop was established there, the Indians became more enraged and over the decade there were a variety of Indian raids on the station and on the travelers. 
            The spring of 1870 the railroad began building across East Central Colorado.  The Mirage stage station was built along the banks of Coon Creek, upsetting the Indians more.  The spring of 1870, the RR construction crews were building across the plains.  A camp was built near Mirage for the workers and it was a pretty lively place.  That summer the Indians launched a series of raids on the workers and stage stations, from Lake Station to Kit Carson.  Numerous workers were killed and many more wounded and the crews fled back to Kit Carson.  The Indians had stopped RR construction for a short time.  The attacks also brought more army troopers.  General Custer was reinstated and assigned to protect the railroad from Kit Carson to Denver.  The Indians, they turned north and headed to Wyoming to meet up with Custer on another day.
The indention's for the buildings can be seen, in the trees are the concrete remains of railroad stuff and beyond that is the mail order house.  

            With Coon Creek and good water, the railroad built a small station near Mirage and called it Clifford.  Clifford never was a big town, maybe a 100 folks dwelled there.  There was a depot, water facilities and section houses for the RR workers.  Some stores were opened, a saloon and a few homes were built.  Ranchers in the area used for shipping cattle and travel to the neighboring towns. 
            The summer of 1896 a young family was traveling by rail from back east to join her husband in Denver.  Along the way the family had become sick, a mother and two daughters.  By the time they arrived in Clifford, the family had died.  The bodies were taken off the train and left at the train station.  Somebody took the effort to bury them.  A short distance from the depot graves were dug next to the rails and the family was placed in their final resting place.  There were other graves and today it is surrounded by a fence. 
The graves 


            There were the buffalo hunters that would visit.  There were the cowboys and their six shooters and the bar fly’s that traveled through the little town.  And… oh yes…. There are locals who still believe that the gold is still buried somewhere in the area.