Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Comanche

Picture Canyon
            Situated in the SE corner of the state of Colorado is the Comanche Grasslands, owned by the Federal government.  The government bought up scores of acres and turned them is to grass in the attempts to slow down the dust bowl of the 30’s.  It also created recreational areas on the prairie, opening up wide variety public lands.  The nearby states also have huge sections of grasslands in the corners of their states. 

            The grasslands of New Mexico and Kansas encompass parts of the old Santa Fe Trail, following the Cimarron River, mostly dry.  There is the flat rolling land that is prone to blow and there is the surprise of the canyons and mesas in the area.  Just north of the Oklahoma border, in Colorado is a large area of land broken with canyons and rocky cliffs. 
            Tucked back in these areas are springs, trees and rocky overhangs, where the Indians could have shelter and carve in the rocks.  One such place is Picture Canyon, about 12 miles due west of Campo and a few miles south.  Here one drives out of the flat lands into scrub forest and rocky gulches. 

            The rock walls made great easels for early many.  The Indians left their mark with Pictographs and petroglyphs.  They were not alone the early European explorers left their mark also.  There are some petroglyphs that archeologists speculate may have been Viking/Celtic in origin.  Which raises the questions, were the Northern Europeans, exploring in Western North America. 

            No matter what, it is still a fun place to drive back into and watch the land change.  Looking at the cliffs, there are the occasional overhangs/caves that show signs of soot on the rocks.  Here in late summer the Indian could sit here and work his buffalo meat into pemmican.  For here in the canyons are a variety of fruits, Choke Cherry, Hackberry and others. 
            There are also the remains of cabins that were built, late 1800’s.  It was a good area to graze cattle for summer pasture and a cabin for the trail rider. 

            It is an area to delve back more than a few thousand years.  The Folsom Point man roamed the area, before the present day plains Indians showed up.  The Comanche Indians are the contemporary residents of the area, living, hunting, working and playing in the canyons.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Following The Rails

Gilpin, Colorado
            Following the railroads, reveals lots of old communities that are no more.  Depending on the RR, spacing would 6-20 miles between stops.  The old steamers would need water and servicing and this is what lots of the stops were for.  They also were places to station the section crews that maintained the rails.  Here one could find section houses, a depot of sorts and if enough people were there an enterprising gentlemen would open a store.  Soon it would become a town, well maybe.  With the changes in railroad equipment, section assignments would change and small stops would become vacant as the workers were assigned to other districts.  What had been a place at one time, became a ghost place. Since lots of them did not become towns and have a Post Office, they do not show up on lots of maps.
Partial map showing some of the railroad spots. 

            I collect some railroad memorabilia and one of those treasures is time tables.  The RR tables would list the routes of trains and the control points.  These places would have a siding, maintenance crews and some buildings.  When I go hunting ghost communities I carry a few of these time tables to help me find some of the lost villages.  What’s interesting is if a town grew up, not associated with the RR, it does not show up.  So I carry some old maps and do lots of cross checking with the different places I’m looking for.  Sometimes these places pop up on digital, usually not.  Then other places pop on digital that shows on no other places.  It becomes a challenge to coordinate all the different little bits of info. 
            Gilpin is one of those little burgs that used to be that shows up most places.  There are a few things in the area but nothing to indicate a town had been there.  A rancher has built a corral nearby and across the road is a comm. Tower.  The railroad has some signal lights on the ROW for traffic control, which would be the only indicator that the railroad had anything here. 
There were times when the RR would have stock pens and load livestock on the train.

            The trains make a long climb out of the Arkansas Valley and Gilpin would have been the first stop on the ridge top.  Here the train would have gotten orders on how far to proceed and if there were any MOW crews on the tracks.  There would been a water tank and a depot of some type.  Sometimes the depot was an old boxcar sitting beside the rails.  Very seldom do I find reminders of those days.  Usually it is chunks of concrete marking where the various buildings had been.  As I go from here to there, I block out some time to travel along some of these out of the way routes, looking to see what I can see.  Sometimes I completely miss them and make U-turns, if I have not driven to far past them.  Or I put them in the hopper to chase down on another trip.

            Gilpin is on the edge of the desert and poor soil.  Not much grows on the limestone soil and there is very little rainfall.  Climbing up the ridge, the land changes to varied mesas, canyons and scrub forest.  A few cattle roam the sparse grassland and the occasional pick up rumbles down the road.  Otherwise it is pretty empty land as I muter down the road to the next stop.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

Southeastern Colorado

Edler, Colorado

The old map lists lots of old towns from the late 1800’s to about 1920’s.  There are wagon roads, cattle trails, stage routes and pioneer trails listed on it.  I pack it up with an idea of places I will go looking for.  The trails and roads are hardest to find, those usually involve a lucky per chance.  The little towns and stops are a bit easier in that the map is overlaid on fairly modern road map.  So off I go in search of ……… camera in tow plus other things. 
The Edler well, appears to still be in operation.

Many of the little towns are no more then a farm or ranch house where the Post Office had been located.  The remains of these places are usually a stand of trees and some concrete footers where the buildings once stood.  So when I went searching for Edler, I only expected to find an old house… maybe.  Instead I found the remains of a small village. 

There was a school house, church, some old buildings, water tank and nearby a local farmer had his operation.  I have no idea what the population had been but I would guess it had been around 100 people had lived here.  The Post Office was in operation until 1948 and the school probably lasted longer. 

Edler is in the dust bowl and the dust still blows at times in the area yet there are few who are tenacious and hang on.  Early 1850’s, there was another drought that pushed many more farmers off the land.  The area around Edler reflects that, for it is miles in between neighbors. 

This area of Southeastern Colorado is loaded with little burgs that used to be.  There are canyons with small streams nearby, scrub forests dot the ridges, a sight that does not fit the flat land conception of eastern Colorado.  To the south is an old copper mine, to the northeast was some gold mining.  Edler sits on the flat lands of farmland that is great land to farm when there is moisture. 

It is a land of surprising contrasts that I want to go back to and explore some more of the little villages that are no more.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

At Pavement's End

Toonerville, Colorado
Down there, Down where the backstop ends, is the remains of the village of Toonerville.  Most of the buildings are now rubble piles, the church at the north end still stands, abandoned and neglected.  It does not fit the typical stereotype of Colorado’s eastern flatlands.  Here it is mesas, canyons and scrub forest.  With the rocky cliffs, many of the building used the native hewn stone for their structures. 

Toonerville, began life as Red Rock but changed the town’s name after a cartoon of the 30’s, an animated streetcar named Toonerville.  They had a mock government that made non decisions of cartoon proportions.  It was a little village that survived on ranching and the nearby railroad. 

As railroad operations changed and the land dried out, many of the area jobs were lost and the people had to move on to find work in other places.  Down the road that goes through Toonerville, there is still a ranch house in operations at the end of the road.  Otherwise the area is pretty empty, one can drive for miles and maybe see on vehicle and possibly a ranch house. 

The land is not suitable for farming and it takes lots of land to graze a cow on.  Yet in the early 1899’s, Texas ranchers would drive their herds north into this area for summer pasture. The cattle roamed the land on free range and when the Fall round up came, many of the bovines were missed and spent the winters in a few sheltered canyons. 

When one pauses in the area, there are the few cattle roaming across the dry land searching for the sparse vegetation to munch on.  Rocky cliffs rise up on the horizon, boulder strewn bases, dotted with scrub juniper and occasional pinon.  Tree groves mark where the springs are or where the small creek flows.  It is a varied land of dry dusty twisters, marked with lush streams crossing the bottoms.  

Back in the trees is the little village.