11 Colorado Ghost Towns
Colorado's gold rush brought humanity and hardship to these rocky mountains. Mining towns popped up by the dozen, but just as quickly found themselves abandoned as the politics of man and nature shifted. The 11 ghost towns on our list might be haunted by the past, but it isn't hard to find the beauty in these booms gone bust.
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3. ST. ELMO - Chaffee County
When Anton Stark stepped off a train in the three-year-old boomtown of St. Elmo in 1881, he had no idea his family would be its saviors and sole caretakers for 80 years. Stark and wife, Anna, founded a general store and the Home Comfort Hotel, businesses said to be best stocked and cleanest in the otherwise gritty town. Business was good in the years when the railroad shipped tons of ore and passengers through the Alpine Tunnel nearby, but St. Elmo’s decline was swift. Mine production decreased, the tunnel closed in 1910 and most residents took the last train out of town in 1922, never to return.
Even though railroad tracks were removed by 1926, the Starks, hoping the town would boom again, bought up as much of the vacant property as they could. After her parents’ deaths, daughter Annabelle kept the store open and unsuccessfully promoted St. Elmo as a tourist destination. For nearly half a century, she warmly welcomed sparse vacationers who purchased goods from the store’s aging inventory, but also fiercely defended St. Elmo from vandals with a shotgun. Even after her death in 1960, some claim she watches over the town in spirit; glimpses of her ghost are still being reported.
4. IRONTON & RED MOUNTAIN MINING DISTRICT - Ouray County
An unmistakable scarlet shade of oxidized iron stains the mountains near Ouray. Under these peaks, the rusty remnants of some of the most rugged mining settlements in the San Juan Mountains wait to be discovered by motorists on Red Mountain Pass. One of the largest is Ironton, where settlers built 300 buildings in the span of only three weeks in 1883. Ironton’s population climbed Glenn Randall to around 1,000 until the railroad halted stops to the mining district from Silverton. Among the ruins here are homes with peeling white-painted facades and wallpaper still clinging to their interiors.
Nearby, visitors can explore the impressive triangular roof of the Yankee Girl Mine headframe towering defiantly against the harsh elements of the red peaks that surround it.
5. INDEPENDENCE - Pitkin County
At an elevation of 10,900 feet, air to breathe might be as valuable a commodity as precious metals. That didn’t stop prospectors from founding this community after gold was struck at a nearby mine on July 4, 1879. By 1882, there were more than 1,500 residents who discovered living with high country snow was a constant nuisance from October through May. Finally, in the winter of 1899, when a series of severe snowstorms cut off the town from the outside world and residents ran out of food, all but one decided to evacuate.
Half a century before ski resort entrepreneurs figured out how to convert the plentiful white powder into recreational gold, Independence residents tore the siding planks off their houses to use as cross-country skis for the trip down to Aspen. They humorously billed their escape as the “Hunter Pass Tenderfoot Snowshoe Club Race,” with an entry fee of one ham sandwich each. Several log cabins with crooked corridors and narrow doorways remain at the site, but the doorway to visit Independence by automobile is also narrow. It can be accessed just west of the Independence Pass summit on Colorado Highway 82 while the road is open during the warm weeks of summer and early fall.