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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6. ASHCROFT - Pitkin County
In 1883, Ashcroft was the toast of mining elite like Horace Tabor, who struck gold a year earlier in the nearby Montezuma and Tam O’Shanter Mines. Reportedly, Tabor and his second wife, Baby Doe, visited Ashcroft to host a grand banquet and buy rounds of drinks for everyone in each of the town’s 13 saloons.
There was such a boom in Ashcroft that three years later there were 2,500 residents (and the number of saloons ballooned to 20). By 1900, Tabor’s mines were tapped out and the party moved to the posh hills of Aspen, leaving only two full-time residents.
Ashcroft survived as a training site for the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II, and in the mid-1950s husky sled dog trainer Stuart Mace used the town for filming the television series Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.
Thanks to continued maintenance by the Aspen Historical Society, Ashcroft is one of the most intact of Colorado’s ghost towns. Easily visited on the paved Castle Creek Road, Ashcroft’s landmark structure is a former hotel picturesquely nestled under an aspen grove with snowcapped Cathedral Peak pointing skyward in the background.
7. KEOTA - Weld County
A visitor to Keota in the early 1900s may have met a real-life cast of characters who inspired the plucky plains settlers in James Michener’s novel and TV miniseries Centennial. As immortalized by Michener, the agriculture and the cattle industry, fed by the Old Prairie Dog Express rail line, flourished here in the Great American Desert between 1880 and 1929.
By the Great Depression, the town’s isolated location as an outpost of what is now the Pawnee National Grassland, the violent storms of the Dust Bowl and crop failings conspired against cattle barons and farmers. Few residents remained, but a skeletal water tower, brick general store, weathered wooden church and concrete foundations of other buildings, including a schoolhouse, still stand.
With a full tank of gas, intrepid travelers crisscrossing the grassland’s dirt roads may discover a cemetery 1.5 miles east of town, the Pawnee Buttes 11 miles north and deteriorating farmhouses abandoned during the Depression scattered in every direction. Amidst the homesteads and broken dreams of pioneers past falling silently into the earth, travelers will also find the grassland alive again with oscillating oil pumps and wind turbines rising in a modern energy boom.
8. TINCUP - Gunnison County
You had to be bad to make it good in Tincup. This boilerplate for all rough-and-tumble Old West settlements began humbly in October 1859 when prospector Jim Taylor panned gold from Willow Creek and carried it back to camp in a tin cup.
Twenty years later when lode deposits were discovered, a town called Virginia City was laid out attracting a population of 1,495. Confusion with other Virginia Cities (in Nevada and Montana) caused residents to change the name to Tincup. This was the end of law and order. The town’s Boot Hill Cemetery started to fill with honest lawmen who fell victim to the town’s rowdy residents. Marshal Harry Rivers died in a gunfight in 1882.
Another marshal, Andy Jameson, was shot to death a year later. Tincup is more hospitable today. Preservation-minded residents have renovated its cabins and operate a seasonal general store, cafe and ATV rental business.