COVID is cramping our traveling plans. No summer vacation to Tokyo or road trip to New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival. What a downer 2020 has turned out to be.
This begs the question: How can we travel somewhere cool but still maintain social distancing and not potentially expose hundreds of people or get exposed ourselves?
The answer? Ghost towns. Go to where the people are nowhere to be seen and where the spirit of Colorado’s past lives on. Who knows — you might even see an actual ghost or two.
EurekaLocation: 8 miles northeast of SilvertonOnce a mining camp for gold diggers (not of the hustling variety, unfortunately), all that stands left of Eureka today is the restored jail. To avoid issues with avalanches, the town was built between two mountains. In 1873, gold was discovered near Silverton and Eureka began to slowly attract more miners. The land the town sat on, however, was owned by the Ute people. The 1873 Brunot Treaty allowed for the miners to remain in Eureka and the Utes were paid $25,000 a year. After 1939, the town’s population dried up.
St. ElmoLocation: 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista
At one point, St. Elmo was home to nearly 2,000 people. These days, it’s one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado. About 43 buildings still remain at the site in Chaffee County, including a saloon and jail/courthouse. Even more unusual - St. Elmo isn’t completely abandoned! There’s still a handful of residents and businesses there including the St. Elmo General Store and The Ghost Town Guest House, a bed and breakfast.
Animas ForksLocation: 12 miles northeast of SilvertonBack in 1876, Animas Forks was quite the busy little mining town. With 450 residents, Animas Forks had a newspaper, a saloon, a post office, a general store, and dozens of cabins. Because of the town’s high altitude (11,200 feet), the residents would travel down to Silverton for the winter because the cold in Animas Forks was no joke. In 1884, a blizzard innundated the town with 25 feet of snow over a period of 23 days. After the mining there dried up, Animas Forks was a ghost town by the 1920s.
DearfieldLocation: 28 miles southeast of Greeley
Dearfield is not your typical ghost town that was once filled with gold miners eager to strike it rich. No, Dearfield was once a pinnacle of Black excellence. The town was founded by Oliver T. Jackson as a Black settlement. Eventually, the 700 people who settled there by 1921 grew its agricultural industry which was at one point valued at over one million dollars. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit in the 1930s and took a heavy toll on Dearfield, eventually reducing it to a ghost town. Thankfully, however, Denver’s Black American West Museum has worked to preserve the once-thriving farming town.
Capitol CityLocation: 9 miles west of Lake CityWhen George Lee founded Capitol City in 1877, he dreamed that it would one day be the capital of Colorado and he would be its governor. Alas, Lee’s aspirations never came to be. But at least he got to build a big, beautiful brick mansion that included a theater with an orchestra pit. Oh, and a few ballrooms. Today, only two of the original buildings remain of Capitol City — the U.S. Post Office and Lee’s Smelter Stack.
Red Mountain TownLocation: 12 miles south of OurayOnce the largest gold mining camp on Red Mountain Pass, Red Mountain is now but a few collapsed cabins and buildings. At one point, the town was home to an estimated 10,000 residents with investors putting millions of dollars into the town. The mining industry in southwest Colorado was not long for this world, however, and the town dissipated.
IrontonLocation: 9 miles south of OurayFormerly 300 buildings strong, Ironton is now a ghost town you can spot while cruising down the Million Dollar Highway. It was once home to 1,000 residents, daily trains to and from Silverton, and plenty of saloons. Ironton lost its last official resident, Milton Larson, after he died in the 1960s.