Kuhn’s Crossing

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            One of those places where I was a few days late and a whole bunch short.  Situated off Hwy 94 and down a dead end road a short distance, was Kuhn’s Post Office.  This where one could cross Bijou Creek and continue their journey westward.  Off and on for years I drove past this location, not knowing what was located just over the rise. 

            Back in the trees lining the creek I could a barn with its silo and the other ranch buildings.  It was a very pastoral scene as I whizzed by on the highway.  Back down the road had been Kuhn’s Crossing Schoolhouse and there were some log cabins. 

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            Over the years these structures had weathered and collapsed into piles of lumber scrap heaps.  The markers of the little pioneer community were gone.  Down the road a ways were some ranch houses and outbuildings after crossing the creek.  A rubble heap sat on the ridge where the school had once been.  I took too long to go looking and found not much. 

            It is a fascinating area to drive through.  To the south a ways was a stage stop and a branch of the Smoky Hill Trail.  To the north on another road is another branch of the Smoky Hill Trail.  There are some other communities nearby and some wide open range land.  Cottonwoods line the creek bottoms and stately pines dot the ridges.  It is a varied land of rolling grasslands, towering ridges, 7000-8000 feet in elevation.  The Indians would roam here in the summer

            Today, many of the pine trees have grown back, ranches dot the land and cattle graze the grasses.

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Prairie Ghosts

 

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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. 

 

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            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. 

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            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.

 

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Cliff Dwelling …. Navajo Monument

The Trail Down

 

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            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. 

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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. 

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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.  

First Harvey Houses

Fred Harvey

Harvey Houses

 

Fred Harvey worked for the railroad in the 1860’s, traveling to various places, where work took him.  For Fred the food service in most eateries back then was less than adequate.  When he would return to his office there were complaints of being on the road and having bad food.  So Fred took it upon himself to change that, with a partner.  Two restaurants were opened at main railroad stops out west.  The very first Harvey Restaurants were built in hotels at Wallace Kansas and Hugo Colorado on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, 1872.

A Harvey House and the Harvey Girls tend to be synonymous with the Santa Fe Railroad.   After the early success with other restaurants along various rail lines, The Santa Fe RR offered a contract to Harvey to build restaurants along their rail line.   By this time the partnership had broken up and Fred Harvey was no long employed by a railroad.  He was now opening a chain of restaurants across the country that would bear his name.

The restaurants were situated in Hotels and soon these would be replaced by new hotels and some bore his name.  The Harvey houses dotted the southwest at other places besides the railroad.  Some were at other railroads and a few were in National Parks.  Today a few of the old Harvey Houses still stand and some are museums or refurbished into new uses.

The first two restaurants of Fred Harvey met their demise when railroading policy changed.  Crew change points were shifted and much of the railroad business the first hotels and restaurants relied on was gone.  Wallace had been a town of over 4000 souls, with changes on the Smoky Hill Trail and the railroad, the workers of Wallace moved on to the next railhead and soon it was a shell of what had been.  Today Wallace has a population of less than 100 souls and the Wallace hotel is long gone.  The Kansas Pacific office building still stands; otherwise it is ghosts that wander through the now empty town.

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The nearby museum of Ft Wallace has new display in a back warehouse that has recreated the town of Wallace using store fronts.  The Wallace Hotel that housed the first Fred Harvey in Kansas is one of the fronts that has been built.  It is like walking down the streets of the old railroad town with all the different stores and shops from that era.

Hugo does not a display of any kind for where the first Harvey House was.  Roughly where the hotel had been, there is now an old empty gas station and the sign for Hugo.  Short distance east is where the Roundhouse had been, now a swimming pool occupies the land.  The depot is next block over and preserved as a community center.  The street one block north of this is lined with small old homes where the early rail workers and others lived.  Most of the homes on the north side date 1870-74 and that era.  The other side is the newer homes built where the railroad had their buildings.  Hugo has an original roundhouse on the SW side of town that is being restored and maybe there they will do something with the Hugo Harvey House.

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Both little towns were connected by the railroad and then by the first Harvey house.  Both sit astride the Smoky Hill Trail and had stage stops.  Today the railroad still sends the occasional train down the rails.  No longer is it the whistle echoing across the high plains with a cloud of smoke overhead.  The air horns of the diesel have replaced the whistle of the steam engines but the lore still whispers across the land.

 

Ruxton, Colorado

Railroad Town

 

            Ruxton, Colorado was a small town built for railroad service.  Here there would have been maintenance of way crews and equipment, A depot of some type and few homes for the workers to live in.  The local train would stop here, dropping off supplies and people and picking up.  It was a wide spot out on the mesas of eastern Colorado. 

            Ruxton is located in one of Colorado’s more unique landscapes.  It is a dry land of cacti, mesas, gullies and canyons.  Scrub trees dot the land and along the springs and small creeks, there are groves of trees.  There are small oasis’s that are scattered across the empty land.  Cattle roam over the land and the occasional ranch house next to a spring. 

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            Cattle shipping would have been handled by the railroad or sheep.  Early 1900’s, lots of sheep roamed the land but the land could not sustain the sheep.  Today it is mostly cattle roaming the land in search of sparse tufts of grass. 

            Along the dusty road there are old railroad cars, marking where corrals and pens are.  Here the rancher could drive his cattle in for shipment on the rails.

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            There is the old stone house, now is state of falling apart.  Yet years ago it would have been a family’s dream home.  The first room was built, with door and window.  Later years, rooms were added on to the house, probably as the family grew.  The little stone house is the only sign there had been a village here. 

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            The trains still roar by and MOW crews still work on the rails.  It is a vast land that has a song of silence, one can listen, for those that pause.  It is broken by the occasional pick up or train.  The grasses sway with the few trees as an easy breeze whispers through.  Clouds roll across the horizon keeping their moisture.  In silence, Ruxton sits. 

SE Colorado

Edler, Colorado

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The old map lists lots of old towns from the late1800’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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

Where the black top Ends

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.