Dwindling

Campo Colorado

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            Out along the prairie line approaching Oklahoma, is the little town of Campo.  The business district is mostly vacant and sitting collecting the dust of times gone past.  The corner café keeps Main Street from being completely empty.  It is a little town that probably will never perish because of its location.  It is a gateway to the Comanche Grasslands and on the busy Ports to Plains highway. 

            There is still a village government and the local constables keep the coffers from going empty.  Some people just don’t want to slow down passing through until they see the flashing lights.  Campo was also in the center of the dust bowl and a few reminders of those days are present.  There are a variety of pictures of the town and its neighbors from those dirty days.  Today the traffic flies by and the dust does not stop, it keeps on going someplace. 

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            The empty store fronts on the road way harkens back to a day, when small towns were the heart of America.  Now the few ghosts sit under the canopy watching traffic pass.  The corner coffee shop has the local town news.  Pause for breakfast, listen to the locals cuss and discuss the weather or prices of crops.  The waitress hustles the coffee pot around, the cook yells, order up, and conversation goes on.

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            Outside the trucks rumble by, shaking the ground as the press onward to their destination.  Nearby the rails sit silently, awaiting the next coal train to go south or returning empties.  The grain elevator sits in slow status of natural destruction.  A lone sentential next to the rails, a reminder of when business was on the railroad. 

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            Over 100 hardy souls call the little prairie village home.  Working on farms or maybe one of the government jobs.  The grasslands are nearby and are operated under the Nation Forest Service.  Picnic grounds and trails dot the lands.  It is a land of mystery and surprises.  Petroglyphs have been found in some caves that some suspect may have been Viking.  There are the Indian artifacts spread around the areas, fossils, millions of years old and a herd of Big Horn Sheep call the grasslands home. 

            Campo will be a little wide spot on the road from here to there for years to come. 

 

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Buchannan

Buchannan, Colorado

 

           

Situated along a wagon road, is the dot marking Buchanan.  The map did not indicate that there had been a Post Office there.  Other information about this little dot on the map is slim and none.  It was in the area where I was driving, looking for ghost towns on the prairie.  So I bounced over a few ruts and went to see if there was anything at Buchannan. 

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Up and over the hill I saw an old farm house and some out buildings, long abandoned.  The homestead sat on the banks of a small creek and it appeared there may have been some springs there also.  The house was small but functional.  Behind it was poles for a clothesline, a chicken coop.  Further down the bank was the barn and some posts for a corral and on the other side was the windmill and stock tank. 

It looked like any other homestead on the prairie that got blown out during the dirty thirties.  But here it was a dot on the wagon road.  So now I am speculating.  Was this a transfer point, way station for travelers, had there been a store here, what importance was the Buchannan place to the early day settlers.  I’ll probably never know, but I found the place.

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Driving across the creek and looking back, I could see a faint trace of the old wagon road.  It was a change in the vegetation across the way on the banks of the small creek.  Straight as an arrow it headed for the Buchannan place. 

Nearby on the map, there were other places marked as having Post Offices.  Abbott was few miles south on the road and further south was the Abbott church.  Yet, here the road showed up, having its beginnings at Deertrail, CO. 

When I go searching for these prairie ghosts I usually have 4-8 targets marked out on the map.  Places like Buchannan are usually and after thought but being on the wagon road, intrigued me. 

 

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Vilas Colorado

 

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            A small village, located in the far southeastern corner of Colorado, near the Oklahoma Panhandle and Kansas border.  It has survived the Dust Bowl and the other farming downturns over the past century.  Founded in 1888, Vilas began life as a ranching community but with the flat rolling land, it soon became farm land.  Today it has a population of just over 100 hardy souls.  The school is still active and that is probably what keeps the little town going. 

            Main Street is vacant, lined with vacant stores from another era.  Even the garage and café appear to be closed.  The Post Office still flies the flag and the sounds of children echo across the village at recess time.  Otherwise one could hear a pin drop on the pavement leading into to town, it is that quiet and peaceful. 

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The town sits a good distance off the highway and out there is where the grain elevators are located.  No longer do the rails get polished by trains.  The railroad stopped service some years ago. 

Vilas has become one of the wide spots on the highway from somewhere to over there.  Cars and trucks zoom past with the occasional local slowing down to go home. 

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Vilas is becoming a classic ghost town, with a few residents.  Most of the store fronts along main are still standing, most overgrown with trees and weeds.  One of the stores has 1886 marked on its roofline.  It appears that most of the other stores lining the street were also built during the late 1800’s.  They are small, functional buildings and most around 400-600 square feet. 

In other towns, the old buildings on main street were burned down during a town fire.  Making the new stores bigger and usually made of brick.  In Vilas it appears there was not a major fire in downtown that burned up half of the town.  Here is a throwback to what many little towns on the prairie looked like during their early days. 

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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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Hiding in the Breaks

The Last Indian Village

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            Tucked back in the Limon Breaks was a small band of Indians that refused to go to the reservation.  They managed to stay out of the governments’ sights until the 1940’s, the beginning of WWII.  The breaks is a rugged wilderness of steep ravines, gullies and canyons, dotted with thick stands of cedars, pines and scrub brush.  At an elevation that ranges from 6000 feet to almost 8000 feet, not many people settled in the breaks. 

            It was too rugged for large scale farming and the weather makes for some nasty winters and springs.  This type of landscape made for a great place to Indians to live and thrive. 

            Scattered among the hills are numerous springs, feeding small streams.  It is a haven for wildlife, there was water, ample feed and protection down in the ravine bottoms.  This was great buffalo country and the Indians had been coming to the area for centuries.  There are caves among the cliffs, providing shelter for the Nomads that roamed the area.  Deer roamed the land, as did rabbits, antelope, coyotes and numerous other critters.  These provided food and clothing for the Indians.  There was wild fruit in the breaks, such as choke cherry, a variety of herbs and tubers grow along the bottom meadows.  For a subsistence life, it was everything a person needed to live. 

            At the end of the 1800’s most of the Indian wars had ceased.  The Indians had been carted off to reservations to become domesticated.  Not all stayed on the reservation.  They would wander off and return to the lands they knew and set up living like they used to.  The buffalo had almost been exterminated but the Indians managed to live on the prairie.  There are stories of ranchers running across small bands living on their ranch. 

            For the most part, the cowboys let things be and left the Indians to their devices.  A few would help, bring food, blankets or clothing.  Eventually the government would hear of these little groups, round em up and take them to the reservation.  The band in the Limon Breaks avoided detection for a number of years.  The ranchers in the area would help them and even offered them livestock if they were hungry.  Quietly the Indians went about their life in the woods and ravines.  The caves they used are marked with smoke from their fires.  Rings of rocks can be seen where they had their tepees.  Fire pits can be seen nearby.

            Driving on Interstate 70 across eastern Colorado, one would not even consider there would be a thick forest to the north of Cedar Point.  On the ridges to the north can be seen groves of cedar stretching to the north for miles.  Over the ridge, the land drops down into steep ravines climbing back up cliffs to mountains of about 7500 feet.  There are no homes back in there and it pretty much open rugged wilderness.  Wildlife still roam the area, it is cattle now that graze the land.  Here for about 40 years, a group of Indians avoided the long arm of the government, living off the grid. 

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.  

Golden Belt Route …. Part IV

 

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Aroya

            Traveling southeast from Boyero, one will end up the last little bit of the Old Golden State Route village, Aroya.  Just south of Boyero is the junction of the old Colorado state highways, SH 63 and SH 94.  From here to the junction with the new SH 94 there will be no other crossroads for the next dozen miles or so.  Being ranch land it is still like it was more then a 100 years ago. 

            Couple of dams have been built on some of the draws that are spring fed, creating a small oasis on the prairie. Here the local wildlife will meander in for a taste of water.  Wylie coyote watches looking for a meal as the other critters stop by.  A herd of pelicans can be seen occasionally at the watering hole.  It is a bustling area for wildlife.

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            There is one ranch house along the road between Boyero and Aroya.  Just to the east is where the Aroya stage station had been.  It was short lived, a few months until the RR showed up putting the stop out of business.  Bounding on down the road, one crosses a ridge.  To the east can be seen the Aroya schoolhouse on a knoll.  The crossing gates of the railroad stand at attention, waiting for the occasional train.  Traffic zips by on the blacktop.

            Cross the highway and one is on the last stretch of the old wagon road.  The few buildings of what remains of Aroya come into view.  Out on the roadway, there is an information board, giving a brief history of the town and the area.  The JOD Ranch is on down the road a bit.  It is one of the oldest continuous used ranch brands in the state, 1870.

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            The remains of the service station still reside next to the highway, beside it a mercantile, then the Aroya store.  There are a few houses that still stand, most are overgrown with weeds, making for snake haven.  The population had been zero for years.  A family hauled a trailer to the town and the population quadrupled overnight.  The following year another trailer was drug out back next to the other one.  They did not last long, the following year they were vacant.  Somebody hauled one of the trailers off but the other one still sits back in the trees, empty. 

            A welder had lived in the town and he would scrounge all types of metal and weld the pieces together is a variety of things, gates, mailbox stands…. Etc.  After he passed on, vandals were scrounging around his property stealing many of his creations.  Some of the locals got a few of his things and gave them to the museum in Kit Carson.  His lighthouse dominates the machinery display.  Today people still go through things picking to see if they can find that treasure.  Otherwise the little prairie burg is quiet. 

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            Aroya was built by the railroad in 1870 as a place to service their engines and maybe find some customers.  A well was drilled in Aroya gulch for water and the town was underway.  On the south side of the road can be seen where some of the railroad structures had been.  There is a bridge that crosses the gulch.  Today the railroad uses the siding as a storage lot for surplus rolling stock or maintenance of way equipment. 

            On the knoll stands the country school, a little bigger then a one room schoolhouse.  It is very visible from highway 94 and is the subject of numerous pixels.  It looks down on the town it once served.  No longer are sounds of children present.  The houses down below sit silent, a memory of another time. 

            The cemetery is a boot hill, sitting on the hilltop on the other side of highway 94.  It is in a pasture for the JOD Ranch.  Most of the graves are the 1900 and later.  No headstones for earlier are there.  So my guess is, the burials before 1900 used wooden crosses or markers.  It is now fenced off to keep the cattle from knocking over the few markers still there.  Like many little railroad towns back then, there would be the saloons and the conflict that comes from the over consumption. 

            When Interstate 70 was built across the nation, the Golden Belt Route was diverted at Oakley Kansas for political reasons to follow I-70.  Across eastern Colorado this little section of history remains with its little ghost town and memories. 

Conclusion

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