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Jennie Lay: Ghost towns

It’s pretty amazing how much you can learn over casseroles and chocolate cake.

I went to the Pioneer Picnic last weekend, an annual, century-old potluck celebration for Northwest Colorado’s early settlers and their descendents.

My intention was to capture a little slice of their stories during my brief visit around the picnic tables. It was a great chance to gather odd tales of the Yampa Valley’s ranching and mining legacies — histories that aren’t written down. And there certainly were lots of humorous tidbits among the lively picnic chatter.

But one of the more interesting things I took away from the day was a notebook laden with the names of Routt County towns I never knew existed. And the Pioneer Picnic attendees had lived in lots of them.

By the time I drove home, tales of Haybro were itching my curiosity. I had a hard time believing that Quonset hut in Oak Creek Canyon was once the site of a thriving mining camp with many houses on the hill and enough children to fill a three-room school house.

This was a job for Google.

I needed more than sketchy childhood memories. I needed a vigilant Web search on Routt County ghost towns.

Keeping in mind that this was a casual Sunday afternoon curiosity and not a scientific historical study, the results were pretty astounding.

Not only was there Haybro, but there were at least 57 other towns or camps in Routt County at different points in the past century and a half. If you remove the eleven towns and hamlets that exist today from my search results, that leaves about 46 ghost towns in Routt County.

Don’t think for a second that I’m not going to take those old-timers from the Pioneer Picnic up on their generous offer to take me on a driving tour and see exactly where the heck all these settlements once were.

As it turned out, Haybro later became Coal View, not to be confused with Coalview, which was five miles west of Milner — and also might have been called Two Creek at a later date.

Up north, Royal Flush stood about two miles from Columbine for a couple of decades in the early 20th century. And Bug Town, aka National City or International City, was a twin mining camp to the former county seat of Hahn’s Peak (which was misspelled and really should have been Henne’s Peak, named for the German prospector who froze to death trying to return to camp).

Towns and camps seemed to swap names pretty often. To me, the old towns are recognizable only as the names of beautiful spots where I love to get out in the wilderness.

Skull Creek became Dry Creek south of Hayden. Sarvice Creek became Service Creek. Watson Creek became Walton Creek.

In the South there was Pershing, Volcano, Hydrata and Thiesen.

Pallas became Pinnacle, one of the long-gone mining camps not far from Oak Creek. And Eddy was just two miles down the road from Pinnacle, towns my fellow Pioneer Picnic attendees referred to often.

Towns boom and bust, but “ghost town” is a hard concept to grasp in these times of growth, growth, growth.

That’s why I am sadly surprised that we might be reminiscing about the demise of yet another one of those historic spots one day soon.

Trapper’s Lake Lodge, not in Routt County but probably close enough for these purposes, is one of my favorite spots on the planet. My husband proposed to me while there in the deep snows of winter. I got married there in the wildflower throes of summer. Most of the picturesque, old log cabins have withstood fire and beetles and enormous loads of snow. Many thousands of people have passed through there on vacation. It is at the heart of the early wilderness movement, circa 1919.

But this little blip of a rustic settlement soon might be another shadow on Colorado’s ghost town map if the owners don’t win their pending permit appeal with the U.S. Forest Service.

Call me sentimental, but I’d really hate to see it go.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.


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