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This post was started to show some photos from a particularly forlorn cemetery near me, the Caribou Cemetery. But while I'm at it, I decided to include some photos of the surrounding area. (and as usual, it got a bit out of hand — "some" = quite a lot) Caribou is actually responsible for the name of my town, Nederland, because the gold and silver were mined at Caribou at over 10,000 feet above sea level, but transported down to a mill that lay 2,000 feet lower in Nederland, which in Dutch means "lowlands," so it's all relative. I used to volunteer at our town's Visitor Center and we got quite a few Dutch visitors, and they always wanted to know why our town at 8,200 feet above sea level was named after their country meaning "lowlands."
There is much literature on Caribou and I love the area, and someday I may make my own post about its history. But today we're just going to visit the cemetery and some environs. The first photos here depict all that remains of the town of Caribou that was once home to 3,000 people. The first photo shows the skeletons of a couple stone buildings in the distance; now in 2022, that is all that stands. The second photo shows the waning remains of a wooden cabin from some years ago which is now almost wholly digested by the plants. When I first moved here, it was still standing, the only other remnant besides the stone structure, and I've watched it melt back into the earth. It is a beautiful landscape, though, and I can hardly begrudge the flowers for taking back their land.
So I got on a local mountain cemetery kick this summer, 2022. All the old mountain communities in my 'hood are mining communities established in the 1800s, which experienced varying levels of success and longevity. Like so many in Rocky Mountain Colorado, Caribou was a boom-bust town. The rich lodes were discovered in 1869; by 1870 the place was packed; and by the latter 1890s it was all but deserted. Mining was revived on and off in subsequent decades for different mineral veins, but one would assume the majority of the graves in Caribou Cemetery were dug during those 25 or so heyday years in the 19th century.
I have seen photos from the early- to mid-20th century of some of these headstones, some marking the resting places of locally famous characters. But in a devastating turn of events, nearly all the headstones were stolen some decades ago.
Who can fathom why, or what the loathsome thieves did with them, but they robbed all of us of our local heritage. I mean, if they denoted legendary Egyptian pharaohs or something, while it would still super-suck it would at least be a little understandable. But why these 19th century miners, most of them living obscure lives in the bowels of the earth?
Well, as a result, we are now left with a hillside reclaimed by nature with but the fewest and most humble remains. I did not even know about the vandals when we visited the cemetery. I knew it existed, I knew one access route was closed; we found another access. I just thought it was a pity at the time that it hadn't been kept up like so many of the other mountain mining community cemeteries. It was haunting, beautiful, lonely, mysterious, peaceful. But now that I know why the gravestones are missing and no one kept it up, it is also sad, I'd even go so far as to say tragic.
But here are a few headstone foundations and stones, any engravings wiped out by erosion, toughing it out in the throes of high-altitude nature.
And this admirable aspen, not daunted in the least by a metal fence. It looks so intentional in its growth around the metal rods, as if purposefully telling them, "I will prevail!" No headstone remains within the fence, so it almost looks now like it was built to pen the aspens like livestock.
Added September 2023: since I first wrote this post, some work has been done to clean up and restore what is left of the cemetery. You can read about the work HERE and support it, too!
The cemetery spills down a slope from a hilltop toward a valley that we often drive with our 4x4 vehicles. Caribou creek meanders through this valley creating a willow heaven for the moose's appetite and a peaceful brook to relax by, and apparently a pretty good fishing spot judging by the anglers we run into.
This extended region around Caribou townsite is known as the Caribou Mining District. Within it lies, among many others, the Pandora Mine, which basically overlooks this valley. It was part of the WWI revival of the area, extracting tungsten, which was a highly sought mineral during the Great War used to harden the steel of gun barrels. We have visited these meager ruins, mostly just some machinery for a hoist at the headframe, several times but I only now took the effort to do the research to figure out what mine this is. Like the 3,000-person bustling town of Caribou reduced to nearly nothing, I was surprised to see photos from 1966 of this mine, long abandoned by that time. I'll replicate my experience for you.
First are the remains that we find today. The top photo is from the hoist; the mine shaft is directly beneath it (to the left) but now filled in, as nearly all shafts are by now.
Now my surprise at finding the photos below in the Carnegie Library for Local History, Boulder, collection — a bunkhouse for the workers. The forest has certainly reclaimed that building, so completely it makes me wonder if it was actively torn down. Next time we are there, we will try to see where this bunkhouse could have been.
And this pic matches the first one in my series, showing the machinery inside the shaft house, which now just sits in the open air.
According to thediggings.com there are 80 claims and 46 mines — 29 "producers" and 17 "occurrences" — in the Caribou Mining District. And the Anchor Mine is another one of them still accessible by a combination of 4x4 road and walking. I couldn't find much information about it online but one source says, "In 1936 the mine was worked for gold on a small scale and then the company quit." On the Mines Repository site, there is a scan of an undated typewritten letter on yellowing paper that is a sort of testimonial from someone who knew the mine since he was "a boy," and says, "There is very little of the vein matter that would not pay to run through a mill ... one that will be likely to yield large and steady returns if accompanied by good management. The work that has been done so far has been done with no equipment. The winze [a shaft driven downward into an ore body] should be opened up on a large scale with machinery." It seems pretty clear that the site was never expanded into a large operation; I don't know why it was abandoned.
Here are some views of the mining cart tracks that emerge from the mine shaft and run through this small building. I'm not positive what the building is, but there is a chute at the bottom which makes me consider it could be an ore bin.
The state of this building has declined since we last visited it with that side wall leaning over precariously. Its saving grace might be the trees it's basically leaning against, they might help keep it from completely collapsing.
Some machinery left all by itself.
It's a very peaceful setting and two of the buildings have been maintained.
This might be the original cabin of the first miners? I don't know, but it's quite large for a wooden cabin. It sits at the edge of a pleasant little hillside meadow.
Can you find the little forest troll peeking at me??
Lastly, we'll head back toward the Caribou townsite but west of it for some hilltop views of the area, most of which is contained within the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
And how do we get to these beautiful lookouts and old mines, exploring our nature and history? With Pinzy and Chewie, of course! Pinzy in the first photo and Chewie in the second.
Lastly, I'll tack on a few wildflower shots from the area. Several of my favorite wildflower fields are in this area and it is a common happy hour destination for us in the summer. Whipple's penstemons are some of my local favorites with white and purple varieties. The red is Indian paintbrush which grows quite profusely.
There are also a lot of blue columbine up here, Colorado's state flower.
I am also very partial to mariposa lilies, which in 2022 had a superbloom year; they were everywhere!
A less common flower is this gentian, but there is an area at Caribou where they are particularly plentiful.
Blanket flowers often seem to me to have a lot of personality. This one among the ubiquitous red paintbrush.
And lastly a moose in the area. It's not uncommon to see them here, but I've rarely managed a photo.