Welcome to SKJ Travel ... my narrative travel blog where you can join me vicariously in adventures around the world. I tell my stories through both words and photographs. If you're joining me on a smart phone, click HERE to quickly access the archive and essays. People say to me all the time, "You should write a book about your travels." Well, my friends, this is essentially it. And in this age, an online blog is easier, displays a bajillion more photos, needs no publisher, and often reaches a broader audience than in print. Unlike a formal book or essay, though, I'm mostly just writing casually off the top of my head, but I hope, dear readers, you will feel as if I'm having a conversation with you. In the archives you'll find personal posts from some of my travels. To read my more formal articles and documentaries visit one of the blue buttons above or see the Travel Essays section. Friday Photos are typically updated weekly, and Tuesday Tales are updated sporadically. You can follow SKJ Travel on social media at:
Updated Tuesday July 19, 2022 Updated Friday May 26, 2023
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OK, so ... I had intended this to be pretty much a purely photographic post, something to counterbalance my recently verbose, historically laden Colorado posts, but of course I engage in just a little bit of research and it's hard to hold my tongue. Erik and I took a brief (several day) trip to San Jose, California, a few years back. The motivation was that the Winchester Mystery House was high on Erik's to-see list and so I arranged a trip to see it on a milestone birthday of his. He has a degree in architecture, so architectural oddities are one of his primary interests. And as it happens, I find them fun and interesting also.
The eccentric, rambling mansion was built by widowed Sarah Winchester whose wealth came to her in the late 1800s as the heiress to a large portion of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, made predominantly from the manufacture and sales of the popular Winchester repeating rifle, often touted as "the gun that won the west." At the time I made the plan to visit, what we knew of the house's story was the popular paranormal explanation for the widow Winchester's eccentricities. Admittedly, we found the story appealing. But now we know that it's just a myth built up over the decades that has gained an unfortunate amount of steam. It's perpetuated even by the house's own tours. "The tours and marketing of the Winchester Mystery House still emphasize the supernatural elements of the story. The tale about a talented, philanthropic woman architect falls to the wayside in favor of spooking guests." [Santa Clara University Digital Exhibit.] I guess spooks sell more tickets than smarts.
The SCU digital exhibit far more appropriately suggests letting the labyrinth invite contemplation rather than ghosts, and emphasizes the metaphorical aspects of a labyrinth. For it's an architectural wonder, not a paranormal wonder, and Sarah Winchester was far ahead of her time as a woman competently indulging in architecture and interior design. I have a particular sympathy to this, as even my mother-in-law encountered some resistance as a woman architect in the 1970s, so I can only imagine how Sarah's skills and creativity were disregarded as a woman of the turn of the 20th century.
The debunked yet persistently popular, and perpetuated, notions are that Sarah Winchester kept adding nonsensically onto the house because she was a reclusive nutjob convinced she was being haunted by the ghosts of all the people who had been killed by Winchester rifles, that she was heavily involved with seances, and a psychic told her that she would die the instant she stopped building the house.
So the image portrayed is a muttering woman trying to flee both ghosts and her own death through obsessive carpentry. I had recalled from our visit some of what the guides related (you can only view the house via guided tour) of Sarah's skills and motivations beyond the spiritual, but I felt I could use a refresher. So I had a chat with Google and fell down another rabbit hole (like Colorado history). I ended up reading a lot, particularly articles debunking the whole haunted, spiritual aspect. I felt it only responsible to share at least part of this knowledge if I'm going to present photos of the house. I love a good haunted house and mystery as much as the next person, but I also feel bad for Sarah's memory, how it has been rather desecrated with what is essentially nonsense. Her legacy as a very smart, astoundingly creative and philanthropic individual has been maligned by tales of superstition that contradict her actual spirit and brilliance, so I don't want to share this photo-laden post without acknowledging the truth about her and her creation.
Sarah didn't start building from scratch. Shortly after being widowed, she bought a very modest eight-room farm house and continually expanded outward and upward starting in 1886 until her death in 1922, essentially without interruption, at a cost in today's dollars of $71 million. Below is a historical photo from the Mystery House's website labeled "the oldest known photograph of the house" but it does not supply a date for it. I sort of presume the date is after she bought it.
It now covers 24,000 square feet. It also used to be surrounded by lush gardens with hundreds of plants from around the world. Now it sits anachronistically amid the bustling shopping centers of the Silicon Valley. It was registered as a California Historical Landmark in 1974.
In the photo below, note the "doorway to nowhere" above the sidewalk on the right-hand side. You can also see it in the first photo of this post. Much has been made of these doorways and stairways to nowhere, of which there are several. These features and the maze-like layout are purported to have been designed to confuse ghosts of people killed by the Winchester rifle trying to haunt her. But this is rubbish. A lot of these oddities are the result of the 1906 earthquake that damaged much of the house which was subsequently not rebuilt. So doorways that once opened to balconies now open to nothing; staircases that once led to an upper level now end abruptly. Sarah seemed to be more focused on moving forward with her work rather than repairing beyond necessity the past. I think her goal and joy was in the active designing and building itself, not to have a gloriously finished and perfected end-product.
This is a photo of the house pre-1906 earthquake. The tall tower is one of the things toppled by the earthquake that was never rebuilt.
Another reason for the continual construction speaks to her philanthropic spirit. The house wasn't perpetually sprawled because she wanted to rattle around alone in it or because she believed she would die if she ceased building. The truth is, she was able to employ many people who could support their families on the wages she paid, and some employees even raised their families on the grounds while working various aspects of her property. She felt useful as a source of employment. And she could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, indulging her own architectural and artistic interests with local laborers to manifest her visions. The photo below is provided by the Mystery House's website, labeled, "Sarah's workers."
A lot of the information contradicting all the supernatural, superstitious mythology of the house comes from interviews conducted circa 1950 with people who remembered Sarah, from later recollections provided by descendants of workers at the house, and from letters and other documents and photographs in historical archives in San Jose.
So with 24,000 square feet to the mansion, certainly a lot of labor was required over the years! Some stats on the mansion from the Mystery House's website: 2,000 doors; 160 rooms (at one time, before the earthquake, as many as 500); 52 skylights; 47 stairways; 17 chimneys; 13 bathrooms (which seems kind of a small number to me for 160 rooms); 6 kitchens (which seems oddly high, but I imagine speaks to the fact that Sarah wasn't designing toward some finished product for herself to live in, as she certainly wouldn't need six kitchens; or else it was handy if you got hungry in one wing of the house not to have to travel all the way to another wing to fix a bite to eat!)
And a feature that really stands out is the 10,000 windows. In addition to her fondness for windows and light, she liked stained glass. I do not know a stat for how much stained glass there is. But here are some of the windows and glass.
Some stained glass panels.....
Here is a small selection of the 2,000 doors.
I really appreciated the light, open, airy feel of so many of the rooms. With all the ghostly stories of hauntings and seances swirling around the house, I expected maybe something a little more dark and oppressive. But it's actually a very cheery space. I think it would be quite nice to live there. Though if I really wanted to use the whole house I think I'd have to install moving walkways like they have in airports or it would take me all day just to get around.
The bedroom looks a little dark but it's just because of the heavy velvet curtains. If it were my bedroom I'd replace those with something lighter.
And what is a mansion without a grand ballroom? So here it is below. Did Sarah ever host a ball? This I do not know the answer to. But the rumors about her hosting seances are false. No one who actually knew her, nor the workers who lived there, ever saw her have one or ever heard her express interest in such things.
One of the six kitchens. My guess is the bread is a little stale by now.
Storage room with various wooden parts and ornaments.
We really enjoyed our tour through this amazing house and I recommend it to everyone. But if you go, just remember who Sarah Winchester really was — a visionary, artistic woman ahead of her time, not a crazy lady obsessed with the supernatural. Below is a historical photo of Sarah in a carriage ... apparently photos of her are quite rare.
Other things we did on this trip include Big Basin Redwoods State Park. And the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden — a delightful, free space (as in no admission charge) to wander through, with more than 3,500 plantings and 189 varieties of roses, spread over five acres.
We talked to some of the volunteer gardeners, mostly retired persons ... honestly I would find this a pretty sweet retirement hobby. If you're in the area, I recommend you stop to smell the roses in this garden!
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When we first ran across this old overgrown cemetery above Central City in Colorado, the first thing we had to ask ourselves was, "Who are the Knights of Pythias?"
Maybe you know, but I had to look it up. I guess that's the old person's way of saying I had to Google it. My gracious, how did we ever know things without Google? Trek all the way to a library? Wow, we had a lot of energy. Anyway, I found out, if you don't know, the Knights of Pythias is a fraternal order founded in 1864 in America. Of it, our revered then-president, Abraham Lincoln, said, "It is one of the best agencies conceived for the upholding of government, honoring the flag, for the reuniting of our brethren of the North and of the South, for teaching the people to love one another, and portraying the sanctity of the home and loved ones." Well heck, who wouldn't want to join on those words of endorsement?
And again, maybe you know, but I had to Google "Pythias," as well. He and his pal, Damon, are historical characters who lived in the 400s B.C. and the depth of their friendship is the subject of Greek legend. They belonged to the Pythagorean Brotherhood founded by the father of Greek philosophy, Pythagoras, who held that the two most excellent things for man were "to speak the truth and to render benefits to each other" through bonds of friendship and loyalty. Pythias and Damon's bond has been immortalized by a historical incident in which they had each others' backs when the king of Syracuse condemned Damon to death. (Various renderings of the tale switch the roles of Pythias and Damon ... which can be confusing.) The fraternal order says, "Their loyalty to each other, the adventures that beset them, and the outcome of this noble friendship form the basis for one of the most beautiful stories of history as exemplified in our ritual."
Though many of the gravestones are in disrepair or have disappeared altogether, it's a pleasant cemetery that now finds itself nestled among the aspen trees, with wide paths through the forest. Of the five old cemeteries in this area, all pretty much right next to each other, I find this one the most peaceful.
George Stroehle, below, was born in Austria and fought in our Civil War. Most army units had a band and George was a musician, first class. (Naturally I want to know what instrument he played!) The 45th Illinois Infantry was a highly-respected Union infantry regiment that fought in some of the most famous battles of the Civil War including Shiloh and Vicksburg. I don't know which years he served in the infantry, but it existed 1861-1865 expressly to fight in the Civil War, and was disbanded afterward. His kids are buried across the road in the Masonic cemetery.
I can't say exactly why, but I really like Captain Webb's disassembled gravestone right along a path between the Knights of Pythias and the Central City cemeteries. I guess I want to know what he was a captain of. I couldn't find any information on him; his wife was born in Cornwall, but I found nothing further on her either. These are three photos of it in different seasons.
My little phone camera actually tends to work pretty well catching sun rays and lens flare, and as I walked by this gravestone I noticed a beam from the very low sun striking the top of the stone. So I got out the phone and snapped a pic but planned to maneuver around to arrange the scene such that the sun beam was directly above the pointed finger. But alas the phone ran out of battery, so I only got this one photo. Even though it wasn't what I ultimately wanted, I think it's still a pretty fun picture.
The boundary between the Knights of Pythias Cemetery and the Central City Cemetery is not clearly denoted. On the west side of each cemetery there is a gate and metal fence; the cemeteries are side-by-side and there is nothing I can see separating them into the northern one (Pythias) and southern one (Central City). There may have been a fence in times past, but walking between the two you come across this lovely vista, and the grove of aspen trees seems like the natural border for them.
To me it seemed that Nellie Ballard's grave, both photos below, was on the Central City side but she's listed in Find A Grave in Knights of Pythias with an additional, but not filled-in, entry in Central City. I found several other names that had two listings in both cemeteries, so I think the boundary is fuzzy to everyone. It's hard to tell from the photos, but this is right on the connecting pathway. Nellie has such a friendly tree arching over and protecting her.
So now we have wandered far enough south that we are conclusively in the Central City Cemetery.
"Chas" Engdahl (given name Charles) died instantly in 1907 inside a mine in Russell Gulch when a series of dynamite charges he was tamping 1,600 feet below ground exploded.
One of the best things about exploring the old cemeteries near me is that a lot of the epitaphs spur me to learn local history that I didn't know before. I learned a lot in Leadville's Evergreen Cemetery a couple years ago. Having run across this tombstone below, I was motivated to Google the Sleepy Hollow Mine, and learned about a major event in the early days of Central City -- the Americus and Sleepy Hollow Mine disaster.
A major issue with mining here is keeping water pumped out of the tunnels and working areas below ground. We recently ran into a fellow who is working in one of the old mines in Central City that has been purchased with plans to restart production ... after about 200 feet of water is pumped out. Anyway, several adjacent mines in 1895 were in a dispute over the issue of drainage and prorating the expense of drainage between several owners. One of the owners decided to let the water collect in the lower portion of their mine which was above portions of the adjoining Americus and Sleepy Hollow mines. The reservoir of water broke through a section of ore and everyone below the line of the break was almost instantly submerged, "and their bodies must lie there for weeks," according to a newspaper article from the time. The article describes the rescue effort:
"The sounding of the whistle gave the first signal of disaster, and soon the shaft building of the Sleepy Hollow mine was so crowded with families and relatives of the imprisoned miners and those wanting to give assistance that it was almost impossible for the work of rescue to go on.
Sheriff Williams finally arrived on the ground, the building was cleared and practical miners offered their services in lowering the bucket. The farthest depth attained was 330 feet, the accumulated gas forced up by the rising water being such that a candle would not burn at a greater depth.
A second effort was made, a larger sized safety lamp having been place in the bucket. The rescuer who fist descended in the bucket found Mr. H. Prisk at the 330-foot level. On reaching the surface he was almost in an insensible condition. Another man went down afterward, but was unsuccessful in reaching a lower point in the shaft owing to rising of water."
Fourteen men in total drowned in the mines, two in Americus and twelve in Sleepy Hollow. Below is a historical photo of the funeral in Central City for the disaster victims.
Mr. Albert T. Chappel was thrown from a wagon while hunting with friends, and as unlikely as it seems, his double-barreled shotgun discharged in the fall. The shell from one barrel hit his arm and from the other hit his leg, which subsequently had to be amputated. Although the amputation was successful, he died but three days later from gangrene. He was 21 years old.
I'm afraid I just have to chuckle at Mr. Ely's middle name — the "J" stands for Jabez — because I always thought "Jabez" was a made-up name for the Ogden Nash poem, "The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus," which features the naughty boy, Jabez Dawes. It says Mr. Ely was a "pioneer of 1858" ... I've seen that epitaph on several gravestones in various mountain cemeteries in Colorado. Just makes me wish I knew more of his story; these epitaphs are such a tease!
I find it so interesting to see where the people who died here hailed from. Big cities have the reputation as the "melting pots" of America. But the old mining camps and towns were full of immigrants as well. I think Ireland and Cornwall are most highly represented around this area, but George Stegner, left, was born in Saxony, Germany.
Thomas Hooper, born in England, died in 1881, aged 22, in the United Gregory Mine when a block of rock above him gave way beneath an ore cart and he was crushed to death under one ton of ore.
William Reynolds died at 31 from “miner’s disease.” No further description is given of what exactly that means, but I presume a type of lung disease, as is probably the most common health affliction of miners. His parents are from Cornwall. His dad died of heart failure. I find these tidbits interesting because they are some of the few male deaths not listed as some sort of accident. Of course many a cause of death is a mystery to history, not noted for posterity, but of the ones I find info on, it's rare to see a non-accident cause listed, even though William’s was still related to mining. Both men's obituaries specifically mentioned they were very well liked among their peers. Mrs. Reynold's death is listed with the now outdated term, “apoplexy.” I.e. a stroke.
A few more shots I have no further info about, but I think they are picturesque amid the mountain forest reclaiming them.
When I looked up Joseph Nicholas George, gravestone on the left below, I discovered he is buried in yet another discreet cemetery, even though there is no indication that it is separate from the Central City one. But there is actually a tiny Foresters Cemetery, for members of yet another fraternal order, the Ancient Order of Foresters, which originated in England in 1834. If you’re curious, as of course I was: This order, evolved from the even older Royal Foresters, was at first a social order until the members decided they had a duty to assist their fraternal brethren who fell on hard times “as they walked through the forests of life.” Rather than allowing their families to become destitute if the head of the family was incapacitated, the members began paying money into a common fund to dispense as “sick pay” and funeral grants to those in need. I like that their chief officer is titled simply High Chief Ranger (and the various lower ranks are other types of “rangers”) rather than some kind of ridiculous title (in my opinion) of other orders like Noble Grand (IOOF), Exalted Ruler (Elks), or Worshipful Master (Masons), etc. The Foresters seem a little more humble and egalitarian.
Lillie Mitchell, aged 7, is the stone on the right, also in the Foresters.
So to my knowledge so far, all in one basically contiguous area above Central City, there are seven cemeteries for the old miners and pioneers, five of which belong to some fraternal order.
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We skipped a trip to Mexico in 2021 because of COVID and came back in March 2022 during my nieces' and nephews' spring break. And what a magical time that proved to be (we've typically gone earlier in the winter) at my favorite little lagoon, Popoyote Lagoon — a refuge for the American crocodile which has also become a refuge and nesting zone for a plethora of birds. If you happen to have been following me for awhile, you'll have already read how the roseate spoonbill population has exploded over the years I've been hanging out at this lagoon. There are vastly more birds and also vastly more mangrove branches and other foliage making the photo shooting ironically more difficult in spite of the burgeoning population. I found a few holes in the foliage I could focus through, but they were few indeed.
I think I will not find myself here in the month of March again, making this an extra special year, and a real highlight for my decade of visiting. So I'll share with you a fair bunch of the photos I managed to capture. Although it will be hard for you to picture in your head the photographing challenges, please admire all of them for how tricky they were to get! And know that I was able to get a passable photo of only a tiny fraction of the birds actually present.
Let's start with my favorite baby ... yes, of the ones I could see I had a favorite — this little spoonbill that I nicknamed The Baron, as he was always looking over the edge of the nest and spreading up his wings, just itching to take that first flight.
They're cute but a little gangly.
This one in a nest of older chicks has some personality, too! This nest I could photograph because Erik held open a hole in the fence wide enough for me to fit my lens through. Thick foliage plus a chain link fence to overcome!
We'll come back to more spoonbill chicks, but now check out these baby snowy egret chicks! How sweet are they?! The layer of gray feathers mixed with the white is kind of a cool look.
We'll come back for more egrets, too. But here is one more species whose chicks I saw — wood storks. This first pic, with the tiny little head barely sticking up above the nest, my arm nearly fell off holding up my heavy camera and lens, as I had to shoot basically straight above my head, and after I saw it pop up once, I waited and waited and waited for it to pop up high enough again to snag a photo. And alas .....
These are some older wood stork chicks. One of the cool things is that for all the bird species, the nests held a variety of ages of the chicks from sleepy, newly hatched ones to demanding teenagers.
Wood storks are rather fascinating birds and it seems pretty obvious how they got their name. Here's one sitting in its nest quite well camouflaged with the wood branch beside it.
They are quite large birds; it's amazing how they manage to squeeze their nests into this area in such dense foliage among a high density of other nests. See more wood storks in my post from 2020.
In addition to so many babies, I had the pleasure of spotting a new bird species I hadn't seen before: the yellow crowned night heron. I watched this couple building their nest each day and am a little sad I was there too early to see their chicks, I bet they are cute! But this was another shooting situation that just about took my arm off. There was one little hole that I could see them through the thick foliage. So I had to stand in a precise spot holding my lens up for ages until they moved just right into the spot of open space. I wanted to get photos of them interacting with each other, which meant, of course, I had to stand and wait even longer for such actions to take place, lens up, finger on the shutter button waiting for that magical fraction of a second when all factors came together. But I think it was worth it. These might not be world class photos, but I'm super pleased considering what I went through and how beautiful the birds are.
For the longest time, the pair would only "pose" in tandem, never looking at each other or interacting.
Then they only faced opposite directions. I'm not sure the caption for this one, but the one with its wing open is saying something to me. I presume she's the female, as she's a tad smaller than the other one. It's like she is showing me her wing like a ballroom dancer might hold up her gown for all to see its folds. The way she's got her leg extended out contributes to my sense of her being a dancer, perhaps getting ready for a tango.
I also waited for ages to be able to get a photo of them with their top feathers splayed out. This was about the best I managed, which isn't awesome and their feathers aren't as far out as they can get, but it's something.
Finally they face each other. By the time this moment happened in the tiny space available to capture them in a photo, my arm was literally trembling from the strain of having held up my heavy camera/lens combo. The hole in the foliage was so small, and these birds were more camouflaged than the white egrets and pink spoonbills, a number of people walked by me pointing and talking about the spoonbills, I'm sure wondering why I was focused at a tangle of trees instead of the magnificent birds, haha. A couple people kindly pointed out some spoonbills as if I couldn't see them.
And then, poke! "Get out my way, Bub!"
Okay, as promised, now back to the spoonbills and egrets ... at feeding time! Lots of noms to be had from the throats of mom and pop.
These snowy egret parents I actually felt a little sorry for. Their growing children look very demanding!
Look at how sinister the middle child on the right is! Whew, I'm glad he's not a predatory bird who could hurt me, or I'd be scared!
I don't know how to properly convey to you the overwhelming cacophony that filled this small lagoon teeming with baby chicks of several species all crying for food and crying for whatever other reasons and parents calling for whatever reasons ..... Here is a photo to try to illustrate the density of nests throughout the lagoon. I can see eight nests and three species of birds in this one shot, just taken with my phone camera. Now imagine everywhere I can see in the lagoon is as dense, and a lot of those birds are making noise. Also notice at the bottom of this pic the egret looking silly preening the underside of his wing.
If you don't remember me saying this in the past, I reiterate that in 2012 there was but one spoonbill couple in the lagoon. Then ten years later it looks like above! I consider this a special experience in my life to have witnessed this population grow and flourish from one couple to more than I can count.
These spoonbill couples were so close to each other, the bottom pair could hardly stand up underneath the other nest. Neither of these couples had chicks yet.
And some more spoonbills. I may not see them again here (because after ten years, I may not be returning during their nesting season), so I'm cherishing all the photos I managed to procure this year. A sweet pose from a couple and a silly pose from a bird looking at me upside down:
Visiting the same place each year for a decade and photographing the same animals has also provided an opportunity, I just realized, to chart my "progress" with photography equipment and skills. My first posts were with a point-and-shoot. Then I had a consumer-grade DSLR camera and lens. Then I got a pro-level lens and mid-grade camera, and finally a pro-grade camera to go with the lens. I think in addition to the upgraded equipment, my skills upgraded in tandem. I'm kind of embarrassed to leave up the photos I posted from the first few years! But I didn't start this blog to show off photography, even though it has evolved into a very photo-heavy blog. I guess I rely more on photos than words to convey a lot of my travel narrative these days.
I didn't snag many photos of crocodiles this year. This whole lagoon is here because of the crocodiles, as a refuge for them! But there are several reasons why it was difficult to obtain good shots this year. Here are a couple, though, just as a nod to remember the reason that this amazing little lagoon is protected.
Lastly, a couple other birds from a different nearby wildlife refuge: first a pelican and then a new bird I was introduced to, the black crowned night heron.
In my post from 2020, our previous visit, I mentioned how happy we were to find our friend, Noel. This year we were very concerned because we knew that Playa Linda had largely shut down during COVID and we wondered if his business survived. We were saddened to walk to the food stalls and discover him missing. We asked around about him, and someone told us he still lived there but no longer had a food stall. We asked that man if he could relay a message, and we wrote an email address that Noel could contact us at. We walked back to our hotel feeling pretty skeptical that he would ever receive the message.
The following afternoon, while Erik and the rest of the family went to play pickle ball (something my knees do not allow me to do), I was going to read the book I brought in the cool hotel suite, but the maids arrived just then to clean. I didn't want to tell them to go away and I also felt awkward just sitting on the couch while they cleaned. So I decided to go to the lagoon, though I hadn't planned to that day. As I was walking past the food stalls on the way to the viewing areas, I heard, "Shara? Shara?" I looked around, and there was Noel! He had received our message but didn't have a way to email us. So he had come to the beach and had been there all day on the off chance we might walk down there. The only reason I did was because of the maids coming to clean.
So a happy reunion. We spent another day driving around together, sightseeing, and he took us to a delicious local's restaurant for lunch. OK friends, I hope you enjoyed a little time with me during baby bird season in Ixtapa!
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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.
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.
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