... between the peaks of Colorado ...
It was years ago. Maybe thirty, forty. Lorry and I were exploring Colorado with a new (used) motorhome. We went to a place called St. Elmo, which was a long, winding dirt road, up into the mountains. Most of the way there was a mountain stream, a million beautiful sights, spooky wild animals darting across the road -- but certainly no civilization for some 20 miles.
Up, up, up we climbed, the motorhome's V8 engine roaring, the cabin scraping against branches along the narrow road. Up, up, up we climbed, seeing no sign of civilization except the rustic bridges crossing our roaring stream.
It took the better part of an hour to reach St. Elmo. We were some nine or ten thousand feet when we finally spotted signs of human habitation. Yes, there was a small, rustic unpainted town, but it looked like we were in a movie of the eighteen hundreds.
St. Elmo was gorgeous in its worn-out, all-but-abandoned way. There was a town, but most of it had been abandoned. We were told that it had been a popular place during the discovery days, gold and silver abound, all you had to do is dig for it.
But suddenly, the gold and silver was pretty much gone. Mined, sold, traded, hoarded, taken away. What was left were about a dozen melting buildings -- melting is a good word, for they were simply passing away to the next world. There was no one left, hardly, to need the shelter of what those ancient homes provided; we think animals had moved in to several.
There was a general store -- about only thing left of humanity in St. Elmo. It thrived on such occasional visitors such as we were, selling souvenirs of a time past. There was a newspaper office, closed now, but I could see through the dusty windowpane that there used to be newspaper here -- I recognized it for I was earning a living as a journalist. I had some dozen years at my occupation, starting at the Melrose Free Press and then working at the Wakefield Item.
There was a proprietor in the general store, who sold us souvenirs, some of which were authentic, some not. There was a broken-down building that had been a church, and several unpainted "homes" that now had no occupants. But it was a spectacular place, the essence of the old west, now decaying away into history.
The road through St. Elmo continued, roughly, toward the south, between two huge peaks. We struggled to get the motorhome through some ditches, tearing the muffler loose, before finally reaching a minehead.
No one was there, whatever machinery they use was still, the timbers of the building simply gray with age. We climbed around the structure looking for a piece of forgotten silver, but no luck. The mine was there, but no more silver. I spent some time both photographing and drawing what those pioneers had left for us. It was, ummm, startling, spectacular, challenging, and of course beautiful.
Throuth the years we have returned to St. Elmo, and each time we visit there is a new store of tourists. Two years ago there was a bus, with school kids running all over the place.
Nevertheless, St. Elmo is about in the dead-center of Colorado. It has an enormous history, much of which is left right there, out in the open, decaying with time -- but still there. The road beyond the town is now blocked off, but still the winding, twisting road to St. Elmo is worth the trip.
September 5, 2014