It was 1966. LBJ was in office, Pampers were born, Carnaby Street-inspired floral polyester was everyone’s fashion statement, “Valley of the Dolls” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” set the publishing parameters of the year, and gas was $.32 a gallon. And I was a newly minted college graduate, on a road trip adventure from New York to California. High on my Must See List was an authentic ghost town, and I would find one from the contents of “Jeep Trails to Colorado Ghost Towns”, a newly-published book by Robert L. Brown.
Fast forward 44 years to the summer of 2010, and another road trip adventure. This time, I planned to revisit the quintessential, authentic ghost town I had discovered on that first trip. To my great relief, Animas Forks, population zero, elevation 11,584 feet above sea level, basked magnificently in the clear Colorado sun. The 13 mile spur off the main road, more ripped than a body builder’s abs, was a bone-jarring experience which made the whole quest special.
In 1966 I slept in the grandest house in town, in a sleeping bag on the floor. The view through the bay window looked directly at a large mine, source of either galena or silver-bearing gray copper. With the inside of the house illuminated by a camping lantern, and my camera anchored on a tripod, I made a long exposure photo, using – are you ready for this – flashbulbs to give the shadows some detail. The photos below were taken 44 years apart:
In its heyday, Animas Forks supported dozens of buildings, for the 1500 or so residents. Included were assay offices, shops and larger stores, a hotel, several saloons, and a two-cell jail. Some of these buildings were visible in 1966, but fewer in 2010.
The large house, now known as the Walsh House, has a history of its own, most of which is unsubstantiated, but making a good story, nonetheless. Thomas Walsh “moved uptown” with his family, after discovering silver in the fabulously productive Camp Bird Mine near Ouray, CO. In later years, legend has it that Walsh’s daughter, Evalyn Walsh McLean returned to the house while writing her autobiography Father Struck it Rich. She is undoubtedly better known as having owned the Hope Diamond, during the giddy days of opulence just prior to the enactment of the income tax. Evalyn Walsh is seen wearing the diamond on the book’s cover portrait.
Those 13 miles and an hour later, I was back in Silverton. Handlebars is a popular meeting place for the locals, the atmosphere very congenial, and the environment an eclectic collection of mirth and merriment. A meaty mountain stew, book ended by a few Glenfiddich 12s was a perfect end to a day full of memories, and the heady crispness of autumn in the high country.