3 Ghost Towns and Ruins East of Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is filled with ruins and ghost towns. Early pioneers often abandoned their original town sites, littering the Front Range and eastern plains with remnants of a bygone era. Sometimes, natural disasters simply wiped them out. A supplement, or alternative, to the natural setting of national parks exists—and it’s a little bit more, well, decrepit.
Mount Falcon Castle
A lonely castle overlooks Morrison and the Denver skyline.
It is the abandoned home of John Brisben Walker Sr. Walker was an editor and publisher for Cosmopolitan magazine and made over $1 million selling it to the Hearst Corp. in 1905. Once he returned to Colorado after a stint in New York City, he held the first ever concerts at Red Rocks from 1906-1910.
In 1909, he began work on what is now known as Mount Falcon Castle.
Mt. Falcon Castle sits nestled away on a hilltop in 54,000 acres of the Jefferson County Open Space System. Mount Falcon Park is a mere 30 minute drive from Denver. If you are returning from a day at Rocky Mountain National Park, take U.S. Route 36 W to Broadway in Boulder. Then get on state Route 93 S to U.S. Route 6 E in Golden. Head to state Route 470 E before taking U.S. Route 285 S to Parmalee Gulch Road and follow that until you find Mount Falcon Park West Trailhead.
The old Walker Home is an easy 1.5 mile hike from the trailhead. Walk along Castle Trail then hang left once you reach Meadow Trail. Isolated ruins sit waiting at the end.
Lightning is the suspected cause that devastated Walker’s craftsman-style castle in 1918, burning it to the ground. The remains form the Mt. Falcon Park’s centerpiece. Ash from the grand home’s eight fireplaces still marks the crumbling stone.
Mount Vernon Cemetery and Town Site
Morrison holds another somber reminder of the past.
Mount Vernon Cemetery rests solemnly in Mathews/Winters Park. Two remaining gravestones and stone houses are all that is left of the once unofficial capital of the Territory of Jefferson.
The town of Mount Vernon was platted in 1859 during the gold rush and used as a staging area for miners headed to Central City and Black Hawk. The town continued to serve as a minor stop until 26 years later, at which point the town was no longer listed as a stage stop.
Twenty-one-year-old James H. Judy lies at peace here. Twenty one—the age of a senior in college. Local resident Rita M. came walking by as the sun cleared the billowy clouds scattered above. She remembers the gravesite differently than its current condition.
“I thought there used to be more graves here,” local resident Rita M. said. “They must have taken them down or something.”
Wooden crosses used to mark four other graves, but have since been removed. Wind swept grass and a bushel of berries are all that remain.
The site is a short drive from Morrison. Get on Country Road 93 and drive 2.6 miles north to Mathews/Winter Park. A gently inclined Village Walk Trail leads right up to the Mt. Vernon Cemetery.
Mountains in the rearview mirror disappear from sight as we drive east to our next stop.
Right off of U.S. Route 34 E sits a desolate group of run down houses and storefronts that served as one of the first majority African American settlement in Colorado.
In 1910, entrepreneur Oliver T. Jackson filed for a claim for 210 acres in Weld County. Jackson envisioned a place where Black Americans could establish their own self-sufficient towns. He got his chance, and by 1920 Dearfield housed around 300 people.
“I love this place,” Eric Hunter, a traveler parked in front of the lean-to buildings said. “Haven’t been in Colorado long. Nice to know there are sights outside the mountains.”
Living outside the mountains meant farming an area that is extremely sensitive to water shortage. Historian Quintard Taylor describes Dearfield as “the last major attempt at (African-American) agricultural colonization on the high plains.”
After many residents defaulted on equipment and loans after the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl finally sucked the life out of the community.
By 1940, there were only twelve people left.
Today, a gas station, dining hall, cabin and Jackson’s old home still stand. A stone marker like a grave marks Dearfield’s legacy.
Ruins have a special fascination about them. Be they intimidating remnants of castles, a long forgotten cemetery or shambles of an agricultural town, these haggard structures provide a cost free addition to your travelling desires.
Take only pictures and let our past sleep. These structures continue to crumble, and without continued maintenance and upkeep, they might disappear forever. Visit them while you can. You don’t want to arrive during their final vanishing act.