By Christina VanGinkel
Ghost towns in general can be a fun place to visit. The history of the towns, coupled with the modern day leftover buildings, scenery, and sometimes, even descendants, can often get ones mind actively inspired in all sorts of directions. I visited my very first ghost town many years ago, and even though I have visited several since, only one other has captured my heart, my spirit, my very thoughts in the same fashion as that very first one, St. Elmo, high atop a mountain in the historic state itself of Colorado.
I was in Colorado, in the energizing little town of Buena Vista, visiting my brother and his wife, and was there with my husband and two of my three children. On a morning when my brother was going to take my husband fishing, my sister-in-law suggested that my daughter and I go with her to visit a real ghost town. My youngest son was left to decide on which group of adults he would go with, and the ghost town won. So, after packing a light lunch, and my sister-in-law announcing that we needed to stop in town to grab a bag of sunflower seeds, we were soon on our way. I had thought that the sunflowers were needed for one of her feeders that she keeps inside of her fenced garden, but soon realized we needed them for our visit to St. Elmo. Heading south out of Buena Vista, via highway 285, we turned west on County road 162, and after following a few signs, for my benefit, not my sister-in-law’s, as she assured me she knew the way blindfolded as it was one of her favorite spots in all of Colorado, we soon were climbing a gravel, dirt road up the side of a mountain. Along the way, she instructed us to obey all of the signs posted, and went on to tell us that even though St. Elmo was a ghost town, it was home to several private residents, and that though tourists were welcome in many of the town’s buildings, they were not welcome in all, as they were private homes.
When we pulled into town, all I can remember many years later was the fact that I was awestruck by the surrounding beauty, and by the thought that a long time ago, a group of very resilient people without the aid of cars, had made there way to the top of this breathtaking beauty and decided to call it home. What was left a good many decades later was no less awe-inspiring.
The general store was as if it had stepped out of a storybook from some past century. The one difference being the eclectic display of what was to us antiques, both inside and out, and that many of the items on display and for sale, would not have been stacked about as they were now, as they would have been being used just to get by, items such as oil lamps, and shovels.
After browsing in the general store, we wandered back outside and walked up the wooden boardwalk, glimpsing a wisp of what once had been. One house was under construction, or I should say reconstruction, and even though it was to be a private home, the owner recognized my sister-in-law from her frequent visits and invited us in. The building was magnificent to say the least, and we were treated to a tour that has filled my dreams of the old west ever since.
When I thought our day was ending, my sister-in-law asked my daughter to go and fetch the sunflower seeds from the car, and told her to meet us across the street from the general store. It was a quiet day, and on future visits, I was never surprised to see what I was about to encounter, yet the wonder of it all has never ceased to amaze me. A pile of very old lumber was piled up, and as we sat down with sunflower seeds in hand, it was as if the ghosts of all the past inhabitants of the town were deciding if they should come out to greet us. Instead, a whole village of chipmunks came pouring down the backside of the lumber pile to scamper into our laps, onto our shoulders, and right into our hands for a treat that they knew wise visitors would bring. I have seen tame chipmunks before, but never in the multitude, or of the disposition that this group greets visitors to the ghost town of St. Elmo. Visit St. Elmo for a peek into Colorado’s historic past!