How you can preserve Colorado’s historic sites this summer

Originally Published July 15, 2009

This summer, when we’re out and about, enjoying the beauty of Colorado, we’re probably going to run across something somewhere that counts as an historical site – an old cabin, a ghost town, a mine, a cemetery, even just an old foundation or chimney. You can help keep that site in decent shape, so the next hiker or camper who comes along can enjoy them as much as you.

Take a Picture, Leave the Rest – it’s very tempting when you find an old cabin or ghost town to go into the buildings and look around. Sometimes you can even find furniture, kitchen wares, wall paper and all kinds of other things in these sites. Please don’t sit in the chair, tear the wallpaper off, or worse, leave graffiti. Nothing bugs me – and others – more than going to an historical site, no matter where it is, and finding that someone has carved their name into the wood or rock, or spray painted some ugly looking tag. You want people to know you were there? Then take a lot of pictures and show them to friends, post them on the internet, heck, send them to me with the information about the site, and I might even post them in a photo album here on – giving you credit, of course.

Pack It In, Pack It Out – it’s anther pet peeve of mine to go to a known historical site and see other people’s trash on the ground, in the trees, all over the site. Truly, we don’t need soda bottles, candy wrappers, even diapers just thrown around like it was a dump. Have a respect for other visitors, have a respect for the site, and please bring along a bag for your trash.

Careful With the Trespassing – the law says don’t trespass, so you shouldn’t. Besides, you never know what’s going to be beyond that barb wire fence; some privately owned sites, like the ghost town between Gunnison and Crested Butte, are used as grazing land for cattle. And ranchers don’t take too kindly to you being in among their cattle. Given the time of year, the cows may take immediate exception to you as well. So for your own safety, you really shouldn’t trespass. But if you really MUST see what the other side of that building looks like, or what that outbuilding must have been, then don’t tell me you trespassed to get that picture! Note, I don’t condone trespassing, but allow that sometimes it does happen – knowingly or accidentally. Often, if the site is on private property, you can ask the owner nicely if you can go look at their site if you promise to be careful and not damage or take anything. The worst they can say is no. Respect that no.

Don’t Damage the Property – no matter how curious you may be, if there are boards nailed over the window, or the site is locked, please don’t force your way in. Many historic sites are actually being researched for the materials used, how long they hold up, may even be in the process of being renovated so they can be open to the public. If you were to break in, you could cause more damage than if you just wandered around the building looking in the windows. And since most of these historic sites are on private property or government land, you could get charged with vandalism.

Mind Your Own Safety – Some of the sites may be open, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Old cemeteries sometimes have sinkholes, an old mine may have fumes in it that are no longer vented, an old house may have rotting floors. It pays to be as careful as you can while exploring the site. Some of these old buildings and mines are also being reclaimed by nature; you could very well be disturbing some animals that don’t like you being in what they consider their home now. It may just be a family of raccoons, or it could be a rattlesnake or even something larger. A couple of things to be aware of when searching these things out:

– Be aware of the smell – if there is a strong animal smell, then it’s likely become the home of something big. Quietly back out and go away.

– Don’t stick your hands in anything- snakes and spiders hide in cool dark places.

– Know if rattlesnakes live in the area you’re visiting.

– Don’t enter anywhere where daylight doesn’t go – you may end up disturbing an animal best left undisturbed.

– Wear protective clothing – that plant you just brushed against with your bare legs could be poison ivy. Use common hiking sense – long pants, heavy boots, long sleeve, maybe even gloves if you’re going to climb.

– Remember that even a mouse can and will bite if cornered. Leave the wildlife alone

– Don’t go into open mines – there is no way of knowing the condition of the mine; the slightest noise could well cause a collapse.

– Don’t camp in empty buildings for the reasons mentioned above – you could well be in something’s bedroom that wasn’t home earlier. The three little bears story could take on a whole new angle all of the sudden.

– Let someone know where you will be – this is just common sense for hikers and campers. Tell a friend where you will be, leave a note in your vehicle telling what direction you went and how far you expect to go, and for how long. That way, if an accident does happen, it will be easier for you to get help. DON’T rely on a cell phone – getting a signal in the mountains is often impossible.

Enjoy The Site and The History – if you think you’ve found something that hasn’t been seen in a while by the human eye, contact the local or state historical society and tell them about it. If you have a map, try to mark the location on the map, and take lots of pictures you can pass along. In Park areas, you can mention it at a ranger station and they may be able to tell you more about the site. In the meantime, the Denver Public Library and The Colorado Historical Society have a lot of information about most sites around the state, and they have friendly and helpful staff who are very willing to help you find any information you need.


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