Ghost Towns of Colorado's Hwy 350
Ghost Towns of Colorado’s Hwy 350
The Santa Fe Trail followed much of what is now Highway 350 between the towns of La Junta and Trinidad, Colorado. Deep ruts from struggling wagons can still be seen in some places as you pass through the Comanche National Grasslands south to Trinidad.
Stage stops sprang up along the trail, servicing traders along the route. Then in the late 1870’s, the Santa Fe Railroad laid tracks in its race for the coveted honor of being the first railroad to reach Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the stage stops became railroad stops. Mail was delivered and goods and cattle were transported by the railroad. The tracks running parallel to the highway are still in use today. According to ColoradoPreservation.org , “The Homestead Acts of 1909 and 1916 inspired a settlement boom and the communities became social and economic centers for the new arrivals. The communities were often no more than a store, gas station, school and a handful of residences to serve large agricultural communities.”
Some of these towns leave little or no trace at all, while others leave behind ghostly evidence of hopes and dreams long forgotten.
On a 20-ish degree, sometimes snowy, mostly gray day in January, I set out with a friend to explore the ghost towns along Highway 350. In no time at all, wrapped head to toe in cold weather gear, we were doing the happy dance.
Heading south out of La Junta on Highway 350, we began the 70+ mile stretch of highway toward Trinidad. First stop – Timpas, Colorado.
Named after nearby Timpas Creek, the first post office in Timpas opened in 1891 and remained in operation until 1970. The 1940 census claimed 80 people who called Timpas home. A brick schoolhouse, which now appears to be at least a part-time residence, was built in 1916. The only signs of life we saw amid the few buildings in varying degrees of decay, were two very large and friendly hogs held at bay by an electric fence. Population now might number no more than a handful, if that.
Shadows play on the wall of an abandoned house in Timpas, Colorado
The ruins of Timpas
Delhi has been long abandoned. Population, 0. Most recent claim to fame, Delhi was the location of one scene in the 1973 film "Badlands" with Martin Sheen. There’s a road sign announcing your arrival in Delhi, and a wonderfully photogenic, maybe 1920’s era, version of a modern convenience store, the One Stop.
The One Stop, for all your shopping needs in Delhi
Abandoned house and outbuildings in Delhi
Thatcher, Colorado isn’t completely abandoned. At this time we saw evidence of two modern homes, and folks living in the old Thatcher School House, recently purchased and with hopes of turning it into an artist's retreat, the same goal envisioned by the previous owners.
There were other interesting properties to photograph in Thatcher, built alongside the railroad in 1877. A mysterious and imposing rock structure tucked into the hillside, a black water tower (the tallest structure for miles), and an abandoned house complete with furnishings.
Imposing 2 story stone structure in Thatcher
Thatcher's water tower
Adobe brick house in ruins, Thatcher
Open floor plan, Thatcher
Tyrone has little left to recommend it but a roadside business that appears to have been a mechanic business on one side, (now filling up with tumbleweeds), and something someone saw fit to paint shocking pink on the other, the mattress on the ground suggesting it’s most recent use may have been a bedroom. The tin ceiling, (also shocking pink), is losing its fight with gravity. I thought it was interesting that many of the buildings along the way were built with adobe brick. The walls here were covered by lathe and plaster. On the other side of the railroad tracks, the exterior of a Spanish style school house is in relatively good shape. The inside, not so much.
Pretty in pink, Tyrone, Colorado
Tumbleweeds take over a workshop in Tyrone
Unusual schoolhouse, Tyrone
The icing on the cake was Model 1913, now known simply as Model, Colorado. Quoting Colorado Preservation, “In 1912, the area was full of optimism and the Model Land Irrigation Company planned the ideal irrigated community, Model. However, the 1920s and 30s were full of tumultuous weather and economic depression, causing a sharp decline in population and the abandonment of many towns.”
Model was the largest, most complete almost-ghost town we visited. I say almost because we saw evidence of two, maybe three buildings being occupied. One of which is the Model Mercantile. We spent hours here, photographing the old neighborhood where so many of the houses still stand, many still furnished and others filled with junk. It was heaven for this photographer with an itchy shutter finger.
Model 1913, Mercantile
Highway frontage business property, Model
Welcome to the neighborhood, Model, Colorado
Barnyard in Model, remains of a John Deere tractor
This area was hit hard by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, properties reverting to the banks and sold for pennies on the dollar to large cattle operations. In some locations we had to be careful where we stepped…the cattle are still very much a part of the landscape. And that’s OK with me. They don’t paint the walls with graffiti, and they don’t walk off with ‘souvenirs’.
Model was the town my sister and I grew up in for the first 10 years of my life, from the mid-1970s to 80s. My parents bought the large Model school house and renovated it into our house. Shortly after they sold it and moved away in the mid 80s it tragically burned down. I have many happy memories of the place of of the people who lived there during that time. The last time I went through Model was in 1999 when I was passing through that part of Colorado, and had the opportunity after so many years away to spend a short time talking with Charlie, the old (ancient?) owner of the mercantile. When I was growing up there, I recall he owned and maintain most of the smaller houses in town, as rentals. Each house had its own bright color (apart from the adobe houses).
Thank you for the pictures and this page, it brings back so many memories. If anyone reads this who also lived in Model during those years, I'd love to reconnect. You can reach me at yann.dubois at gmail dot com
My family homesteaded here from about 1918 to before 1928. Their homestead was just on the west side of the "Picketwire" at Taylor Arroya, about 6/7 miles east of Model (pretty much the far southeast corner of the Army Reservation). I remember my dad telling stories of raging thunderstorms scaring the young kids growing up without a mother as my grandpa was away working for the railroad. My grandpa sent him alone to move the family's livestock overland over 100 miles from here to Ramah, Colorado, with only his dog for company. It is hard to imagine that today!
David Wayne Stoner(non-registered)
These are beautifully haunting photographs, both thrilling and enchanting, exquisite expressions of how quickly things can change. Wonderful. Thank you, Debi, for this rare look into the not so long ago past.
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