Spring Break 2017: Ball Rock and Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

After a lazy day of driving, I left the Austin area looking for something relatively easy to hike. Sort of on a whim, I turned off towards Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park and then pulled over to hike Ball Rock.

It was a pretty short hike and I found myself at the summit fairly quickly. The sun was warm but it was fairly breezy.

After I summited and looped back around to the van, I continued south to Berlin-Ichthyosaur. I immediately drove up to the fossil site excited to check it out. Unfortunately, tours of the shelter only happen on the weekend (and they charge another $3 on top of your $7 entry fee into the park). I had to content myself with just peering in the windows.

I spent a little time poking around the Berlin townsite before heading further west!

Colorado Ghost Town: St. Elmo

Sprocket and I were so excited to head out for adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that we left Thursday evening although we weren’t going to meet Mike until Friday afternoon. By the time I got to Buena Vista I was starting to get a little bit tired so we headed up in the mountains and found a place to sleep just shy of the ghost town of St. Elmo.


Founded in 1878 as Forest City the name was soon changed to St. Elmo since Forest City was too popular a name and it was causing confusion for the post office. The name came from a novel one of the founders was reading. In 1879, construction began on the Alpine Tunnel that would connect Pitkin and St. Elmo through the Continental Divide. Between construction of the tunnel and mining operations the town filled with the usual assortment of saloons, dance halls, and brothels.

St. Elmo

Alpine Tunnel opened in 1881 and St. Elmo became a stop on the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad. Along with the railroad came more “reputable” residents including the Stark family. Population of St. Elmo swelled to nearly 2,000 around the turn of the century with most working at the Mary Murphy Mine, Teresa C. Mine, The Pioneer, or the Molly.

St Elmo

The Stark’s descendants were some of the towns only year-round residents after Alpine Tunnel closed in 1910, the mines closed throughout the 1920s, and the last train ran in 1922. Anabelle Stark and two of her siblings remained in the town through the early 1950s, aquiring most of the structures in town believing that St. Elmo would rise again. Anabelle and her brother Tony were institutionalized for their own protection in the mid 1950s; they bathed rarely and let garbage build up in their hotel. Although authorities were later convinced Tony and “Dirty Annie” weren’t a threat to anyone, Tony died shortly after being released. Anabelle went to a nursing home in 1958 and died in 1960.

St. Elmo

St Elmo

Most of the structures in St. Elmo are privately owned and many are summer vacation homes. An effort is currently under way to find money to stabilize and preserve several structures including the Home Comfort Hotel and the Stark Bros. Store and the American House Hotel parlor with various grants. Historic St. Elmo & Chalk Creek Canyon, Inc. will be attempting to raise $18,000 in matching funds for these grants in 2016 with work to be completed by the end of summer 2017.

In the summer, the rebuilt town hall is open to visitors as is the general store. I’ll definitely have to stop when I come back through to explore more of the area including Tin Cup Pass!

St Elmo

St. Elmo




Danger, Tatiana. “St. Elmo’s Fire: The Tragic Story of America’s Most Enchanting Ghost Town.” Roadtrippers. 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

DeJong, D.J. “St. Elmo receives grant for American House.” The Chaffee County Times. 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

“St. Elmo, Colorado.” Legends of America. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Exploring the Book Cliffs

After weather sent us scurrying from the San Rafael Swell, we headed to the Book Cliffs. Although I-70 passes along their base from US-6 east to Grand Junction, they’re a relatively unvisited area. Our adventures in the Book Cliffs started in the (ghost?) town of Thompson. The remaining residents have put up a sign with a map detailing the recreational activities available from their little town:

Thompson, UT map

We camped out for the night as it was getting dark and headed to the petroglyph (rock art carvings) AND pictograph (rock art painting) panels in Sego Canyon. Most of my experience with rock art in the Southwest has been with petroglyphs so I was really excited to see the pictographs:

Petroglyphs in Sego Canyon

Pictographs in Sego Canyon

Sego Canyon pictographs

After we checked out the rock art (and waited for the sun to peak over the canyon walls), we headed up Thompson Canyon to the end of the road then returned to head up Sego Canyon and the ghost town of Sego. Sego was a coal mining town that appears to have operated off and on from the 1890s through 1948.

Sego ghost town

Abandoned building near Sego

Cows Sego Canyon

The road goes about 15 miles up into the Book Cliffs and dead ends at the Ute Indian Reservation. We were able to drive almost all the way up (about 13 miles) and walked the rest of the way. The views were incredible!

Sego Canyon Views

Views from the top of Sego Canyon

I even spotted bear tracks in the sand near the end of the road:

Bear track, Sego Canyon

We headed down the canyon and turned onto Book Cliffs Road (clearly marked as a 4×4 road…). It was quite an adventure, as the road dropped into a deep, narrow canyon and climbing back out wasn’t the easiest thing to do but Forrest and the van managed just fine (I tried to manage the chaos in the van and Sprocket slept…).

Van at the Book Cliffs

Forrest at the Book Cliffs

Book Cliff Road

Van in canyon

Road in Wash

Book Cliffs Canyon

Eventually, we cut back south to I-70 and skipped east to Book Cliffs Over The Top Road. According to the map it was possible to make a loop up one canyon, over the top of the plateau, and then dropping down another canyon.

Book Clifs Over The Top Road


As we suspected, the top of the plateau was still pretty muddy and we had to skip our plans for making a loop. Despite the fact our plans had changed, it was awesome to be that high and have views out in every direction. I’m sure we’ll be back with the jeep in a more hospitable season to explore some more!

Tavaputs Plateau

Tavaputs Plateau


F and I traveled to Reno last week for the Northwest Mining Association conference. My boss was kind enough to pay for airfare for F to tag along with me for the week (it was super helpful to have him around!). Most of the week was taken up with conference like happenings of talking about work and careers and products.

Tuesday, we had mostly to ourselves and decided to go on some adventures. (We had a rental car all to ourselves. Even though it was a Kia Rio, not a Soul, occasionally one of us would pop out with “Everyday I’m shufflin'” while driving.) First we headed to Virginia City. Virginia City was the location of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver strike in the United States. The town was founded in 1859 and peaked with a population of almost 30,000 in its 20-year heyday. I love historic towns so off we went.

Continue reading “Reno”