Stephen King fans might recall that it was a visit to the Stanley Hotel just before it closed for the winter that inspired King to write The Shining. Rather than scare guests away, however, the hotel was instead heavily inundated with reservation requests for a specific room (217) on the second floor that was peripheral to the story. The hotel reacted by switching around all of the room numbers on the second floor, thus insuring that an entire floor, rather than just one room would benefit. So perhaps nowadays owning a house rumored to be haunted might not be such a bad thing.
Far and away the most famous ghost story from South Park is the story of Silverheels, a beautiful dance hall girl for whom the very picturesque mountain (almost but not quite a 14er) to the northwest of Fairplay is named. The legend goes that early in the town's history there was a smallpox epidemic that decimated the population. Silverheels nursed many of the surviving miners back to health, but then mysteriously disappeared. Rumor had it that she had contracted the disfiguring disease herself and had not wanted anyone to see her once beautiful but now scarred face. Some said that she showed up years later, face wrapped in a shawl and lived a hermits existence until the time of her death. Many believe that her ghost can be seen occasionally in the Buckskin Cemetery near Alma.
Many of the other ghost stories have their roots in the early gold rush years of the area. In the town of Alma vigilante justice often prevailed. At an altitude of 10,400 feet there was a saying that "the law don't get this high."
Several times in its early history vigilantes would take an alleged murderer (or perhaps horse thief) to a tree up the hill from town, known only as the Hanging Tree. At one time the tree was marked and there was even a grave underneath the tree. Now both are gone, but there is a feature that makes the Hanging Tree stand out from every other tree in the area. The Hanging Tree presents a very bizarre appearance and seems to be hunched over like an old man, whereas all of the trees around it are straight and tall.
Some South Park businesses even advertise their ghosts. The Fairplay Hotel, for example, not only told any guest who asked about their resident ghost, but even printed ghost stories in their menus. The ghost was rumored to be very friendly.
Another friendly ghost was said to reside in the building which at one time had housed the old hospital. Most thought it was the old doctor who had cared for the areas residents over the years.
Less friendly apparitions are associated with the area's haunted houses. One alleged haunted house in Fairplay, spooked renters who claimed that lights would turn on by themselves in the middle of the night. There was also a room known as the "red room" where no matter how many times it was repainted, the original red color wall would eventually bleed through.
Then there is the story of a once abandoned hotel in Alma. For years it had been rumored to be haunted and so on one Halloween, a number of town residents (mostly described by other locals as the town "hippies") decided to spend Halloween night at the hotel and have everyone drop acid. The story goes that the party was one for the ages but nobody saw anything out of the ordinary or at least that might not have been an acid induced hallucination.
That is, until the morning when they noticed that one of their number was dead with no apparent cause of death.
Because it had been a local tradition that everyone in town had a nickname (a guy nicknamed Crazy Larry by locals almost won an Alma mayoral election as a write-in candidate one year), it was suddenly realized that the poor fellow had died without having been given a nickname.
To make up for that oversight from that day forward he was known as "Old Dead Fred."
From downtown Denver go south to Hampden Avenue, which turns into US 285 or take 1-70 to W-470 and go south until you come to the US 285 exit and head towards Fairplay. After a climb through Turkey Creek canyon and some Jefferson County Open Space that includes beautiful old ranches, you come to Conifer, a town that experiences some of the heaviest snows in the Front Range and is the turn-off for Evergreen. Pine Junction, located on the Jefferson-Park county line, Shaffer's Crossing and Deer Creek proceed Crow Hill, a steep hill that drops down into Bailey, the largest town in Park County.
From there US 285 follows the South Platte River through Shawnee, Grant and the climb up Kenosha Pass. The most interesting sight on this part of the trip is the immense statue of Christ, called the Christ of the Rockies, that overlooks a convent and monastery at Santa Maria, between Shawnee and Grant.
At the top of Kenosha Pass there is a spectacular view of South Park below. According to "Bayou Salado," the definitive work on South Park, the term Park is derived from the French word "parque," meaning a game preserve. Another of South Park's early names was Bayou Salado, another French term, which meant salty marsh. There is one section of South Park to which this term might accurately apply. That is the area near Salt Creek in the southern part of South Park near the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness.
As a reporter for the Park County Republican and Fairplay Flume, known more commonly simply as the Flume, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was the first to report on the numerous UFO sightings over the Park. It seemed like just about everyone in town had seen UFOs at one time or another. A lot of folks had developed theories as to why the UFOs were present in such numbers. One of the most common was that the large deposits of uranium in the area were of interest to extraterrestials. One area just north of Fairplay, known as Reinecker Ridge, was the scene of enough UFO sightings that many locals supposed the area must house some sort of UFO base.
Some of the very first reports of cattle mutilations came from the US 285 corridor. Viewers of the animated television show, supposed set in South Park (my children from my first marriage attended South Park Elementary, which in local reaction to the show has been renamed Edith Teeter Elementary), might also remember that the very first episode of the show (Cartman Gets an Anal Probe) dealt with UFO sightings in the area.
South Park is an altiplano, that is a high altitude plain or plateau, and, except for the passes, is the highest altitude part of US 285. As the highway goes over Trout Creek Pass and the way to Buena Vista, Salida and the San Luis Valley, the terrain undergoes spectacular changes. Trout Creek is fed by warm springs and as such is a great fishing spot for Brown Trout particularly. Descending into the Arkansas River valley from Trout Creek Pass, the majestic Collegiate Peaks, Mts. Harvard, Yale and Princeton loom in the distance. The contrast is particularly startling because of the precipitous decline in altitude of the valley.
Tectonically in this area the Arkansas River valley is part of the Rio Grande Rift Valley, an area of continental separation where rock from the earth's mantle is surprisingly close to the surface. To the south of Buena Vista lies Salida, a town whose mass UFO sightings recently made national news. The last leg of the trip before 285 crosses the border with New Mexico, is the San Luis Valley, most famous for the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Seemingly completely out of place in the high Rocky Mountains, the sand dunes are not only a geological oddity but a good deal of a mystery. Some dunes are hundreds of feet high and local legend tells of odd creatures that live in the dunes. Unsurprisingly the dunes are also an area of a good deal more than average UFO sightings.
One of my favorite towns in the San Luis Valley or anywhere, Del Norte, used to have a motel that included a drive-in theatre so you could sit in your motel room and it was like being in the most comfortable drive-in theatre in the world. The most memorable movie I ever saw there was Robert Redford's "The Milagro Beanfield War," a movie that was set in an area very similar to the San Luis Valley, just across the New Mexico border. In 1996, Del Norte was the scene of a series of amazing sightings which have been recounted on quite a few websites over the years. One of the best is this: http://www.anomalies.net/archive/cni-news/CNI.0541.html
The website http://www.cufon.org/cufon/topufos.htm
lists the top 300 UFO hotspots in the nation by County. All of the counties along the US 285 corridor are ranked. Chaffee County, which includes Buena Vista and Salida gets the lowest ranking at 213, while Park County, the home of South Park ranks quite a bit higher at #16 in the nation.
Incredibly Alamosa County in the San Luis Valley is the third hottest UFO hotspot county in the nation, while Saguache County, also in the San Luis Valley and not any of the counties of Nevada that include Area 51, ranks as the #1 UFO hotspot in the nation.
An alleged underground secret government base, which in conspiracy circles at least, is intimately associated with UFOs is just across the New Mexico border in Dulce, New Mexico. A new posting on a site devoted to the subject claims that on government documents the area is known alternatively as either "Rio Arriba, CO DSD-3, RIO-AUX or the Rio Arriba Scientific Technological Underground Auxilliary." According to some conspiracists, the Dulce area is at least as mysterious (and dangerous) as Area 51.
Of the nearly 80 articles I have done for Examiner.com, only one has ever been deleted. The title of that article was something like "The Ouija board is real and should be avoided at all costs." Examiner emailed me that they pulled that article because it was not "on topic." This seemed rather odd to me in that 1. I was asked by Examiner to be "Denver City Buzz Examiner," I never claimed to have particular or exclusive expertise in that area and 2. I had previously published quite a few articles that Examiner might have considered "off-topic" including articles on 9/11, the Federal Reserve, Newsweek and Christianity, UFOs in central Colorado and on and on. I had thought that if i published one article related to Denver for each that did not I would be pretty safe. I guess that was not the case.
The author of the Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, stated that he thought it was important to write the Exorcist because if it could be shown that the devil is real, then God must be real as well. That is not to say, however, that you should attempt to prove the reality of God to yourself by using the Ouija board. The very real danger to both your physical and mental health are both very real and should never be taken lightly.
Suffice it to say playing or experimenting with the Ouija board is a little like putting your hands in muddy water where there are both piranhas and goldfish. The goldfish are harmless but it is not likely that they will be what is attracted to your hands.
I was specifically inspired to do this article by the experiences of a DENVER based brother and sister.