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Dr. Frazier: Hunted Near Spook City

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Motorcycle art in Saguache  Colorado.
Motorcycle art in Saguache, Colorado.
Three paper maps showed different locations for Spook City. One of my serious off-road motorcycle riding friends gave me his GPS with the location supposedly marked. “Just follow the arrows,” he said. And yet, somehow Spook City as a motorcycle adventure riding point, evaded my hunt.

Possibly Spook City did not want to be found, or maybe no longer existed. The hunt for the lost town did give me an interesting afternoon wandering in the San Juan National Forest of Colorado and maybe an insight into how Spook City acquired its name.

I had known Spook City to be little more than a ghost mining town devoid of people, but with a few animals maintaining homes around it. I did wonder why it was named as it was, as well as the where and why it existed. Spook City finally ended up on my wandering adventure radar screen while I was passing through the small town of Saguache, Colorado. There I saw a half motorcycle and rider stuck on the side of a building 50 feet above the ground.

When I stopped and asked about the artwork I was told it was just “some of the local color” around Saguache County and if I wanted to see something really interesting I should ride up to Spook City. Being a bit of a motor head I thought the art was more than a little interesting, so wondered how the local art expert defined “really interesting.”

At the local ranger station I was given a free map, shown the location of Spook City, and told to go west until I reached the second dirt road to the right, then ride north and “just follow the signs.” With Spook City on my maps and my buddy’s GPS, the task seemed simple enough for my KLR650 and the three to four hours before dark.

If buildings could talk I thought this one would have some tales of tough times mining for gold or silver where there was little or none.
If buildings could talk I thought this one would have some tales of tough times mining for gold or silver where there was little or none.
The first several miles were easy riding over a well graded road and up a gentle climb. I saw several abandoned silver or gold mines and falling down log cabins. As I drove higher into the mountains the aspen trees went from green to golden leaves and then above the colder weather line no leaves on the trees.

The road was also reflecting higher altitude and tougher going, with large rocks in the tracks often bouncing the front wheel out of the line I wanted to take. I finally decided to lower the tire air pressure to 20 psi, which made handling the fully loaded KLR650 a bit easier, but I realized the earlier fun riding was beginning to become more work for me and the motorcycle when I heard the bash plate taking a few hits.

The road became a tougher track and then more of a tractor or ATV trail, with signs less obvious or missing at junctures or forks. Twice I followed what showed on my paper maps as the track to Spook City only to find dead ends at what once might have been small working mines.

As the sun fell lower I started to think about not wanting to be up in the mountains for the night. While I had my tent and sleeping bag packed on the back of the motorcycle, the lack of leaves on the trees and some snow in the dark areas below cliffs told me it would be a cold night versus warmer camping several thousand feet lower, well out of the mountains.

Leaves in the tracks could be as slippery as mud and sometimes hid holes and rocks. I lowered my tire pressure to 20 psi from the highway 36 psi.
Leaves in the tracks could be as slippery as mud and sometimes hid holes and rocks. I lowered my tire pressure to 20 psi from the highway 36 psi.
Shadows on the tracks started to hide the best lines through rocky sections and my internal warning meter was saying, “A smart adventurist would toss the towel in now, trade safety for the folly of trying to find Spook City.” Weighing on the other side on my decision making scale was wanting to complete the adventure, hunt down Spook City after the hard work I had put in, and then scramble out of the mountains before darkness and cold set in for the night.

At that point I remembered the GPS my digital buddy had given me. He had even shown me how to turn it On and search for my destination. I dug it out of the tank bag and was smiling until I realized that while he had shown me how to turn it On, my pal had forgotten to show me how to turn it Off. The GPS was deader than all of the former two-legged residents of Spook City.

I gave up my hunt, turned around and started down the mountains from my highest point, Bonita Hill. Several female deer stared dumbly at me as I drove through an open space where they were browsing. I wondered if possibly they knew the first day of deer hunting season was less than 12 hours away. They would be safe for the first season, it being a male deer with two horn points showing season. I wished them “Good luck!” remembering from my earlier life as a deer hunter the first days on an annual hunting trip and how the fellow hunters’ eyesight needed to see or count horn points was often clouded by earlier nocturnal beer or whiskey.

After just following the signs I dead ended in this grove where I realized the GPS was also dead.
After “just following the signs” I dead ended in this grove where I realized the GPS was also dead.
The eight miles back to the pavement were uneventful except for trying to miss rocks in the tracks hidden by shadows. I stopped several times to look at the color of the trees along the opposite ridge and down into the valley I was riding. I could see parts of the road I would take four or five miles ahead, with not another vehicle on it, nothing rising dust as it drove towards me. Other than the deer and a few birds, I was alone.

It was the aloneness that moved what I thought was a failed day into the zone of blissful solitude. While the ghost town of Spook City may have evaded my motorcycle’s invasion, in trade I had been given three hours of solo motorcycle uncertainty, not knowing where I was exactly, and yet not seeing or hearing another human being or vehicle the duration. The safety factor in the equation was my motorcycle management skills, something that I pushed, but not beyond what I thought to be within my limits.

I returned to the town of Saguache with its stop signs, cars and trucks and stopped near the center of town to change my dark glasses to ones with clear lenses as dusk was near. While one hand was feeling through my tank bag innards for the second pair of glasses I saw movement just off the pavement in front of me, between two houses. There stood a full grown male deer, the perfect shot for that first day of hunting in the morning. And then I realized maybe the deer were not dumb at all.

Next time I hunt for Spook City  maybe I will merely stop and ask a deer for directions like this one I saw wisely walking down the street in Saguache.
Next time I hunt for Spook City, maybe I will merely stop and ask a deer for directions like this one I saw wisely walking down the street in Saguache.
While the male deer was legal to shoot in the mountains where I had been, shooting a deer in the city of Saguache was likely highly illegal. Therefore, as long as he stayed within the city limits it would survive hunting season and afterwards return to its female companions back in the mountains where I had seen them. With my other hand I shot the deer with my legally digital photo-gun.

At first I thought, “Nah, they can’t be that smart.” And then I remembered where I had seen the female deer, somewhere around Spook City. The idea that the deer knew what day and month it was and when hunting season started was spooky.

Next year I plan to hunt for Spook City again. Maybe I will have my electronic gizmo riding buddy teach me a bit more about how a GPS works before doing so. Or maybe if I see a deer along the way, I will just stop and ask it, “Which way to Spook City?”
Dr Frazier: Hunted Near Spook City
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