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Feed Your Soul: Meaningful Destinations in Colorado

Updated on November 17, 2016
Inmate grave at the old Canon City cemetery.
Inmate grave at the old Canon City cemetery. | Source

Colorado is a popular tourist destination for our beautiful mountains and wide variety of outdoor activities. Most people make sure to visit Rocky Mountain National Park or the Sand Dunes, or take a train to the top of Pikes Peak.

But in addition to our Purple Mountains Majesty, world-class ski areas and recreational pot dispensaries, there are some somber destinations in our Centennial State that are well worth the extra time and effort it takes to get there.

San Juan Bautista Cemetery, Florence

This is a small, personal cemetery filled with tremendous tragedy. Many of those buried in the cemetery are infants or young children. To save money, families dug graves and buried their dead themselves. Many of their stones were made by their families. There was a woman who buried several children here; she poured the cement stones herself and walked from Florence each day with a wheelbarrow filled with buckets of water for the flowers she left on their graves and the graves of other children who met death too early.

It may seem forgotten, but there is a group that maintains it and keeps it safe. Please be very respectful when entering the gounds and take nothing when you leave. Don't be concerned with the holes; they are the work of burrowing animals and there's no stopping them.

Grave marker at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery.
Grave marker at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery. | Source
Markers at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near Florence, Colorado.
Markers at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near Florence, Colorado. | Source
Hand-made marker at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near Florence, Colorado.
Hand-made marker at the San Juan Bautista Cemetery near Florence, Colorado. | Source

Directions to the San Juan Bautista Cemetery:

Go south from Florence, CO, on State HWY 67. Cross the railroad tracks. On the LEFT side of the road, you will see a small, rough dirt road (it almost looks like a bike path). If you get to the Supermax on HWY 67, you have gone too far. Go about a quarter of a mile EAST on this small road and you will come to a small church and the cemetery is there.

Federal SuperMax Prison

Go to the highest point in the San Juan Bautista cemetery, and from there you can see the Federal SuperMax prison off to the south. Ted Kaczynski (aka Unabomber) is held here, as was Timothy McVeigh. There are several other nasties currently being held in there, including Terry Nichols. If you squint hard enough, you can pretend you see him in one of the slashes in the cement walls beyond the razor wire. Okay, not really.

Fremont County has 15 prisons, which you're sure to see when driving on any major road in the county. Of all counties in all of the United States, it has the highest percentage of county residents incarcerated (20%).

The best stationary view of the prison (without just stopping on the side of the road and taking photos) is the Florence Cemetery, just south of Florence on HWY 67.

Address: 5880 HWY 67 South, Florence, CO 81226

Ted Kaczynski, aka Unabomber, is held at the Federal SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Ted Kaczynski, aka Unabomber, is held at the Federal SuperMax prison in Florence, Colorado.
CSP INMATE Markers on Woodpecker Hill in Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado.
CSP INMATE Markers on Woodpecker Hill in Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado. | Source
Close-up of inmate marker on Woodpecker Hill in Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado.
Close-up of inmate marker on Woodpecker Hill in Greenwood Cemetery in Canon City, Colorado. | Source
Headstone of Joe Arridy, the intellectually disabled man executed for a crime he didn't commit.
Headstone of Joe Arridy, the intellectually disabled man executed for a crime he didn't commit. | Source

Greenwood Cemetery, Canon City

This looks like any other old cemetery when you go through the gates, but if you drive through the cemetery to the top of Woodpecker Hill, you'll find something far more unusual. Here stand the marked and unmarked graves of dozens of prisoners of the Colorado State Prisons. Many are marked only with "CSP INMATE," on simple metal plates, made by the same machines that made Colorado license plates. Others are marked with names on the same metal plates.

Most notably, however, is the newer, granite headstone in the back near the fence that marks the grave of Joe Arridy, a special needs man wrongly executed for a crime he didn't commit. The trains on his headstone represent the trains he played with in prison and gave away to a fellow inmate moments before his execution; he only had the mental capacity of a young child and many people, even at that time, believed he could not be capable of this horrific crime. He was posthumously pardoned by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter in 2011.

Address: 1525 S. 9th Street, Cañon City, CO 81212

Camp Amache National Historic Landmark, near Granada

There are ugly moments in American history, and unfortunately the internment camps built for Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans encompassed too many moments. This and the Sand Creek Massacre Site are a good day trip, if you can handle that much emotion in a day.

There is very little left out there, save for a few cement slabs, which adds to the feeling of desolation and left me asking, over and over, "Why?" How could we banish so many innocent people to the middle of nowhere, victimizing entire families at a time? It was very hot the day we were out there. The wind was dry and dusty. We watched for snakes. At the time the camp operated, there would have been few, if any, trees. It was one thing to choose to be a rancher out there on the desolate plain; it would have been quite another to be imprisoned there.

It is a large site; it is best explored by car, but be sure to get out and just stand a bit and try to experience a tiny fraction of the fear and oppression those poor imprisoned people must have felt.

There is also a small cemetery to the west of main area; it is worth driving over there to see the memorials that have been placed.

Sign noting location of Guard Tower at Amache Relocation Center near Granada, Colorado.
Sign noting location of Guard Tower at Amache Relocation Center near Granada, Colorado. | Source
Cement slab, probably from living quarters, Amache Relocation Center near Granada, Colorado.
Cement slab, probably from living quarters, Amache Relocation Center near Granada, Colorado. | Source
Detail of memorial at the Amache Relocation Center.
Detail of memorial at the Amache Relocation Center. | Source

Directions to Camp Amache:

The Granada Relocation Center can be accessed by going a mile west on Hwy 385/50 and turning south on CO-Rd 23 5/10. The entrance is found just past W Amache Rd.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, near Chivington

It's a long drive to get out there. It's not close to anything else and there aren't any fun activities. You should bring snacks and something to drink. Don't forget the sunscreen and bug spray in the warmer months.

First and foremost, this is a place for silence, empathy and reverence. A place to walk out and look upon the land where, on November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington ordered his cavalry to murder mostly old or infirm men, women, and children, running them down with their horses. Only one man, Silas Soule, refused to give orders to his cavalry to open fire; his men are the only ones who did not participate in the Massacre. Many of the women carried their small infants in their arms, trying to outrun the cavalry over the rough terrain, up and over small hills and down into gullies. It was a blood bath, roundly condemned by most of the nation; indeed, it prompted a congressional inquiry in which it was determined to be a "bloody massacre." Chivington so outraged the residents of the town of Manitou Springs, they stole back all his land rights (he owned the majority of the town) and told him never to return.

There really isn't much out there, but it is well worth the visit. Watch out for rattlesnakes (we saw poop; I've never seen rattlesnake poop), climb the hill and just stand and feel the wind blow and smell the grass and be silent, humbled by the horrors that occurred there.

Sand Creek Massacre Site.
Sand Creek Massacre Site. | Source
Sand Creek Massacre Site.
Sand Creek Massacre Site. | Source
Follow the warning signs, we saw a lot of rattlesnake poop on the trail.
Follow the warning signs, we saw a lot of rattlesnake poop on the trail. | Source

Bishop's Castle, near Rye

Bishop's Castle is a testament to one man's artistic vision and his battle against the government. Mr. Bishop constructed the metal frame and rock castle by himself, complete with a moat and a dragon! It is a pretty terrifying climb to the top, but if your fear of heights can just get you up to the Great Room to see the stained glass windows, that's ok, too.

Mr. Bishop was often seen working outside, with an opinion or two to spare. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Mr. Bishop is sick with cancer and unable to work on his castle. You may not get to see him digging his moat, but this amazing structure is still worth the visit.

WATCH YOUR CHILDREN. This was built under the supervision and guidance of Mr. Bishop and Mr. Bishop alone, with a modicum of safety precautions. If you have a fear of heights, try to stay off the structures on the outside of the castle. Inclines and stairs are steep and generally made of wire mesh.

The castle borders Federal Forest Lands.
The castle borders Federal Forest Lands. | Source
Jim Bishop, builder of the castle.
Jim Bishop, builder of the castle. | Source
There are many informative and entertaining signs throughout the castle and the grounds.
There are many informative and entertaining signs throughout the castle and the grounds. | Source
Wire mesh constitutes most of the outer structures of the castle.
Wire mesh constitutes most of the outer structures of the castle. | Source

© 2015 Carrie Peterson

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