Colorado can boast the best of many attractions--the mountains and the vistas--and also some of the most unique. Our beautiful and strange state is also home to over 1,500 ghost towns. The research and documentation of these eerie spots is Michael Sinnwell’s passionate hobby and is on display for anyone with internet access.
Sinnwell, a Niwot resident, first began exploring ghost towns when he moved to Colorado in the early 1980s, but he blames his interest in historical local oddities on his father.
During the 1950s and ‘60s, Sinnwell’s father was required to attend various state and national conventions. He preferred to travel by car, as it was cheaper than flying, and he would often take his family on the trips.
“I always looked at them as a real adventure, because my dad would always stop to see every two-headed calf, rattlesnake or whatever,” said Sinnwell. “He loved all the tourist attractions and the historical sites much to the dismay of my mom. It always took longer to get anywhere than she planned.”
That interest in strange roadside attractions and historical sites parlayed itself into a lifetime of adventuring off the beaten path for Sinnwell. Exploring Arizona on motorcycle in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s helped nurture his interests, as did his discovery of Kenneth Jessen’s books on Colorado ghost towns.
Jessen’s books helped start him off on his ghost town explorations in the ‘80s. “He’s written five books on Colorado ghost towns,” said Sinnwell, “and they’re all excellent sources of information.” He now relies on a few ghost town experts to guide his adventures.
The fruits of Sinnwell’s labors can be enjoyed on his website, www.rockymountainprofiles.com. The site is chock full of extensive photo essays and blog posts with hilarious, delightful stories and observations, creating a true portal to ghost towns for anyone interested.
When asked about his favorite ghost towns, Sinnwell answered, ”Each state has unique ghost towns and cultures. Obviously, I am partial to Colorado as I remember vividly going through Idaho Springs, Leadville, and Durango while riding in the back seat of a 1953 pale green Dodge four-door sedan.”
“I must admit I am partial to Kennecott in Alaska, as well as Eagle and Dawson in the Yukon. Several other ghost towns in Alaska and the Yukon also are among my favorites,” he added.
As expected, an interest in the offbeat and strange has lead to some seriously interesting adventures. When asked to recall any weird adventures in the pursuit of his hobby, Sinnwell’s answer was that of a person who has had more than his fair share of strange encounters.
“Let's see now, what would qualify for being weird?” he asked. “Someone shoving a shotgun in your belly? Someone threatening your friend while holding a knife to his throat? Someone threatening to break your legs while his buddy is holding a rifle pointed at you? Maybe we shouldn’t talk about that.”
His recollections are the stuff of Hollywood movies. As a young boy, he and a friend were exploring the woods when they happened upon a pudgy, dumpy prospector. As the friendly prospector was showing them his new prospecting contraption, a beautiful, pinup-worthy woman appeared and offered them all coffee. As it turned out, the gorgeous woman was the unattractive prospector’s wife.
Young Sinnwell accepted his first cup of coffee ever while trying to gape at the woman. As he lifted the cup to his lips, he thanked her and smiled. She smiled back at him with an unexpectedly completely toothless smile, but he managed to gulp down his cup without choking on it.
When asked if he’s ever spent the night in one of his ghost towns, Sinnwell answered, “Only when something has gone wrong and I am stuck and can’t get out. I even slept in a brothel. Can you believe that? Who sleeps in a brothel?”
Sinnwell loves a good adventure, and even offers his help with such endeavors to visitors of his website. He recounted one story that ended successfully.
“One day my neighbor came over and asked if I could help her and her brother find a treasure chest they had buried as kids growing up,” he said. “Their homestead was finally being sold and they were hopeful that before the new owners took over they could find the chest. They had tried but failed and thought perhaps I could find it, as they buried it in a tin chest. We took two metal detectors with the thought that I could teach them to look using the detectors.”
“As it turned out, we only needed one detector as within 10 minutes, her brother had learned to use the detector and had discovered a target that turned out to be the chest. Smiling faces were seen all around as they opened the chest,” he said.