Tales from the Ghost Town Writers Retreat

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15493618_10154899107475972_7094799763006043672_oI have had a difficult time writing this past year. I have a novel that I have started and stopped more times than I care to admit and a Christmas project that I decided to postpone from the planned November publish date. I had amazing momentum coming into this year, but it fizzled quickly, and I’m not sure why.

I decided many months ago to attend the Ghost Town Writers Retreat at the beginning of August to see if I could get my groove back, then my Grandma passed away a few weeks ago, and I almost canceled. Losing her hit me harder than I expected and I just wanted to hide out. My darling husband took time off from work to go with me and said it would give us some time away from the kids together, I suspect he knew I needed him to give me an extra push.

The retreat was held in the small mining town of Georgetown, Colorado. I’m a Colorado native but can say I’ve never hung out in Georgetown for anything more than a bathroom break, fill up, or to get to the pass to go to Clear Lake. I remember when I was little my parents looked at buying a piece of property there. The day they went to look at the property they dropped me, my two siblings, and my grandparents off at the little park in town to eat lunch so they could speak to the realtor without distraction. My sister would not play or leave the bench she sat on. It wasn’t until I told her where I was going that she said the park was full of spooks and they demanded to know why she was there. It scared the hell out of her, and that’s why she wouldn’t play. Weird story, I know, but totally normal in my family.

Georgetown is only about an hour from our house on I-70, but the ride up was hairy. The retreat needed to borrow some grills for the Grill and Greet, so I volunteered ours. Since my husband was coming along, we took his truck and loaded our old gas grill into the bed. The day was overcast, and the wind was picking up. Just as I inquired if the grill was safely tethered a huge bang shook us. The grill had fallen over but not out of the bed. Sadly, the handle didn’t survive. After readjusting the bungee cords, we journeyed on. We drove through dense fog, drenching rain, and pounding hail. It didn’t help that I woke up that morning with a nagging headache. Maybe it was a sign to go home, I thought.

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I-70 Westbound

 

When we got to the hotel we discovered that it would be some time before for our room would be ready and we were a little confused about where to check in for the conference, but we did figure out where to take the grill. After an uninvited cloud burst, my husband helped cook up some buffalo hot dogs and burgers, and we had a tasty little dinner with some fascinating folks.

One of the things I really wanted to do was check out the park. I still had a headache, but the next morning I grabbed my camera and off we went. The moment I entered the park through the iron archway my headache was joined by a turbulent stomach. No one demanded to know why I was there, but it felt heavy and strange. My husband asked if it used to be a cemetery because it gave that kind of vibe. As a side note, I got a terrible headache working on this piece, and I kept getting an error message when I tried to upload the photos of the park, it took several tries. Coincidence? Maybe, but my husband says I should quit messing around with this subject!

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The Park Entrance

Even though my head and tummy were very unhappy, I continued to hit up all the sessions I could. Every single session was terrific, and the presenters (some first timers) were great. When we got home and were describing some of the things we learned my daughter laughed and said it sounded like a murders’ convention! Most of the sessions were held in the historic Heritage Center, the old school house. The building restoration was fabulous!

The marketing sessions were beneficial, as that is the area I dislike the most about this author thing and find the most challenging. I’m a quiet, shy, introverted person which is a huge hindrance to my marketing efforts. I made a commitment to myself to move way out of my comfort zone in the coming months regarding this.

I also had an epiphany. I believe my difficulty in writing has come because I know the marketing will come after. Yes. I hate it that much. I think I got some tools and resources at the retreat that will help me, though.

Being the very first Ghost Town Writers Retreat, there were some hiccups and places where there is room for improvement. I thought Georgetown was a great location and I had the best burger ever (after my tummy finally settled down) at Round About Burgers. The waffles at The Happy Cooker were amazing, and the Family Dollar is stocked better than a full sized Walmart! It turned out to be more of a conference than retreat, however. I would have liked more opportunities to meet up and write with other writers. And coffee! Coffee at the venue for morning sessions, please!

I wasn’t sure where or how to sign up for editor/agent sessions, but since I didn’t feel well, I opted not to pursue it. Maybe for next year,  the signup and location information could be available a few days before the event begins.

There was a walking ghost tour that I would have loved to attend, but it happened on Sunday evening, and I was already jonesing for my kids. We opted for the train, mine tour, and of course, the cemetery.

We really didn’t need a ghost tour anyway. I drug my husband around the town late on Saturday night, just to see what we might see. He always warns that I better not get him arrested, but I’ve been doing this to him for years, and so far we are arrest free, knock on wood!

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Haunted Hamill House After Dark

 

Even though I didn’t feel well for the first three days, I feel like I got out of it what I wanted. I have a strategy to push through my writing wall, and I got to spend some time with my husband. He got a better idea of what it is I do and struggle with and ended up getting into it himself! I said we should just write spooky books together and forget everything else!

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My Handsome Husband – It Looks Good on Him!

 

I can only imagine what it takes to organize a thing like this. The speakers and moderators were great. The movie screening of Dead Awake was fun, and I wanted to ask Jeffery Riddick (Dead Awake, Final Destination) what led them to cast Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black), she was great by the way, but my head was killing me.

How you go about contacting all these folks and getting them to come to a retreat in a tiny Colorado mountain town is beyond me. I’m grateful for the opportunity and that I ignored my headache AND did not go back home. I am already looking forward to next year, but I think I’ll stay away from the park…or not!

roy and joy

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Secrets to Bronco’s Country

It’s no secret that we love our Broncos out here in Colorado. To show our love, there are several art installments around town honoring the symbol of our beloved football team and our western roots.

The most recognizable piece of art is “Bucky”. He crowns the south scoreboard at Sport’s Authority Field at Mile High, Mile High to most locals. He’s a 27 feet, 1600 pound replica of Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger. Bucky is white instead of Trigger’s palomino markings to match the team logo.IMG_0714

Also, on the south side of the stadium is an installment titled “The Broncos”. Designed by sculptor Sergio Benvenuti and a gift to the people of Colorado from Bronco’s owner Pat Bowlen, it is one of my favorites. Slightly larger than real-life horses, it features five broncos, one mare, and one colt running up a water feature that resembles a fast moving Rocky Mountain stream. The band of horses is seemingly headed right into the stadium.IMG_0704

As the gateway for many travelers to Colorado, Denver International Airport officially entered the bronco sculpture crowd in 2008. This installment’s story is where things get a little dark. The official name of the piece is “Blue Mustang”, but most locals call him by a plethora of other names. Blucifer; DIAblo; Devil Horse; Death Horse, just to name a few. Whatever you call him, he is 32 feet and 9,000 pounds of electric blue fiberglass weirdness. Right down to the glowing red eyes and anatomical correctness of genitals and where we get manure.

New Mexico artist Luis Jiminez was commissioned in 1992 to create the artwork. Health problems kept him from meeting deadlines, and the city filed a lawsuit against him in 2003. Perhaps it was fate warning him to abandon the project and give back the money, but he persevered.

Jump ahead to 2006 and the artist is still struggling to finish the $300,000 commissioned piece. In a push to finish it, he was alone in his studio using a rope to hoist a section of the massive sculpture for welding. The hoist broke, and the piece fell on him severing an artery in his leg, killing him. His family finished the work, and the sculpture was installed in February of 2008. However, the tragedy has caused many to claim the horse is haunted or cursed. Some have attributed the sculpture to the horses of the apocalypse mentioned in the book of Revelation ushering in the end of days.

When it was first installed many people were not happy and wanted the piece removed, but he still sits on Pena Boulevard. Depending on if you are coming or leaving the airport, he is the first or last thing you will see.

That’s some spooky stuff. There are many weird tales about Denver International Airport, and I agree that most of the artworks are bizarre and pretty scary for an airport, and conspiracy theories abound.

I like Blucifer. He’s weird, fierce, and haunted, some of my favorite things. The glowing red eyes can seem over the top until you find out that it’s a tribute to Jiminez’s father who was a neon artist. But still. “Blue Mustang” is a killer, and maybe there is a reason he’s placed where you can’t get up close and personal. Maybe there is more to DIA than they are telling us!

Here’s hoping the only thing Blucifer curses is our opponent this Sunday. Go Broncos and Never Turn off the Lights!

Wild West Haunt

The Buckhorn ExchangeSome people wait until this time of the year to do one of my favorite things. But heck, life is short so I do it all year round. That activity is to visit areas around my state that are reportedly haunted. It’s my kind of fun. Just a couple of weeks ago I had dinner at The Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. This place embodies the spirit of the wild west like no other place I know.

The two story building opened for business in 1893 on Osage Street, the upper floor served as a lodge for railroad workers. The Rio Grande Railroad yards were directly across the street, today it is still rail yards and the light rail commuter train. The Buckhorn Exchange also hosted cattle barons, miners, gamblers, and Native American chiefs in the saloon and restaurant. As time progressed, astronauts, Presidents, and Hollywood legends have dined there as well. Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Charleton Heston, Roy Rogers, and Jack Swigert have all stopped in for a meal and likely a beer. After all, The Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado Liquor License No. 1.

They have a terrific menu that offers some exotic fare including ostrich, alligator, and Rocky Mountain oysters (no, I did not eat those and they do not come from the ocean!). We had the best fried artichoke hearts to start with. Then I had a steak that was absolutely superb. I also bellied up to the bar for a cocktail.

The ornate white oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen, Germany in 1857 and brought here by the the family of the original owner, Henry H. "Shorty Scout" Zietz.

The ornate white oak bar and back-bar, made in Essen, Germany in 1857 and brought here by the the family of the original owner, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz.

The decor reflects the rich history of the Buckhorn. Most notably, a 575 piece taxidermy collection with everything from a two-headed calf to a jackalope. On display is also a 125 piece gun collection with firearms dating as far back as 1889. There is an abundance of photographs and other historic pieces.

Some of the collection at the Buckhorn

Sample of the collection at the Buckhorn

Reports of footsteps, voices, and tables moving by themselves are reported. Considering how long it’s been around and all the artifacts it’s not surprising that a spirit or two is there. Sadly, on the evening I was there the only spirits I saw were coming from the bar area. I could see why some of the railroad workers, miners, and such would want to stick around; it’s comfortable and the food is wonderful. I was hoping for a pleasant surprise in the photos I took, like what happened at the Stanley Hotel. I didn’t see anything, let me know if you do.

If you are ever in this neck of the woods give this place a visit. If you’ve been there and had an experience share it with me, I’d love to hear about it. Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights.

Area 52: Good, Sandy Fun!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve, Colorado Photo by Joy Yehle all rights reserved ©

My visit to Area 52 was fun and restful. The first time I came here I was around 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know why I waited so long to come back!

The Dunes provide a beautiful foreground to the Sangre De Cristo mountain range. The scenery is striking at any time of the day but we were afforded some of the most spectacular sunsets Colorado has to offer.

Great Sand Dunes at sunset

Great Sand Dunes at Sunset Photo by Joy Yehle ©

The sand dunes provide a surreal landscape. Not somewhere you would want to be lost!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve

We rented some sand boards and sleds. The way down is awesome, the way up…feel the burn! Not just your muscles but the sand was hot, hot, hot! Fortunately, we could cool off in Medano Creek. The cool wet sand was perfect for digging, building, and generally being awesome!

Good Times at the Sand Dunes!

Good Times at the Sand Dunes!

As it got dark we turned our attention to the skies. It would have been pretty crazy if that cloud had actually been a mothership in disguise, but no such luck.

Sangre De Cristo Mountains Photo by Joy Yehle ©

Sangre De Cristo Mountains Photo by Joy Yehle ©

No Bigfoot, but the deer in the area are pretty darn friendly. This photo was taken without using the zoom. She was so quiet that the folks camping about 10 feet from her didn’t know she was in the bush!

Sneaky Little Visitor

Sneaky Little Visitor

The San Luis Valley is a reported paranormal hot spot. My mom’s family is originally from this area and I have heard the stories my whole life. I believe this may be what fostered my interest in the paranormal. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t see Bigfoot, an UFO, an apparition, nor did I witness a vortex. But just slightly.

The paranormal rarely “works” on demand. It was quiet for us on this trip but who knows about the next?

San Luis Valley at Sunset

San Luis Valley at Sunset

As for now I’m going to enjoy the last few days of summer break because in seven days something really scary is happening…school starts!

Forget Area 51, I’m going to Area 52!

Peter Fitzgerald [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Fitzgerald [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m taking a mini-vacation next week with my two sisters and their families. We are packing up 7 adults and 7 kids and heading for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve in southern Colorado. It’s a fascinating geological oddity. Who would have thought that the tallest sand dunes in North America are in landlocked Colorado?

The area used to be covered by an ancient lake, when the lake dried up the silt and sand were left behind. The majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains create a wall causing the winds to drop their tiny sand particles to the tune of 750 feet tall dunes. Spanning more than 30 square miles it has been referred to as the world’s largest sandbox. My kids are excited at the prospect of massive sand castles and “sledding” on sand. I’m excited for an entirely different reason.

The Dunes are located in the San Luis Valley, known in some circles as Area 52 because of the numerous UFO sightings and hundreds of reports of livestock mutilations. For a small fee you can head to the UFO Watchtower platform where you can get a 360° view of the night sky but many of the hundreds of  reported sightings have come from all over the valley. Not sure if we will make it over to the Watchtower but we will be watching the skies.

Night watching is something my family has always done when camping. Without the light pollution of the city the sky is alive with light, some of them behaving in unnatural ways. However, the most dramatic UFO sighting I ever had was in the late afternoon in a busy suburb of Denver.

I was driving on the south side of a large golf course and country club with my young daughter in the back seat, I think she was about 10 years old or so. I noticed out of the corner of my eye what at first my brain decoded as the full moon hovering just above the greens. It quickly dawned on me that the moon wouldn’t be visible at that angle at this time of day. As I looked over to get a better look at it, it dropped straight down and disappeared into the ground. I thought maybe I was seeing things but when my daughter asked if I had seen “that”, I knew we had witnessed something very strange.

The San Luis Valley has reports of vortexes, ghosts, and cryptid sightings in addition to UFOs. I’m always hoping to witness weird and strange things so I’m really looking forward to hanging out in this paranormal hot spot. I’ll let you know how it went when I get back. Until then, Never Turn Off the Lights, on second thought it doesn’t really matter. UFOs usually provide their own.

Florissant Pioneer Cemetery

I’m very fortunate to live where I do. The Rocky Mountains are like old friends who have watched over me and mine since before I was born. I love to be outside in the mountains, smelling the pines, listening to birds sing, and watching the wild life do what it does. I don’t even mind it when our elementary school has a mountain lion or coyote dismissal. For the uninitiated, that’s when one of these predators is lurking near school and kids are not allowed to leave for home without an adult. No worries, we are in their backyard after all.

I’m especially found of driving or hiking off the beaten path to see what treasures nature might hold for my efforts. Sometimes its a spectacular view, a hidden lake, a mysterious mound that looks like it might be a grave, or perhaps a long forgotten cemetery (you knew this had to take a dark turn!).

The most recent cemetery I explored was with my ever patient husband on our way to a kid-free night out, a rare occasion indeed.

We decided to take a long drive on a road we had never taken to finally end up in Cripple Creek for dinner and a little gambling. Our trek took us through Florissant, Colorado where I spotted a humble sign pointing the way to the Florissant Pioneer Cemetery. Dinner and later-regretted-money-loss would have to wait.

We always treat any sight like this, no matter how long abandoned, with the utmost respect. We are careful not to tread where we shouldn’t and are mindful that these are memorials of someone’s loved one. They only thing we take home is the mud on our shoes and photos.

It is a pastoral setting, nestled peacefully in the tall pines and quivering aspens. Reading these headstones is always poignant for me but when we discovered  modern burial sites mixed in with the pioneer memorials it was quite moving. Some of the markers are mysterious which always gets my writer’s imagination churning.

Entrance to Florissant Pioneer Cemetery

Entrance to Florissant Pioneer Cemetery

Entire families with death dates within a few weeks of each other; was it an illness, an accident that left some languishing, or broken hearts? Huge elaborate pillar shaped memorials that you don’t see today. Such beautiful workmanship for people loved and respected, and missed. Once carefully placed grave-markers washed almost blank from time and the elements, a rather sorrowful metaphor.

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This hand-made marker made me feel an overwhelming sense of loss for Catherine. I could almost feel the maker’s grief pouring from it. I’m not big romantic but how could you not feel the sting of a lost love looking at this?

IMG_0582 “Catherine; 1964-1995; Love is the pain in my heart that cannot be Stopped*” *last word is unclear

I found this hand-made marker attracted me like a moth to flame. The vibrant colors in a sea of somber stone tell me of a person who was probably vibrant in life. The little skeleton figures at the bottom make this as mysterious as it is beautiful.

Name and data obscured for owner's privacy

Name and data obscured for owner’s privacy

This person is lucky to have family looking out for them still. Gargoyles are used to keep evil at bay. I like that he has a brother wolf to help  him keep watch.

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I rarely get the willies. This guy caught my eye the minute the we pulled up. Obviously he was placed here because this person liked or collected pigs in life and it’s a thoughtful tribute. However, there was something so strange about his eyes. I can’t really explain it but I didn’t want to get too close to him and I could not look into  his eyes without feeling repulsed. I’ve never had that experience before or since.

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pigeys

Thanks for joining me on my exploration of the Florissant Pioneer Museum. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. You can read more about this historic place in Colorado at Teller County Attractions.

Never turn off the lights, that way little piggy won’t be able to sneak in your closet, or under the bed, or IN the bed!

Haunted Schools

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I have worked in many schools over my years and one thing I can tell you is that they are all rather creepy when students have left for the day. At one school there were many reports of the sound of doors opening and closing down the hallway when you knew you were alone in the building. I experienced it for myself one Saturday afternoon when I came in to get some extra work done.

I was in my office working away when I heard the distinct clickety-bang of a classroom door opening and closing somewhere down the corridor from me. I peeked my head out and peered down the darkened hallway, no one. The second time I heard it I called out, no response. By about the fourth time, I figured I’d done enough work for one day.

I was in such a hurry to get out of there that after I called the security office to tell them I was leaving I realized that I had forgotten my purse in my office. Rather have to call security back and retrieve it, I spent the rest of the weekend without it, driver’s license and all! At this same school the motion sensitive hand towel dispenser in the teacher’s restroom would disperse hand towels to a supposedly empty room.

Good times.

Here are five more schools from around the US that will make you forget to dry your hands, your purse, and your bravery.

Metz Elementary, Texas

The old Metz Elementary School building before demolition. [Metz Elementary School], Photograph, n.d.; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth125274/ : accessed January 23, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

The old Metz Elementary School building before demolition.(http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth125274/ Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

Built in 1916 this building served the community for many years before it was decided in 1990 that a new building was needed. The school had no reports of strange occurrences until the demolition began. Bulldozer would inexplicably stall as they approached the school. Worker’s reported tools disappearing and many had small accidents while on site. Mysterious writings that would suddenly appear on the remaining blackboards and apparitions in the bathrooms forced many workers to abandon their jobs. This finally, allegedly, forced the contractor to seek an exorcism on the site. Shortly after this ritual a wall collapsed tragically killing a worker.

A new school was built on this site and reports of child ghosts around the area  and phantom laughter are still being told.

 

Ethel Dwyer Middle School, California

Ethel Dwyer Middle School Courtesy of Orange County Archives

Ethel Dwyer Middle School
Courtesy of Orange County Archives

Ethel Dwyer attended the school as a child and returned as a teacher for many years after. Witnesses report strange flashing lights inside the school visible through the windows at night when the building is empty. Moaning and whispering are rumored to be heard coming from the boiler room. Poltergeist type activity plagues classrooms with opening drawers and  cupboards and missing supplies.

One teacher reported an outline of woman that appeared on her projection screen during class. It was allegedly witnessed by her entire class of stunned students.

 

Matthew Whaley School, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

Mary Whaley opened a school for the poor after her son Matthew, who was born in 1696, passed away at a young age. The school was named in honor of her son. Although many different buildings have been erected on the site it is rumored that Mattey’s ghost can be seen around the area. Some reports of a second boy have also been recorded; it is thought this is the spirit of a slave boy that died around the same time as Mattey.

 

Corriher Lipe Middle School, North Carolina

Sometime in the 1940’s a janitor named Larry was killed at this school in a boiler explosion. Witnesses claim to hear Larry’s heavy footsteps and clanking keys in various areas of the school. Reports of disembodied children’s laughter and ghostly apparitions also plague this site.

 

Ranch View Middle School, Colorado

Ranch View Middle School

Ranch View Middle School

The first homes in the Highland’s Ranch development were built in 1981 making it relatively new. The area was a working cattle ranch for a part of its history and began as home to Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho Native American Indian tribes.

At the school it is reported that the sounds of laughter, crying, and talking can be heard in the empty halls after school has dismissed for the day. In particular, the bathroom behind the stage is home to disembodied laughter and crying from unoccupied stalls. The lights have been known to flicker and water faucets turn on by themselves in this same restroom. The elevator displays electrical anomalies and on the stairs by the gym you can hear what sounds like an equipment bin being dumped over only to find no such thing has happened.

And you thought school lunch was the scariest thing at school!  Ever had a creepy experience at school? Feel free to share, I’d love to hear it! Share here in the comments or email me at joy@joyyehle.com and I might feature your story on this blog or you might just end up in one of my books!

And remember kids, never turn off the lights!