Last Chance

On November 2, 2017 · Comments Off on Last Chance

Speaking of odd town names (we were just speaking of those, weren’t we?), what about Last Chance? Every place deserved a last chance, I supposed. The U.S. Geographic Names Information System listed more than three hundred of them. Many — no surprise — aligned with mining claims. Also they frequently referenced ditches, streams and gulches, probably running near those old mines. However that wasn’t always the case. A handful of populated places rose to the top of the list too. It took an unusual outlook on life, I figured, for someone to name a settlement Last Chance.

Last Chance, Colorado


Last Chance, CO (0)
Last Chance, CO. Photo by Michael Sauers on Flickr (cc).

Colorado’s Last Chance clung to life, just barely. It sat about 80 miles (130 kilometres) due east of Denver (map). Truly, a straight shot. Head straight north of Denver and hit Fort Collins, or straight south and hit Colorado Springs, or straight west and, well, hit a wall of mountains. Straight east should hit something more important than a hamlet on life support.

The original settlers of Last Chance probably felt the same way. Travelers driving through Colorado’s empty eastern plains to and from Denver took the straightest possible path during the early automotive period. Back then, Last Chance served as a literal last chance for motorists to refuel, grab a meal, or sleep in an actual bed anywhere between Denver and a vast nothingness. The town’s name became a marketing tool and a warning. Stop there or suffer the consequences.

The Ghost Town website summarized the rise and fall of Last Chance quite succinctly.

Last Chance was a town that grew up with the automobile and died when the interstate took the traffic south to I-70. It was a busy center for travelers in the 1940s and 1950s, and probably earlier than that.

Indeed, Interstate 70 heading east from Denver took a distinct southeastern curve about 30 miles (50 km) short of Last Chance before turning east again. Last Chance couldn’t survive that cruel routing.


Last Chance, Oklahoma


Last Chance Baptist Church
Last Chance Baptist Church
via Google Street View, July 2016

I couldn’t find any information about how the Last Chance in Oklahoma earned its name (map). The settlement seemed to simply vanish. It wouldn’t surprise me if the US Geological Survey dropped it from the database entirely someday. Only the Last Chance Baptist Church remained behind as a reminder. By the way, Last Chance might be the best church name ever. That choice positioned it perfectly as the final opportunity for redemption before banishment to the fiery pits of Hell. It gave sinners one last chance.

A post office didn’t exist in Last Chance as far as I could tell, if indeed one ever existed there. Addresses in Last Chance bore the postmark of nearby Okemah. Nothing much important happened in Last Chance although Okemah registered a minor brush with fame. Okemah had a famous native son, the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie born there in 1912. An oil boom began around that time in the same general area, leading me to wonder if perhaps Last Chance got its name from the boom somehow?


Last Chance, Iowa



The Last Chance of Iowa fared about as well as its counterpart in Oklahoma. Here, the sole remaining sign of its existence was a cemetery. While I liked Last Chance as the name of a church I disliked it as a cemetery (map). A final resting place seemed to signify the end of any remaining chances. Last chance? More like no chance. At least I learned how it got its name, though. I found a website about cemeteries in Lucas County that offered a surprising amount of information. I was really impressed by the detail it presented about such an obscure location.

Last Chance is one of those Lucas County place names that, because of its oddity, generates stories. But the truth seems to be that its first storekeeper, William McDonald McHenry, named it offhandedly after it occurred to him that he was living in a place that didn’t yet have a name… he said, "Let’s call it Last Chance." And they called it so, more in a joke than in earnest…

Last Chance sat favorably along the Mormon Trail. Thousands of Mormon emigrants and many others walked the trail during the middle of the 19th Century. Some travelers moved their households without any pack animals, becoming a special category of Mormons called the Handcart Pioneers. Then the transcontinental railroad opened. Last Chance disappeared because of the railroads. The typical story prevailed. Railroads, long the lifeblood of small rural villages in the Heartland, all bypassed Last Chance. Decline later led to collapse.

I found additional Last Chance settlements in Idaho, California and North Carolina. However, even less information existed about any of them. It seemed that every Last Chance was down to its last chance if any of them ever had a chance at all.

Spooky

On September 10, 2017 · Comments Off on Spooky

A lot of tangential articles began to appear on social media recently, tying-in with the hype around the latest film adaption of Stephen King’s "It." One article I noticed included a list of his major works, from the early days of his writing career to the present. It included "The Shining," and rightly so, a very successful book (1977) and movie (1980) in its own right. The article mentioned that the Stanley Hotel inspired the setting for The Shining. I guess I knew this very real hotel influenced the fictional setting although I never thought about it much. Then I began to consider other possibly infamous, spooky places.

The Stanley Hotel


The Stanley Hotel - Estes Park
The Stanley Hotel – Estes Park. Photo by Robin Kanouse on Flickr (cc)

Anyone wanting to visit the Stanley Hotel could head over to Estes Park, Colorado (map) where it continues to operate today. The resort began in the early 20th Century, the creation of Freelan Oscar Stanley. He’d made his fortune on the east coast as the inventor of the Stanley Steamer, an early automobile powered by steam. Stanley arrived in this beautiful Rocky Mountain valley suffering from what used to be called Consumption, now commonly called Tuberculosis. Fresh mountain air helped considerably with his condition and he vowed to return as often as he could. Eventually he built a luxury hotel with every amenity his High Society friends from the east would appreciate.

The Stanley lost a lot of its luster by the time Stephen King and his wife visited in the 1970’s. It was about to close for the season and the Kings were the only lodgers in an otherwise empty 140-room hotel. That night, King woke from a nightmare while staying in Room 217, and quickly outlined the plot for The Shining. The Stanley Hotel became the Overlook Hotel in his novel although Room 217 still figured prominently.

The Stanley did not have a haunted reputation during its first seventy years. Oddly, or perhaps suspiciously, self-proclaimed paranormal investigators discovered all sorts of spooky anomalies in the years after the The Shining appeared.


112 Ocean Avenue


IMG_7969
Amityville Horror House. Photo by john on Flickr (cc)

All I need to say about 112 Ocean Avenue (map) is the city where it’s located and many readers will recognize the reference immediately: Amityville, New York. The Amityville Horror, published in 1977, told the story of the Lutz family who fled the house only four weeks after they moved in. The book — advertised as a "true story" — became a runaway bestseller and inspired a movie and various sequels.

The DeFeo family lived in this Long Island home for several years before the Lutz family moved there. One night in 1974, the eldest DeFeo child, Ronald Jr., murdered his family in this home. His parents and four siblings all died from gunshot wounds. Ronald went to prison where he still remains more than forty years later.

George and Kathleen Lutz purchased the home soon thereafter, well-aware of its history. They claimed that all sorts of evil, demonic things happened to them while they lived there. They fled, wrote their book, and made a pile of money. A falling out with their attorneys led to a string of lawsuits and accusations of fraud. One of the self-admitted conspirators claimed it was a hoax that they created as they drank several bottles of wine.

Since that time, the home has passed to several new owners, none of whom reported any unusual paranormal activities. One owner finally altered the exterior of the home and changed its address to 108 Ocean Ave. although people continue to visit. It attracted quite a bit of attention during its latest sale in November 2016.


Bran Castle


Bran castle
Bran castle. Photo by Nomad Tales on Flickr (cc)

Where did Dracula live? In Transylvania, of course. The Irish writer Bram Stoker published Dracula, his most famous work in 1897. It spawned the entire Vampire genre of horror fiction that continues to remain popular.

Most people probably knew that the name of the novel’s title character came from Vlad the Impaler, a Prince of Wallachia. That region of Romania fell "between the Carpathians and the Danube River." It did not include Transylvania. Dracula came from his surname, having been born the son of Vlad Dracul. He earned his ghastly Impaler title when he attacked a bunch of Saxon villages, marched the inhabitants back to Wallachia and impaled them on stakes. Later, in 1462, he had no qualms about crossing into Ottoman territory and slaughtering several thousand more people there. Stories of his cruelty and butchery spread throughout Europe. Stoker read accounts centuries later and thought Dracula would be a great name for a bloodthirsty vampire.

One Romanian castle on the border between Wallachia and Transylvania gained a reputation for being Dracula’s abode. Bran Castle somehow claimed the title (map). Interestingly, Vlad never resided there. Sure, he passed it various times on his military excursions through the valley, although nothing more significant than that. Additionally, Bram Stoker probably wasn’t thinking of this castle specifically when he wrote Dracula. More likely, he used a composite of ideas. Nonetheless, Bran Castle somehow marketed itself successfully as a place that seemed like it should be Dracula’s castle. Good for them. Keep those tourists coming.


Bonus!

Bigfoot would also meet the definition of this article. However, I mentioned the most famous Bigfoot location, the spot of the infamous Patterson-Gimlin film, in Hairy Man.

I came up with a few other ideas too, enough for another article so stay tuned for Part II. Feel free to put ideas or suggestions in the comments and maybe I’ll continue with even more spooky places after that.

Four Corners, Part 6 (Reflections)

On August 20, 2017 · Comments Off on Four Corners, Part 6 (Reflections)

I decided to have a little fun in the final article of the Four Corners series. A couple of my earlier posts mentioned a trip through the same general area many years ago. It served as a short leg of my longest road trip ever, eventually covering 8,000 miles (12,900 kilometres) in 28 days during the early summer of 1992. I wondered how memories tucked away for a quarter century would compare to the present. I hadn’t returned to Four Corners, Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde in the intervening twenty five years so this would be an interesting experiment.

Four Corners

Well of course we stopped at the famous Four Corners marker. You didn’t really think I’d name this entire series of articles "Four Corners" and never mention the actual geographic spot, did you? The marker made its first Twelve Mile Circle appearance back during the earliest days of the blog in a post I called Four Corners- USA. The photograph I chose to illustrate that earlier article came from the 1992 trip.

1992


4 Corners

A much younger me stood on the exact spot necessary to split my body into equal portions of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

2017


Four Corners

Obviously the location didn’t change after 25 years. However, wow, the Navajo Nation certainly spruced it up and made it look nice. The earlier image showed what amounted to a marker plopped onto a parking lot protected by guardrails. Now an attractive masonry and stone patio neatly encased the entire area. The set of stands where Navajo artisans sold their wares also improved remarkably. Permanent wood and stone structures replaced what previously looked like those flimsy temporary stands hawking fireworks around the Fourth of July.

It didn’t seem as remote as I’d remembered either. Sure, it was still out in the absolute middle of nowhere. This time we stayed overnight in Farmington so the drive to the marker took only an hour. That probably made the difference.

However, standing on that spot produced the same exact thrill. Bestill my geo-geek heart. Even the kids enjoyed it.


Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Canyon quickly became one of my most cherished memories from the earlier trip. I’d never heard of Chaco before that. That single viewing impacted me profoundly. I was so excited to return there, more than any other site on our trip. Check out these compare-and-contrast photos of the Kin Kletso pueblo taken from approximately the same spot atop the mesa twenty five years apart.

1992


Kin Kletso - 1992

That dark smudge on the right didn’t come from a bad scanning job, it came from a bad photo. Those of us of a certain age will remember the days before digital cameras. They probably existed in 1992 although a casual photographer such as myself didn’t know anything about them. I probably couldn’t have afforded one even if I had. I used a crappy point-and-shoot Kodak Instamatic with 110 film. That little blob was my finger straggling over the lens. We never really knew when a photo might be wonderful or horrible. With film, casual tourists didn’t snap a dozen photos of the same thing and delete all but the best one. That was too expensive. So I took the photo, sent it off to be developed after I got home, waited another week to get it back, and hoped for the best. Apparently I deemed it "good enough" to keep.

2017


Chaco Culture

The recent image came out much better. Some of the scenery changed a little, the bushes and access road most noticeably. However, Kin Kletso itself didn’t seem to change at all. Every stone in place in 1992 appeared to be remarkably the same after all those years. I tip my hat to the National Park Service for their great stewardship and preservation.

Getting there seemed a lot easier. I can’t recall if U.S. Highway 550 had four lanes back then or not. It certainly did not have a 70 mile per hour (112 kilometres per hour) speed limit. Even if it did, I doubt the camper we drove would have hit that speed. The sixteen-or-so miles of gravel and dirt road from the highway to the park remained as lousy as ever though. I still found it unnaturally amusing that the park itself featured nicely paved roads. From any direction, visitors had to travel over dirt, a roiling dust storm behind them, only to arrive at a blessed asphalt oasis in an otherwise empty desert.

The park itself gave me the same thrill even after so many years. I’d love to return and spend a few days probing the remote corners I’ve not been able to reach yet.


Mesa Verde National Park

Did it really take us more than half an hour to get from the Mesa Verde visitors center at the park entrance to the main attractions? I’d totally forgotten about that. It didn’t create any real hardship although it cut down our exploration time a little. The best photo contrast took place at Spruce Tree House.

1992


Spruce Tree House - Mesa Verde National Park

The earlier photograph actually turned out pretty well given the limitations of the camera and the person behind the lens.

2017


Mesa Verde

As with Chaco, everything remained pretty much the same at the actual ruins. Even the soot from ancient campfires along the mesa rim retained familiar patterns. The big spruce tree blocking the view disappeared somewhere over the course of time. However, other than that, I couldn’t tell much difference.

Mesa Verde seemed a lot more crowded this time. That might have been due to time of year rather than increased popularity. Last time I visited in late May, right before Memorial Day and before the summer vacation season. This time we arrived in late July at its height. We couldn’t see some of the features I’d visited earlier because they required tickets that sold-out for the day before we arrived. Nonetheless, we improvised and had a fine time. Our pivot to the Petroglyph Point Trail wouldn’t have happened otherwise and I got to see something new.

My memories of these places held up pretty well. Naturally I’d forgotten a few of the details although I did confirm my favorable impressions of three remarkable places.


Articles in the Four Corners Series:

  1. Orientation
  2. Hikes
  3. Towns
  4. Native Americans
  5. Breweries
  6. Reflections

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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