The Chipmunks Of St. Elmo
St. Elmo’s tourist attraction is the chipmunks that have resided there throughout history, making it one of the most visited ghost towns today.
When you leave the Colorado town of Buena Vista, following highway 24 for about 8 miles, you come to County Road 162. Turn right and stay on this road all the way to the past. St. Elmo is your destination.
Originally called Forest City, they had to change their name due to so many towns with similar names, this leading to confusion for the post office. The title of a book, 'St. Elmo' by Augusta J. Evans, became their new moniker, this being the name of a book one of the founders of the town was reading. Officially a National Historic Site, many people come to see what was once the railhead of the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad. However, I think that many, many people come just to see the chipmunks of St. Elmo, making it one of the most popular ghost towns in modern times.
As you enter St. Elmo, you pass a few buildings that are marked private or are clearly not in use. The first building open to the public is the General Store. Inside you will find many items from Colorado’s past. Mining artifacts and railroad items are abundant. The typical tourist attractions are also available. You can rent a four-wheeler, buy a cold cola, or purchase any number of novelties, from post cards, and t-shirts, to stuffed animals. From the front porch, you can purchase bags of sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds? Indeed, this is the most important item they have for sale. After purchasing a supply, head fifteen paces directly across the road from the General Store. Here you will find an assortment of old boards piled up from long ago. Behind this is a small hillside covered in grass, rocks and if you look closely you will see dozens of chipmunks heading down the hill to see what is in your bags. You will definitely want your camera along, as you are about to meet the chipmunks of St. Elmo.
Their ancestors were atop this mountainside, Antero Mountain (14,269 ft.) before people even knew it existed. Throughout time, they have watched the town grow up from nothing. They watched a President come to visit, telephone lines strung just for the occasion, to then watch them being removed when the president’s visit was over. They have seen the railroad come and go. Residents move in, and others move out. You think you are there to see them, when in reality, they have come to see you be a part of this history.
Sit down on the boards, put some of the sunflower seeds in your palm, and in no time, one of these curious little fellas will be literally eating out of your hand. If you watch closely, you will discover that there are generations of these chipmunks all around you. There is the boss, bigger than the rest, filling his cheeks so full you wonder how he can fit another one in, but that he does. Then he heads across the road to what is most likely the largest stash of sunflower seeds in the world. There is the shy ones, approaching slowly, to grab just one and run. The clowns are here. They spend their time running from one person to the next. Never really deciding on a course of action, they suddenly crawl half way up the leg of the one person in attendance that is afraid of them. There are the sweet ones, who will sit in your hand as they eat, allowing you the pleasure of petting them. There are also the guards. They sit back from the ones eating, keeping an eye out for danger. This usually means some tourists little poodle, but one afternoon, it was the weasel!
It was a sunny day, and the chipmunks had enjoyed a long afternoon of free feeding. Bellies full, even some of the more excitable chipmunks were allowing the visitors to pet them. Lounging about, taking it easy, when suddenly one of the guards started squealing out a warning. A weasel was amongst them. Grabbing one of the troops, he headed off to his hole only to return quicker than anyone imagined. This went on for the remainder of the afternoon. Tragedy had come to the chipmunks of St. Elmo.
By the following morning though, the weasel had moved on. Maybe during the night the chipmunks had banded together and chased him out. We will probably never know, but if you take the time to travel to this unique little town, you can meet the chipmunks that survived another day in history and decide for yourself.