Thursday, February 11, 2010

A visit to a "Ghost Airfield"

Colorado has dozens if not hundreds of ghost towns, remnants of the gold and silver mine heydays which brought thousands of miners into the then Territory of Colorado seeking their fortune.  These hopeful miners built small towns near the major strikes and the towns quickly faded into ghost towns once the mines played out.

In a similar way, the Aurora Airpark has become a ghost airfield.  Situated near the town of Watkins, had until it closed, been the longest continually running airfield in Colorado according to some of the websites I researched before visiting the place.

I didn't even know about its existence but my previous riding to the mystery track had gotten me wondering if any other strange structures existed nearby.  Some googling with satellite imagery and I spotted what looked like a small airfield just south of the mystery track.  Further googling resulted in a ride destination for me today!

The mystery track is on the top end of the photo, and you can see the airstrip on the bottom half
photo courtesy googlemaps

I made my way to the intersection of Colfax Avenue and County Rd 81.  I was riding on Gun Club Rd and had just turned east onto Jewell Ave when the Deputy Sheriff patrol vehicle which had been following me turned his lights on!  Doh!  I said to myself as I immediately pulled over and removed gloves and helmet.

Turns out, the Deputy just wanted to get a closer look at the Ural!  Talk about UDF!  : )   He turned out to be a fellow Beemer Rider who'd just acquired an 86 R80. He also rode a vintage Triumph Bonneville as his primary motorcycle.  We chatted about the Ural and vintage motorcycles, turns out he and I had been at the Norton Motorcycle Club's Old Bike Ride #7 back in May of last year.  (click the link if you love photos of vintage motorcycles)

He invited me to the British Motorcycle Association of Colorado meetings, saying I'd get a look at a bunch of vintage motorcycles, not just British iron but other marques as well.  I told him that I wrote for and it would definitely be something worth writing about.  So there you go, a pleasant UDF example and some more material to write on, it just doesn't get any better sometimes.

The deputy went back on patrol and I continued on towards the Aurora Airpark.  I got there just fine and found the old worn dirt roads leading past an old abandoned house with a small tower like building next to it.  Not sure if it was part of the airfield or not but it's the only two remaining structures onsite now besides the paved air strips.

 The only remaining upright structures near the airpark

The dirt road I am on eventually leads you to the small paved airstrip which I think was just a parking area for aircraft back in the day when the field was operational.
I turned around since there were "no trespassing" signs there, affiliated with some RC Flying club.  I went past the buildings again and found a trail heading south.  This took me to the northern end of the main airstrip!  I was able to ride up and down the main airstrip, now badly overgrown with weeds and even small trees.  The #14 I'd seen on old photographs of the airstrip (see links at end) was gone.

Yeah, that's the runway, a bit delapidated but I think you could land a small plane on it still in case of an emergency.  Here, Natasha is located on the northern end of the main airstrip.

Natasha on the southern end of the main airstrip

You can see most of the Front Range from the air park, note the "golf balls" of Buckley AFB in the distance.

I left the air after some more wandering and headed home for lunch.  A nice little outing in sunny weather and temperatures in the low 40s I think.

Note:  In addition to the paper signs from the RC Plane club barring access to the smaller paved areas to the east of the old buildings.  I realized upon exiting that the "No Trespassing" sign located near the "Zoning Board Notice" from 1996 applied not only to the abandoned gas station area behind the sign but to the air park in general I think.  Whoops!  I rationalized that I probably had not violated any private property owner's rights though, since the land was being considered for a possible water treatment plant back in 1996, and nothing had apparently happened till then.  I figured by now it's sort of "public land" under the control of the city of Aurora. 

I'd come across evidence of furniture dumps by swinish people, empty shotgun cartridges where folks had apparently been shooting at an abandoned truck and appliances, and other junk scattered about the area.  It's really too bad as the air park must have been quite the sight back in the day.

Links to more info on the airpark:


Gary France said...

Ghost Airfields, Mystery Tracks... you blog is taking on a new feel these days - I like it. I am glad your meeting with the Police was so productive.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

The most heartwarming aspect of today's blog was the total absence of snow. A close friend of mine once said that there was nothing sadder (in his estimation) than a barn which had tumbled down, or an old airfield that has come to a forlorn end.

In the case of the barn, it generally signifies the progression of a lifestyle in decline. But the old airfields have been witness to barnstorming, the growls of a Steerman, and the unintentional touch and go landings of new pilots on their big solo.

This was a very nice piece today.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads
New blog postings every Monday and Wednesday

irondad said...

You didn't ask the deputy about the mystery track? Doh!!

Steve Williams said...

Wow, nice places to explore. Anything that invokes the term ghost is a place I want to visit.

Did you give the deputy the URL to Redleg's Rides?

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

redlegsrides said...

Steve, yep I gave him my card with that info....