Haunted Tunnels: Chasing Ghosts on Colorado's Gold Camp Road
An eerie October twilight settles over Tunnel 1, one of the haunted tunnels on the Gold Camp Road near Colorado Springs. Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Restless spirits have long haunted the Pikes Peak region. Cripple Creek, an 1890s gold mining town on the west side of Pikes Peak, is reputedly the most haunted place in America. Its restless spirits roam among gaunt head frames, crumbling cabins, hallways in old hotels, and in the Lampman Building, where the clipped footsteps and lilting soprano voice of ghostly Maggie is sometimes heard.
Emma Crawford's Eerie Specter
Colorado Springs and neighboring Manitou Springs also host spectral phenomena and strange doings. The ghosts of Manitou include voices and bumps in the night at the Red Crags bed and breakfast inn; mysterious lights, mists, and sounds in Cave of the Winds; and 19-year-old Emma Crawford, a tubercular patient buried atop Red Mountain. Her coffin later washed down the mountainside before being reinterred at the cemetery. Some say her spirit still stalks the mountain.
Ghosts of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs has a plethora of strange phenomena like two ghosts that sit in the back row of the Peak Theater, the ghoul of a murder victim in the Pioneer’s Museum, the ghost of a pioneer boy striding down the hallway of the Pediatric Ward at the former Penrose Community Hospital, and the presence of mining magnate Winfield Scott Stratton in his downtown Mining Exchange Building. Other spine-tingling sites include both Evergreen Cemetery, the city's old burying ground, and a roadside phantom along highway 115 in Deadman Canyon. This ghost is the shade of William Harkins, who was murdered with an axe to the forehead by the crazy Espinosa brothers in 1863.
Haunted Tunnels on the Gold Camp Road
Three railroad tunnels on the Gold Camp Road above Colorado Springs are the site that’s gained the most traction among ghost hunters in the last 25 years. The tunnels lie along the old railbed of the Short Line Railroad, a twisting 31-mile rail line that ran between the two cities from 1901 to 1920. After the tracks were torn up in 1929, it was turned into a scenic dirt road that passed through seven tunnels, their ceilings still black with locomotive soot. In the 1980s, an eight-mile road section was closed because of the imminent collapse of Tunnel 3 above Silver Cascade Falls.
Tunnels are Eerie Places
Tunnels are foreboding places that enter underground darkness. Tunnels across the United States are supposedly haunted by Tommyknockers or mining spirits, dead miners, and lost souls. The Gold Camp Road’s three troubled tunnels creep out our rational mind. By day they are innocent holes burrowed through ridges but at night they become echoing chambers filled with ghastly accident victims.
Gold Camp Road Hauntings
The stories that people write on the Internet about their Gold Camp tunnel experiences seem like far-fetched, B-grade movie plots, especially since there are no stories before the mid-1990s about hauntings. Local urban myths recount how a school bus filled with children was crushed when now-closed Tunnel 3 collapsed on them in the 1980s, the shrill whistle of a ghost train rattling up vanished tracks, a walking specter inside Tunnel 2, and dusty handprints found on the outside of cars after exiting a tunnel.
Satan Worshippers and Ghost Voices
Others talk about black-robed Satan worshippers carrying torches and chanting as they walked through the tunnels in the 1970s and 1980s. One account noted that his father witnessed this ritual twice as a teenager, while sipping illicit beers. Tunnel 2 is supposedly the most active site, with people saying they were hit and groped and they heard strange voices echoing off its walls. Sometimes, they report, the figure of a lone man appears at the end of the tunnel before, of course, vanishing into thin air.
Giggling Children in Tunnel 3
The closed 115-year-old third tunnel is also spooky. Both sides of the tunnel are shuttered with heavy iron fencing. Some accounts note the sounds of children giggling in the darkness. When people left the tunnel they felt tugs on their clothes and were sometimes slapped. Outside they saw small handprints on their car.
Collapsing Closed Tunnel
The only problem with this fanciful story is that the tunnel never collapsed on a bus, so no children ever died. Tunnel 3 is on the closed section of Gold Camp Road, making it impossible to drive a car to the entrance. The U.S. Forest Service actually shut the tunnel to traffic in 1987 after rotting timbers were found inside it. The stout iron fencing at both entrances keeps visitors outside the tunnel, since a 2006 fire in the tunnel destroyed most of the remaining supports.
Gold Camp Road Auto Accidents
The other peculiar happenings are not so easily explained, except that a fertile imagination can run wild on dark and stormy nights. Many auto accidents have occurred along lower Gold Camp Road. Local authorities say 11 wrecked cars still rest below the road, most from forgotten accidents. The curvy section before Point Sublime, now protected by a sturdy guardrail, was notoriously dangerous with numerous fatalities caused by vehicles plummeting off the narrow road down gravel slopes. A recent accident was in March, 2015 when a Geo Tracker drove off the road at 3 in the morning, plunging 400 feet and killing a Virginia man.
Haunted Tales Connect Us
Ghost stories connect the unknown and mysterious to our waking world. They let us attach a tangible form and voice to our deepest fears and anxieties. Certainly the creepy Tunnel legends have been embellished with every new telling, but the question remains: Are they haunted by departed spirits, ghosts, and ghouls?
Experience the Ghosts of Past Lives
Believe the stories told by a teenager who imbibed a six-pack if you want or, like me, take your own drive up to Tunnels 1 and 2 on a moonless night and walk down them alone in the dark. You’ll feel railroad history, the deaths of accident victims, and the cool hand of a late night. Ghost stories are just stories, but your own eerie experience, now that’s a different matter.