- Ghost light, ghost bright, first ghost I see tonight.
"The ghosts of deceased pioneers are said to take to the form of blue lights that hover above graves in a cemetery in Silver Cliff."
No description could be more alluring to an X-Files-generation roadside-attraction enthusiast. Having read the above in a compilation of Colorado trivia, a daytrip (or nighttrip, in this instance) was in order.
Where the Colorado townships of Silver Cliff and Westcliff abruptly end, the Wet Mountain Valley cranes its neck westward to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The craggy peaks keep watch over the Silver Cliff Cemetery, one mile south of town on a dirt road.
As I await nightfall in Silver Cliff, the Red Sox lose to the Yankees on a television above the bar in a pizza house. The bartender says she's heard of the strange cemetery lights and recommends I speak with the waitress across the room. A young girl approaches, smiling and affirmative.
"Yeah, we call them the ghost lights," she says. "It's supposedly like a blue vapor over the graves, best seen on a dark, moonless night."
Consensus from other patrons proves that even if folks haven't personally seen the lights, they know about them -- and nobody scoffs.
The lights first were reported in 1882. In 1969, Edward Linehan, a National Geographic writer, witnessed the show and gave credence to common claims by saying that he would "prefer to believe [the lights] are the restless stirrings of the ghosts of Colorado," until proven otherwise.
Nearing 10 p.m., the moon fortunately still rests somewhere behind the horizon, while dim stars peek out between intermittent cloud coverage. A dusty haze makes the town's lights twinkle, and lazy sheets of heat lightning occasionally envelop the eastern sky. At 8,000 feet, the summer night is brisk as I pace between graves.
An hour or so passes. Nothing yet, though the night's conditions seem ideal. Perhaps a few more starlight-killing clouds would do it? Maybe the pioneers' souls are still napping? I grow restless and attempt every vantage point, facing each direction. I shift, strain, squint, even crawl. Nada.
As frustration starts to outweigh curiosity, I finally spy something light blue and hazy, on a tombstone 30 yards away. My heart thumps with excitement as I step forward nervously. Then, as I hold a breath to steady and reach out with all my hope, a cow lets out the blood-chilling mother of all "moos."
I start in terror, ashamed for losing my nerve, and try not to think about being alone in a spooky cemetery. I close in on the blue light, only to find that it's a bright star's reflection off the beveled top of a black marble headstone. Damn light! Blasted cow!
I sit for another good length of time before retiring for the night, a bit disappointed but not altogether dissatisfied. Who knows? The ghosts might have put on a laser light show five minutes after I stopped looking. Part of the fun is the hoping. I will not declare that because I failed to see the ghost lights, they don't exist.
Maybe they choose their observers. Maybe you'll get lucky.
-- Matthew Schniper
Silver Cliff Cemetery
Escape distance: 78 miles southwest of Colorado Springs
Vague route: Highway 115 to Highway 67; to Highway 96; to Mill Street, one mile south of town
Extra credit: Document the ghost lights, or catch a show at the historic Jones Theater in downtown Westcliffe.