Red Canyon Fire Exposes Depression-Era Outhouse

Aug 19, 2013

A Depression-era outhouse still stands outside Glenwood Springs. The Red Canyon Fire came close to the structure, so fire crews protected it.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The fire that burned through 400 acres southeast of Glenwood Springs last week is is now fully contained. Many of the firefighters were reassigned over the weekend. The focus now is monitoring hot spots and maintaining a fire line containing the blaze.

As crews fought the flames they found a surprise beyond the big smoke plumes. An archaeological site above Glenwood Springs was literally unveiled by the fire. As crews hacked away at brush they found a depression-era campground built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Its Friday and a group of archaeologists from the Bureau of Land Management head to an area, above the Red Canyon Fire. They are relieved to find the old campground didn’t burn, but it was a close call. Fresh cut stumps and stacks of branches sat near an old outhouse.

A crew of archaeologists from the BLM checked out the site after fire crews had cut away brush there.
Credit Marci Krivonen

To protect an aging wood outhouse from fire, crews had cleared thick brush that obscured it before the fire. Picnic tables and fire grates built alongside in the 1930’s also survived.

"There’s a little hearth back in there. They were part of the picnic tables and they’re almost 80 years old, if you can believe it, all of these features," says archaeologist Erin Leifeld.

She says these artifacts have historical value. A crew of the Civilian Conservation Corps built them.   The CCC was one of the New Deal programs that FDR hoped would end the Great Depression.   At its height, more than 3 million men worked at CCC camps across the country.

"It’s sort of a unique, very small blip in time that we get to see these features being built by very specific people. A lot of times when we’re recording things like Native American sites or cow camps, we don’t have a clear indication of when they were built or by who it was built," she says.

This site is special, she says, because they have records and even newspaper clippings of when the campground was built.

With the old outhouse now exposed, the archeologists want to protect it. There is already graffiti on the inside walls.  The BLM team installed a sign that reads, “Enjoy! Don’t Destroy Your American Heritage!”  Archaeologist John Brogan says the structure’s in pretty good shape.

"It’s kind of a unique structure, something like this you’re not going to see again. It’s hard to get poetic about an outhouse, but it’s really interesting and a well-built structure."

Because this one is well-preserved, the BLM hopes to restore it. 

"It is a pretty great location, I mean the trail’s really accessible and I think a lot of people come up here to look out over the Valley. So, we had been starting to talk about whether we could stabilize it to make it last for another 80 years," says Erin Leifeld.

Trails, roads, buildings and campgrounds were built by the CCC throughout Garfield County.