Since I never intend to seek public office and the statute of limitations has long passed, I can confess that I stole a bathtub out of an abandoned hotel in the hills above Denver back in the early 80’s. And although this story isn’t about a hike or bike ride, I did tell it to a friend on a recent hike, so hopefully that counts.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
I started my college years in 1983 at the University of Denver and joined a fraternity, which shall remain nameless. During the final stages of initiation my pledge class participated in a ‘scavenger hunt’ which was primarily about young men behaving badly. We were broken up into teams and given a list of things to get and bring back to the house. On my team’s list was a bathtub from a hotel up in Evergreen, Colorado! We couldn’t believe our eyes. But one guy on my team was from Evergreen and knew that hotel – Troutdale-In-the-Pines.
Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as railways were being constructed throughout the American west, Colorado was marketed as “The Switzerland of America” and became a major tourist destination. High-end resorts and hotels mushroomed throughout the state such as The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and The Stanley in Estes Park. As early as the 1870s roads were built from Denver up into the the foothills to support a burgeoning lumber industry, and soon people began coming to the Upper Bear Creek canyon for summer getaways.
In 1881, Jasper Babcock moved his family from Chicago to Evergreen to set up a farm on 160 acres of Bear Creek land. But he soon grew tired of farming and built a number of log cabins in addition to a main lodge for “summer boarders.” People came to get away from the big city and enjoy the local fishing, hunting, camping and beautiful scenery.
In 1916, Babcock sold the property to Denver Mountain Parks for $100,000. The city intended to invest in the property but never got around to it, and sold it in 1919 to Harry Sidles, a wealthy automobile dealer from Lincoln, Nebraska. Sidles immediately began construction on a large luxury hotel with 100 guest rooms, a ballroom, dining room, billiards room, bar, barber ship, drugstore and baker to the tune of $600,000. The grand opening was held in June 1920.
Horseback riding, golf, and other exclusive activities attracted the wealthy from both coasts.
Celebrities such as the Marx Brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jack Benny, Greta Garbo, Liberace, and Ethel Merman frequented the hotel during the summer season. Teddy Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson also visited.
Harry Sidles died in 1935, and that was the beginning of the decline of the hotel. His son Fred took over, and found out that the hotel never really made money – it was more of a hobby for Harry, and at the time of death was in serious debt. A few short years later WWII would start, and gas rationing made travel to other resorts such as The Broadmoor more attractive, accelerating the hotel’s state of decline. It changed hands several times and finally closed in 1961.
We Gotta Get a What?
Fast forward twenty plus years to the fall of 1983. We (four of us) jumped into my friend’s GMC Jimmy at DU, got onto I-25 and headed to the hills. We had just a few hours to get a bathtub and return to the house.
As we got into Evergreen and drove up Bear Creek Drive, one of my friends told us where to park – effectively in the driveway of a new house built adjacent to the hotel. We all got out of the Jimmy, and snuck across someone’s lawn in the pitch black of night following my friend up a hill. We couldn’t see the hotel yet, as it was set back from the road quite a bit.
At this point I couldn’t help thinking about a book I had just read – The Shining by Stephen King. I recall reading that he got the idea while staying at some creaky old Colorado hotel. As we crested the hill and the hotel came into view, I nearly wet my pants thinking this was the place King had stayed at.
We were amped on adrenaline and went in through the ground floor entrance on the right wing. We checked about five rooms, and the place was a shambles barren of anything really salvageable. Then we hit the jackpot – a pristine tub in a bathroom. As we surrounded the tub and discussed how to lift it up, we heard crashing sounds elsewhere in a distant part of the hotel. Some one, or some thing was in there with us! We all freaked a bit, grabbed the front side of the tub, and ripped it out of the wall with just two heave-ho efforts.
We then surrounded it, picked it up and quickly scooted down the hallway and out the same door we came in. Up and over the hill, across some guy’s lawn and bridge over Bear Creek, and hoisted it into the back of the Jimmy. Within minutes we were on the road down to Denver to get our next item (some shopping center off of Colorado Blvd lost its American flag that night).
As we entered the fraternity, the whole crew went wild. No one really expected us to get a tub, and the one they thought we’d go to had folks ready and waiting to scare the shit out of us. That was the noise on the other side of the hotel. I have to say this was the best and most fun night of my entire college experience.
Returning to Troutdale
A few years later after I transferred to UT Austin, I returned one summer to visit with friends, and we went back up to Troutdale to take pictures. I also did quite a bit of research at the Denver Public Library (thanks to them for the above old pix).
At that point the hotel was still rotting, but there was discussion about turning it into a drug addiction recovery center. That never came to be, and at the turn of the century it was purchased by a developer who tore down the hotel and used the materials to build beautiful mansions. Although I’m sad to see it go, it has new life.
Oh, and in case you wondered what happened to that tub – it became a most excellent keg holder.
I’ve hiked extensively in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I have to say that the hike to Chasm Lake at the base of Longs Peak is probably my favorite in the whole park. I’m not alone in that assessment. Although it’s a bit of an effort, you are rewarded with absolutely stunning views of craggy rock faces and Longs Peak, and if you go in June and July you will also be treated to huge clusters of columbine, the state flower of Colorado. These flowers usually are few and far between, and you’re lucky to see one or two on most hikes. On this hike you could see dozens.
You will start in the Long’s Peak Trailhead, so try to get there early (i.e. 7 or 8 am) to get reasonable parking and be off the mountain before the afternoon thunderstorms hit. During peak summer months you’ll probably end up parking on the road leading to the trail head parking lot, as many hikers who are doing the peak start around 3 or 4 am.
You’ll start hiking in forest, and at roughly 2 miles you will hit treeline and emerge to increasingly revealing views of the peak.
At 3.5 miles you’ll hit a fork in the trail, with the right going up to Longs Peak, and the left going up to Chasm Lake. Shortly after that point you’ll hit a pause in the climbing where most folks stop for a bite to eat and take pictures of the trail leading up to the lake. The views at this point start getting epic, and the trail mellows out.
If you are hiking in July, you will see several clusters of columbine as you proceed.
You then cross an alpine basin.
At this point you begin a steep climb among boulders and some scrambling. It’s hard to find the trail here, but if you head up, you are generally going in the right direction.
Once you get up, you’ll be treated to epic views of the lake.
And you’ll see an occasional critter looking for a treat!
It’s springtime in the Rockies, and that wouldn’t be complete without a nice mid-May snowstorm. So while it’s snowing outside, I figured I’d write up a post on a local favorite, Hall Ranch, that I did last Friday.
There are two parking areas for Hall Ranch – on the north side is the Antelope Trailhead and gentle Antelope trail, and on the south side is the Bitterbrush Trailhead, which is what I typically do. The Bitterbrush trail is relatively smooth at the start as you climb, but then transitions into a fun but tough rock garden that forces most folks off the bike at several points.
The garden is only for about a half mile, and then you hit a summit with nice views of the valley.
You can then continue and do the Nelson Loop.
At the top you’ll get great views of the nearby peaks, Coffintop, Cook and Button Rock.
From this point, it’s pretty much all downhill fun, particularly when you get back to the rock garden!
On this Mother’s Day I want to say thanks to my wife and soul-mate Cris Pfromer. We’ve been together now over 25 years, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near as happy and healthy than without her. Thanks for being a wonderful mom to Taylor and Kyle. Thanks for exploring the world with me. And thanks for letting me take this year off while I recharge my batteries!
I did a quick hike yesterday in Gregory Canyon in Boulder and snapped a few photos. There are several trails in this area above Boulder and you can combine them in a variety of ways to get a different hike every time.
The Buffalo Creek area, about 45 minutes from Denver on 285, is home to some of the best mountain biking near the front range. Yesterday I had the pleasure to ride Nice Kitty to Little Scraggy on a warm spring day.
If you drive into Buffalo Creek on Highway 126, you can park in the parking lot and ride along the creek for a mile or so to the trail head.
You’ll see a new bridge cross over the creek and begin the trail. It’s a relentless climb for several miles, but the trail is purrfectly smooth and all rideable. As you ascend you’ll pass through forest burned in 1996 by an unattended campfire.
It’s a surreal experience with burned timber standing tall all around you as you ride.
As you get near the top of this first pitch of climbing, take a right onto the Little Scraggy trail.
The trail flattens out a bit here, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities for a snack and to take pictures of Redskin Mountain and other points further west.
You’ll also pass over and next to a number of quartz deposits that sparkle brightly in the intense Colorado sunshine.
You’ll pass through a campground and then continue gentle climbing and descents through several beautiful rock gardens.
Near the top of the climb you are again afforded great views of the west.
It’s been a long climb – over 2700 feet. Now you have all that in fast flowy downhill to enjoy!
If you head west from Fruita toward Utah, you’ll hit Rabbit Valley just short of the state line, and I recommend pulling over to ride the Western Rim. This trail is 20 or so miles of beautiful scenery along the Colorado River without the crowds of the Kokopelli trail system in Fruita.
I typically park right near the highway, but you can drive in a bit if you want to take some mileage off of riding dusty double track.
A local rancher has cattle grazing in the area, and in in the springtime it’s cool to ride through the herd with all the calves running about.
After a bit of a climb 5 miles in, you’ll drop down right onto the rim.
Note that this trail is shared with motorcycles, so keep an ear out.