Touring the Stanley

DSCN5785    Upon check-in at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, I discovered the Stanley offers various guided-tour opportunities.  Two tours are available:  an historic tour of DSCN5760the grounds and hotel and a nightly ghost-hunting tour.  I purchase a ticket ($15 February special, normally $20) for the two-hour historic tour.  The tour begins with an introduction of our tour guide, Scary Mary, and a short video.  We then traipse across the lawn to the concert hall where Scary Mary gives an informative and entertaining lecture about the history of the hotel.  The Stanley was built in 1908 as a guest house for F.O. Stanley and his wife Flora.  Stanley, an entrepreneur and inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, moved to the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains as a treatment for his tuberculosis.  The Stanley’s loved to entertain and their celebrity guests loved to visit the hospitable Stanleys.  Their guests included presidents, actors, and musicians.  The musician on opening night of the concert hall was John Phillips Sousa performing on F.O.’s gift to Flora:  a beautiful grand piano.  In fact, Sousa was a frequent guest playing for the Stanley’s on numerous occasions.

DSCN5763Our tour group returns to the main hotel, and we explore the ballroom which was the setting for Stephen King’s masquerade party in The Shining.  I can envision the mafia-connected guests in their 1920s costumes and hear the party host as he shouts “Unmask! Unmask!”  The only original piece of furniture in the entire hotel, Flora Stanley’s piano, the same piano that John Phillips Sousa played to entertain the Stanley’s guests, still sits in the piano room (which is currently a conference room).  Scary Mary claims that sometimes mysterious music emits from the piano as a phantom Flora performs for guests and hotel employees.  As we move into the lobby, guests and visitors to the hotel are lounging on the comfy leather sofas and chairs gathered around the two fireplaces in the hotel lobby, both with cozy fires blazing on this cold, February day.  Scary Mary points out the Stanley Steamer automobile next to the doors of the hotel and explains F.O. Stanley’s invention, describing how it works and the purpose of the “mother-in-law” seat.  In the event of an explosion, the rumble seat, the back seat, will be the part of the automobile that propels its passenger into the air, leaving the passenger behind as the automobile continues its way down the road.  Thus Stanley reserved this special seat for his mother-in-law.  We continue our tour, making our way towards the upper levels hallways, stopping on the staircase landing for a short history lesson of the previous ownerships of the Stanley Hotel.  The Stanley has changed ownership several times in its history; but the current owner is the first to make a profit.DSCN5776

Scary Mary is an entertaining storyteller and we are all captivated as she relates ghost-sightings, events, and historic happenings throughout the entire hotel.  The fourth floor was the original attic where the servants lived with their children.  Supposedly, in the dark of the night, if you listen closely, you can still here the children playing in the hallway; and sometimes guests on the fourth floor are mysteriously “tucked in” as they settle in their beds for a night’s sleep.  Now I know why the desk clerk asked if I like ghosts as he checked me into Room 414!  The second half of the movie “Dumb and Dumber” with Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels was filmed at the Stanley and Scary Mary shares a few anecdotes.  Jim Carey was assigned Room 217 (the room with the dead lady in the bathtub from The Shining) and after only three hours, he demanded to be moved to a different room.  Carey never did say what happened during his short visit to Room 217; but other guests have reported “haunting” experiences during their stay in this very room.  A ghostly apparition, dressed in old-fashioned chambermaid clothing, makes occasional, unexpected appearances.

We conclude the tour with a trip into the bowels of the hotel.  The Stanley is built on a floating foundation around a granite mountain which is best seen by walking through a short tunnel that leads from the first floor hallway to the employee cafeteria.  Scary Mary speculates that this granite foundation, at the core of the hotel, is the center where the Stanley Hotel receives its energy for ghostly happenings.  Regardless of its “haunting” reputation, the Stanley Hotel is a fun, comfortable, wonderful place to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park and nothing unusual occurred during my visit…this time……..DSCN5779

Redrum and Man Walks on the Moon

DSCN5756The Stanley Hotel demands attention as it reigns majestically above Estes Park , Colorado on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Resting royally atop a wide, spacious lawn, the Stanley spreads its wings in a welcoming gesture despite its reputation as one of America’s most haunted hotels.  I can’t take my eyes off the grand, Georgian-style structure as I slowly wind my way to the parking area in the back of the hotel.  Although it is not an “official” national park lodge, the historic Stanley Hotel, about three miles from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, can certainly be considered as “almost a park lodge” and will be my home for the next two days.  I will be sleeping here, in the very same hotel where Stephen King got the inspiration for his third novel, The Shining.  Hopefully I will get some sleep.  I decided to reread The Shining during my stay.

At check-in, the desk clerk asks if I like ghosts and assigns me to Room 414 on the top floor of the hotel.  I push the “up” button, the gate on the small, rickety elevator rattles open, and I step cautiously into the tiny, confined space.  As I rise slowly to the fourth floor, I think about the drunken, phantom party-goers going up-and-down, up-and-down in King’s classic horror tale.  When the elevator finally stops and the gate slides open, my luggage and I spill out of the tiny space like the mysterious party confetti Wendy threw at Jack Torrance.  Stumbling down the hall with my suitcase, backpack, and computer bag, I discover Room  414 is all the way at the end of the wide hall, turn left, last door on the right.  Secluded and alone, I calm my jitters enough to slide the key in the lock and survey my new digs.

TDSCN5751he room is small but tidy and comfortable with a tall, soft, downy queen-size bed the predominate piece of furniture.  A huge flat-screen TV covers the wall directly in front of the bed where the movie “The Shining” runs 24 hours in a continual loop.  There is a large wing-backed chair in the corner next to a wall of old-fashioned, original windows with a view of the snow-covered back lawn.  The bathroom is small, clean, and functional.  The most unusual feature of this standard room is a large closet that is tucked well under the eaves of the roof.  Kinda creepy, I search for trap doors or anything unusual.  Finding nothing suspicious, I unpack, grab the camera, and leave my room to explore the hotel.

The second half of the 1994 movie “Dumb and Dumber” with Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels was filmed at the Stanley Hotel.  I embarrassingly admit that I have seen this movie many, many times.  It is Stephen’s favorite comedy film;  and I confess that the movie is part of our small DVD collection.  I recognize the elegant front entrance where Loyd and Harry drive up in their newly-purchased red Lamborghini Diablo.  The lobby is easily recognizable, especially the registration desk and the stairs where Loyd grabs Mary Swanson’s leg causing her to fall as they are going to the Presidential Suite to retrieve the briefcase Loyd is returning.  The scene where Loyd waits patiently for Mary, who never shows because she is skiing with Harry, was filmed in the Whiskey Bar at the Stanley Hotel.  Remember the framed newspaper article next to the door of the bar?  When Loyd exits he points to the exhibit and comments “Man Walks on Moon?  Can you believe it?”  That newspaper article is actually hanging on the wall in the hotel bar and, keeping in character as dumb Loyd, Carey ad libbed that line as he exited the bar.DSCN5794

DSCN5793After a quiet, peaceful, comfortable night in my cozy little haunted room, I decide to have breakfast in the hotel’s main restaurant, Cascades.  For eleven dollars I order the American Breakfast:  two eggs (over easy), bacon, and home-style potatoes.  The food is good, not great, but the bacon is thick-sliced and the potatoes are homemade.  The only problem I have is with the coffee.  It is lukewarm and not very good.  A couple at the next table notices the same thing and complains to the waitress.  She is quick to accommodate and offers to brew a new pot.  As she passes my table, I let her know my coffee is cold as well and I would like a cup from the new batch.  The waitress returns with hot coffee; however, it is still not very good.  The couple at the next table and I discuss this and decide the coffee tastes like Folgers.  It is drinkable, but not what you expect from a high-end restaurant in a luxury hotel.  We ask the waitress and learn that the coffee is Farmers Brothers, the same coffee that is served at Super 8 and Days Inn.  When the couple receive their bill for breakfast, they notice that they were charged $4 each for their coffee.  They inform the waitress they are not going to pay $4 for a cup of Farmers coffee.  The waitress is extremely apologetic and takes the charge off their bill.  I am grateful this couple spoke up because the waitress also removed the charge from my bill!  The morning coffee incident is the only negative mark on an otherwise pleasant experience.  I do believe that if a luxury hotel charges four dollars for coffee, the coffee beans should be blended by the chef, or the coffee come from a local roaster, or the coffee should be of higher quality.  The waitress at Cascades Restaurant in the Stanley was excellent and absolutely did everything she could to remedy a difficult situation.

Tracks in the Snow

Every Sunday, from December 29 to March 9, Kawuneeche Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park is the meeting place for an intermediate-level ranger-guided snowshoe trek.  Kawuneeche Visitor Center is on the west side of the park about one mile from Grand Lake, Colorado.  Reservations are required and can be made seven days in advance.  You must provide your own snowshoes and poles and the minimum age is eight.  The intermediate trek also “requires the ability to maintain a good pace over uneven terrain at high altitude”.  Best of all:  it’s free!

DSCN5725Having successfully completed both the beginner snowshoe trek in Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the more difficult beginner snowshoe trek in Rocky Mountain National Park, I am ready for a challenge.  Ranger Barb King, the national park ranger who led the beginner trek on Saturday, is leading the intermediate trek today.  A group of 25 snowshoers gather at the Adams Falls trailhead and, after introductions, Ranger Barb explains that we will be trekking to Adams Falls and then climbing about 600 feet to reach a vista of Craig’s Peak.  Taking the same path as the day before, we trek single-file across the snow-covered meadow and down into the wintry forest.  The intermediate trek walks at a faster pace and takes fewer breaks than the beginner trek.  Yesterday, it took 45 minutes to get to Adams Falls; today we arrive at the bottom of the falls in about 15 minutes.  In groups of five, we take turns walking into the frozen falls; then, instead of going around, we take a steep trail to the right of the falls.DSCN5740

With about three feet of powdered sugar snow, this trail is where the “intermediate” level of the ranger-guided snowshoe trek begins.  Concentrating on placing one snowshoed boot in front of the other, we slowly climb over 500 feet.  Because I have been in Colorado for over a month and have become acclimated to the elevation, I pass a couple of trekkers who are experiencing difficulty breathing in the high altitude.  After about an hour of steady, steep climbing, we are rewarded with lemon drops and a magnificent view of snow-covered Craig’s Peak nestled snugly between two other mountains.  We linger here and catch our breath as we suck on our sour treats and take lots of photos.  All too soon it is time to begin the descent back to the trailhead.

DSCN5742Ranger Barb chooses a long, gradual trail through gorgeous snow-touched Ponderosa pine trees for the return trip.  The trekkers who are on a schedule and need to get back in a hurry follow a volunteer ranger and I quickly lose sight of that group.  Several of us, including Ranger Barb, maintain a slower pace; stopping occasionally to study various animal tracks.  As we walk along the river, we see many otter slides.  It is fun to look at their tracks and imagine the otters as they slide down the gentle slopes of icy snow using their slick bodies as natural sleds.  A moose track swallows my pole as I test its depth.  Moose are very tall and their tracks can sink as deep as five feet into the powdery snow with no signs of struggle.  We spy elk tracks, canine tracks, human tracks, and unidentifiable tracks; but other than a random snowman sitting (standing?) alongside the frozen river, we see no animals.  I know they exist; roaming the dense forest, searching for food in this cold, white, wintery wonderland.  The proof is in the track.DSCN5741

Walking on Water

DSCN5712 Although Kawuneeche Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park is a scant one-mile from Grand Lake, Colorado, I am nervous as heck as I drive my Toyota Camry over ice and snow to get there.  Because I am staying three days at the Bighorn Lodge in Grand Lake, Colorado, I realize that leaving the hotel in my car means returning to that awful, slick, slippery, monster of a driveway that leads into the parking lot.  I considered walking; however, this is just not feasible as my hotel is in the center of the village and a one-mile walk would turn into at least two miles one-way.  And I would have to walk back.  But instead of fretting about later in the day, I focus on the reason for my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park:  ranger-guided snowshoe trekking!  Every Saturday, from December 28 until March 8, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a beginner-level ranger-guided snowshoe trek meeting at Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the west side of the park at 1 PM.  Reservations can be made up to a week in advance and you must provide your own snowshoes and poles.  The program is free, however there is a fee to get into the park.

Arriving at the visitor center an hour early, I have plenty of time to obtain my passport cancellation stamp, shop in the tiny bookstore, and watch the 20 minute movie about Rocky Mountain National Park.  I check in for the snowshoe trek and discover that participants will follow the ranger to the trailhead, about three miles from the visitor center.  I am glad I chose to drive to the park instead of walk; but I’m not excited about additional driving on snow and ice.  We begin a caravan of about ten cars and slowly snake our way to the Adams Falls Trailhead.

DSCN5711About twenty park visitors of various snowshoeing abilities have reserved DSCN5696this trek.  I’m feeling confident in my own skills because I participated in the basic snowshoe program at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (see previous post) and I have been practicing.  Ranger Barb King gathers us together and asks our names, where we are from, and if we have ever snowshoed.  Once this is established, she informs us that today, because of all the snow, we will attempt a slightly more difficult, but well worth it, trek.  We follow Ranger Barb in a single-file line as she leads us to the bottom of Adams Falls.

DSCN5692The beginning of the trek is very flat and very easy.  We cross a snow-covered meadow with frozen Grand Lake in view to the right.  When we reach the tree-line, there is a sharp but short descent into the wintry forest.  Because there are several people new to snowshoeing, this takes some time to negotiate.  Once we all make it down safely, we gather for Ranger Barb’s short presentation about the water system of Colorado.  She passes around a couple of maps as visual aids.  I later learned that the beginner snowshoe ranger program varies each Saturday with a different route and a different presentation each week.  Ranger Barb informs us that we will cross several snow-covered rivers and if anyone falls in just get back out and keep a sense of humor.  I don’t intend to fall in.

In February, Rocky Mountain National Park is a place of wintry white beauty.  The forest looks like an award-winning black and white photograph.  The ranger points out otter slide tracks as we cross the river.  I look and look for an otter, but no luck.  Because this is a beginner trek, we stop several times for people to catch their breath.  I’m pleased that I’m not having any trouble.  Forty-five minutes into the hike, we arrive at the bottom of Adams Falls.  This is a wondrous experience because, in the summer, the falls are so forceful it is impossible to go to the bottom without being washed away.  In the winter, with snowshoes, it is possible to walk all the way INTO the falls.  Five at a time, we take turns walking into the deep crevice of the frozen falls.  Everyone except the couple from Texas.DSCN5710

The Texas couple are struggling.  Neither have ever snowshoed and they have only been in Colorado for two days.  The thin air is causing the woman to have a headache and both of them are already exhausted from the physical exertion in the high altitude.  A young, 6′ 6″ tall guy from Fort Collins, Colorado is also having a tad bit of trouble.  This is his first experience snowshoeing and his rented snowshoes are too short causing him to sink in the deep snow.  He has a terrific attitude and he and his girlfriend laugh every time he sinks.  It is funny to see this giant of a man in waist-deep snow!  A gentle, gradual climb takes us to the viewpoint at the top of the falls where a volunteer ranger passes around a bag of delicious lemon drops.  As I peer over the railing, sucking on a tart, sour piece of sugary candy, I contemplate returning to the Rocky Mountains in the summertime and hiking the very easy .3 mile to this vista of Adams Falls to view the very place where I walked on water on a cold, beautiful, wonderful day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Conquering the Yeti Monster

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To get to the tiny parking lot at the Bighorn Lodge in Grand Lake, Colorado, the hotel where I will be staying for the next three days, I have to drive my car up a very steep, icy, scary-looking incline.  Noticing this ferocious beast upon check-in, I ask if I could please park at the bottom of the hill, along the street.  The very nice hotel guy politely refuses stating that street parking is reserved for guests with trailers.  I inform him I am very nervous to drive up that icy ramp.  He tells me that I will enjoy having my car closer to my room; especially when I unload my luggage.  I assure hotel guy that, really, I don’t mind one bit lugging my stuff up a mountain.  I’ve hauled my stuff up mountains many times, both figuratively and literally.  Ignoring the frightened tone in my voice and the look of sheer terror in my eyes, hotel guy refuses my pleas and insists that I at least try to drive my Toyota Camry up the short, snow-covered driveway and into the appropriate space.  Realizing no amount of pleading, groveling, or begging will convince him to allow me to use a parking space reserved for guests with trailers, I grudgingly accept my fate.  I have to at least attempt to park my car in the assigned spot even if it means humiliation, embarrassment, and a call to my insurance agent.  Returning to my car, I manage to muster a little courage which quickly disappears as I realize hotel guy has followed me outside.  Great.  Now I have an audience to witness my defeat.  He directs me to back out a little ways onto the street, pick up some speed, and just go for it.  With hotel guy cheering me on, I take a deep, cleansing breath, put the transmission in reverse, and back into the street.  I switch the gearshift into the drive position and stare the beast straight in the eye (the driveway, not hotel guy).  I blink first.  I roll down the window and ask hotel guy once again if I can please park in the street.  He says no.  I ask him if I am far enough into the street.  He replies plenty far, just give it some gas and go.  As I gently press the accelerator, the car begins to inch forward.  Increasing the pressure on the pedal, with both the motor and my heart racing, I shoot up the hill and into a parking space.  I made it!  I have conquered the slippery, slick Yeti!  And with only the slightest little fish-tail!  Getting out of the car, I wave to the supportive hotel guy and proceed to carry my luggage across the icy terrain to warm and cozy Room 15 where I lock the door and settle in for the night.

Grand Lake, Colorado

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Upon entering Grand Lake, Colorado, you might suspect you have stumbled across a frontier town that DSCN5720hasn’t changed much since the 1800s.  The village certainly has a distinctly western vibe with western-style storefronts, wooden sidewalks, Old West bars, and restaurants with names like Sagebrush BarBQ and Grill.  But then you hear it.  A loud zoom…zoom…revvv..revvvvv…revvvvvvvvvv..  Now you notice that instead of horses at the hitchin’ posts, snowmobiles are zipping up and down Main Street.  Snowmobiles are just as common on the streets of Grand Lake in 2014 as horse and buggies were in 1875 when Grand Lake was settled as a bustling outfitting and supply point for nearby mining settlements.  Snowmobiling is so popular that Grand Lake has been called the snowmobile capital of Colorado.

DSCN5687Grand Lake also boasts the largest, deepest natural lake in Colorado.  You guessed it:  Grand Lake.  Just one block south from Main Street, and running the entire length of the town, Grand Lake is the site of fishing tournaments in spring and summer; but in the winter, the lake transforms into a vast, white, ice-covered, field of snow; and the town of Grand Lake turns into an activity hub of snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.DSCN5674

Grand Lake (the town) and Grand Lake (the lake) are surrounded by national forest and park land on three sides.  When Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915, Grand Lake became the western gateway into the 250,000 acre park.  Kawuneeche Visitor Center is just one mile north of the town.

One, Two, Buckle My Snowshoe

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Leaving the sunny deserts of Arizona for the snowy mountains of Colorado means changing the contents of my backpack.  Hiking pants and backpacking shirts are replaced with ski pants, sweaters, warm underwear, hats, and gloves.  Cold-weather gear takes up quite a bit more space than warm-weather gear; but I will need it as I explore Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park during the very chilly month of February.  Upon arriving in Gunnison, I discover I also require snowshoes; so I dispatch Stephen to the Dallas REI to learn all he can about snowshoes.  After thorough research, we decide to order a pair of 22 inch MSR Evo snowshoes from REI and have them shipped to my son’s rented cabin in Almont, Colorado (between Gunnison and Crested Butte).

DSCN5622 DSCN5620Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a perfect place to learn and practice snowshoeing.  From January 18 thru March, every Saturday at 10 am and every Sunday at 1 pm, a park ranger leads a beginner snowshoe tour on the south rim.  The park visitor center even offers snowshoes to borrow.  Reservations are required; but everything is free, including the entrance fee in the winter.  The South Rim Road beyond the Visitor Center closes in winter except for cross country skiers and snowshoers.  The North Rim is closed all winter.  My twenty-year-old son, Nathan, wants to try snowshoeing so I make a reservation for two for Sunday afternoon, February 2.

The 62-mile drive from Gunnison to Black Canyon of the Gunnison is gorgeous with stunning views of Curecanti National Recreation Area.  It is a beautiful clear, crisp day with seemingly endless blue skies interrupted by the occasional snow-covered mountain peak reaching for the heavens.  We pass over a frozen lake where fisherman are huddled over small holes in the ice tempting the fish with tasty bait.  I don’t think many fish want to leave the deeper, warmer waters to end up on somebody’s hook; but, nevertheless, I decide I would like to try ice fishing someday.  Maybe there is a national park that offers ranger-guided ice fishing.

Nathan and I enjoy a late breakfast at the Denny’s in nearby Montrose, Colorado, about fifteen miles west of Black Canyon along Highway 50.  Arriving at Black Canyon, we are greeted by our ranger guide and asked to gather with the rest of the snowshoe group in the auditorium of the South Rim Visitor Center.  Ranger Murray Shoemaker begins by introducing himself; and Nathan makes the comment that the ranger has the appropriate name to be a snowSHOE guide.  Black Canyon offers a selection of snowshoes, in various sizes, to borrow and Ranger Shoemaker describes the differences.  Only two of us brought our own snowshoes, so Nathan and the others choose the shoes they would like to try and we all go outdoors and prepare for the trek.

The first challenge is to attach the snowshoe to my feet.  This is not a simple task because I am wearing bulky, yet very warm GoreTex ski gloves that limit my dexterity.  The obvious solution is to ask my son to buckle the snowshoes for me; but I am determined to learn all aspects of the sport of snowshoeing and this includes putting on my own gear.  So, at the risk of fingertip frostbite, I remove both my gloves and my glove liners and manage to buckle my own snowshoes.  I even fasten them properly, nice and tight, before my fingers begin to turn blue.

DSCN5611 DSCN5616Ranger Shoemaker demonstrates how to walk on a snow-packed trail and a group of approximately 15 follows behind as he climbs an easy, short trail.  We pass beautiful scenery of snow-touched trees and bushes.  Clumps of white, powdery snow cling to the ends of branches reminding me of central Texas cotton bolls.  Soon we reach the South Rim Road and the ranger suggests we try climbing a steep incline with no packed trail.  He explains how to walk on our toes using the crampons on the snowshoes.  The snow is about three feet deep and I try not to cheat by following in Nathan’s tracks.  I want to become an “expert” snowshoer so I forge my own trail falling only once.  When we all reach the top, we again follow Ranger Shoemaker single file along trail.  The ranger stops and the group gathers round as he presents a short winter survival lesson.  We learn what essentials to always take on any snowshoe trek, what to do if we get lost, and how to start a fire in the snow.  Continuing on the trail, we arrive back at the visitor center.

The snowshoe ranger program at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to learn the basics of snowshoeing.  From learning about various types of snowshoes to learning how to start a fire in the snow; experiencing walking on packed trail and experiencing walking in deep snow; and knowing what to carry in a backpack on a winter trek to knowing what to do if lost in the winter, I am ready for more snowshoeing expeditions.  Hmmm…Rocky Mountain National Park?!DSCN5618