Sunday, July 31- Monday, August 1
The drive to Estes Park takes about six hours over more beautiful–and stressful– mountain roads.Perrin and Peggy suggested a short cut, which would take us 60 plus miles along a dirt road over Cottonwood Pass, which at 12,200 feet marks the Continental Divide. Sensing my reluctance to take a dirt road up a mountain that high, they assured us that it would not be that hard.
In any event we made it, with Embry driving up and me driving down the other side, which was much easier since it had shoulders and a paved service. At the top it was raining and cold with temperatures in the 40s. Patches of snow were everywhere, and there were no trees since the tree line is around 11,500 feet . A dramatic but bleak setting.
Since most of the land in this part of Colorado is in national forests or parks, there are only a handful of towns between Crested Butte and Estes Park , the most interesting being Leadville, an old mining town at over 10,000 feet elevation that still has much of its character.
We arrive in Estes Park, exhausted, in late afternoon. Our hotel for the first three nights is The Stanley. The Stanley is expensive but worth the price of admission. Built in 1909, like the infamous Crescent in the Ozarks, it is on the National Register of Historic Places; but unlike the Crescent it is vibrant and a center of activity in Estes Park, which actually is more bland than we had expected. The carpets are a bit threadbare, and the hotel has had its ups and downs but seems to have found its niche with fine dining (best food on the Road Trip so far), a destination wedding location (averaging two or three per day), a world famous whisky bar (over 200 brands), a strong convention and conference business, and all sorts of cultural activities like concerts and lectures. Views of the mountains are spectacular from almost every one of the 140 rooms; the lobby almost always is bustling; and the 30 or 40 chairs on the big front porch are occupied most of the time.
The hotel was actually started as a guest lodge by a rich inventor and entrepreneur, FO Stanley, who moved to the area at the turn of the previous century from Massachusetts in hopes of curing his tuberculosis. He and his wife built a huge “vacation home” along with a 100-room guest lodge for their rich, East Coast friends. The lodge was expanded to 140 rooms, sold and converted to a commercial hotel before the stock market crash of 1929. Since that time it has had 26 different owners, gone into and out of bankruptcy, and for years struggled to survive. In any event it seems to be doing fine now due to an experienced and enlightened owner who specializes in managing historic hotels.
But what really makes the hotel special is that it is haunted. The hotel runs “Ghost Tours” every 30 minutes starting at 10 in the morning and going all day. They are usually packed with 25-30 wide-eyed tourists following a guide through the building. Naturally, I could not resist signing up for $20. It was worth every penny.
According to our guide, a 30-something woman with a quick wit and special affection for ghosts, sightings of dead people happen all the time at The Stanley along with doors opening and closing by themselves, guest’s finding their dirty clothes neatly folded or hung up in closets, windows opening and closing mysteriously, hair of guests standing on end, men (never women) falling out of bed, and the hazy figure of a cowboy who seems to wander routinely in the middle of the night in room 408. She went to great lengths to assure us that these ghosts were friendly ghosts and that no one had ever been hurt or really scared all that much. People come from all over the world to visit because of the ghosts and are especially interested in staying in room 217.
Room 217 is the room where Stephen King stayed in 1974 when he and his wife stumbled onto the hotel in late fall just as it was closing down for the winter and found themselves to be the hotel’s only guests. They had dinner in the spooky, main dining room as weird orchestral music was piped in, and then retired to room 217 where King experienced the worst nightmare of his life, which inspired the 1977 book, The Shining (and 1980s movie adaption by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson). The movie is available 24/7, playing continuously on the hotel’s television. Of course, we had to watch it. This is one weird and scary movie! (The movie was actually filmed at a hotel at the foot of Mt Hood in Oregon.)
Who knows about these things? Our guide swears she has seen ghosts many times herself and that guests have taken photos with people dressed in early 20th Century garb, mysteriously showing up in prints. As for me, I remain a bit of a skeptic, and Embry will have nothing to do with it at all. But, hey, it works for the hotel and may have saved it from yet another bankruptcy. And they even have a full time psychic on site who takes bookings months in advance. If you ever get to Estes Park, put The Stanley on your bucket list.
Besides hanging out at the Stanley, we spend a day in Rock Mountain National Park driving along the ridge road, which is the highest paved road in the U.S. at an average height of over 10,000 feet and often rises higher than the tree line. The road is about 50 miles long and requires a return trip, so it is all-day activity if you stop at the overlook areas, which of course we did. It was quite crowded as you might expect but did not exceed the enjoyment threshold. These mountains are so vast, so tall and so massive that human impact seems almost insignificant.
We return to The Stanley for a dinner at the whisky bar and a good night’s rest, hoping we do not bump into any ghosts in the night.