Saturday, February 23, 2013

Evergreen Lake Winter - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Evergreen Lake, Winter" Colored Pencil

The narrow inlet to the lake has finally broken free from winter's icy grip. The chilly water is motionless and reflects the shadowy pine trees. Overcast skies have softened the cool, morning light and the hues are muted. A patch of yellow cattails provides a bright contrast to the somber, blue color scheme. The drawing is an expression of the contemplative solitude experienced during a late, winter storm at Evergreen Lake.

During this time of the year, prodigious snowstorms and blizzards descend upon the lake liberating giant snowflakes that come pouring down like rain for days on end. Visibility of the surrounding peaks fades in and out depending on the ebb and flow of the steel-gray clouds that veil the landscape in a mysterious aura. It's my favorite time to wander around the shoreline because of the peace and quiet.

Surprisingly, one of the most crowded spells at the lake is also the coldest. From mid-December until late February, it's frozen solid and a section of the pond is transformed into an ice skating arena. Colder temperatures mean a smoother surface so the best time to skate is after dark under the lights. Evergreen Lake is also renowned for its productive ice fishing. Determined anglers drill holes through the thick ice and wet their lines hoping to net one of our most popular underwater residents, the rainbow trout.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Finding Bigfoot in Bailey, Colorado

The Castle
In September, the cast and crew of Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot television series visited nearby Bailey, Colorado. One of our favorite shows, its a documentary that follows four Bigfoot researchers across the country in their quest to prove that the elusive creature exists. They were in town to investigate recent encounters in our area and interview local eyewitnesses. The Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO) is certain that Sasquatch survives in Colorado. Pike National Forest just south of here is considered the perfect habitat. It's a remote wilderness that's heavily forested with lots of water and a stable elk and deer population.

Bigfoot expert Keith Foster explains the situation here in Colorado. "Trying to find a Sasquatch in a forest is like trying to find a highly trained sniper who wants to hide in that forest, nearly impossible. Essentially, a Sasquatch is like a very stealthy puma with reasoning powers that may dwarf the reasoning power of a chimpanzee. Sasquatch are ideally suited for the night, the deep forest, cold weather, and a lonely existence - whereas man is suited for the warmth of day, open places, and a gregarious existence. Man and Sasquatch, though similar in form, are nearly complete opposites in regards to ecological niche. I think that is interesting and even perhaps enlightening. There is an environmental and historical niche available for just such a creature, and if it is not filled by a species we now call Sasquatch in North America, it should have been filled by nature at some point in Earth's past. Even if all the sightings are false, the physical evidence of the tracks indicates that just such a creature still walks the earth."

The Finding Bigfoot Colorado episode was shown a few weeks ago and featured previously unaired footage of a possible Bigfoot filmed in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area in 1963. After seeing the video, it became obvious that we had to conduct our own investigation. So off we went to a remote, icy lake about 12 miles south of Bailey, right into the heart of Bigfoot territory. We chose to go that direction after learning about some unique sightings in the area. The Sasquatch seen lurking near The Castle, a prominent rocky outcrop, reportedly has white fur. The so called "snowshoe hare theory" maintains that Bigfoot may be brown-colored during the summer when roaming in the high mountains but just before winter, as it migrates down to lower elevations, the furry coat changes to white. The hue alteration provides an ideal camouflage for such a secretive animal. A strategy also employed by the reticent Himalayan Yeti.

To reach The Castle, we trudged through wet snow and ascended a slippery, frozen waterfall. It was eerily quiet as we progressed deeper into the dark forest. At the base of the jagged peak, the environment appeared to be fairly squatchy so we cautiously examined the entire location. Our extensive search for clues failed to uncover any definitive evidence, not even a footprint in the snow. We tried making calls and wood knocks in an attempt to pry Sasquatch from his daytime nest but also no luck. Somehow, the giant, white ghost had managed to elude us.

Despite the disappointment of not capturing a glimpse of Bigfoot, the daytime search was an exciting adventure. We definitely want to come back again and attempt a nighttime exploration because that's when the creature seems to be most active. It was getting dark by the time we reached our car for the journey home. The rugged, dirt road that led us back to civilization weaved its way through dense woodlands. During the drive back, my ever hopeful, seven-year-old son was convinced he saw Bigfoot up on the ridge ripping aspen trees out of the ground. He doesn't think anyone believes him, but I believe you Lukas. I believe.

Bigfoot may be lurking somewhere in this remote wilderness

The slippery, frozen waterfall

We were unable to pry Sasquatch from his den

The environment was extremely squatchy

The Finding Bigfoot Team - Cliff, Ranae, Bobo and Matt

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lair O' the Bear and Dunafon Castle

The restored Dunafon Castle

Lair O' the Bear Park is nestled in a steep canyon about six miles east of Evergreen, Colorado. John and Matilda Johnson emigrated from Sweden with their two young boys and purchased the narrow meadow in 1902. They named it Mountain Nook Ranch, built a four-bedroom house and raised Red Durham cattle. Their two sons, Finis and Francis, attended school in nearby Starbuck, now known as Idledale.

It was originally named for John Starbuck who won the town property in a poker game. John Johnson was a master gardener and his popular, fresh produce was sold in Evergreen and Denver. They planted over 200 cherry and apple trees in the area. If you look closely many can still be found throughout the park today.

The unruly Bear Creek sculpted the beautiful scenery and provided the needed irrigation for productive crops but it also wreaked plenty of havoc. There was a constant fear of extreme flooding. The Lariat Trail (Highway 74 today) crossed Bear Creek six times between Morrison and Mountain Nook.

If a severe flood destroyed the tenuous, wooden bridges, travelers became stranded for days. By the 1920s, before Evergreen Dam existed, a flood warning system was initiated. Evergreen's telephone operator would notify the Johnsons and other families living between the canyon walls to alert them if a flood was surging their way.

Marcus Wright designed an overshot waterwheel and creatively harnessed the energy of Bear Creek to power his magnificent Castle Springs Ranch. During the 1930s the eccentric genius created an architectural masterpiece about a mile upstream from the Johnson's homestead. The Wright Castle, built with stone quarried on site, was a remarkable fortress complete with turrets, battlements, arched doorways, a moat and a dungeon.

There was also an electric, 18-gauge miniature railroad that looped around the property. The decadent interior of the creekside mansion featured huge fireplaces, a terrazzo floor and a spiral staircase. When Wright died, the castle went into a trust. It was later rented out and converted into a gambling hall and brothel.

William and Tasmin Barnes purchased the castle in 1970. By then, the premises was completely ransacked and in terrible shape. Barnes throughly revamped everything, making drastic changes that updated and modernized the entire place. He also added to the top of his stronghold a 25 food long, mechanized, fire-breathing dragon to welcome guests.

All future plans were terminated because William, Tasmin and a daughter died tragically in the infamous, EgyptAir Flight 990 airline crash on Halloween morning in 1999. All attempts to sell failed and the necessary maintenance to upkeep the estate was neglecgted. Within five years, the castle was in disrepair once again.

Allured by its medieval charm, current owners Michael Dunafon and Debbie Matthews acquired the citadel in 2004. Dunafon devised a restoration plan based on blueprints, historic photographs and interviews with surviving members of the Barnes and Wright families. To complete the massive project, Dunafon hired guys from Step 13, a program to rehabilitate homeless alcoholics and addicts.

They cleaned, sanded, painted, pulled weeds, cut trees and entirely restored the interior. Then the crew meticulously sifted through trash and dirt to recover the original small parts and bolts needed to refurbish the hydroelectric power plant. Today, everything appears to be back in prime condition. It's like a fairytale ending. It took a group of ambitious men, who were struggling to rebuild their own troubled lives, to restore a magical castle.

Lair O' the Bear Park is nestled in a steep canyon

Originally known as Mountain Nook Ranch

Bear Creek sculpted the beautiful scenery

Unruly Bear Creek used to wreak havoc

Constant fear of flooding

Stone foundation from the Johnson homestead

The Wright Castle was an architectural masterpiece

The castle is upriver from the Johnson homestead

A remarkable fortress

Today, the castle is in prime condition

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Caribou, Colorado - No Risk, No Gain

The abandoned Caribou townsite

The abandoned townsite of Caribou, Colorado is situated high in the Rocky Mountains west of Boulder just below the continental divide. It's the place where the winds are born and if you listen closely you can still hear the echoes of a glittery past. Silver was discovered on the hill in 1868 and a small mining camp was quickly organized. It's less than a ghost town now with just a few dilapidated structures still remaining but it's not the architecture that drew me here. I'm interested in the stories about the extraordinary people who gave Caribou its life.

With high-grade silver ore coming out and Eastern investment dollars pouring in, the news spread internationally. A congregation of daring souls from Cornwall, United Kingdom, whose hard rock mining skills were in high demand, risked everything and immigrated to Caribou. The carpenters, merchants and common laborers were American but the heart and soul of the camp were the expert Cornish miners who blasted tunnels, timbered drifts and removed underground water. Almost immediately, the success transformed Caribou from a tent city into a respectable town that the determined pioneers were proud to call home.

By the mid 1870s Caribou was a bustling community with a population of over 1,000. There were stores, saloons, billiard and dance halls, hotels, blacksmith shops, a stable, a church, a school, a photographic gallery, a post office and its own newspaper. They were a tight-knit bunch with a strong Cornish influence. They enjoyed beer, music, singing and dancing. They even had an award-winning silver cornet band that performed throughout the region. It was a glorious place to be a kid, sledding and ice skating during the winter months then playing baseball and racing horses in the summer. The high altitude environment was incredibly harsh but the vigorous families desperately wanted to make "The City in the Clouds" their permanent residence.

Caribou was different from the stereotypical, rowdy, frontier mining camp. Caribou was more refined more cultural and more peaceful. All characteristics that can be attributed to an early infusion of entire families. The absence of lawlessness was refreshing and while there was a discreet red-light district, prostitution never really became an issue. People arrived looking to make a fresh start with hopes of improving their livelihood and to provide a reasonable opportunity for their children. As the first decade of existence came to a close, dreams appeared to be coming true but it was really just the beginning of the end.

In 1879 a flash fire descended upon the town and destroyed the entire lower portion. The devastating tragedy brought the neighbors even closer together. Undeterred, they rebuilt what they needed and the backbreaking work continued. A slow decline began mostly because a decreased quality of ore paralleled the depth of the mines. The deeper they dug, the less valuable the treasure. When the price of sliver plummeted, the mining costs exceeded sales. The profit margin vanished. Many workers bolted for the new hotspots like the Black Hills or Leadville, only a dedicated few stayed to make one last stand.

Short periods of confidence and optimism were met with gradually longer stretches of frustration and pessimism. Sadly, the discouraged Cornish miners and their families eventually dispersed and they promptly assimilated into American culture. By the late 1890s, with only 40 people left, Caribou was just a shell of its former self. Most of the mines were barely producing. Mercifully, fires in 1899 and 1905 destroyed whatever structures still remained. Ultimately, a generation's passionate struggle to develop a lasting settlement failed. Deep down the transitory miners, gambling on the unpredictable price of silver, must have already known how it would end. The town has passed away but the Caribou spirit lives on.

The following excerpt is from a letter written in April 1889 by Caribouite Dell Merry to her sister.

Times aren't very brisk here but might be much worse. Frank is leasing now but so far hasn't made much but we miners are always looking for something big whether we get it or not. No risk, no gain is our motto. We have enough to live on and that is more than a good many have so we ought to be thankful.

Only a few dilapidated structures remain

The high altitude environment is extremely harsh

Bald Mountain from Caribou Park

The Caribou spirit lives on

Caribou circa 1885 by William Henry Jackson