Buffalo Bill Grave Site
I was on a Colorado adventure and heading for the mountains. I decided to spend a couple of nights in the town of Grand Lake and ventured intoRocky Mountain National Park. As I drove west on I-70 from Denver, a flashing sign indicated that the Eisenhower Tunnel was closed ahead.
I couldn’t remember if the tunnel was before or after the highway that I was to turn off on, and my map was out of reach. As I continued, I saw a sign for Lookout Mountain and the Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave.
Since my Yellowstone days, I’ve always liked the legendary William F. Cody, but I hadn’t planned on stopping. (Actually, one of my favorite spots in the Yellowstone Region is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming – a must stop for any fan of things Western!)
But paranoia about being lost and not trusting the GPS unit I borrowed, I began following the signs thinking the museum would be a good place to stop and get my bearings. And I’m glad I did.
Buffalo Bill passed through Colorado often during his lifetime, and had expressed a desire to be buried on Lookout Mountain overlooking the Plains. The views from Lookout Mountain were stunning, in spite of the haze created from the smoke of fires that were burning in Colorado and its neighbors. After spending a few minutes paying my respects at the gravesite where Buffalo Bill was buried next to his wife Louisa, I headed into the museum.
The museum was filled with artifacts telling Buffalo Bill’s story. I enjoyed reading about Cody’s life, refreshing the tales I learned while working in Yellowstone. I got lost in the displays and descriptions of his Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and reading about the bonds he made with Native Americans. He was a good man and led a fascinating life.
Before leaving I stopped at Pahaska Teepee, the gift shop and café on the museum grounds. I must admit, I had a little chuckle because I had visited the original Pahaska Teepee, Buffalo Bill’s Hunting Lodge, which was located not far from the East Entrance of Yellowstone. After one last look around, I checked my maps, reset the GPS and continued my journey to Grand Lake.
Before arriving in Grand Lake, I stopped atop the Continental Divide to stretch my legs. I really can’t get enough of the amazing vistas the Rocky Mountains provide. I wish I could bottle it up and take it home with me, but the most I could do was take a few photographs.
A short while later I arrived at Grand Lake. I was staying at the Western Riviera Lakeside Motel overlooking Grand Lake. It was a lovely, basic motel with friendly staff offering magnificent views.
After checking in, I went off to explore. A typical “resort” town, it was lined with charming gift shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars.
Off the main drag, I found the Smith-Eslick Cottage Court. The Cottage Court was built around 1915 and operated through the 60s. It was designed to provide comfortable lodging while providing the security of knowing that the visitors’ valuable automobile was sitting in the carport next door.
Peeking in the windows, I saw a rustic, but inviting interior. The Grand Lake Area Historical Society is renovating the Cottage Court and developing the property around the build as part of an effort to educate visitors about the importance of the automobile in opening the West to travelers.
Just outside of Grand Lake is the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). After a quick bite to eat and having a few hours before nightfall, I decided to head to the park.
RMNP was established in 1915 and offers fabulous mountain panoramas everywhere you turn. I did a quick study of a map and determined that I could stop and take a few short hikes before dark. Since I was hiking alone, I stayed on well-traveled trails that didn’t go too far from the main roadways.
My first stop was the Coyote Valley Trailhead. The Coyote Valley Trail was a one-mile paved loop trail, wheel-chair accessible and followed along the Colorado River.
To my delight, as I rounded the first bend, I saw a moose cow and her calf; fortunately on the other side of the river bed. Moose are huge, temperamental creatures, especially cows with calves. And be sure, that mama eyed me as I watched her little one nurse. It is a moment I’ll treasure. (And I was able to watch them again as I circled back to the trailhead.)
With plenty of light left, I continued following the road north. The next stop was the trailhead to the Holzwarth Historic Site. As I trekked along the road back to the site (about a 20-minute walk), clouds began to turn dark, so I picked up the pace.
The homestead of John Holzwarth, Sr., began its life as a ranch, but when the Fall River Road (between Estes Park and Grand Lake) over the Continental Divide was completed in 1920, Holzwarth began serving mountain travelers, spurring the creation of the Holzwarth’s Trout Lodge.
The lodge was then converted into a dude ranch that conducted business for 40 years. Today, the facility has been restored to its original condition and visitors can learn about the origins of western dude ranching.
Unfortunately, thunder began to rumble, lightening flashed and the rain began to fall. I wasn’t able to stay to explore the grounds like I wanted, and I high-tailed it back to my vehicle. As is so common in the mountains, by the time I got back to the car, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining through breaks in the clouds.
I decided to continue driving north. And soon, the road leading up to Milner Pass began to twist and turn. While, I consider myself an experienced mountain driver, by the time I drove half way, the sun was setting. I didn’t like the idea of trying to drive those hairpin turns in the dark, so I stopped at a pull out called Fairview Curve to inhale the beauty of the view, and headed back to Grand Lake for the evening. I would be driving this way again at the end of my stay, so I knew I’d have an opportunity to reach the summit.
The next morning was glorious. The schedule was full, beginning with a morning trail ride (on a horse) and a cruise on Grand Lake. Dinner at the Back Street Steakhouse would be followed by an evening at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater to see a performance of “Anything Goes.”
I’m not much of a theater critic, but I was astounded by the quality of the performance. A mix of professional and local talent had the audience laughing and engrossed in the wonderful music of Cole Porter. I certainly never expected to find such an accomplished cast of performers in a small mountain town in Colorado.
I also hoped to squeeze in a short hike to a nearby waterfall.
There are a number of ranches that offer trail rides in the area and I had been invited to Winding River Resort. The resort is located just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and offers a variety of ranch-like experiences.
In addition to trail rides, they offer hay rides, pony rides, opportunities to visit with the barn animals, as well as a chuck wagon breakfast. A two-hour trail ride was on my agenda. It had been a very long time since I had been on a horse, so I was a bit apprehensive. Fortunately, I had an outstanding trail guide, a young man from ‘back east.’
He took me on a slow, adventurous ride along a bridle and hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have to admit, by the time we arrived back at the ranch, I felt like I was ready for a bit of a gallop.
That little two-hour ride combined with the elevation, ‘tuckered me out.’ So I headed back to the Western Riviera for an afternoon siesta. Refreshed and rested, it was off to the Headwaters Marina for a cruise tour of Grand Lake.
The guide on the boat provided a commentary about the homes along the lake, as well as a little bit about the lake itself. I probably would have preferred to hear more about the geology and history of the area, but all-in-all it was an enjoyable cruise.
As we arrived back at the Marina, the wind picked up and the skies darkened. I got back to the motel just before the hail started to fall. Oh, the ever-changing weather in the mountains!
After the rain and hail stopped, there was still time to take a short hike before my 6:30 p.m. dinner appointment. Although the sky was still threatening, I drove the short distance to the trailhead and began the hike (less than a mile round trip) to Adams Falls.
Even though the summer had been dry, as I walked up the trail, the sound of the water thundering over the falls echoed in the woods. I lingered at the top of the falls soaking in the sounds of nature, rejuvenating my spirit. After a short while, actual thunder indicated it was time to go. To my surprise, a red fox crossed my path as I arrived back at the trailhead.
After two wonderful and not quite long enough days in Grand Lake, I was heading back to Denver. Traveling through Rocky Mountain National Park, I participated in a couple of ranger-led hikes.
I whole-heartedly recommend taking the time to take a hike with a ranger, but, as I discovered, it depends on the ranger how much you learn. My first hike was a Tundra Nature Walk.
We met the ranger at the Alpine Visitor Center, located at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. The Ranger provided an interesting commentary of life on the tundra, explaining that despite how harsh the environment is at that elevation, the tundra is a very delicate ecosystem.
Our group was asked to avoid stepping directly on any of the plant life, which included a myriad of miniature wild flowers. Views from that elevation were stunning even though the haze from wild fires obscured some of the vistas including the Medicine Bow Mountains located 20 miles in the distance.
After the group started heading back to the trailhead, I continued to follow the trail a little higher to spend a few minutes alone. Once again, the spirit of the mountains entered my soul.
I’m a lover of wildflowers, so I joined the ranger-led Lily Lake Wildflower Walk later in the afternoon. Lily Lake is a glacial lake located not far from the Estes Park entrance of RMNP.
Meeting the small group, I quickly learned that this ranger was a novice, checking his guide book to help him identify the flowers. Since I already was familiar with the wildflowers, I decided to pick up the pace and walk around the lake on my own.
It was a beautiful lake with views of Mount Meeker (13,911 feet) and Longs Peak (14,255 feet). Ducks were dancing in the water, putting on a performance that I had never seen before.
Then, all of a sudden out of the sky I saw an osprey approaching the lake’s surface. I grabbed my camera to capture this magnificent creature swooping down. The next thing I know, hiss claws went first in the water, and he came out with a fish.
I was awe-struck. I stood there stunned for a while, looked at the images I too and let out an audible “score!” I got an image of the osprey with fish in claws.
As I got into my car, I thought this was the perfect way to end my mountain adventure!