for Nov. 16, 2011


To the strains of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again, our intrepid little foursome resumed our odyssey in a black Lincoln Town Car (because it’s the only car with a trunk large enough to hold three weeks’ of luggage for four people, including books and “priceless” souvenir coffee mugs picked up along the way).  We then pulled out of our long driveway onto Conifer Mountain Drive with Connie and Lucy ensconced in their backseat nests and Bob and I in the navigational cockpit.  Over time, we’ve developed a system that works well for us: one of us navigates (drawing upon maps) and reads out loud, to front and back passengers, about the history of the parks and lodges we are driving towards.  This way, when we actually arrive there, we know what is important or significant; this way it’s almost like coming to a loved home.

We owe the dream of making the Great Circle to Ken Burns and his landmark National Parks miniseries on PBS.  It was watching those riveting films that provided the impetus.  The reference sources we rely on most heavily for these blogs are Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan’s The National Parks, Mel White’s Complete National Parks of the United States, and Christine Barnes’ definitive two-volume work, Great Lodges of the National Parks.  Though I also refer to other works, these four books are our traveling reference bible.

Our pattern has been to first read out loud sections dealing with the founding and preservation of the national park, landmark, monument, forest, etc., first, then follow it up with the equally fascinating story of these fascinating and fragile national park lodges.  It has been gratifying to discover how many people vicariously travel with us via these blogs.  Some readers will no doubt follow in our footsteps by themselves making the Great Circle circuit, and others will content themselves with a metaphorical, almost virtual, experience.  Either way, we welcome you aboard.

So it was that as Bob Earp took the wheel for the two-hour drive to our first night’s destination, I served as tour guide and patched together the story of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Stanley Hotel.  We discovered that the mountainous area radiating out from the little town of Estes Park, because of its close proximity to Denver, had long been a popular tourist destination. The immediate magnets, of course, being 14,259 foot high Longs Peak and its shy sister, Meeker Peak, sadly ignored by many because it’s “only a thirteener.”

As we’d already discovered in our northwest national park peregrinations, invariably there were fascinating people who stepped in to preserve these natural wonders for us.  All it seems to take are one or two local visionaries to do the spade work and two or three more to spearhead the project nationally.  In the case of this particular park, as is true of virtually all other great national parks, one name towers above all others—John Muir.  Without him, one shudders to think of the fate of all these magnificent parks we tend to take for granted.  Second only in significance to Muir were Stephen Tyng Mather and his able associate, Horace Albright; this triad constitutes the founding fathers of our entire national park system, today the envy of the world.

Locally, two very different men stepped in to preserve this mountainous area for posterity: Enos Mills and Freelan O. Stanley.  And what brought both to Colorado in the first place was a deadly malady known to contemporaries as “consumption” and to us as “tuberculosis.”  Fully one-third

of Colorado residents back at the turn of the twentieth century were consumptives, each with a hacking cough that doomed them to an early death unless they managed to escape from the lowlands and settle in the brisk, invigorating, life-giving air of the mountains.

Earlier on, a member of the European nobility, the fourth Earl of Dunraven, had purchased a large tract of land near Longs Peak.  Object: to turn it into an exclusive hunting preserve for himself and his wealthy friends.  But the Earl lacked staying power.  Enter F. O. Stanley, a twin to his brother, Francis Edgar, born in Kingfield, Main. The brothers grew up, both entered the teaching profession but soon left it because of entrepreneurial ventures.  In 1884, the brothers (both inventors) fine-tuned a new film process, called Stanley Dry Plate, that revolutionized photography.  Eventually, in 1904, they’d sell it to George Eastman for $530,000.  But long before that sale, the brothers had become so fascinated with the automobile and steam-propulsion that they created their first steam-propelled auto—it became known as the “Stanley Steamer.”  They completed their first Steamer in 1897, and launched a new model in 1901.  Two years later, F. O.’s doctor told him that he’d soon be dead of consumption unless he moved into the high mountains.


So it was that F.O. and his wife, Flora, came to Denver; then, seeking higher yet ground, discovered Estes Park, which they promptly fell in love with.  Constitutionally incapable of remaining inactive for long, Stanley purchased from Dunraven 160 acres of land adjacent to Estes Park.  Object: to build on it a great hotel.  Stanley then hired Denver architect, T. Robert Weiger, to implement his hotel plans.  Weiger is also known as the designer of Denver’s iconic City and County Building.  Ground was broken, fall of 1907.  The Colonial Revival hotel (like Yellowstone Lake Hotel, one of the few surviving examples of neoclassical design in the wilds of the mountainous West), four stories high, was crowned by a two-layer hexagon-shaped bell tower, that has ever since been likened to a wedding gazebo atop a perfectly proportioned cake.  It was flanked by perpendicular wings at each end, and graced by a long first floor veranda with six double sets of Doric columns and Palladian windows.  Eight other separate buildings were added later.

With the nearest railroad 22 miles down Big Thompson Canyon, Stanley improved the road and imported a fleet of Stanley Steamers and Stanley Wagons to ferry guests back and forth from the railroad.  Because his auto-stage line proved so successful, Stanley is known today as “the father of auto-tourism in America.”  And the elite of America and travelers from abroad came, with their maids and nannies.  Came to this “first all electric hotel in the world” to play croquet on the front courtyard; read, chat, or dream on the veranda; take trail rides, play billiards, pool, or golf; attend concerts, vaudeville shows, balls; and be feted with fine dining (with one waiter per table).  It put Estes Park on the map.

Enos Mills, on the other hand, came from a very different background: the plains of Kansas.  He moved here when only fourteen, dying of consumption.  Like Stanley, here in the mountains, his health was restored.  He would build a hotel facility that could not have been more different from Stanley’s: the plain-looking, almost primitive Longs Peak Inn, which took in summer guests who were willing to participate in Mills’ conservative spartan lifestyle: no drinking, dancing, or card-playing, but rather take strenuous hikes, study nature, and attend lectures (three times a week, given by Mills himself).

Mills and Stanley soon discovered they shared a common passion: preserve for posterity those beautiful mountains they’d come to cherish.  Mills, in a chance meeting with John Muir in San Francisco in 1899, caught a vision for his life work: to help bring the Rocky Mountains into the fledgling national park system.  Mills and Stanley now enlisted the powerful support of Mather and Albright in Washington, D.C.  A bill to create the park (at 265,800 acres, smaller than they wanted) was introduced in Congress in 1914.  But unlike the stories of other national parks, it did not languish there—John Muir died.  Because of Muir’s support for the park, and the sentiment generated by his passing, the bill was rushed through in only a month!  It was dedicated on September 4, 1915, with both Mather and Albright in attendance.  The way the final bill was drawn, the Stanley Hotel ended up a couple of miles outside the park.

And thus was born Rocky Mountain National Park, which straddles the Continental Divide and includes more than sixty peaks 12,000 feet high or higher, 50 alpine lakes, 450 miles of streams and rivers, 355 miles of trails, and great diversity of habitat (given that its elevation ranges from a low of 7,840′ to a high of 14,259′ (Longs Peak).  It is crossed by the legendary Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in America (reaching 12,183′).  Massive snowfalls keep it closed during winter, so it is only open from June 1 to October.  The lower sections are open year-round.  Not surprisingly, the park is one of our nation’s most popular tourist destinations.

As for the Stanley Hotel, its very survival was for a long time in doubt.  One man, Roe Emering, somehow kept it alive during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Even after selling the hotel, the Stanleys returned here every summer; here F.O. would sit on the veranda, gaze out at the majestic mountains, and dream.  He died October 2, 1940 at the age of 91.  From 1971-1995, the hotel ownership went through a soap opera series of events (time-share schemes, lawsuits, tax problems, closure, bankruptcy), but in 1995, Grand Heritage Hotels saved it, and has lovingly restored it to its former beauty.  Today it is part of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America.

And Stephen King provided extra survival insurance: while living in nearby Boulder, King and his family discovered the Stanley, and found in it the inspiration for a book he was then writing, The Shining.  The movie, however, was filmed by Stanley Kubrick in England, with exterior shots taken at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge.  In 1996, King decided to film a six-part miniseries—this time filmed at the Stanley.  Since the restored lobby was now light and airy, King requested that it be repainted so as to give it a dark and sinister look; this was done.  Not surprisingly, ghost stories were born in its wake, along with murder mystery dinners, Halloween balls, daily ghost and history tours (from the creepy basement to the cobwebby attic); and stories abound of creaking floorboards, tinkling pianos, scurrying ghost children, etc—but all agree that there is nothing sinister or evil here, given that even the ghosts appear to love coming back just to enjoy themselves.


Connie and I remembered back to two special visits, first when a cavalcade of cars wound down from the mountains, preceded by police cars with flashing lights; soon the Emperor and Empress of Japan arrived, emerged, smiling their delight, and walked up the steps to the veranda only a few feet away from us.  They were eager to be off into the high country to see and photograph places and vistas they’d only read about.  The second was the night of Princess Diane’s funeral; Connie and I woke up in our room at 4 a.m., turned on the TV, and watched the pagentry until long past dawn.

Now we checked in, hauled in our smallest suitcases, and walked downtown to meander through the shops and eat home-made ice cream.  Later on, we drove into the park so Connie could get her national park passport book stamped, and Bob and Lucy could view an elk herd.

Inside the Stanley, we played dominoes in a room adjacent to the bar.  Later we became acquainted with a lovely waitress named Olga, from Hungary (most of her family had been killed in the Holocaust).  She’s now taking Hotel Management courses at Denver University.   Afterwards, we chatted by one of the great fireplaces on the first floor.  Then we struck up a conversation with Ute (from Germany) at the front desk.  She told us that over 150 weddings are held at the Stanley between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   Also that lots of corporations hold retreats here; and that the employees come here from all over the world.  In spite of it all, she said, it’s quieter here than one might think—even serene.  Though the Stanley remains a formal hotel, it’s more comfortable than most—a great place in which to work.

Then we snuggled down in our beds.  During the night, the wind battered the hundred-year-old hotel—and snow. For it was early in May.  We fell asleep wondering how we’d make it over the pass the next day.  The last thought, however: How grateful we all ought to be that this grand dame of the Rockies is still with us!

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we will sidetrack to the December Book of the Month.


Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks, II (Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Books, 2008).

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).

The Up-Side of Being Fired, Part Three

So what happens when we lose a job?  For starters, we come alive again.  It is no hyperbole to declare that it can be like coming out of a dark tunnel into blinding sunlight.  Once again we feel a part of the entire world – not just the claustrophobic four walls that had been our world previously.

Strangely enough, it can be exhilarating to get fired.  As painful as it is, job termination brings with it a species of euphoria: Wow!  At last I’m in charge – not someone else!  At last, I’m free to do anything I choose to do.  I can go wherever I want to go.

If another job does not follow in quick succession, it’s likely that thoughts such as these arise: You know, if I’m unemployed anyway, what do I have to lose if I finally follow that dream I’ve long felt could never be?  I wonder if I have it in me to really make it work?  So . . . if I really bend my mind to it, is it really possible I could pull off such a miracle?

Time after time, in history, it has been failure that has booted people out of their career ruts into pathways of their own making.

Belatedly, I’ve discovered in life that eventually God has a way of utilizing everything that has ever happened to us.  Every success, yes; but more significantly, every failure, every rabbit trail, every dead-end, every box-canyon, every detour, every crack-up, every disappointment, every infliction, every disillusion, every heartbreak – every last bit of it God mixes into the mortar with which we construct our lives.  At the end, we discover that God, behind the scenes, much like an elephant-keeper, has followed along behind us, scooping up the messes we leave behind, doing damage control, making the most of our mistakes, and gently herding us toward the light.

In my case, had it not been for my two firings, it’s extremely unlikely the ministry of our books – 71 and counting – would ever have been.  And it was only through the resulting anguish that I finally could really empathize with the suffering of others:

“It is only through our own sorrow that we come to understand the sorrow of others, only through our own weakness that we learn to pity the weaknesses of others, and only through our love and forgiveness that we can ever comprehend the infinite love and forgiveness of God.”

– Myrtle Reed, from A Spinner in the Sun

The Up-Side to Being Fired, Part Two

Some time ago I read of a study that altered my perception of this thing we call failure: most of the world’s greatest achievements have resulted from being fired, from abject failure.  It seems that we grow in life only during trauma, rarely in good times.  We are so indolent by nature that we revel in our ruts and blissfully sink deeper into them every day that passes.

We are enjoined to “not rock the boat” – and we eagerly comply in order to hold on to that monetary umbilical cord that enslaves us.  Perish the thought that we’d be forced out of our comfort zone into the tempestuous real world!  When problems – even serious ones – arise in our workaday world, we rationalize our way into accepting almost any condition rather than risk losing that precious paycheck.

And not all firings are overt.  How well I remember my second firing.  This one but a year after the first one.  After having cleaned out my office – a species of death in itself –, I dropped by the corporate CEO’s office to say goodby.  He didn’t try to excuse my being fired or to weigh in on the decision to let me go – he was too wise for that.  Instead, he leaned back in his chair and merely sighed, for he and I had become good friends.  You know how it is: occasionally in life we stumble on an individual who proves to be such a kindred spirit we feel we’ve known him or her always.  He was one of those.  And had I remained there we quite likely might have become soul-mates.  At any rate, after the sigh he said, “You know, Joe, I’ve been fired twice, too.”  When my eyes widened in disbelief, he qualified his statement: “but neither ever showed on my record.  Before each one took place, things got so bad at work I couldn’t help bringing some of it home with me.  As each situation deteriorated it began to affect my wife’s health; I’d wake up in the middle of the night because of her weeping.  But so determined was I to hold on to that paycheck that I bullheadedly refused to deal with the problem-person who was making both of our lives hell.  So twice I had to leave my position.  Neither showed on my record.  You know, I’m convinced every last one of us, over time, will experience at least one similar situation.  The world may not call it ‘firing,’ but inwardly it’s just as devastating as though we’d been actually fired.”

That observation provided me with an odd sort of comfort; furthermore I thereby learned that failure is but an extension of success; in life, rarely does anyone experience one unattached to the other.  And my friend reminded me that we are never alone in our sufferings.

Tomorrow we’ll conclude this topic.

 * * * * *

 “In the dark moments it’s always the apparent failure of what you live by that gets you down.”

– Elizabeth Goudge, from Pilgrim’s Inn

The Up-Side to Being Fired

It was almost springtime in the Rockies – but it was anything but springtime in my heart – I had just been fired.

Wearily I rose from the fireplace pit in our Shangri-la of a chalet, our dream house, and walked over to the great window, blindly seeing but not seeing. Would we lose the only house we’d ever really loved? How would we pay our bills? Was it stupid for me to have left the relatively safe cocoon of academia, uprooted our family, and ventured out into the great world? That jungle of a world out there where only the strongest survive.

We did lose our dream-house.

But before that, we had a visitor: the late Milton Murray, grand old man of American fund-raising. He hadn’t come to commiserate, he’d come to dissipate the miasma of anguish that beclouded my vision. He’d come to awaken my fighting spirit, quench the flames of bitterness, stiffen the crumbling walls of my self-worth, and remind me that God loved me. But wisely, knowing full well that I’d relapse after he left, he introduced me to a man who’d also been battered by failure, a failure far more devastating than mine, but had – in no small part, because of it – risen above the wreckage of his dreams and written timeless counsel for people like me. Murray handed me two chapters out of one of that man’s books. Then, after praying with my wife and me, he left.

Murray had been right: I did relapse into poormeism, but each time I did, I’d once again re-read the words penned by that man I’d never met – indeed I’d never meet – for he’d died some years before. But his words had not died. I read them so many times they became part of me. I later tracked down his books and immersed myself in them as well. His name was Harry Moyle Tippett, and he lived from 1891 to 1974. No small thanks to him, I was able to climb out of my lethargy and face the world with resoluteness, determination, a fighting spirit – and a vision of what true success really meant.

Tomorrow, in Blog #5, we’ll tackle Part Two. But first, I leave you with one of Tippett’s powerful statements about trouble and how God brings us through it:

“God’s universal laws never fail, whether it be in the natural world or the spiritual world. He brings the dawn out of the most dismal night. He makes our balmy springs and fruitful summers to succeed the bitter blasts of winter. Out of blustery, tempestuous March He makes way for our singing Aprils and our flowering Mays. Out of ten thousand storms He develops the giant redwood tree, and in the cloud forms His noblest symphony of color, the rainbow. Likewise out of forty years of banishment and obscurity God carved a Moses, out of cruel betrayal into the hands of aliens He molded the statesman Joseph; out of physical, mental, and spiritual suffering He demonstrated the perfection of Job.”
– From Live Happier (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957)