We finish up our time at the west end of Rocky Mountain National park with a visit to a historic site, an encounter with a group of elk, a walk in a valley, and lunch in Grand Lake.
Holzwarth Historic Site
A short 1/2-mile walk from Timber Creek Campground brought us to the Holzwarth Historic Site. The Holzwarth site became part of Rocky Mountain National Park when the park service obtained the property in 1974.
John and Sophia Holzwarth, both immigrants from Germany, operated a saloon and boarding house in Denver while caring for their five children. When World War I and prohibition made it difficult to earn a living, John homesteaded a piece of land in the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of the Colorado River in 1917. Over the years, he built cabins for guests transforming the property into a guest ranch known as the Holzwarth Trout Lodge and eventually increased the family’s land holdings to 800 acres.
Continuing the family business into the 1950s, Johnnie, their eldest son, recognized that horseback riding and sightseeing was more popular than fishing. He added a lodge, dining hall, more guest rooms, and a barn creating the Never Summer Ranch.
The park service began purchasing other dude and guest ranches that lined the road leading to the national park increasing its footprint. Johnnie refused to sell the original homestead that started the family’s successful business after seeing that the park service tore down everything, hauled it away, and let the land return to its natural state.
After reaching an agreement to maintain the property and the buildings as a historic site, Johnnie finally agreed to sell in 1974.
Today, VIPs (volunteer-in-park) greet visitors from June through the beginning of September to tell the Holzwarth family story. They also give visitors a glimpse into the history of a homestead life, and what it was like to visit a dude ranch back in the day.
We walked into a cozy two-room cabin. One room contained a stove, a small table, a cupboard for dishes and food, and a work shelf with bowls served as a sink. The second room contained a queen-sized brass bed. What more does one need after a day of fishing? A bathroom perhaps? Remnants of outhouses stood a few yards from the porch, which had a wonderful view of the Colorado River.
I’m glad Johnnie Holzwarth held out for the promise that the park service would preserve his family’s property for future generations. Otherwise, this piece of history would have been lost. How disappointing it would be to read a sign that says, “this happened here once upon a time” and find no evidence that it existed at all. I much prefer to gain insight into history through experience.
I don’t think it necessary to retain all of history for future generations, but a nice sampling is definitely worthwhile for us to learn how people lived years ago.
One morning, we woke to Elk grazing their way through the campground. They managed to stop traffic on the road and ignored the campers gawking and taking pictures as they ambled through the grass.
I found it comical when they sniffed around our neighbor’s trailer and campfire ring. They must have been looking for a taste of the s’more’s the family roasted up the night before.
Coyote Valley Hike
The Coyote Valley Hike turned out to be a leisurely walk in the valley. We met a ranger volunteer and stopped to talk with her awhile. She told us that the mountain pine bark beetle infestation happened ten years ago and the beetles had moved on. The lodgepole pine trees most affected had reached the end of their lifespan of 90 to 100 years at the time of the infestation. Small trees reaching for the sun between the dead trunks and limbs was a sign that a new forest would soon replace the dead one.
The Colorado River Glacier carved out the valley which measures 20 miles long. Remnants of glacial ice still occupy the east-facing valleys high in the Never Summer Mountains.
Recent history saw the Utes and Arapahos hunting in the valley until the 1870s when a mining boom pushed them out. Homesteaders tried their hand at ranching after the mining boom ended in 1886. In the 1920s, tourism brought fortunes to the homesteaders who operated the dude ranches, providing places to stay including meals. The valley has now returned to a more natural state.
We made a run into Grand Lake to refill the truck, a propane bottle, and gas can. Then we searched for a restaurant for lunch. The Blue Water Café turned out to be a good choice. They served a chicken avocado sandwich on a toasted croissant with crisp lettuce and sweet tomatoes. The side salad, topped with tomatoes, cranberries, and cheese, was equally delicious. The ranch dressing was one of the best I’ve had. On the thin side and packed with herb flavoring, I wished I could have taken a bottle home.
Grand Lake is the largest natural body of water in Colorado and part of the Colorado River headwaters. The city, established in 1881 and incorporated on June 23, 1944, sits at an elevation of 8,369 feet. Once an outfitting and supply depot for mining settlements, it is now a tourist destination. Wikipedia lists Tim Allen, the actor, as a notable resident who married his wife Jane Hajduk there in 2006.
Mountain Food Market and the People of Colorado
A trip to the market followed our lunch. It was such a tiny little store with every nook and cranny crammed with merchandise. The narrow aisles made it difficult when more than one basket wielding shopper was searching for items to buy. Even so, everyone was polite, saying excuse me and trying to get out of each other’s way.
It seemed like everyone we had encountered in Colorado had smiles on their faces and positive polite attitudes. Could this be because we had mostly been in rural and recreation areas so far? Would things be different closer to the metropolitan areas?
Next up we head to Lyons, Colorado, about 20 miles east of the park and 17 miles north of Boulder.