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Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times.

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Devil's Thumb Ranch
Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

Dude Ranches
Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House
Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House

Dwight D. Eisenhower met and married Mamie Geneva Doud of Denver on July 1, 1916. Carl Norgren, a Doud family friend, had started spending time in the Fraser area and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and especially the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys.

By the late 1930s, Norgren partnered with Aksel Nielsen to purchase the Byers Peak Ranch.  During Eisenhower's presidency, the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the Byers Peak Ranch, and Lowry AFB were all known as "Western White Houses" or "Summer White Houses." There is a well known photo published in Life Magazine of Eisenhower fishing in the Fraser River with his grandson, David.

Eisenhower used his time at the Byers Peak Ranch to rest and recompose himself in the face of difficult political times. As President, Eisenhower dealt with the threats of the Cold War, a truce in Korea, the desegregation of public schools (Little Rock, AK), and the development of the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to bolster the Middle East against the threat of communism. On the domestic front, he was faced with the difficulties of dealing with the Republican Old Guard, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who headed a subcommittee charged with the finding of communists within the government.  

Eisenhower enjoyed cooking for guests at the Ranch, fishing St. Louis Creek and having "brookies" (brook trout) for breakfast, painting, and playing golf.  On September 24, 1955 while at the Ranch, Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and was hospitalized at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver until November 11, 1955.  His hospital suite has now been restored and is open for limited tours.

The bulk of information about Eisenhower and the Byers Peak Ranch comes from the personal papers of Carl Norgren, which are housed at the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS.  The collection of correspondence from 1948-1964 covered a broad variety of topics: fishing, recreation, taxes, health matters, food, communism, reorganization of the Department of Defense, federal spending, etc. The Norgren collection valued for the details it provides concerning the hobbies and recreational pursuits of the President during his visits to Grand County between 1952 and 1957.

Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble
Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble

Robert L. "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler homesteaded the northern end of the Kawuneeche Valley in 1907, setting up his tent camp at the base of Shipler Mountain.  He called his accommodations Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble.  He was one of many guest lodge operators who catered to the leisure traveler seeking relaxation through recreation.  These vacations were quite rustic, especially by today's standards. At least two guests at a time were asked to share lumpy beds. The sheets were said to be "refreshed" with talcum powder rather than changed and laundered.  The outhouses were stocked with mail order catalogs rather than toilet paper.

Despite these conditions, Squeaky Bob was very successful and his hotel hosted famous travelers from all over, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Squeaky Bob was known for entertaining his visitors with amazing tales and witty yarns.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Regions

The Blue

Because gold had been found at the headwaters of the Blue River at Breckenridge, hopes were high among prospectors who worked the downstream tributaries in Grand County.  However, this lower section of the Blue contained no mineral wealth. 

The Denver and Rio Grand Railroad planned to run a route through the valley and began constructing grades, but the tracks were never laid because Moffatt's railroad crossed the county first.

An enterprising Canadian, 25 year old Willis Charles Call, had been employed as a cook for the grading company in 1881.  When the railroad abandoned the project, Call became a registrar of voters, and in 1886, the county assessor.  By 1890, he had a choice ranch near Kremmling.  His Austrian wife, Mary Rohrocher, was a very popular hostess.  It is believed that they owned the first automobile in the county.

The conflicts between the white settles and Ute Indians came to a climax in 1878 when the Ute leader Tabernash was killed by a posse and the very next day, Abraham Elliott a homesteader on the Blue, was killed in retaliation.  The remains of his ranch can be seen on Highway 9 at mile marker 135. 

Across the river was the ranch of Henry Yust, who settled there in 1885.  Another early ranching family was that of Thomas Pharo, An Englishman from Franham in Surry, near London.  Settling there in 1880, he developed a major cattle and horse ranch. 

The Blue River area was connected with a route west in 1913, when the co-called Trough Road was constructed, beside the Gore Canyon to State Bridge.

Topic: Biographies

Isabella Bird

In Yorkshire, England on October 15th 1831, a clergyman and the daughter of a clergyman gave birth to small, sickly girl who would grow up to be one of the most well known travel writers of her time, an exceptional accomplishment in an era when women rarely ventured far from home unescorted. In 1850, after a childhood full of ailments, Isabella had an only partially successful operation to remove a tumor from her spine. Following the surgery, Isabella suffered greatly from depression and insomnia; it was then that her doctor recommended that she travel.  Isabella's father, becoming increasingly worried about his daughter, gave her a hundred pounds and sent her off to see the world.

Ms. Bird traveled throughout the world including Canada, Hawaii, Australia, China, Tibet and Morocco.  She came to Colorado right after the territory had officially been become a state. Isabella loved it in the mountains, so much so that she wrote many letters home to her sister which eventually came to become her third and most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. In this document, Isabella wrote of her adoration of the area saying, "I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh."

Upon her arrival to Colorado, she traveled into the mountains west of Estes Park. She wrote about adventures and challenges and of her romance with Jim Nugent, or "Rocky Mountain Jim" a one eyed outlaw with an attraction to violence and poetry. He was shot and killed a year after Isabella left Colorado.

Throughout the letters, Isabella mentions the wonderful sights of the lands she explored near current day Grand County.  In one of her letters, Isabella wrote of the time she rode a horse through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut.  She found herself in another adventure when she was snowed in a cabin with two young men for several months.

Isabella grew eventually grew homesick and headed back to Edinburgh Scotland where she married a doctor. After five years of marriage, her husband died and Isabella returned to travelling. When Isabella returned to Edinburgh in 1904, she grew very ill and died while planning another trip to China.

Topic: Biographies
Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

George & Joyce Engle

Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

Here is the story of how Joyce and George Engel became legends in Winter Park and Fraser. In 1945, Winter Park Resort hired George Engel as their very first paid ski patroller.  Little could George have known that this job would lead him to his wife, Joyce Hanna, disembarking from a ski train, and together they would call Winter Park and the Fraser Valley their home for life. Along with Joyce and their daughters, the Engel Family would have a lasting influence not only on Winter Park Resort but on the Fraser Valley community as well.

In the year following his hiring as Winter Park’s ski patroller, George Engel took on different responsibilities at the ski area, such as plowing the parking lot and collecting rental fees in the bunkhouse.  Gordy Wren and Frank Bulkley formed Colorado Outings in 1946 and started the ski school at Winter Park.  As director of the ski school, Gordy Wren hired George Engel as a ski instructor. That same year George passed one of the first ski instructor certification exams ever held.  By 1949, the Professional Ski Instructors of America was formed and Engel held pin # 12.

Gordy Wren was busy practicing for the 1948 Olympics and consequently sold his share in Colorado Outings.  This gave George Engel the opportunity to buy into the company and he became director and eventually sole owner of the ski school. George added the Winter Park Ski Shop onto the ski school.  

George met the love of his life, Joyce Hanna in 1951 as she disembarked from the Winter Park Ski Train.  Joyce, with two BA degrees from the University of Colorado, was ready to ski and work.  After dating for three weeks, George proposed to his future bride and business partner. The Winter Park Ski School under George’s leadership, and the Winter Park Ski Shop with Joyce at the helm, became fixtures of the ski area. George and Joyce’s two daughters grew up on the slopes.

Daughters Wendy and Janet tell wonderful stories from when the family lived in an apartment above the Winter Park Ski Shop.  After Winter Park Resort bought the ski school in 1982, they demolished the shop and apartment to make way for the West Portal Station.

Along with skiing, another Engel passion was horses which led to their acquiring 40 acres along County Road 5 where they built Casa de Engel.  From their ranch, the Engels helped to establish the Winter Park Horseman’s Association and the High Country Stampede Rodeo at John Work Arena in Fraser.    Naturally, Janet Engel became a rodeo star. The Engels were also involved with the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo for decades.

As community leaders, the Engels transformed Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley. They helped start the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Sanitation District.  Joyce Engel was a founder of the Grand County Concert Series bringing live classical music to this rural community.  In 1968, George Engel was instrumental in bringing the National Sports Center for the Disabled to Winter Park. The family’s wide-ranging passions enrich all our lives then, now and into the future.   

 

Topic: Water

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

Topic: Biographies

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore was born in Cottonwood Harbor Canada in 1856. When he was about 16 years old he had visited and then worked as a freighter hauling groceries to different towns in western Colorado. He saved enough money to purchase his own wagons and 2 yoke of oxen for each wagon to continue freighting.

Nathan became famous as a man who carried his Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Nathan returned to visit his family and met Sarah Jones in Springfield Missouri. They were married in 1885. Their trip to Colorado and the Williams Fork was undertaken with Sarah driving a team of horses pulling a covered wagon and Nathan herding their few cows.

The cows helped start a homestead ranch east of the Williams Fork river. In 1907 they sold the homestead ranch to the Curtis Family. They had purchased the Anders Anderson ranch close to Williams Peak and the Joseph Jackson ranch on Bull Run Creek.

They lived on the Anderson place until the forest fire that burned along the Williams Fork Mountains. Nathan told Sarah to hitch the horses to the hay rack, load the furniture that it would carry, take all the children and move to the Jackson place while he helped fight the fire. Nathan's team of horses were stolen so he broke 3 heifers and a steer to work in the yoke.

He still did a lot of freighting to make a living for his family. He freighted to Hot Sulphur Springs and also from Georgetown. He returned home to the ranch about once a week. He sold butter, that Sarah had made and hung down in the well to keep cold, in the mining town of Breckenridge.

Nathan Shore died June, 1928 when his pickup stalled on a railroad crossing in Utah. He was trying to find the trouble under the hood and didn't hear the train as it whistled and whistled. He was headed for a trip to Hawaii.

Mountain Men / Trappers

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s. Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy. Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County, where a pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him.

His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville. 26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians. Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection. Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation. So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg. As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats. In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there. On the other hand …fishing was great! His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning. Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park. Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado. Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders. He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls. In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado. As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.

Topic: Biographies

Lewis D.C. Gaskill

Lewis DeWitt Clinton Gaskill came to Colorado as a polished young mining promoter from upstate New York, where he was born in 1840. He married Miss Nellie C. Rogers in 1865, and raised three daughters born to the marriage.

By 1874 he partnered with William Cushman to build the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road, which opened in November of that year, to the great surprise of locals and professionals alike.  He and his family lived at the summit of Berthoud Pass into the mid-1880s, when they built the Gaskill House in what became Fraser, CO.   For a short time he was employed as mine foreman at the Wolverine Mine in Bowen Gulch, outside of Grand Lake.  One of the mining camps, in fact, came to be known as Gaskill. Over the years there was significant competition between the different camps, and mercantiles associated with them.  Gaskill's was one of the biggest and best.  Gaskill, the camp, survived for about six years, before falling victim to the end of the mining boom.  In 1896, a county-wide passion for William Jennings Bryan and his Democratic-Populist party, helped to seat Gaskill as democratic chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Grand County. By 1903, Gaskill came into conflict with D.H. Moffat and the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, over property and right-of-way purchases. He, along with Nathan S. Hurd, ended up settling their dispute over property values in County Court. In 1904, upon the death of Fraser postmaster, William Z. Cozens, the Fraser post office was moved to the Gaskill House in Fraser, and L.D.C. Gaskill was appointed postmaster.  Soon after, the townsite was platted and development undertaken under the name of Eastom, but that name was soon forgotten and the area continued to be known as Fraser.

"[Gaskill] was one of those quiet, easy-tempered, efficient persons who can always be depended upon.'" Captain Gaskill (his rank came from service in the Civil War) became "a major Grand County personality."

Topic: Places

Place Names

Article contributed by Kathy Zeigler

The County of Grand was established in 1874, taking its name from the Grand River which has its headwaters in the county, and from Grand Lake, the largest natural body of water in the state of Colorado.  The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs.  The area of the county is 1854 sq. mi., making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Fraser was established in 1871 as the town of Eastom.  Its name changed to Fraser, after the river that flows through the town, though it was originally spelled Frazier, for Reuben Frazier. The Post Office adopted the simpler spelling at the establishment of the Post Office.  The town bore the distinction of being the "icebox of the nation" for many years, losing that title in a legal battle with a town in Minnesota.

Granby was established in 1904, taking its name from Granby Hillyer, a Denver attorney who may have been associated with the founding of the town.

Grand Lake was established in 1881 as a mining settlement by the Grand Lake Town and Improvement Company, taking its name from Grand Lake.

Hideaway Park was established approximately 1905, and named for its hidden location with the trees screening it from the road. It may have been earlier known as Woodstock, Vasquez and Little Chicago. Max Kortz, owner of a dance hall in the village is said to have provided the moniker. 

Hot Sulphur Springs was established in 1860 and named for the hot springs.  It may have been refered to as Sulphur Springs in its earliest days, and as Sulphur by the workers and management of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad when it came through in 1904.

Kremmling was established in 1881 as a general merchandise store, owned by Kare Kremmling on the ranch of Dr. Harris, located on the north bank of the Muddy River. In 1888 John and Aaron Kinsey had part of their ranch platted, calling the site Kinsey City. Kremmling moved his store across the river to the new site; eventually the town came to be known as Kremmling.  (Note the two different first names-Reuben Kremmling and Kare Kremmling.  I'll keep working on that discrepancy.)

Radium's name was suggested by Harry S. Porter, prospector and miner, in reference to the radium content in one of his mines.

Winter Park was first known as West Portal, a settlement that grew up during the construction of the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s.  Postal authorities agreed to the name change to Winter Park, after a request was made by Denver mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton and many sport enthusiasts to publicize the establishment of a top winter sports area.

Berthoud Pass, el. 11314, was named for Capt. Edward L. Berthoud. Berthoud discovered the pass in 1861. He was also chief engineer on the Colorado Central Railroad.

Gore Pass, el. 9524, was named for Sir Charles Gore, who mounted a monumental "hunt" to the American West during the 1850s. Gore spent considerable time in the area, and gave his name to the Pass, a mountain range, and a canyon.

Milner Pass, el. 10759, was named for T.J. Milner, and accomplished civil engineer for railroads and street car lines.

Muddy Pass, el. 8772, bears the name of Big Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with reference to the muddy appearance of the waters during the spring runoff and storms.

Rabbit Ears Pass, el. 9426, refers to Rabbit Ears Peak, whose outcroppings somewhat resemble a rabbit's ears.

Willow Creek Pass, el 10850, is named for the stream, and almost certainly for the willow bushes that line the banks of the stream. The pass was a well known Indian trail, and became a road in the early 1900s.

Source: Eichler, George R. Colorado Place Names. Boulder: Johnson Publishing, 1977.

Topic: Biographies

John Charles Fremont

Captain John Charles Fremont was born in 1813 and at the age of 31, in June 1844, was exploring the northern reaches of the Republic of Texas when he passed through Grand County.  This marked the first appearance of official government enterprise in Grand County.

His expedition included some 40 explorers, including people of Creole, French, and Black descent. The guides were Thomas Fitzpatrick and Kit Carson. This expedition entered Grand County via Muddy Pass and exited via the Blue River, never traveling into the eastern part of the County. 

They met with some 200 Arapahoe Indians, who were traditionally suspicious of the intruders, but through the giving of trade gifts, overt conflicts were avoided. The cartographer for that expedition was Charles Preuss, who provided the first map on which all of the central Rocky Mountain Parks were named and mapped accurately.

Topic: Biographies

Stephen Bradley

 

Article contributed by Karen Wischnack

 

Born to a Wisconsin doctor in Chicago November 12, 1916 was one of seven skiing sons by the name of Stephen J. Bradley.  His talents in skiing showed up at a very early age.  By the time he was attending Dartmouth College his talents were apparent and was a top competitive skier.  He skied in the slalom, downhill, jumping and langlauf while on the college's team.  Steve then was called to serve his country during the World War II Army service.  After his discharge he then attended and coached skiing at Colorado University. 

 

In 1950 Steve became Winter Park's executive director.  During his employment at Winter Park he guided it from a four rope tow/three T-bar local ski area to a major resort of 770 acres with 13 chair lifts.  His brilliance in design led to the Balcony House, the Base Lodge which was one of the first ski area structures to utilize solar heating, the restaurant in the midway proved to be a model for the "scramble" system of food service and then there's the Mary Jane section of Winter Park which was another one of his talents.

 

Stephen was given the name "Father of Slope Grooming" in 1952 when he then invented the famous Bradley Packer-Grader when experimenting with slope grooming.  The invention was a one man gravity-powered slope grooming device which revolutionized the ski maintenance industry.  Nick-named "the Purple People Eater".  This machine was a mogul-cutting snow groomer that was 5-foot-wide corrugated culvert that a skier would drag down hill or as they said " A hardy mountain crewman" who risked his life by being devoured by the spinning rotor.  As skiing became more popular, skiers started demanding that the slopes be groomed.  Nature was no problem but not everyone wanted to ski moguls.  This Bradley Packer was a way to reduce the mogul's and keep snow on the trails by flattening the snow.  "It was a pretty scary thing" supervisors claimed.  Grooming was soon transferred to a line of tracked vehicles now known a "Snowcats". 

 

Stephen served as President of the NSAA (National Ski Areas Association) and helped organize Colorado Ski Country USA and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board before his death in Longmont November 13, 2002.  You can find him as an honored member of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and in the National Ski Hall of Fame.

 

Dude Ranches