Summer Travel: Literary Colorado

Published on: June 16th, 2016
exterior photo of Strater Hotel

credit: Strater Hotel in Durango.

Reading and travel is a match made in summer. Pair these Colorado locales with their related books to get your literary fix.

The Strater Hotel – associated with Louis L’Amour
699 Main Avenue Durango, CO 81301 – 970-247-4431

North Dakota native Louis L’Amour became the laureate of the Wild West over a career that spanned four decades and produced dozens of literary works. He subsequently grew as one of the most popular writers in the world, and by his death at age 80, there were over 200 million copies of his work in circulation. Ronald Reagan read his work, and awarded L’Amour the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. To understand the inspirations of this legendary Western writer Louis L’Amour, there may be no better spot than Room 222 in Durango, Colorado’s Strater Hotel.

Located directly above the hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon, L’Amour captured much of his writing inspiration while listening to the honkey tonk vibes of the piano playing below. For more than 10 years, L’Amour and his family spent the month of August in the hotel. There, he composed many of the works that would bring him to fame — and help encapsulate the spirit of the West. In 2012, Room 222 became just the second National Literary Landmark in Colorado.

Now fans of his work, or people looking to capture that same Western feel, can stay in Room 222 at the Strater Hotel, which in 2012, became the just the second National Literary Landmark in the state. Since the late 1800’s, the hotel has grown to 93 rooms while maintaining the traditions and grandeur of its past. Each room is decorated with American Victorian antiques, allowing guests to step back to a bygone time. “The L’Amour Room” is still the most requested, says Strater front desk agent Heather Piccoli. She says most people who see the plaque out front Room 222 still recognize his name.

And yes, there’s still live music at the Diamond Belle Saloon.

exterior photo of Stanley Hotel

The Stanley Hotel.
credit: Grand Heritage Hotel Grouop

The Stanley Hotel – associated with Stephen King
333 Wonderview Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517 – 970-586-3371

Few places nationwide have become as well known for paranormal activity as the Stanley Hotel. Best recognized as the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining”, the hotel carries on a long tradition as a hotspot for ghosts — and ghost hunters.

The Stanley opened in 1909 by F.O and Flora Stanley of Massachusetts as a secluded mountain resort. It illuminated the town as one of the first hotels west of the Mississippi River with electric lights. The hotel seemed to have a bright future, in more ways than one, but would soon develop a reputation for the eerie.

A thunderstorm in 1911 cut power to the hotel, forcing guests to the lobby while employees hurried to set up gas lights in the rooms. Some type of explosion was set off during the night, and though published reports from the time offer wildly different accounts, it’s believed that housekeeper Elizabeth Watson may have died in the accident while working in hotel room 217. It’s believed by some her spirit never left.

Scary Mary?  credit: Grand Heritage Hotel Group

Scary Mary?
credit: Grand Heritage Hotel Group

Reports of ghost sightings continued in the decades to follow. In 1974, King and his wife stayed in Room 217 as the only two guests in the massive building. What he experienced that night formed the basis for his iconic novel. Forty years later, hotel employees unexpectedly found pieces of drywall and carpet from room 217 in the bowels of the building, setting off a new wave of creepy speculation as to what might have happened that stormy night in 1911 — and what might be happening now. As recently as April of this year, news outlets including CNN, Fox News and the Huffington Post reported an Instagram post by hotel guest Henry Yau purportedly showing a female spectre on a hotel staircase.

The hotel, along with the community, has embraced its haunted reputation. Televisions within the hotel show the film version of “The Shining” and its lesser known television spinoff on a 24-hour loop on Channel 42. It also offers a 90-minute Night Ghost Tour through the hotel’s most haunted spots, including the basement rooms of the concert hall and the tunnel where the Stanley’s are reportedly still spotted. Guests can also try to harness the spirit energy of the building with resident psychic Madame Vera.

For the more daring, the Stanley offers a “Ghost Adventure Package,” which includes a room on the haunted fourth floor, a K2 Meter, a glow-in-the-dark hotel squishy ghost and a REDRUM mug. If that’s not enough, the Stanley Hotel recently received an $11.6 million grant from the State of Colorado to build a film center, archive and auditorium to maintain its spot as a world-renowned center for horror films and the paranormal.

Despite its long legacy connected to the dead, the Stanley Hotel is still best known for its connection with America’s best-known living horror writer. This summer, guests will continue to venture to the building, with many staying in the hotel’s most requested quarters: Room 217.

It’s worth a noting for film fans that the hotel did create a hedge maze, but it has some growing to do.

Woody Creek Tavern – associated with Hunter S. Thompson
002 Woody Creek Plaza, Woody Creek, CO 81656

Anita Thompson, widow of famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is transitioning the couple’s Woody Creek home into a museum. Long an oasis for “The Good Doctor” that tantalized his legion of fans, the museum won’t be open in time for this summer’s travel season. Instead, Thompson fans are still more than welcome to traverse to the Woody Creek Tavern, which isn’t a stretch to call his home away from home.

Like the author, the Woody Creek Tavern is eccentric, chaotic and in no way ordinary. Credit cards and reservations aren’t welcome, but pretty much everything else is. Located 15 minutes northwest of Aspen in Owl Creek, Colorado, the Tavern is in nearly every way the antithesis of the posh, tourist-driven town to its south. Everyone at the bar is a local, even if they live hundreds of miles away.

A decade since the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” author’s suicide, his spirit still lives on. There are pictures covering much of the wall space, many dedicated to Thompson. Though most of his friends from the bar have moved on, the stories and vibe of Woody Creek hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1980.

“You can still ask a local or two about (Thompson),” says Woody Creek bartender Dani Barpallo. “There’s lots of stories, lots of history with he and the sheriff and the different locals.”

That includes published reports of the times Thompson, almost always inebriated on something or another, would burst through the bar wielding a Taser or a gun. As for the unwritten stories, in true gonzo fashion, you’ll have to go discover them for yourself.

The Ferril House – associated with Thomas Hornsby Ferril
2123 Downing St, Denver, CO 80205

The Ferril House is the most significant edifice to our state’s literary legacy. For Denver-area residents, it’s the easiest to get to but the hardest to visit.

For the better part of the past century, Thomas Hornsby Ferril helped define Colorado. Named the state’s poet laureate in 1979, he is considered its most-celebrated poet. His evocative poetry of local landscapes is immortalized on the walls of the Colorado Statehouse. When Pope John Paul II visited Denver in 1993, he was presented a calligraphic copy of Ferril’s “Two Rivers”, as well as a first edition of the poet’s “New and Selected Poems.” Carl Sandburg, a frequent guest of Ferril’s, called him “The Poet of the Rockies.” Robert Frost, another recurring visitor, once wrote about Ferril:

A man is as tall as his height
Plus the height of his home town.
I know a Denverite
Who, measured from sea to crown,
Is one mile, five-foot ten
And he swings a commensurate pen

The house, located at 2123 Downing Street, stands just feet from Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. Built in 1890, it’s a three-story Victorian with stained glass windows and coal fireplaces. Outside stands a historical marker. The house, however, is empty. 

After Ferril’s death in 1988, his daughter sold the facility to Historic Denver for $1. The organization then sold it to the Colorado Center for the Book in 1996. When the Center for the Book merged with Colorado Humanities in 2004, the organization no longer had a use for the building. The Lighthouse Writers Workshop called 2123 Downing home for five years, but in 2011 it reached a point where they facility no longer met its needs. Other groups, including the nonprofit Art From Ashes, have considered relocating there, but currently it stays vacant.

Though a pilgrim looking for inspiration won’t be able to enter, the home is still a testament to a legend of poetry.

My Brother’s Bar – associated with Neal Cassady and the Beats
2376 15th St., Denver, CO 80202

Trying to replicate a day in the life of the overly-Romanticized Neal Cassady might call for an acid trip, and a 50-50 chance of waking up in jail or in bed with strangers. Instead, make a vague day-trip plan of walking around Denver. Explore areas you’ve never been. Not just shops, but the alleys and industrial areas.

When your feet are tired and the heat has you dazed, it’s time to drop in to this famous Beat haunt and reflect on the day’s travels. The good news is the beer and burgers are not throwbacks to the era pull-tab cans and who-knows-what meats. Bring a notepad, or a long scroll of paper, and scribble everything you seen or thought or felt. All at once. Don’t worry about punctuation or style or grammar. Now you’re getting it. Keep on.

To steal from Kerouac: You’ll eventually get bored, because there is nowhere to go but everywhere, so keep rolling under the stars.

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