Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suede comes to the High Mountain Lodge

Long before we were married, I knew that Julie loved horses. After we got married 28+ years ago, she had a horse for a while that she kept in stables and pastures close to our old house in Golden. However, the struggles to be a family and raise a son made it hard for her to follow her passion, and she eventually had to postpone that dream; there were many times when she wondered if it would ever be fulfilled.

Most of our marriage has been about me pursuing my goals, though over the years we did talk (sometimes very heatedly) about what the future would look like when it was "her turn." And I promised her many, many times that someday it would, indeed, be "her turn." So when I got laid off in 2008, and after a few months it became evident that the economy wasn't going to let me go out and "get another job" as I'd always been able to do in the past, we began exploring all those fantasies about what our future life might look like that we'd played with over the years.

It was a fluke that we hit upon the idea of running a Bed & Breakfast. Julie's aunt and uncle had run one for a few years in North Carolina, and we'd toyed with the idea of having one as a "stepdown" to retirement, but in the constellation of our retirement fantasies, it didn't really stand out among all the others. But on the way home from spending one of our unemployed weekends at the family cabin in the mountains, we drove past a motel overlooking the Continental Divide that we'd always joked about looking into buying if it ever came on the market.

Low and behold, there was a For Sale sign out front. We wrote down the number, called the listing agent, and a few days later, had a showing. We really liked the place, but as we were debriefing afterwards in a little roadhouse we were fond of, it became clear that, if we were going to follow the innkeeping path, we would have to acquire some skills and knowledge we didn't currently possess. Low and behold, in the lobby of the roadhouse was a Denver Free University catalog and one of the courses offered was, you guessed it, "So You Want To Own a B&B."

Long story short, we took the class, and the teachers, Becky and Roxanne, became our real estate brokers, and they ultimately negotiated the sale of the High Mountain Lodge for us.

But lordy, did we drag them through a few knotholes before we bought the place. As we began looking for an inn to buy, we began to clarify what we wanted. "Where will we put our books?" was one of our early mantras. "You have too many books," Roxanne told me. "Get rid of them. They clutter up the owner's quarters, and potential buyers have trouble imagining their own stuff there."

"We haven't even bought a place yet, and already you're working on helping us sell it?"

She narrowed her eyes. "It's never too early to plan."

Then after they started filtering our searches for books, we saw a place we really liked. "But where will we put the piano?" Julie asked.

"What piano?" asked Roxanne through gritted teeth.

"Oh, the 7-foot antique Steinway in the parlor," said Julie.

Roxanne muttered something, but I didn't catch what she said.

Then we saw the High Mountain Lodge. "Oh, Tom!" Julie exclaimed. "Look at those pastures! There's even a place for the horses!"

"What horses?" Roxanne demanded shrilly, the pitch of her voice inching upward. "You don't have horses! Do you?" Becky tried to shush her.

"Not yet," said Julie sweetly.

It was then that I realized that Julie's "turn," so long postponed, was about to take place.

The first year at the Lodge, we didn't have a moment to spare to think about acquiring a horse. We were too busy cleaning and decorating and cleaning some more, all the while figuring out how to be innkeepers and welcome the wonderful people who began to visit the lodge.

Then earlier this summer, it became clear that we weren't going to have time to do the prep work to get a horse; we didn't have time to get the fences in order, and it was clear that horses would have to wait another year.

That was before our neighbor approached us a few weeks ago and offered to give us a 3-year-old Rocky Mountain Horse mare named Suede. I almost fell out of my chair, I was so surprised. Suede has a club foot and so, though she is from champion bloodlines that helped establish the breed, she can't be shown and shouldn't be bred. But she's a sweet little girl, and she now belongs to Julie.

Julie is overjoyed and is busy plotting how we can get our son and his 20-something friends up to help us with a fence-building party sometime before the snow flies. "I knew God was going to give me a horse," she noted. "I just didn't know when or what kind of horse it was going to be.

So now, we know.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Best Things To Do While Staying at the High Mountain Lodge

  • Take a deep breath, listen to the silence, and let yourself slow down;
  • Get some carrots from Julie and walk down and feed them to the horses;
  • Drive into town and breathe in the view of the Indian Peaks and the Continental Divide as you round the curve;
  • Weather permitting, drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park. If Trail Ridge Road is open, start early in the morning and plan to stop frequently to take in the views and see the varied wildlife. Be sure to stop at the Visitor's Center at the top (11,796 ft/3595m elevation). Good luck with breathing up there. Then drive down into Estes Park for lunch. Turn around and repeat the process. Stop in Grand Lake and have dinner overlooking the water.
  • Sit on the deck of the High Mountain Lodge with a refreshing drink and watch the sun set in a blaze of color over Sheep Mountain;
  • After a day of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, or a round of golf, relax in the jetted hot tub, sauna, or swimming pool in our enclosed Atrium;
  • Drive into town for a day of shopping, dining, and people- and dog-watching;
  • Sample the award-winning vintages at the Winter Park Winery;
  • In the summer bike the ski runs at Winter Park or the over 300 miles of area trails, from gentle rolling paths with jaw-dropping views of the high peaks to demanding double-diamond trails that will have the most daredevil adrenaline junkie squealing like a little girl;
  • Stroll, cross-country ski, or snowshoe around our pasture at the High Mountain Lodge. Venture through the willows to find the secret picnic tables along Crooked Creek and have a quiet meal with your best friend with only the high mountain peaks watching;
  • Let your inner foodie run wild over breakfast; savor a perfectly made espresso, cappucino, latte, or macchiato so good it would have an Italian barista weeping in envious rage; 
  • Share the High Mountain Lodge with those you love: your friends, your lover, your children or grandchildren; even your four-footed friend;
  • Ski or Ride Winter Park and Mary Jane--one of the nation's premier snow resorts--then come back to the High Mountain Lodge and tell us about your adventures. We'll even tell you our favorite secret runs and how to get there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Attack of the Killer Ceiling Fans

The High Mountain Lodge does not have air-conditioning. At 8,700 feet in elevation, even at the height of summer, it is not unusual for the temperatures to drop into the 40s at night, and by August, we are warning guests at the Lodge to watch their step in the morning going across the multi-tiered deck to the dining lodge so they won't slip on the frost coating the boards.

It's a different world up here--even from Denver. When the city is baking in 90+ or triple digit temperatures, we consider it a heat wave if the mercury hits 80. And on the two days this summer it hit 90 on our thermometer in July (courtesy of reflected heat from the deck; the air wasn't nearly that warm), we were willing to believe that there was something to global warming after all.

Instead of air conditioning the High Mountain Lodge has ceiling fans in every room. On warm summer nights, guests can open their windows and doors, and the fans will circulate the air and mix it with the outside breezes. Lodge guests, particularly those from lower elevations and hot climes, tend to underestimate the chill in the air. 

(Someone remind me to blog about the frigid June wedding Julie and I attended on the shores of the (frozen) lake just below the summit of Mt. Evans when it was 98 in Denver. We weren't married then, but our memory of the misery we went through sort of put the kabosh on any fantasy about getting married outside in a Colorado mountain meadow.) 

No matter how many times we point out the extra blanket in every room (and show guests how to turn up the heat in their room), invariably, they will show up for breakfast (in shorts and t-shirts with blue lips) to comment on how COLD it is. 

So when we get the occasional phone inquiry from people in Houston asking if we have air conditioning, because they won't book with us if we don't have air conditioning, we refer them to a couple who are our competitors (who are also our friends) who have put in refrigerated air conditioning in their inn just to assuage the heat-fears of people from Houston.

"How's that working for you?" I ask.

"They complained about how cold it was. I got up after midnight and gave them two extra blankets and suggested they turn off the air conditioning and open the french doors onto their patio. But they were afraid of bugs."

"You didn't tell them that there are no bugs in Grand County?"

"They're from Houston. They figure you're lying to them."

But all of this is a prelude to telling you the story of how we (actually I) suffer from our ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans have metal chains hanging down from them: one to turn on the light, and one to adjust the speed of the rotation of the fan.

At the High Mountain Lodge, some of the fixtures can be controlled from a switch on the wall, and some from the pull chains from the fixtures.

But they all have chains depending from them.

And, God help me, they all attack me.

If the High Mountain Lodge has cooler temperatures, it also has lower humidity and vicious static electricity. When I was a little boy growing up in Oklahoma, it was fun in the wintertime to play the game of "static electricity." You'd shuffle your feet across the wool carpet and sneak up on your mom or dad (usually your mom, because she wasn't as liable to smack you when you touched the metal frame of her glasses and sent huge amounts of volts of electricty coursing through her body). She'd just scream.

But the High Mountain Lodge has low humidity and high static electricity all year long. So maybe the fact that Julie and I own an Inn is a way for me to work off the karmic burden of torturing my parents with static electricity in my childhood.

You see, there are several rooms in the lodge where the chains from the ceiling fans hang down low enough to attack me when I'm making a bed.

You would think that I would have enough sense to avoid them when cleaning a room or making a bed, but I tend to get focused on projects, even if it is only making a bed. 

For the past year, I have had the misfortune to be making a bed and in the course of doing so, back up into the pull-chains from the fixture and experience a "static-electric discharge."

We have one room in particular (it's one of our most popular rooms), where the pull-chains for the lamp/fan fixture hand down just about at a perfect distance to attack me when I'm making the bed. And, I swear, every time I make the bed in that room, the damn fan attacks me. 

Here's the scenario: I get the bottom sheet tight, then I balance the top sheet on the bed so that it's hanging equidistant from the floor on either side of the mattress.

Then I shake out the blanket (which crackles from static electricity) and back up to make sure that it's symmetrical to the bed, and get close enough to the ceiling fixture that the static electricity causes the metal chain to wrap itself around my face and discharge on my cheek just below my eye. 

Then I scream and begin to curse and roar and stagger about like Boris Karloff imitating Frankenstein's monster in the movies and fall over one of the chairs in front of the fireplace. 

Nobody told me that innkeeping involved doing battle with static electricity. 

I wonder if there would be anyway we could get our electrical co-op to suck up the excess static electricity I generate when making beds?

Prolly not. Julie doesn't believe I work all that hard; an electrical utility would demand more evidence than an electrical discharge scar across my face.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


On the first day of September, it was as if God announced that it was fall. The morning temperature on our thermometer was 35 degrees instead of the 40-50 it had been all summer, there was frost on the decks, and we actually had to turn up the thermostat in the dining room. I was actually proud of the fact that our famous chilled orange juice was staying chilled, but Julie pointed out that if people's lips were too numb to feel the glass when they tried to drink it, they probably wouldn't appreciate it that much. So I capitulated.

During the day, the sun is still warm, but time is hastening toward the equinox this month, and earth's northern hemisphere is turning her face away from the sun. The aspen leaves are beginning to turn, and everything is just about perfect right now.

Winter and all its fun is just around the corner, but we're not there yet. We still have September to enjoy, the most perfect month in the high country. In the evening, guests at the High Mountain Lodge are spending more time in the public areas, then retiring to their rooms to enjoy a fire in their fireplace. Woodsmoke incense is starting to bless the valley.

The weather is quiet in September. The Pacific monsoons have blown themselves out and, barring an ill-behaved hurricane that blows up from the Gulf of Mexico, it will be calm here: warm in the daytime, and crisp at night. Of course even a hurricane does blow up the Gulf and across the southwest, it may make Denver miserable, but probably won't get over the Continental Divide.

A local weather forecaster, who has made something of a name for himself accurately predicting to the inch how much snow will fall on the ski areas in any given day, thinks this is going to be a good year for skiing in northern Colorado, courtesy of the La NiƱa currently chilling the waters off Chile.

We say, bring it on! Yee-haw! and all that. But not until we've enjoyed our gentle and glorious September.