Bald Mountain Road

There were four roads that we used to get to our log home in the Rockies. We had our own names for these roads as they didn’t have anything but forest service numbers on a topographical map when we lived at 9,640 feet above sea level. 

Columbine Campground road was the most direct, but the bumpiest. It required either a 4-wheel drive or a good truck with 2-wheel and an experienced driver. This road was a continuation of the road to the campground itself. Mostly we only traveled that road out of necessity when there wasn’t another option. Since then, the road has been blocked off to prevent more damage to the forest. 

The ‘spring’ road was fairly level and meandered by a lush meadow with a claw foot bath tub sitting just inside a barbed wire fence. Into the tub poured a fresh, cold spring through an iron pipe coming out of the ground. We often stopped to fill up when we were empty at home. That water was the best mountain spring water ever. Spring road did have a very steep climb at the end, but a tenacious driver of a 2-wheel drive car or truck could handle it.

The most out of the way road is Fall River Road. This was used when the other roads were impassable. This one at least got you to the base of Mt. Pisgah, even if we did live on the other side.  It was also the road we used if we had reason to go to Idaho Springs.

But the most passable road with the least overall elevation changes is Bald Mountain Road. It was on this road that I learned to steer for my dad while we drove back and forth to our property building our cabin. Later it became the road I drove the most to get to and from Central City when I was old enough to drive and had my own car. 

Bald Mountain road can be found as a dirt road off of the annual Aspen Trail.  Travel either direction from Central City to find it going off into the trees on the edge of King’s Flat.

While I already had driven the Jeep, the trucks, the motorcycles and the snowmobiles, my first car was a charcoal black 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. After I got my license by driving around a few blocks in the ‘city’ I was able to go to and from home whenever I wanted. Mostly it was to work at either the home of the elderly woman I mowed grass and did odd jobs for, or to my first real job as a sanitation engineer in BlackHawk.

Work allowed me to spend money on things I wanted. Like a sweet Sony car stereo with cassette and auto-reverse. I added some nice Pioneer speakers to the back and found room for amplifier with EQ in the glove compartment. To be truthful, one of the main reasons I drove Bald Mountain road was because it as the smoothest and didn’t skip my cassettes. Yes, it was actually possible to skip them.

So Bald Mountain road it was, I left the city behind, usually took the switchback by the ranch, through King’s Flat and headed off into the woods.

Pretty easy going in the beginning and it looks like it is fairly well maintained. That is until you get to the very small cemetery. Once you pass the entrance to the old cemetery you have to cross a cattle guard and make your way over some permanent bedrock. As long as you pay attention your car doesn’t bottom out.

The way then becomes flat and pretty wide; obviously not maintained very well. Smooth driving across the sandy part of the road avoiding nuisance rocks every once in awhile. 

The first big obstacles appear, this is another set of rocks that are just embedded in the middle of the road. I just drive around the big rocks and continue on my way.

Next up, a big pair of puddles from the recent rain. They are larger than my car, but I’m familiar with them, I know how deep they are and can just drive between them or around them.

The way continues like this with smaller rocks that I just avoid by steering around them, larger rocks that I drive around completely, and puddles that I know well. In the cooler temps the water has a thin layer of ice on it and breaks as I drive through it.

Now we round a bend on the inside of Bald Mountain and pass the property of one of my dad’s many friends. He met Tom M because he saw him creating a very steep driveway up to his property. He and his family were building at the top of the hill. The driveway was so steep that he had to have an old Army Jeep to get up the mountain.

More of the relatively easy driving around the side of the mountain. This is why I drive this road home. So relaxing with the sun coming through the trees, a light breeze coming through my open window and “the Clash” or “Kajagoogoo” blasting on the stereo. 

We have come around the mountain now (so to speak), what was previously a drop off with mixed trees has become flat with sparser trees. The spacing between them allows a better view of plentiful wildlife. 

A fork in the road presents a choice. To the left, the dirt road connects to York Gulch Road. The forest service road that runs down York Gulch and connects to Fall River Road and then to I-70 and finally Idaho Springs where the Safeway was. 

To the right was home.  Not much further through the younger pine and we reach another road coming in sharply from the left. This road too leads to York Gulch after connecting to the earlier road going there and thereby forming a very large triangle between. 

We come to a “saddle” between the mountains. I learned this land-form from my dad, not geography class. 

To the right, and sharply downhill is the end of “spring road”, where it is at the steepest grade. 

To the left, this view. 

You may recognize it as the landing page photo for this site. The photo was taken by my father, Douglas Gibbins. 

Continuing on though, around the side of Mt. Pisgah, the road has gotten much, much rockier. Some areas of the road have become bedrock instead of dirt. Then, as the road becomes steeper, I drive on the large rocks which are now a part of the road. Far below to the right is the pasture with the bathtub spring mentioned before. 

My little car finally crests the hill. This time of year this area is dry, but during spring run-off there would be two very, large puddles to traverse here. I drive directly through what looks like the very, small, very deep, dry lakes that are twice the width of my Volkswagen. In the spring the water would have gone up past my floorboards and I would have had to carefully navigate around the side of them. 

This is an area frequented by drivers of 4x4s. Some alone or with their families, and a whole lot of others in clubs come up from the flatlands on the weekends. When the water is real deep they make roads through the Columbine filled, old Aspen grove to get to the “other side”. 

For me, the other side meant intersecting with Columbine Campground road going downhill to the right. I continued to the left hugging the side of Mt. Pisgah on my left. A slight gradient continues with a composition of dirt interspersed with bedrock. Nothing worse than what I’ve already driven over. 

In case you were wondering the Sony stereo is playing just fine and will all the way home. 

At the top of the hill now, various roads converge as the 4x4s have made their own way up the hill through the meadow below. To the left is Pisgah Lake or Lake Pisgah or just a large mud hole depending on the season and who you talk to. Someone is building a cabin not too far from the lake, but you can’t see it through the trees. 

Slightly uphill and to the right now I pass through an area that in the winter time is completely covered in a drift. Another path can be seen uphill that drivers use in the winter time to go around it. 

Shortly the road continues to the left, but also goes straight. Following it straight through brings you to a large clearing, then straight up the side of a mountain. Joe and Emily lived on the other side of that mountain and we used to drive their 1942 Dodge ambulance right up Lloyd Hill, park on the top and walk down to their cabin. Calling it Lloyd Hill was some private joke between my father and Joe. He was in a local band and I think it had to do with the band name. 

Our cabin was further down the left road though. I take the low road instead of the high one used in winter. After driving, I see a road going steeply up to the right where it will meet the others going up Lloyd Hill. 

Directly ahead is a sharp turn in the road where it literally comes around the mountain. It was from this point that anyone in our cabin could hear the oncoming vehicles very clearly. As they came around curve the sound carried all the way up Hamlin gulch. Mom could easily identify my VW, our Jeep, the trucks, the snowmobiles and the motorcycles. 

The next part of the trek was one of the hardest in the winter. Mom used to say we had three seasons: July, August and Winter. This portion of the road was actually cut into the side of the hill. During the deepest part of the winter the entire road is obscured by a huge drift that fills in the entire section. Several 4×4 roads lead way uphill to the right through the Aspen, then lead back down once the end of the drift was reached. 

This excursion though takes place in July or August. The roads are dry and access to our cabin is easy. I continue through on the actual road, then pass the smaller one leading up to the cabin that was built by another family who later became friends. Jerry and Susan had three boys all beginning with the letter “R”.  The older boys walked to to school with us many, many times. 

Now the final stretch to our log cabin. This part is narrow with trees closing in on both sides. The snow doesn’t drift here due to the trees, but it falls and stays for the season. If you look closely at some of the largest pines, you can see the scars left at the bases from the winch on our Jeep. 

Once past this patch the road is level and in the winter, pretty clear. Today I smoothly drive around the bend past the old cattle/deer path that crosses here and leads down past our outhouse and the then corner of our basement door. 

If I feel like driving down our ridiculously steep driveway or am carrying family groceries, I turn and drive slowly down the grade in first gear. Turning left and over a culvert I pull up under the large pine next to the house. 

Sometimes I just park at the top and walk down the well worn path. It always led to warmth and love. 

The Aspen Trail

Each year, during the height of the “Aspen season”, fluorescent signs with arrows would appear like magic leading away from Central City.

This was “The Aspen Trail” – Known to every local merchant and a lifeblood of the fall sales. Tourists from all over came to our little city to see the historic town and drive through the mountains to view the majestic fall colors of our Aspen trees.

When shoppers would ask “hey where’s the best place to see Aspen trees.?” Every local merchant would explain about the Aspen trail and point them to the fluorescent arrows leading out of town. Either up Gregory Street or continuing on Main “you really can’t miss it”.

Let’s continue up Main past the old Jailhouse and the Belvidere Theatre. This is to the right of the Big T (triangle lot) and continuing past the mine tailings that make up the first and second “free parking” lot.

Trees are really everywhere now, many pine, but as you climb higher, the view opens up with meadows and more Aspen. So many coin-shaped leaves in so many colors. Really, it is impossible to describe. If you are lucky enough for a breeze, they dance across your field of view and quake.

Next you will pass through Nevadaville, an old ghostown. First with an outhouse on your left, the only bathroom for the nearby ‘rock house’. The mayor lives there, he’s the only year round resident in this town with a population of one. His general store is on the right, then you pass a couple of fallen down buildings and you are out of the town.

Not only can you take in the nearby trees, but you can also see giant patches of yellow, gold and orange in misshaped swaths across the mountain you are heading toward. Bald Mountain, by name.

Now into the pine again and seeming to crest at a rise in the elevation, there is a small road to the left, but the arrows point ahead. A home on the right can be seen through the woods as you continue through the forest. Finally it opens out into an open area with numerous meadows and another dirt road coming in from the left. Bald Mountain Road.

Oh? Did I mention the dirt road?

You’ve been driving on a dirt road since you passed the Belvidere Theatre back in “the city”!

The fluorescent arrows continue toward the meadows where Aspen can once again be seen up close and on the more distant mountains. To the left a beautiful home tucked into the trees and overlooking the these natural open areas. The owner contracted the construction of this home to the man my dad worked for, Greg Heltzer. This meant that I spent many days at that house with the two of them.

Continuing through the meadows known as King’s Flat you can see magnificent Aspen trees up close near the edge of the road and further off in the distance. As someone who lived there though, it was just “on the way to work”.

At the end of the meadows another home through the trees to your left could be seen. This one with a trampoline. My sister and I were allowed to jump on it anytime we wanted (in the summer) while we lived in the Buck House.

A sharpish turn to the left, then downhill. Not steep, but definitely downward brings you to a switchback very sharply to the right.

Finally at the bottom of the hill with a barn on your left you cross a small stream and see a blue ‘ranch house’ belonging to the barn.

Honestly, the view is amazing any time of year, but the signs press to continue past the Boodle Mine to your right and “are those really old cemeteries to the left?”

Down the valley and past an old fallen down brewery to your right… now a huge stone house in the distance on your left… suddenly a right turn only, past where ‘Tiner, the Pipemaker’ lived. You might have seen some of his work in ‘the city’.

Once the road becomes a two-way, it’s the Bennoint House on the right, the Sauer House on the left and then you are back in Central City ready to quench your thirst, assuage your hunger or shop just little more.

A 1970’s Friday night ritual

When we lived in the Buck House we observed a Friday night ritual of homemade pizza and The Love Boat.

Pizza night was dad’s night to cook; with the help of Chef Boyardee and me. We usually started with the plain pizza kit and then added items available in the kitchen.

I frequently sliced the pepperoni and grated the mozzarella cheese. Many nights we sliced up a can of mushrooms and very occasionally onions or green pepper. Mom was okay with the mushrooms, but not beyond and Jen would rather have just plain cheese.

Dad had an elaborate method to make the dough for the crust. Starting with just the right temperature water and hand mixing in stainless steel bowls, he then opened the preheated oven a bit and draped kitchen towels over the bowls and the door to make the dough rise from the extra heat.

When the dough was ready and flattened into greased cookie sheets, we added the kit’s sauce, plus extra sauce from a jar and the lame “sprinkle cheese” from the weird, short little can, we then finally started adding the goodies.

Extra grated Parmesan, onions and green peppers next if any. Then pepperoni and mushrooms. Finally piles of grated mozzarella.

We were a vegetables first family.

I didn’t realize that other people started with cheese and put the rest of the ingredients on top until years later.

While the pizza was cooking, my sister and I would set up the TV trays. You know the ones, with the fake wood and gold trim? Someone you know had them back then.

Anyway, the trays were arranged around the couch with everyone having a good view of the fireplace and our console TV.

Mom would arrive in the living room wearing her fuzzy yellow robe about the time the theme song for The Love Boat started. She would settle into the couch on the side closest to the fireplace and lean against the arm with her legs up under her.

Sixteen slices of sheer culinary delight were ready from the kitchen just as we were seeing the special guests on the screen.

We variously burned our mouths on too hot cheese or picked mushrooms off while being thoroughly entertained by 1970’s television.

Recently we tried our own pizza and The Love Boat on a Friday night to recreate that nostalgic feeling; the pizza was fantastic, not so much the entertainment.

We didn’t make it through one episode of blurry video.

Cooking On A Macrowave

I think everyone’s mom is probably the best cook ever. Over time, other cooks will also come into your life, but certain dishes will always remain a favorite when prepared by mom.

The title to the story is my mom’s. For years she told me she would write it. As far as I know she never did.

Ours was a Buck Stove similar to this one and was my mother’s pride and joy.

Lighting a fire from a cold wood stove

Hands down the best kindling is cedar wedges, like from a roof. If that is not available, small twigs of dry wood like Aspen. Gathering kindling was Charlie’s chore, probably to make up for the fact that us older kids had so many. He complained so much about it… but I guess he was entitled since he was only three or four.

First though, you will need to clear the previous night’s ashes from the fire box by moving the crank back and forth to release it into the ash chamber below.

Open the vent just outside the fire box completely to give it as much air as possible. Three or four crumpled full pages of news paper laid across the bottom and covered with eight to twelve pieces of kindling should be enough to start it.

Oh no! Did we remember to move the lever at the back of the cooking surface? The one that diverts the smoke and heat around the oven instead of directly out the top of the stove into the pipe?

The best paper to start the fire with is newspaper, but just the part with news, not the advertisements. Comics are okay, but better saved for wrapping Christmas gifts.

Yah, that’s why the smoke is backing up, just turn that lever. That’s it, open that top-left front door with a fireproof tool, see how the flames are being pulled so much faster when you look through the fire box door? Before that burns out grab a couple of aspen logs from the stack, perhaps four with 2-4” diameter. Carefully place them in through the front door without burning yourself.

Okay, that’ll be good for a minute or two. Start another stove or fill up the tea kettle and place it on the hot-most point on the left burners. Breakfast isn’t for a little while so when the first fire burns down a little, grab some larger Aspen and then maybe a couple of pieces of pine and put them in the fire box. When that’s going well, flip that little lever at the back of the oven to the right. That’ll heat up the whole stove including the hot water tank on the one pictured.

For the most part, dad started the first fire of the day. I think mom just stayed under the warm covers like Jen and I did before he got them started.

Mom could have just as easily started that fire as dad, (he just got up earlier), but in any event mom usually took over the fire tending after dad got started on whatever his chores were for the day.

The science behind cooking on a macrowave oven

How the fire was nurtured is really dependent on what was going to be cooked on this macrowave next. A fire for a family breakfast was different than a cake for a family birthday for instance.

Aspen is great to get a fire started, but for cooking, mom often used pine to create a longer lasting fire. The amount of air coming in through the side vent and the bottom vent made a huge difference in the fire as well.

But honestly the biggest thing was that lever at the back of the oven. Let me explain more about how that worked.

In the first position, the flames & smoke are directed to the back of the fire box and directly out the top of the 6” stove pipe, then somewhere up this flue and out of the house.

In the second position the smoke, air and flames are directed into a gap above the oven and under the cast iron stove top. Yes, the entire stove top is made of the same material as the cast iron cookware of today. So these hot flames are heating up the burners, then continuing down around the right side of the oven. By now the flames are out and it is just smoke and heat. Then, under the oven, it is diverted once again to the backside of the stove and finally out through the top where it exits like normal.

Mom managed all these variables of cooking on top of the fact that the thermostat on the oven was inaccurate. Need more heat? turn that lever to the right and put another log on the fire. Less heat? turn it to the left. Some fancy ovens also allowed you to put it somewhere in the middle of the two.

Between the stove at the cabin and the stove in the basement and later the main floor of our log home, mom managed to cook many, many, many meals for our family on a wood cook stove during the years we lived together in the Colorado Rockies.

Spaghetti & garlic bread, chili & cornbread, fried chicken & mashed potatoes, every breakfast item under the sun, Thanksgiving, Christmas; mom cooked everything. But my most favorite thing to this day is Porcupine Balls.

Here they are shown as cooked by more conventional means and served by my wonderful wife with mashed potatoes and spinach, just like mom used to make from her recipe website.

Central City – Underground

When I went to Clark School in Central City, Colorado we had a huge gymnasium across the street in front of the school. This is not a story about that gymnasium.

Outside the gymnasium on the uphill side was a huge gulch, or ravine depending on where you are from. In this gulch two creeks converged after they exited from large pipes. Both pipes, or culverts as my dad called them, were about six feet in diameter and the water dropped about four feet to the ground where they joined and continued on to Mountain City and then Blackhawk.

When looking uphill at the two, the rightmost culvert was made of corrugated steel and had a good amount of water pouring out of it. As it turned out, this same creek ran in front of the Sauer House where our family lived then and started further up the hill toward the cemeteries and the Boodle Mine. I did try to float a toy boat down the culvert in front of our house and look for it to come out by the school. My dad said it was possible, but not probable that I would find it. I did not.

The leftmost culvert was also round, but constructed from the kind of concrete pipe that fits together. The water coming from this pipe was barely a trickle in comparison to the other.

Now, in the winter time, the water in both of these giant pipes froze to varying degrees. The steel one, with the most water, eventually froze up almost completely and left only a small gap at the top.

The left side, with less water volume, backed up inside of the pipe and froze into a very long pool of ice. You might have guessed that some of the more adventurous kids would climb up the rocks, over the ice and snow and into the big pipe to “ice skate” in our regular boots or shoes. I was one of the kids inviting all the others to join me after school.

Sometimes I could only get my little sister to go along. Mostly, though it was at least Alexis and I. He was my best friend then and we would run from as far back in the pipe as the ice went, then skid on down to the end before the drop off. Hopefully missing any embedded rocks along the way which would certainly make you stop quickly and bust your face. This would go on until it was time to walk home and end our afternoon of fun.

In the summer…

There was more time during the day and Alexis and I vowed to explore the “tunnels” until we got to the other side because by now they had taken on a life of their own and were more than just a water pipe diverting water through the city.

The corrugated pipe with the big creek was impassable because the water never slowed down enough to even consider going into that dark and scary hole.

The second option was much more inviting. By summer, the creek turned into more of a trickle. Alexis and I told our parents some semi-plausible story not involving tunnels and then collected walking sticks, flashlights and provisions for our exploration. Probably liverwurst sandwiches. Because “liver is the worst, but liverwurst is the best”. This was a saying we made up one previous afternoon.

After climbing up the rocks to the entrance of the concrete pipe, Alexis and I made our way up it by straddling the now small creek; like penguins, flashlights in hand feebly revealing what was ahead of us. Real or imagined rodents scrambled away through the smaller pipes branching to the sides of our dim walkway.

Then, amazingly, the formerly round pipe opened up into a huge squarish area much larger than what we had encountered in our journey so far. Our six foot tall tunnel turned into a huge space much wider and taller than our previously cramped area. Dim light from somewhere provided an eerie feel to what was now more like a gigantic, long room. It was full of sand, some rocks, a bit of human trash and various debris.

It looked desolate and a bit freakish. Alexis and I dubbed the new area “the catacombs” and we dared not continue further that day. We ate our lunch… er, I mean provisions, and turned back the way we came.

Day two

During our next foray we found that the round part of the tunnels didn’t last as long as we previously thought and we made our way to the catacombs quickly.

Alexis and I looked for elves, dwarves and goblins first as boys that age would do after reading certain books. Not finding any, we then searched for other treasures in the catacombs under the city.

What we did find was that it really wasn’t a catacomb at all. By our definition catacombs were a series of large, walkable tunnels going in all directions. This was more of a really, really long concrete room with another smaller, darker tunnel at the far end.

We could just make out the sounds of the mechanical prisoners in the wax museum through a steel grate in the street far above us. That meant we were under the city and right in front of the old jailhouse. Exciting!

We recognized that this grate and the others (like the one down by the Tollgate saloon) were for water run off in the city. This explained the river-like sediment through the chamber and also meant that we should never ever be here in the rain.

We ate our provisions more soberly this time. Wondering aloud what the weather might do – we headed back where we came and emerged into full sunlight.

Another summer day

When the weather was definitely not going to include rain, Alexis and I planned a trip back to the catacombs to discover what mysteries were beyond that next dark tunnel entrance.

Up close it looked like the opening to a mine. In we went, only to find that the going was much tougher. We continued with sometimes brick or some really old concrete and even with timber supports in places.

Scrambling over many fallen sections and squeezing through some really tights areas Alexis and I crawled out into daylight again at last.

We exited the tunnel just past the second “free parking” lot, well on our way to Nevadaville. Dusting off our clothes, we walked down past the second and first free parking lots, the triangle (paid) parking lot and the old jailhouse turned museum we had passed from below hours earlier.

In the days of summer that year and next I ventured all the way through maybe two of three more times. Only ever with friends. Probably Jimmy and maybe some of the other “Tolkieneers”.

This was our band of five boys that hung out sometimes and did boys stuff like this together in the late 70’s.

The Duration

Another night out for the Gibbins family while living on the outskirts of Central City.

We bundled up for the winter weather and left the Buck House on our way to town. Dad decided to drive through Nevadaville as that way was more direct. The old Jeep might have started blowing warm air by the time we passed the Stone House. My dad knew the guy that lived there, he was apparently the mayor by virtue of being the only year round resident. Although I visited the hardware store he owned several times, I was more interested in his outhouse with the moon shape cut into the door.

Which reminds me of the time I watched Paper Moon at the Belvidere Theatre… maybe I’ll recount the time Tatum O’Neil said “shit box Ford” in another story.

Anyway, we arrived at our destination and parked in the dirt parking lot just down the street. Then we climbed down from the Jeep, got Charlie settled in his baby carrier and traipsed the short distance uphill through the frozen snow to the stone entrance. We were greeted with warmth, music and cigarette smoke as we walked through the door. After all, it was the late 70’s.

Dad greeted each of the locals he knew on the way to our table. We removed our wet jackets and hung them on the back of the wooden chairs and mom arranged our family of five for a meal.

The establishment was located in yet another historic building and called The Duration. Why? I think it was because if you ordered their signature hamburger, you would be there for the duration. Seriously! It was a one pound hamburger with toppings on a giant bun!

I seem to remember that there was some deal if you ate the entire hamburger. I was only 11 years old or so and I could not have finished “the Duration Burger”. But I think dad gave it a shot.

After I finished my smaller burger and my picky sister finished whatever she ordered, it was time for dessert. Our eyes widened in amazement when the chocolate chip cookie was served. Another house special, a cookie the same size as that giant hamburger. Our family shared only one; with my sister, Jennifer, and I vying to get the most bites.

“The Duration”, with its stone walls and welcome atmosphere is one more of my favorite memories of living in Central.

“Turkeys” aka tourists

Central City is what my father called a tourist town. The height of tourist season was in the summer, and many stores completely closed up during the winter. Somewhere along the way, our family started referring to a tourist as a turkey. I don’t remember why it started exactly. I had always assumed that it was a fairly commonplace term and that all of the local townspeople used it. Certainly all of our family and friends did.

Beginning in the spring, people would come to Central and, while visiting, ask the shop owners where they could drive for sightseeing. Oftentimes proprietors would send them up the hill to the right of free parking and then into the ghost town of Nevadaville, past the Buck House, then across King’s Flat, down the hill and around the switchback at the ranch, past the Boodle Mine and down Gregory Street back into the heart of the city.

All summer long, vehicle after vehicle would drive by the Buck House. Sometimes a station wagon with a family and their dog, other times five or six 4x4s in a row, part of a club up from Denver. Not that anyone blamed them for coming. We lived in the midst of one of the most beautiful places on earth. Mountains, meadows, wildlife and wild flowers attracted everyone. Then in the fall, at the height of Colorado’s leaf season, someone from town would inevitably drive the loop stopping every once in awhile to hammer a home made sign into the dirt. These would safely lead the tourists along this road back into town.

With three dogs a part of our family, we knew each and every time someone drove by, even if we didn’t hear their engines directly. Sometimes the strangers would even come down our driveway looking for directions further up Bald Mountain or back to town if they missed the signs. These were the turkeys. 

Later, as we built our log house even further out in the woods, we found that the casual drivers in the station wagons gave way to mostly 4x4s and motorcycles. By and large I’m sure that most people are respectful of nature, but with that many people driving out into the woods to test the abilities of their vehicles and their own driving skills, there were plenty of bad apples. Sometimes they would decide to go completely off road through meadows or up hills tearing up the countryside and the destroying the pristine beauty. Particularly in the spring, when the snow runoff was highest, folks would race across bogs trying to make it to the other side. When they didn’t, their buddies would get their tug-ropes out, attach them to the bumper and pull them back out making even more of a mess. These were the turkeys. 

Especially during the summer weekends, campers would come up from Denver. Our property, like that of our neighbors, was a former mining claim. A piece of land granted to someone else years ago because silver or gold was found there. A five-acre strip of land otherwise surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest. The forestry department did not require a pass or otherwise restrict campers at all here in the middle of the woods. Too frequently, Mother Nature’s guests would leave their trash at their makeshift campsites by Pisgah Lake. Beer cans and diapers would be left behind to be carted off by wildlife or picked up by nearby families like ours. These were the turkeys. 

Many weekend visitors didn’t even realize that private property criss-crossed the mountainsides. That while they were driving on the actual road that it was perfectly fine, but depending on where they left the road they might be on private property – whether marked or not. Our log home was built down the hill from where public access crossed our property. Because we built our log home stockade style, it was mostly invisible to most passersby during the summer. Before we finished all of the matching log outhouse walls, you could could sit there, on the throne, tissue in hand waving at the tourists and not one would even know. These were the turkeys. 

My brother is nine years younger than I am. He learned to talk during our adventures in the middle of the woods. So naturally, he learned what a turkey was based on our family’s use of the word. We lamented the sounds of the turkeys coming around the curve on their motorcycles. We complained when we had to pick up trash the turkeys left. Dad bitched like hell every time we passed one of the pretty meadows now turned bog by the turkeys.

Sometimes the turkeys would stop in the middle of our property and start to unload for the long weekend. Tents, coolers, kids, and dogs would try to move in, not realizing that they were camping 1500 feet from our house. Before they completely unpacked, Dad would get his 12-gauge shotgun, open it and put two red shells side by side into it. Then, leaving it open, he would walk up the hill and approach the folks very friendly, but seriously and ask if they knew that they were on private property. Occasionally he would have them look not far from where they were unpacking to find the stone marker that proved it.

There was also the time that turkeys stopped at a meadow the other direction from our house where we used to play softball. We knew when they started shooting guns at our No Shooting sign, not because of the gunshots, but because we heard the bullets whizzing into the trees above our house. Dad loaded the shotgun, then loaded the Doberman into the Jeep. He mumbled something about the mother of these turkeys before he sped up the driveway. Mom made us stay inside the house away from the windows where we heard more gunshots and then one final loud one. It turns out that dad had to fire his 12-gauge into the air to get their attention and stop them from shooting. They were understandably mortified to know why Dad was standing there with a shotgun and why he was more than a little upset at them shooting toward our house.

As more and more colorful leaves joined their brothers and sisters on the ground, fewer and fewer tourists came by. Snow fell and stayed longer. Labor Day marked the last day of the season, then Halloween came and went. By the end of October snow is a permanent part of the landscape until spring. As Thanksgiving approached mom and dad began to talk about what we were going to have for our Thanksgiving dinner.  Mom told my sister, my little brother and I that there would be pumpkin pie of course at the end, but we would have ham, green bean casserole, yams and mashed potatoes with stuffing from the turkey.

Little Charlie started crying hysterically, loudly and rather inconsolably. “Why are we going to eat turkey”, he said between sobs. “I didn’t think we would eat them!”

It took us a very long while to calm him down and to explain that we would not be eating people this Thanksgiving.

The Belvidere Theater

It was Friday night and the Gibbins family was going to the movies. Not to one of the fancy new two-plex theaters like they had in Denver though. We were going to the Belvidere and like many places in Central City, this building had historical significance.

We had to descend one of two wood staircases that were on either side of the theater down to the main floor where we would watch the movie. We picked one of the round tables and spread our family of five around it. This was the first time I had ever been to a movie theater like this.  One with actual servers instead of concessions where adults could order adult beverages. We got to order real food too, not just popcorn.

In front of us was a stage and on the stage was a screen. That too was different from other theaters. I guessed that maybe they put on plays sometimes. I enjoyed looking around the big open area as our food was served.

So, the movie begins.  Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox was apparently a western. It wasn’t long into the movie when I realized that I was sitting in the middle of the scene that was being shown on the big screen in front of me. That I was sitting at a table that was in the scene facing the stage where Goldie Hawn was… er… she was… well dancing and singing about her fruit.

I was new to Central City at the time, so I didn’t even notice the opening sequences were taken in the town I lived in too. A few years later when video rentals became a thing, I got a copy of the tape for myself and watched it many times.

This was my first time seeing the movie though and I was enthralled. I loved seeing the buildings that I walked past on my way to school. Dad said that they had to cover the paved road in dirt for the movie. I guess he already knew that it was partly filmed here, but was keeping it quiet until we noticed.

Years later I met and became friends with the son of the people who owned and operated the theater. He was one of the older kids so I didn’t really hang out with him much, but I did get to go into the projector room with him sometimes.

Got Milk?

I don’t recall how old Q.T. Pie and H.O.B. were when they came to us. The whole family enjoyed watching them with their antics of climbing woodpiles and head butting one another. They were larger than most of the little ones that prance around on YouTube, but they were just as playful. Imagine a bigger version – like a grown dog – bouncing around and jumping off the highest object they could find.

Only a few weeks later, Dad brought home another goat. Star was their mother and as soon as they saw her they ran toward her. It was so precious and cute with Q.T. Pie’s bell ringing and both of them jumping with joy. Until they ran past her, dropped to their knees on either side of her and drank every last bit of milk.

We were just as stunned as you… the whole family was witness to this bizarre animal reunion. Dad said something colorful and we just looked at one another for an explanation.

None was forthcoming, but the obvious finally set in. The kids were clearly not fully weaned from their mother. Dad told us later that the previous owner told him he had the same problem, but he thought it would have been enough time for them to stop.

Really? No, really? Yep, and that was our first lesson about about herding goats.

We had to keep Star separate from Q.T. Pie and her brother H.O.B. for that entire milk season. Once we did, Star gave our family about a quart of fresh milk in the morning and another quart in the evening.

Of course, when I say that Star gave us milk, I mean that I learned to milk a goat. Dad learned from the previous owner and showed us how. Once you got the hang of it, the milk flowed fairly easily.  Star was clearly used to it and not nearly as offended by the job as I would have thought – you know – all things considered.

I would like to say that later, when Q.T. Pie got pregnant and gave birth to her own set of twins, she didn’t find out that she had her own milk supply even closer at hand.

But, I would be lying. We actually did have that problem and there really wasn’t a solution to it. That first milking season for Q.T. Pie we didn’t get any milk.

It was a good thing that the herd grew quickly in other ways.

Mom also had a great sense of humor when naming our animals. I’m not sure if this is “This” or if this is a picture of “That”.

What Do I Care What a Goat Herd?

It started with two kids and before we knew it we had a herd.

The first winter in the basement was an eye opener in many ways for our family of five. We learned that the Jeep couldn’t make it home every time and that we had to plan on walking part of the way. We also learned that a family of five goes through about a gallon of milk per day. In a backpack, that is around 63 pounds of whole milk per week.

Have you tried powdered milk? Me too!

That spring, Dad unexpectedly brought home the answer to our problem. Two kids recently weaned from their mother and ready to live with our menagerie of people, dogs, cats, horses and rabbits.

To me it didn’t look like much of an answer. The young nanny didn’t appear to even have a milk supply and I wasn’t sure why we would have a billy at all. Dad assured us that once they mated, the nanny would have milk. He also brought home a couple of quart jars filled with their mother’s milk for our family to try.

Have you ever tried goat’s milk? I mean really, fresh goat’s milk that has been handled properly? I have, it’s delicious and super creamy. But, then it was gone and we would have to wait for more.

The little nanny’s coat was various shades of brown with white mixed in here and there. The billy was a little larger and black with occasional white patches. Neither of them had horns because they were both pure-bred Nubian, a fact I found strange at that age, but got used to over time.

The nanny was already named when we got her, Q.T. Pie. I thought it was a dumb name, but Jennifer liked it and the girl goat was “hers”. But, I got to spell her name. Can you tell?

The billy goat didn’t have a name. Which meant, of course, that I got to name him. What to name this boy goat though? I wasn’t going to make a rash decision. My sister and I already had disagreements with my decision to name my puppy Arwen (from my favorite book series The Lord of the Rings).

After a better understanding of just how we were going to get the milk started and after watching the billy chase Q.T. Pie around the yard, I asked my dad if I could name him H.O.B. Naturally, he wanted to know why I chose that name. When I told him he said, “Yes, but do not tell your sister why. Just call him Hob and let it go.” He and my mom had a good laugh at it though.