In Search of Graves and Robbers in Telluride

I have come to southwest Colorado to do a bit of research on my next book, “Notorious Telluride.” I’ve already got most of my stories worked out so I’m really looking for pictures and to get a feel for the place.

I have not been to Telluride since sometime in the late 1970s when I came here for the Bluegrass Festival. I remember working in the parking lot so we could get in free. It has changed just a wee bit. For several decades — probably from the 1930s up through the 1970s — Telluride was a run-down backwater that had been forgotten by the world. The ski area began a transformation that resulted in a charming Disney-esque town full of million dollar condo’s and boutiques. In the background of all this money and beautiful stuff is the rough mining history that first brought Telluride into being.

Telluride today (taken before my camera went on strike)

My little journey here did not get off to a good start. As I headed up I-70 into the hills, my check engine light began to flash and I soon began to lose power. I turned around and went back home, unloaded the dogs and the car and headed straight to my mechanic. I had just had the thing tuned up. The mechanic cheerfully tells me it’s nothing and puts the spark plug cap back on, magnanimously taking the blame for it.

I re-packed the car and started again, having spent three hours of pointless stress and driving — all because I don’t know anything about spark plugs. It was a very long day with two greyhounds panting and overheated in the back of the Subaru. I was hot and cranky.

Finally we arrived in Norwood after a harrowing last twenty minutes of the trip when we had to traverse a monster called Norwood Hill. There have apparently been recent rockslides so a company is up there doing whatever you do about rock slides. (Put up netting?) Therefore, you have to sit and wait for twenty minutes before you can go because there’s only one lane. Of course, it’s the OUTSIDE lane, with two feet of weeds between you and oblivion w a a a a y down there.

Norwood is a pleasant little town, not unlike old Town Erie, except that it’s far away from most everything else. (But who can afford to stay in Telluride? Besides, I’ve got history adventures to engage in over in this neck of the woods.) It’s mostly flat around here — up on a plateau — and very green, with wild thunderstorms in the afternoon and a single mountain nearby called Lone Cone Peak, for reasons that are clear when you look at the thing out there by itself.

I rented a dog friendly room which is quite pleasant. My dog Tinker has never been anywhere but the kennel and my house and two other homes. He’s so wigged out about the whole thing he was whining during the night. In the morning, I discovered why — the scourge of dogs with delicate stomachs. Diarrhea. Ugh. Okay, so I cleaned it up thoroughly so the delightful innkeepers don’t start hating greyhounds and throw us out. (They have little weiner dogs that bark a lot.)

So, what else can go wrong? I get into Telluride this morning. It’s already hot. I was expecting nice cool high country weather. But no….it’s bloody hot. So I’m tromping around town, hoping Tinker doesn’t have diarrhea on the pretty Telluride sidewalks, thinking this is too damn hot to be out in this all day. I start snapping some pictures. I got a nice shot of Bridal Veil Falls and the extremely gorgeous Ajax Peak that lie beyond the village…then my #!@% camera jams.

Okay. When the going gets tough, the tough go hiking. At that moment, I’m thinking this trip was a waste of time. It’s not going to help my book. I have plenty of images for my book anyway so who gives a damn? Let’s enjoy ourselves. We head up a trail called Camel Garden, which was nice and shaded and there was plenty of water for the dogs. Overhead, the gondola rides are hauling people up to the top of the mountain. Meanwhile, I’m concocting a new plan of action.

When we finish the hike, I leave the dogs briefly in the boiling car while I run into a grocery store and buy Imodium, paper towels, plus two disposable cameras. Heh. I just hope the pictures are good enough to put in my book! (I’m not too worried — I’m stopping in Montrose on my way home to get some pictures from my brother, Pete, who’s an excellent photographer. He’ll have some good stuff of the area.)

We drive up to the Tomboy mill, which is being operated by Idarado. It all looked very serious with some men standing around having serious discussions and a lot of No Trespassing signs hanging everywhere. It looked pretty dubious too. It’s hard to believe that ancient mill can do anything. Maybe it looks better on the inside.

Anyway, I got some good closer shots of Bridal Veil Falls and the house on top that was built by Bulkeley Wells — the manager of the Smuggler Union among other things. Building that giant house up there was an act of supreme ego. It reminds me of a dog standing up on the highest thingie around to let everyone know he’s the leader of the pack. Perfectly suitable for a man named “Bulkeley.”

Returning to town, we stopped at Telluride’s pioneer cemetery, the Lone Tree cemetery. It’s a delightful place — a grassy hillside with a pleasant breeze. The greyhounds went galloping off among the tombstones. I was thrilled to find the graves of two people from my book — James O’Kelly, a Telluride saloon-keeper who mysteriously disappeared in 1909 and was finally found in 1911 up on Dallas Divide; and Lo Umstead, who was shot at the Tremont Saloon in 1904. I also got a shot of the miner’s memorial.

On the way back to Norwood, I stopped by in Placerville, a tiny village on Hwy 145. There I got shots of the old Placerville Post Office that was robbed several times during the stagecoach days. It is now occupied by a liquor store.

Norwood is currently under siege by a violent thunderstorm. I am very glad I am not up on Norwood Hill right now, where more rocks are undoubtedly tumbling down the mountainside and onto that treacherous road. One question I need to have resolved. I have a great story about the robbery of the Norwood Stage, which ran between Placerville and Norwood. I am guessing that the monster called “Norwood Hill” was probably the stagecoach route as well. But that’s something I’ll have to find out. That thing is bad enough on a paved road in a 4-wheel drive Subaru Forester. I can’t imagine going over it in a stagecoach.

PS: I get the camera back to the hotel and this time it works. Second time this has happened to me. Nikon Coolpix….Grrrr.

Tomorrow: Disappointment Valley, the coolest name for a valley I’ve ever heard.

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