There’s something true about Colorado, and we say this affectionately, but the state is a little weird.
It’s filled with makeshift castles, fake archeological sites and a giant hotdog. Essentially, it’s filled with Coloradoddities.
These are things you really can’t afford to miss. So if you happen to be road tripping around Colorado, we recommend you stop by these few places. And if you aren’t planning on taking a road trip, well, maybe you should.
Editor’s note: This is a shortened and edited version of a talk delivered to the Christmas Rendezvous of the Denver Posse of Westerners, Dec. 18, 2013.
Creator Jim Bishop broke ground on Bishop Castle, a mystical looking citadel, roughly 60 years ago. (Daily Record file)
12705 CO-165, 27 miles from Westcliff
James Bishop, a Pueblo ironworker, began building this fanciful castle on Colorado 165 27 miles southeast of Westcliffe in 1969. A large iron dragon, capable of breathing smoke and fire, pokes its head over 70-foot-high castle walls. This medieval-inspired stone castle flaunts arched portals, flying buttresses, towers, onion domes, a moat and a drawbridge. Working without blueprints or architectural training, Bishop used scavenged stone to construct his castle, which he has adorned with wrought iron from his family’s ornamental iron shop in Pueblo.
Virgin de Guadalupe Shrine
10th Ave. Northwest corner of State St.
In 1988, a disabled veteran, Donald “Cano” Espinosa, began building his residence using recycled lumber, and rubble stone, hub caps and aluminum cans. The irregular, four-story structure is topped by an open wooden tower housing a homemade statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some of the poles bristling around and above the virgin form a surrealistic cross in a glittering fantasy reminiscent of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles.
The big hot dog
The Coney Island Diner on U.S. 285 two miles west of Bailey
Just outside of Bailey sits Colorado’s most delicious example of roadside architecture: a 14-ton hot dog measuring, from wiener tip to wiener tip, 42 feet, in a 34-foot bun. The hot dog is decorated with bright yellow mustard and green relish that blend well with autumn aspen and the evergreen trees on surrounding mountainsides.
Flying saucer house
855 Visionary Trl, Golden
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Charles Deaton Sculptured House, this clamshell shaped residence is named for its architect. Built in 1966 on Genesee Mountain overlooking Interstate 70, it is made of a double shell of concrete sprayed on a welded steel frame. In this elliptical, three-story, cement and glass house, the doors, windows, walls, closets and furniture are all curved, except for a few straight lines in the kitchen. This 3,000-square-foot house built for $100,000 last sold for a reported $10 million.
RELATED: 16 strange, spooky and (mostly) true Colorado stories to tell around a campfire
Fake cliff dwellings
10 Cliff Rd., along U.S. 24
Built in 1906 along U.S. 24, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings were the brainchild of Virginia McClurg, a grande dame of Colorado Springs. She spearheaded designation of Mesa Verde as a national park in 1906 but after a falling out with others involved in the park’s preservation, she used her considerable energies to construct this replica of Native American cliff dwellings in a natural sandstone cliff.
Colorado alligator farm
9162 W. Co Rd 9 N
Ewing and Lynne Young moved from Florida to this San Luis Valley hamlet in 1987 to start a fish farm, using a natural hot springs for raising tilapia and other warm-water fish. They brought along alligators to dispose of the fish remains. People began dropping in to see the gators, so the Youngs opened their large fenced lagoon to visitors as the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Along with more than 100 gators, the farm features other reptiles, a petting zoo, fish tanks and a chance to wrestle the gators.
Petrified wood gas station
501 N. Main St.
Built in 1932 at 501 N. Main St., this still-standing landmark was constructed with rock-like logs framing the front service bay, doorway, window and stepped parapet. W. G. Brown, a Lamar lumber dealer, conceived and executed the design to immortalize an otherwise standard concrete block station and earned a listing in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Great Stupa of Dharmakaya
Red Feather Lakes
151 Shambhala Way
In the midst of a mountain evergreen forest, the brightly colored, 108-foot high stupa houses the remains of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who founded the Shambhala Center in Boulder in 1971. Although Rinpoche became controversial because of his pursuit of worldly pleasures, his shrine was completed in 2001 with a giant gilded Buddha inside. It is the centerpiece of a retreat center.
A miniature metropolis
6249 S. Turkey Creek Rd.
Construction began in 1915 on Tiny Town and has continued over the years. Some of its 125 miniature buildings survived fires and floods, but not the moving of U.S. 285 in 1949. Bypassed, the town faded until 1989, when volunteers restored and reopened it. Hobbyists built and rebuilt more than one hundred of the miniature landmarks at varying scales, including replicas of the Stanley Gold Mill & Mine in Idaho Springs, the Arvada Flour Mill, and the Fort Restaurant in Morrison. A 15-inch-gauge train, capable of carrying small people, has also been restored for excursions through this Lilliputian village.
Noel is the author or co-author of many books, including “Colorado: A Historical Atlas,” published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
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