Travel

Bishop Castle

Suppose you have hyperactive kids that always need to burn lots of energy. Now suppose you’re traveling cross-country with them, on a road trip, and your little brats are bouncing off the sides and roof of your SUV. How do you keep your sanity?

Jim Bishop was 15 years old in 1959, when he bought 2.5 acres of forest land, west of Pueblo, Colorado, for $450. He paid for it with earnings from mowing lawns, a paper route, and working for his dad in his family’s ornamental iron works business. Little did he realize at the time that his property would one day be the site of an enormous castle.

Might I suggest a stop at Bishop Castle in Rye, Colorado? Bishop Castle is free, although a donation box at the entrance might trigger some guilt and open your wallet a little. It’s a very tall castle, with corkscrew stairs leading to dizzying heights. And it’s very easy for unsupervised children to accidentally plummet over the edge, to their demise, should they get a little too rambunctious.

The bridges connecting the towers at Bishop Castle are wobbly, and not for the faint of heart. But Jim has no fear of high places. The land he bought was at 9,000 feet in the Wet Mountains of Colorado. He and his dad, who lived 30 miles to the northeast, in Pueblo, used the acreage as a campsite for the next ten years. Then they began building a stone cabin from all the abundant rocks in the area.

If your kids survive the experience, they’ll be tuckered out from all the stair climbing, and you’ll be able to enjoy a few miles of restful sanity, as they snooze in the back. But should they not survive, it’s even better, for you’ll get extra miles of sanity as you complete your coast-to-coast trip.

View from the crow’s nest of the tallest tower. People who saw the stone cabin under construction remarked to Jim that it looked like a castle. By 1972, Jim felt inspired enough by these comments to start building an actual castle. Jim’s dad refused to help with such a monstrous project, so Jim proceeded by himself. And that’s how it’s been ever since. Every stone laid, every piece of ornamental ironwork, and every other bit of construction has been completed by Jim Bishop alone, making his castle a highly unique, one-man project, that has been hailed as the largest building in the world constructed by one person.

A few members of my family and I visited Bishop Castle about a month ago. There, we found the general spirit of the place exuded the attitude of good ol’ American independence and self-responsibility. You’re free to take all the chances you want, while climbing around on this somewhat rickety and precipitous playground.

The owner has posted an advisory sign at the entrance, explicitly warning that you are entering at your own risk, that you are responsible for your own safety, and that you must be willing to tolerate the language and expressive behavior of others.

Here’s exactly how the sign reads:

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK!
PRIVATE PROPERTY.
***YOU MUST READ THIS SIGN BEFORE ENTERING***
*WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SAFETY!
*WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PHYSICAL MENTAL OR EMOTIONAL WELL BEING!
*BISHOP CASTLE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
*PROCEED PAST THIS POINT WITH EXTREME CAUTION!
*YOU MUST KEEP CHILDREN AND PETS UNDER CONTROL AT ALL TIMES!
*WE RESERVE OUR RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION!
*YOU MIGHT EXPERIENCE FOUL LANGUAGE!
*YOU MIGHT EXPERIENCE STRONGLY EXPRESSIVE BEHAVIOR!
*WE RESERVE OUR RIGHT TO REFUSE ENTRY TO ANYONE AT ANY TIME!
*IF AT ANY TIME THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS PROPERTY FEELS THAT YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH OR HAVE NOT READ THIS SIGN YOU WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE!
*IF YOU ARE ASKED BY THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS PROPERTY TO LEAVE YOU MUST DO SO IMMEDIATELY!
IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH ANY OF THESE CONDITIONS DO NOT ENTER!
IF YOU DO NOT AGREE YOU ARE TRESPASSING!
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK!

We read the sign, gulped while mentally agreeing to its terms, and entered.

A tower staircase. As the castle grew, curious people from all over began to show up and admire this architectural wonder. Jim was advised he could charge money for tours. But he refused, and instead offered it free to the public, while putting out a donation box.

Upon entering, you are immediately confronted by the imposing castle. The tallest tower is 160 feet high, which you ascend through a narrow, circumvoluting staircase made of ornamental ironwork. Some of the ironwork seems to have loosened over time, so it’s important to watch your step. If you want to pass someone on this staircase, you’ll have to flatten yourself against the rocky, exterior wall, or cling to the center, suck in your gut, then tiptoe carefully while apologizing profusely for any and all unintended body contact.

One day in the mid-1980’s, a friend of Jim’s donated some scrap stainless steel. From that, Jim built a chimney for the castle’s fireplace. The chimney is shaped like a dragon, and is perched above the Grand Ballroom, 80 feet high. Jim later added a burner from a hot air balloon so that the dragon could appear as if it’s breathing fire.

I felt scared, thrilled, and refreshed to experience Bishop Castle. The heights got my adrenaline pumping, especially because some of the ornamental ironwork I depended upon to protect me from gravity had a wobbly feel to it. But it was refreshing that I was free to follow my own judgment and take my own risks, without a bunch of officious minders sternly watching me, and warning me away from doing anything foolish.

I like that about Jim Bishop, the king of this castle.

My brother and sister in the Grand Ballroom. Jim’s endeavors have not been without obstacles. The U.S. Forest Service once tried to charge him for all the rocks he removed from National Forest land, to build his castle. And about seven years ago, someone he trusted too much tried to convert his castle into a church, forcing him into a legal battle to maintain control of his property.

My brother, sister, and I spent about an hour at Bishop Castle, exploring its various rooms, floors, and parapets. We had a fun time, and I even bought a little souvenir for my wife, at their gift shop. It’s an ornamental lamp, and she loves it.

When we climbed back into the car, my muscles felt tired from all the stair climbing. I no longer possessed the excitement and vigor that animated me on the drive to the castle. I needed some rest. And so my brother enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing time as he drove my sister and me back home.

Today, Bishop Castle stands as a reminder that if you are inspired to fulfill a dream, and stick with it, you too can build something impressive in your life.

Categories: Travel

48 replies »

  1. what an impressive accomplishment. and he did all of this before there were any youtube videos to show him how. I like the dragon that breathes fire. I’d love to visit this place…

    did you use a car seat for your ride home? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Quite impressive that he built it all himself! I don’t know that I would be as daring as you all and climb to the top but it would be cool to visit. A fun highlight of your trip to share! Nice of your brother to let you sleep on the way back. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cool! I always wonder how much longer these kinds of things will be around before a benevolent mother-of-a-government steps in to protect us from ourselves.

    There’s a rock that sticks out like a diving board at Glacier Point. For a hundred years, people had their pictures taken while standing on it, 3’000-feet over the Yosemite Valley. I have no idea how many of them didn’t survive to die of old age instead. Nowadays, the concrete viewing platform adjacent to the formation has a steel “STAY OUT!” sign bolted into the granite just past the railing.

    That said, thanks for sharing that shot from the top of the tower.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve wondered what his liability insurance rates must be. Or if he even bothers with liability insurance.

      It’s too bad you can’t go out on that diving board anymore. I’d probably be stupid enough to pose there, for a picture. But maybe that had to close it down because it was a real dive.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That he isn’t charging some ungodly admission fee, requiring guests to undergo a one-hour training, wear safety harnesses and helmets, and be accompanied by a certified guide… I suspect liability “insurance” is provided by Charles Darwin and Assoc.

        Replace the “[DOT]”:
        luminousaether[DOT]wordpress.com/2015/06/10/liability/

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, my, what a castle. I’d like to see the dragon breathing fire/smoke. I agree with Lightness… I’m surprised some “we’re from the gubment and we’re here to help” types haven’t shown up.

    Have you tested Carolyn’s theory?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Whoa! really impressive and interesting castle. Would love to visit someday. Also if you ever plan to visit Ireland and want to explore castles there then you should definitely consider visiting Dunlough Castle there. It is considered to be one of Ireland’s most beautiful site and is situated perfectly to overlook the Atlantic ocean. Here’s the link to know more about it in detail https://castrumtocastle.com/republic-of-ireland-castles/county-cork-dunlough-dunlough-castle/

    Liked by 1 person

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