Category: 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.

The Hana Highway to Hell

Most people, including my wife and me, haven’t traveled much over the past year, due to Covid restrictions. Hawaii has had some of the strictest restrictions. They’ve even had to sell many of their rental cars, due to having no place to park them. So now that they’re opening up, rental cars can cost tourists in Honolulu a thousand dollars a day. How lacking in foresight. I want to thumb my nose at those paranoid kanakas. So I’ve unearthed an old post from a previous blog, about a bad experience my wife and I had in Hawaii. This was originally posted in 2015, on my now defunct blog called, Golden Daze:

The Hana Highway to Hell

My wife was tired. Maui was our fourth island. She just wanted to take a short, scenic route, then return to the hotel room and rest.

“How about a drive to the top of Haleakala,” I suggested, “then a quick jaunt around the mountain? Shouldn’t take more than an hour-and-a-half to do Haleakala, and then two hours around the mountain. Three if we stop a lot to take pictures. Which we probably will, since they say the Hana highway is one of the most beautiful highways in the world.”

“Okay, but no more than that. I get tired sitting in the car all day.”

I felt a little disappointed. National Car Rental had given me a deal on a Cadillac, for just $50 a day. I wanted to fill the whole day with driving, looking and feeling like a rich old duffer.

Haleakala took three hours, which was twice as long as I had estimated. But the view from the top of the volcano, at 10,023 feet, was breathtaking. My wife loved it, and the drive seemed to revivify her. “Are you up to the drive around the mountain, now?”

Western Maui, from the very top of Haleakala.

“If it’s only two or three hours, sure,” she said, with a perk in her voice.

Vrrroom. Off we zoomed, down the Hana Highway to Hell. In a black Cadillac. We decided to take the road less traveled first, which is the road around the leeward, or dry side, moving counterclockwise around Haleakala from the south. Most people drive the north side first, through tropical jungles and waterfalls, passing through the picturesque town of Hana at the east end of Maui. But I guess Robert Frost had inspired me to go counterclockwise. Damn you, Robert Frost!

One of our first stops in our peregrination was at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. I saw a teeshirt for sale that had a drawing of the highway that circumambulates Haleakala, with the message, “I Survived the Hana Road.” That was my first warning sign, indicating that I should turn back now. But I scoffed. After all, the road was well-surfaced (a little narrow, but not too bad) and there was very little traffic.

Very little traffic. That was my second warning sign. But I failed to recognize it.

On we continued, stopping occasionally to photograph eye-popping scenery. I noticed that the highway was getting narrower. And there was no longer a line painted down the middle. But the smooth road surface allowed that Caddy to roar away. And besides, there was hardly any traffic.

We stopped to photograph a deep gully with a bridge, near a wild, rocky ocean beach. Then we proceeded down the gully, to discover it was a one-lane bridge. This was my third warning sign. One-lane bridges in Hawaii require you to stop before reaching the bridge to allow any traffic to cross, coming from the other direction. But like I say, traffic was light, so we zipped right across this little bridge without pause.

Our first one-way bridge, on the Hana Highway to Hell.

Everything changed on the other side. Suddenly the road became very narrow and twisty. I couldn’t get up to more than 25 mph. And then an awful thing happened. The road surface turned into something that resembled a toad’s back. This was my fourth sign.

It was paved, I’ll grant it that, but the asphalt consisted of what appeared to be thousands of filled potholes. This made it bumpier than most dirt roads. The fastest I could manage was about 7 mph. “This can’t last very long,” I looked over and reassured my worried wife. But it did. It continued for the next hour or so. And I slowly came to realize that this tour would last much longer than three hours. The theme from Gilligan’s Island began to play in my head.

The road reduced to one lane and became very twisty, as it threaded its way around the steep, rugged flanks of Haleakala. Signs warned drivers to honk their horns before proceeding around some of the blind curves. Other signs warned about falling rocks. I looked up at the cliffs straight above us and gulped as I realized a ten-ton rock could crash through our roof at any moment. Why do they have those warning signs anyway? How the hell do you avoid a falling rock?

The historic and picturesque Huialoha Church, built in 1859.

Traffic was light, and now I knew why. But occasionally some wide-eyed, white-knuckled tourist would approach from the opposite direction. One of us would pull over as far as we dared, to allow the other to pass. And in my full-size Cadillac, this wasn’t easy. I rued the day that I jumped for this rental car deal.

Some of the rugged coastline, along the Hana Highway to Hell.

We humpety-humped our way to the Seven Pools of Ohe’o. This is part of Haleakala National Park, and it was packed with tourists. Tourists who had obviously come from the other direction. This was a good sign for me. It augured smooth, wide roads ahead, with high-numbered speed limits. “We’ll be back to the hotel in no time,” I reassured my tired, sighing wife.

One of the Seven Pools of Ohe’o.

But I was wrong. The only thing that improved was the road surface. The road remained very narrow, forcing me to slow my wide-bodied Cadillac way down whenever traffic approached from the opposite direction. And now there was lots of traffic. What idiots, I thought. Why would they drive a deadly road like this just for scenery? Then I realized that I was one of those idiots.

Onward we crawled down the Hana highway. The road widened a bit, but this did not allow faster speeds. It became extremely twisty, and the speed limit reduced to 15 mph. And at every turn there seemed to be a one-lane bridge straddling a deep gorge filled with freshets from the rainforest slopes and waterfalls above. We must have encountered over a hundred one-way bridges. Or at least, it seemed that way. And there was lots of traffic coming from the other direction, across those bridges, requiring frequent stopping and waiting for the cars to cross.

Wailua Falls. A very popular and crowded stop along the Hana Highway to Hell.

But the scenery was astounding. That’s all I’ll concede to this tortuous highway.

Ten hours from the time we began our journey, we finally emerged from the Hana Highway to Hell, and reached our hotel in Kahului. We had survived the Hana road (but we failed to buy the damned teeshirt when we had the chance). My wife was exhausted. “I’ll never go on a drive with you again!” she muttered, before passing out on the bed.

I hung my head low.

The next morning we realized we had about six hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport. “Let’s go for a drive!” my wife said, excitedly.

I felt relieved. She truly was a gamer.

A Polynesian Pronunciation Problem

A middle-aged couple dipped into their savings and splurged on a vacation to Hawaii. They felt very excited to visit these islands of the Pacific, in our country’s most exotic state.

But on their first day in Honolulu they got into a debate over how to properly pronounce the name of the state. She believed it should be pronounced Ha-wye-ee, while he contended that it should be pronounced Ha-vye-ee.

Diamond Head, from Waikiki Beach.

They were strolling on Waikiki beach when they spotted a man who looked like he might be a native. It occurred to the husband that this was the perfect opportunity to end their debate. So he stopped the man with, “Excuse me sir, do you live in this state?”

He said, “Yes, I sure do.”

The husband said, “How nice for you that you live in such a beautiful paradise! Now sir, would you be willing to help my wife and me with the way to properly pronounce the name of your state? We want to know, is it Ha-wye-ee or Ha-vye-ee?”

He gave them a big aloha smile, betraying that helpful generous attitude possessed by most natives of the Pacific isles. He answered, “Oh that is easy. It is pronounced Ha-vye-ee.”

The husband felt a little smug as he glanced over at his frowning wife. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “that really clears things up for us.”

The man smiled again and replied with a roll of the tongue, “You’re velcome!”

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