Saturday, July 11, 2015


The first time I visited Crested Butte, I knew nothing about the area.  We spent all our time in the small tourist town with shopping the boutiques and jewelry stores.  I knew there was something special about the place (and I don't just mean the mountain that juts up to a sharp crest just outside of town), but there wasn't time to explore and I had not yet embarked on my ruthless research of Colorado at that point.  I wasn't convinced I was ever going to visit the place again, so I hadn't invested the time before that first visit.

But by the time we made the journey again, I was ready.  I had purchased a pile of books on Colorado scenic routes and backroad points of interest and I knew there was more to Crested Butte than the little historic district and the ski resort of Mount Crested Butte that is just up the road a few miles.   The scenic qualities of the settled areas were just the tip of the iceberg to what was a little further up the road into the less civilized areas.

In addition to the books I acquired, I also stumbled across some movies that further whetted my appetite for the area.  In the mid to late 1970s a series of three movies was produced in the style of (but not affiliated with) the Disney family movie genre.  The last two of the series involved some very familiar scenery and since I read credits religiously, I quickly discovered they were filmed at Irwin Lodge in Crested Butte.  That opened up a new line of research that led me to finding out about Lake Irwin and nothing would do but that we try to locate the lake and the Lodge on our next trip.

David happened to be with us on that trip and it was a good thing since the road out to the Lodge at the time was not the best and I might have chickened out, but he's always ready to push a little farther than I am and we did make it all the way there.  I remember the last stretch of road between the lake and the lodge had just been graded the day before, so the timing was perfect for our visit.  The Lodge was still in full operation at that time although pretty much empty since it was the very start of the summer season.  We were able to tour the rooms, including the nice luxurious suite maintained for VIPs.  They served a nice lunch to us and we enjoyed it in the atmosphere of gigantic log beams and large fireplaces placed strategically in the lower floor common area.  The view from the decks toward the lake was spectacular and just down the slope a small distance sat the cabin used in the movies.  Our visit to the Lodge was one of the highlights of that vacation and I would dream for several years about the possibility of spending Christmas at the Lodge when the only way to get there was by snowcat from Crested Butte, 12 miles away.

Alas, that was a dream that never came to be.  I kept in touch with the Lodge for several years and would get periodic promotional material in the mail, but it was a bit out of my budget to try and pursue that dream.  A few years later the Lodge went out of business.  It sold and the new owners gutted the interior and had plans to refurbish and reopen, but that fell through and the building sat perched on the ridge above Lake Irwin, empty, for years.  Rumors spring up every so often that someone else has taken on the project of bringing it back to life (as recently as this past December), but last week when we made our most recent visit it is still sitting behind the "private property" signs and inaccessible.

Still, we made the drive out to Lake Irwin, parts of which are surprising now paved.  We even initially missed our turn to the lake because the road improvements threw us off.  But we soon realized our mistake and back-tracked to the rough gravel road that leads to Lake Irwin.  It was as beautiful as I remembered.
Lake Irwin
(You can make out the Lodge's green roof in the upper mid left.)

Looking up to the left from the previous view.

A lovely small waterfall is just a short hike from the lake.
Nothing would do but that we drive on up towards the Lodge to see how close we could get before we started running into the "Private Property" signs.  Unfortunately that was a couple of bends in the road before the Lodge or the movie cabin would have come into view.  But I had David stop a short way down the road and I hiked over the hill to try and see if the cabin was still there.  I was glad to see it still nestled in its little valley below the Lodge and got a few photos, then turned around to see what I remembered as a gorgeous view and my memory had served me well.
Irwin Lodge at upper right, the movie cabin at lower left.

The gorgeous view opposite the Lodge.
I was so engrossed in my mission to capture new photos that I mis-stepped on my way back toward the car and took a small tumble onto the grassy meadow.  I am still working on getting the resultant grass stains out of the white jeans I wore that day.  I'm glad I made that little hike, even so.  I remember our first visit to the Lodge so fondly and I remember how the Wilderness Family movies were my go-to solution for cheering up on gloomy days many years ago.

If you are interested in information about the movies, I'll give the IMDB links to each of them below.  I warn you they are syrupy-sweet, very elementary writing and some incredibly wooden acting here and there.  But they have some gorgeous scenery to take your minds off all that.  

Next post - Crested Butte and Gothic.

The Adventures of the Wilderness Family - the first in the series and filmed mostly in Utah

The Further Adventures of the Wilderness Family - the second movie, filmed at Lake Irwin and set mostly in the winter, with lots and lots of snow

Mountain Family Robinson - the third movie, also filmed at Lake Irwin, and full of summer flowers.

Across the Great Divide - not a part of the series, but produced, directed by the same people and with two of the same actors involved, filmed in Utah and Alberta, Canada.  Set in about the 1880s.


No comments: