Driving across Colorado and the West, I see historic buildings or structures that compel me to get out of my truck and take a walk. For years, I’ve driven between Silverton and Ouray and noticed the large stone garage just east of Crystal Lake in Ironton Park. I’ve always wondered what it was, but in my most vivid imagination I could never have created the story I’m about to tell.
No fiction. Just fact. Including: a ski area, a religion, loudspeakers sounding heavenly music, a couple’s spiritual beliefs tested all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a tragic fire, a yellow Cadillac, and the colors of the rainbow.
The story begins simply enough. A couple of friends decided to build a ski area.
Ouray businessman Joseph Condotti and Ralph Kullerstrand, president of Citizen’s State Bank, acquired patented mining claims on the north end of Ironton Park, and using lumber and bricks recycled from the Saratoga Smelter, built a two-story lodge with a full basement and attic. Ouray historian Don Paulson writes, “They built a ski lift with seven towers, the remnants of which can still be found, and cleared a run of approximately 1,800 feet.”
Across U.S. Highway 550, the partners created today’s Crystal Lake and stocked it with trout, which Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr ate while he attended the lodge’s opening ceremonies in 1940. But the lodge never succeeded. The business partnership failed.
Paulson writes, “Some believe that avalanche hazard was the cause of the disagreement. The Guadalupe slide runs just north of the lodge building and would have threatened the ski run.”
As the ski area sat vacant, a burgeoning religious movement, borne out of the desperation of the Great Depression, lost one of its founders. The religion’s practitioners sought solace in the San Juan Mountains. They bought the lodge and ski area.
In many cultures around the world, mountains are seen as sacred places. Ouray bills itself as “the Switzerland of America,” so maybe that’s why in the 1940s the Saint Germain Foundation bought the unused ski lodge for a religious retreat. A decade earlier in 1930, Guy W. Ballard, hiking on Mount Shasta in northern California, had encountered the Ascended Master Saint Germain. That experience was the origin of the “I AM” religious teachings.
According to the Saint Germain Foundation, Jesus Christ was an Ascended Master, and Joan of Arc and Benjamin Franklin were earlier embodiments of Mrs. Guy Ballard. In the 1930s, Saint Germain inspired Guy Ballard to write books titled Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence. The books communicate theosophy, and volume No. 3 is The ‘I AM’ Discourses, which are sacred scriptures and part of the Ascended Master Teachings religion. In 1939, Guy Ballard became an Ascended Master.
The “I AM” movement grew spectacularly during the dark days of the Depression. In 1942, the federal government indicted his wife, Edna Ballard, their son Donald Ballard and other affiliates on 12 counts including mail fraud. They were convicted of organizing a moneymaking scheme, and the same year the foundation bought the lodge and members moved to Ouray seeking privacy. The Ballard family appealed the convictions, and two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one of the most important decisions about religious freedom in the 20th century.
The Ballards won. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction in United States v. Ballard 322 U.S. 78 (1944). In a victory for the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the high court ruled that the tenets of one’s religious faith could not be legally challenged.
Now comes her yellow Cadillac, Mrs. Edna Ballard, and members of the “I AM” religion. They preferred the colors of the rainbow, including purple and yellow, and her inner staff wore formal clothes. One story is that a local Ouray teacher involved in the “I AM” religious group would not tolerate red and black crayons in her schoolroom. The lodge held a sanctuary on the main floor for regular services. Sounds of violins, carillon bells – at the time the highest in the world – and harp music wafted down the canyon. Nearby were plans for a music healing temple.
Lifelong member Bud Thayer knew Mrs. Ballard and he told me, “She was guided by Saint Germain in what she did in purchasing the property. We were very near a concentration of spiritual energy in that whole area for a number of miles around. We regard that property as very sacred.”
Followers of the religious group produced radio broadcasts “that went all over the world” through wire connections from the property. Normally five to 10 people lived on site, but when Mrs. Ballard arrived there could be as many as 25 assistants.
“She came three to four times a year. She absolutely loved it. She was at her happiest at the lodge in Ouray,” Thayer says.
On the site, a root cellar still has traces of purple and yellow paint. A careful hiker can find little patios under pine trees, short hand-stacked stone walls, and other rock masonry architectural features.
To this day the Chicago-based Saint Germain Foundation exists worldwide with over 300 “I AM” sanctuaries and centers, including one in Santa Fe. But not in Ouray.
After buying the ski area in 1942, the religious group purchased mining claims until they owned an 800-acre site.
According to Paulson, “In 1947 they announced plans to open a large summer camp able to house over 500 people but that never materialized. Unfortunately, in January of 1952, the lodge caretaker accidentally set the building on fire using a blowtorch” while melting snow and icicles on the roof. Because of prevailing canyon winds the old mining timbers burned instantly. Terraces show where summer cabins would have been built.
Today, only the concrete foundation of the lodge remains and I like to hike around it. I think about the ski area and summer camp that could have been but never was. The stone garage built in the fall of 1952 is locked. Plans included rebuilding the lodge one or two stories atop the garage, but instead it became a truck and storage area.
The foundation held on to the property for a few more decades and members of the organization camped on site. On Feb. 10, 1971, . Edna Ballard died in Chicago and took her ascension as the Ascended Lady Master Lotus.
Assisted by federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Red Mountain Project and the Trust for Public Land purchased the 800 acres and transferred it back to the U.S. Forest Service. What was private is now public land.
Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, has written a cultural resource inventory of the site. A stout metal and wood picnic table remains, and I love the stone walls and terraces that look like elves built them.
I agree with the Saint Germain Foundation. Mountains are sacred places. The foundation established more permanent quarters at Mount Shasta, and their former Colorado religious retreat is once again public domain. For me, the silvery San Juans meet my spiritual needs, and though I like rainbow colors, I prefer blue – sky blue – the color you see at 12,000 feet.
Andrew Gulliford is a professor of history and environmental studies at Fort Lewis College.
I helped Craig review/edit this work before he submitted to his publisher. The NYT review below seems a little cranky and the other reviews were solid. I surely enjoyed Craig’s writing & working with him. rŌbear
Seeing America as Our Ice Age Ancestors Did Image ~ NYT
ATLAS OF A LOST WORLD
Travels in Ice Age America
By Craig Childs
269 pp. Pantheon. $28.95.
Traveling in ice age America, now almost a vanished landscape, strikes me as a strange topic. After all, the first Americans of 15,000 years ago belong in the realm of archaeology, not travel. Undeterred, the adventure travel writer Craig Childs journeys to experience ice age America, beginning his exploration on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait, the highest point of what was once the Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska. He sees wolves and gazes out over the water, imagining a plain teeming with big game. Next we join him on a canoe trip down the Yukon River, a formidable journey, and venture to the Harding Icefield to experience what it would have been like to trek over the great North American ice sheets during the late ice age — if anyone ever did. Childs does indeed get ice and snow blowing in his face, but there’s little about first settlement in these passages, except for a brief discussion of the Bluefish Caves in the Yukon, where some humans camped briefly some 23,000 years ago. Almost certainly they were summer visitors, perhaps from the warmer refuge area of the Land Bridge.
Fresh from his glacier experiences, Childs turns to the once-exposed plains of the Pacific coastal route. He and his family kayak at first, then take a coastal ferry south, hardly an effective way of puzzling out a series of ancient population movements. He talks of computer models that estimate it took 2,267 years to paddle from Seattle to Monte Verde in Chile, the earliest known archaeological site in the far south. The prose here oozes drama. Childs writes of people who couldn’t stop paddling, of small numbers of adventurers who ended up at Monte Verde because it was like their homeland.
Inevitably, the journey moves on to large ice age beasts, starting with the highly controversial 130,000-year-old Cerutti mastodon site near San Diego. Clearly Childs favors first human settlement tens of thousands of years earlier than the conventional estimate of around 15,000 years ago, sweeping aside scientific concerns over Cerutti as seemingly irrelevant. He prefers a “march of bone smashers from the north,” who arrived in a predator-rich land teeming with saber-toothed tigers and other creatures. This is, to put it mildly, an imaginative scenario. He visits Paisley Cave in Oregon, with its fossilized human feces from 14,000 years ago. Next we jump to “a Dangerous Eden,” in Florida, with its sink holes and swamps, occupied at least 14,500 years ago. We learn that an ice age hunt would have involved “musky gore,” with “projectiles sailing.”
Childs’s account of his journey is fueled by his misleading vision of a hazardous ice age America teeming with large, ferocious predators. But his own travels are routine, and on the whole experiences any fit traveler can replicate. His writing style is overly dramatic, smacking of today’s restless television programming, and remarkable only for rare moments of vivid description. “Atlas of a Lost World” is neither a successful travel book nor, with its promiscuous use of good and bad science, does it represent scientific reality.
Scenarios of glacial and postglacial environments in the Americas.
Toward the end of the last glaciation, when there was still a land bridge between what was to become Siberia and Alaska, humanoids started to migrate from northeast Asia across the bridge and into the Americas—right? Not so fast. As Childs (Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth, 2012, etc.) points out in this useful and transporting tour d’horizon of the prehistoric Americas, that theory has lost its authority despite its continued usage. In chapters that hopscotch around in time—45,000 years ago, 13,000, 20,000, etc.—and geography (the Bering Sea to Florida), the author brings readers to prehistoric sites, pointing out where artifacts have been found. He presents each site like a diorama, describing what it would have looked like eons ago, what animals would have roamed the land, and what flora would have been available to eat or to fashion as clothing or a boat. “First people,” he writes, “wildly outnumbered by animals, would have found themselves tossed and trampled by tusks and hooves or torn to pieces by the scissoring teeth of scimitar cats.” Throughout the text, Childs projects a high degree of infectious fascination, pulling readers into his prehistoric scenes. Readers will be impressed by his hardiness as he attempts to experience what an ancient traveler may have experienced. Some of the boats and other conveyances are still used today by far northerners, including the “umiaq, the traditional skin boat…made out of walrus skins stitched together around a wooden frame, eyelets cut through the inch-thick hide and secured with rope.” The author backs up his theses with the latest in archaeological research, and he is clearly thrilled when he hits on some new nugget of information.
A tight weave of professional findings, anecdotes, site visits, and explanations behind ancient artifacts make this book both engaging and indispensable for those with an interest in prehistory.
About halfway between Georgetown and Killeen, near the banks of Buttermilk Creek, lies a place where people once lived, worked and did their best to dodge sabertooth cats. If you’d been there more than 13,000 years ago, near the end of the last Ice Age, you might have been knapping stone tools from the chunks of gray chert that litter the ground, or butchering a mammoth for dinner. Either way, you would have had a lot of company.
This place, known today as the Gault site, was a popular gathering spot for some of the first Americans. Archaeologists have unearthed traces of those lives — stone flakes, bits of charcoal, the remains of campsites — stretching back as much as 15,500 years ago. It is one of the most significant places from Ice Age North America.
Which naturally makes it appealing for Craig Childs, a writer and explorer who has followed the steps of some of these earliest Americans. In Atlas of a Lost World he aims for nothing less than a history of this continent, captured in an epochal shift as humans migrated into it.
It’s remarkable that Homo sapiens didn’t make it into the Americas until relatively late in human history. From our ancestral birth in Africa some 200,000 years ago, our species spread across Europe, Asia and Australia. Only the Americas remained without humans, isolated by oceans and thick northern ice sheets. When temperatures finally began to moderate, the ice sheets retreated and exposed the way forward: across a land bridge that spanned what is now the Bering Strait, between Siberia and Alaska.
Childs (Apocalyptic Planet, 2012) takes readers on a scintillating dual journey through the geography of modern and Ice Age America in this survey of some of the lands reached by the first voyagers across the Bering Sea Ice Bridge. With fully half the book set in Alaska, Childs provides a fascinating mash-up of scientific history and present-day travelogue as he journeys across the state’s various regions, surveying the land; visiting with scientists and Native scholars; and seeking out the place where anthropology, archaeology, and cultural history meet. While exploring the American West and ultimately embarking on a trip in a north Florida swamp, Childs maintains a self-deprecating humor and a boundless enthusiasm for his subject that makes this narrative an unexpected page-turner. His curiosity is infectious, and the lessons he learns about how Ice Age people lived, what we can learn from them, and who they became resonate with serious staying power. “These first people,” Tlingit writer Ernestine Hayes tells him, “were not becoming Americans, but becoming Tlingit, becoming Navajo, becoming Lakota.” Childs has found history deeper than politics, and in rich, evocative prose, he makes it startlingly relevant to readers. A science title with broad and enduring appeal.— Colleen Mondor
bottom feed along bank
emulating patagonia pros
rŌbert (1948- )
Matt Wells has many nicknames, chief among them Uncle Fuzz, but it isn’t until his old buddy Jerry Roberts calls him abuelo that reality sinks in. We are standing in Roberts’ yard on Easter Sunday 2017, in the small southern Colorado town of Ridgway, inventorying our gear before attempting a ski traverse of the San Juan Range. For some reason, up until now I have viewed this trip like any other. Only when Roberts used the Spanish word for grandpa did I remember: I am about to try and cross one of America’s king ranges with a 70-year-old (Wells)—while following his 68-year-old friend Denny Hogan’s lead.
Hogan, who organized the trip, drove south from his home in Buena Vista and met me on Wolf Creek Pass the prior day. We stashed a truck there and continued on to Ridgway, where in recent years an impressive array of mountain men have retired to an alpine-desert version of their former selves. Roberts, who used to oversee avalanche mitigation along the notorious Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, acts as a sort of ringleader, and whenever a member of the old guard shows up, à la Hogan and Wells, the rest of them emerge like werewolves.
Almost on cue, Peter Lev appears at 10 a.m. A retired guide and former co-owner of Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Lev partnered with Hogan on an attempted first ascent of the west face of Mount Huntington in Alaska 38 years ago. Earlier this winter, he relocated from the Black Hills to Ouray, just down the road from Ridgway, at the base of Red Mountain Pass. Lev almost summited 13,321-foot Trico Peak yesterday, he tells us, and enjoyed a marvelous solo ski descent. He is 77.
Roberts knows that Cron and I are here to learn from Hogan and Wells, and he assures us we will. “These guys are mentors without being mentors,” he says. “You see how things are done just by watching them.”
Hogan became interested in a San Juans traverse after reading that George Lowe and two friends skied it in 1992. Hogan has since tried it nine times, succeeding four. The 65-mile route basically follows the Continental Divide from west to east, and you spend much of your time above treeline—for better or worse. Hogan had long tried to convince Wells to join him, but it didn’t come together until this year. Wells recruited Cron, his former mentee on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol, and Cron invited me for an even number.
Aiming to complete the traverse in six days—an ambitious timeline even with good conditions—we divvy up supplies in the driveway. Lev, who has climbed the Grand Teton more than 400 times, shakes his index finger at Hogan. “You clearly still like to carry a heavy pack. What the heck is wrong with you?” Hogan laughs and blushes, but weight will indeed prove to be a factor during our trip.
Neither Lev, whose ski pack now consists of a hip pouch with a small bottle of schnapps, nor Roberts can physically handle such a traverse anymore. With each lament that another of their brethren has succumbed to a heart attack or brain tumor, it becomes clear how rare our two partners are. Cron and I are here to see how they still do it, so that one day we can be the holdouts.
The U.S. Forest Service has decided not to appeal a federal judge’s ruling to nix the controversial Village at Wolf Creek – a significant win for opponents of the proposed development and a possible major blow to developers.
In May 2017, a federal judge ruled the Forest Service skirted its responsibilities when it approved a land swap that would give access to the proposed massive development near the Wolf Creek Ski Area.
A series of court filings and attempts to reverse the decision over the ensuing months ultimately failed. In November, the Forest Service filed a notice that it intended to challenge the judge’s decision in a higher appeals court.
The Forest Service had a final deadline to file the official appeal on Wednesday. And according to court records, the Forest Service has not filed any sort of appeal.
Requests from The Durango Herald for comment from the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Justice were not returned.
Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy & Conservation Law, which represents several environmental groups opposing the project, said the Forest Service’s inaction should effectively put an end to a multi-year battle.
A nice veneer of ice on the pond.