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Panoramic view of Pike

7 must-see Colorado literary landmarks

Our English faculty round up statewide hidden gems to route your writerly summer road trip.

July 7, 2017

By Cory Phare

Living in Colorado, chances are you know some of our state’s literary history – the shrine to Hunter S. Thompson in Aspen/Snowmass, the grave of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick in Fort Morgan or the landmarks of the “Beats” in Lodo and Capitol Hill.

And while we fully recommend a trip to Boulder to see the Allen Ginsburg Library (or even just a drink at Denver’s Charlie Brown’s), the MSU Denver English Department offers up a few lesser-known literary destinations.

Exterior shot of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Photo credit: Miguel Vieira, https://www.flickr.com/photos/miguelvieira/2734635772  [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)]

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, for “The Shining” Stephen King, 1977/Stanley Kubrick, 1980

Stephen King was living in Boulder and coming off the success of his first two novels (“Carrie” and “Salem’s Lot”) when his family took a trip to the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. It was the end of the season, and King and his wife were the only guests at the hotel. While staying in Room 217, King had a vivid nightmare about a firehose chasing his son down the long, gloomy hallway of the hotel. Waking, he lit a cigarette, looked out the window at the Rockies, and “The Shining” was begun.

Today, you can visit the 1909 hotel’s grounds and building for ghost and history tours – you can even stay in room 217, and see that infamous fire hose. Kubrick’s 1980 film departed notably from the novel, changing topiaries to a hedge maze, and expanding the isolated hotel and original story in Kubrick’s unique style.

Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, M.F.A. professor of English and interim department chair

Pike’s Peak, Colorado Springs, for "America the Beautiful" Katharine Lee Bates, July 22, 1893

Bates composed the rough draft of her poem after traveling by "prairie wagon" and then mule to the top of Colorado's famous 14er. She found the journey very fatiguing, but "when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."

The poem was published July 4, 1895, in The Congregationalist and most often sung to the tune of "Materna" by Samuel Ward. Today's visitors to Pike’s Peak take the cog railway and enjoy scenic views past waterfalls and Aspen trees. Hiking is also possible, and considered “extreme.”

Sandra Maresh Doe, Ed.D., professor of English

Exterior view of the Tabor Opera House in Leadville, CO. Image credit: Timothy Krause; https://www.flickr.com/photos/timothykrause/11673934714 [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)]

Tabor Opera House and Matchless Mine, Leadville, for Oscar Wilde, 1882

An Oxford-educated classical scholar known for his flamboyant style, Wilde toured the U.S. in 1882, arriving in Denver and Leadville that April as a guest of lieutenant governor and “silver king” Horace Tabor. Giving hundreds of interviews in America, Wilde created himself as a media star who was “famous for being famous” even before he wrote his highly regarded plays, such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895), and novels, such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray”(1891).

While in Leadville, he lectured on “The Decorative Arts” to a packed house of miners who had paid $1.25 for reserved seats at the Tabor Opera House. Taking the stage in satin breeches and a velvet coat with lace trim, the 6-foot-3-inch Wilde usually clutched a long-stemmed white lily as he discussed Renaissance art. Wilde later claimed that he had preserved his aesthetic elegance when being lowered in a bucket into the Matchless Mine to dine with 12 miners. The menu, as he reported it: “The first course was whisky, the second was whisky, and the third – whisky.”

Gloria Eastman, Ph.D., professor of English

Frank Waters ParkColorado Springs, for the Native American author who once lived in a house nearby

Waters is more often associated with New Mexico than with Colorado, and his best-known novel, “The Man Who Killed the Deer,” is set in the Taos Pueblo, but his magnum opus was "Pikes Peak," a long novel about William Stratton and the mining culture associated with Colorado's iconic mountain. Waters was the keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain MLA meeting in Denver in the early-1980s, where he agreed to speak only if we were able to put he and his wife up at the Brown Palace!

Jim Aubrey, Ph.D., professor of English

Exterior of the Rodolfo

Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library, Denver, for the Chicano activist, boxer and poet

Born in Denver, Gonzales worked in the beet fields, weathering the Great Depression in the “Eastside Barrio,” and graduated from Manual High School at the age of 16. A successful featherweight boxer, he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1988.

Active in civil rights politics from an early age, Gonzales was instrumental in popularizing the La Raza movement in Colorado and throughout the southwest. His poem “Yo soy Joaquin” is a ringing statement of identity for those whose heritage is a combination of European, Mexican, indigenous and American. The poem continues to be a key piece of literature for defining what it means to be Chicano and for encouraging spiritual and political identity. The newest branch of the Denver Public Library, located at West Colfax and Irving, is named for Corky Gonzales.

Gloria Eastman, Ph.D., professor of English

Partial view of Seven Falls. Image by John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA (Seven Falls) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Seven Falls, Colorado Springs, for Helen Hunt Jackson

A poet, novelist and Native American rights activist Jackson lived for several years in the Seven Falls area of Colorado Springs, seeking a cure for tuberculosis. After hearing a lecture by the Ponca chief Standing Bear, she became deeply committed to fighting the ill treatment of Native American tribes, particularly in regard to the violation of government treaties and the forcible removal of tribal groups from their reserved lands.

“A Century of Dishonor” (1881) called for the reform of government policy toward native peoples. She lobbied Congress and enlisted newspaper editors across the nation to fight injustice. One of her most popular poems is “Cheyenne Mountain.” She is buried in Colorado Springs.

Gloria Eastman, Ph.D., professor of English

Baker’s Bridge, Durango and various locations, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969, George Roy Hill, director)

Many Westerns throughout history have been filmed in Colorado – parts of the classic films “Stagecoach,” “The Searchers” and “The Naked Spur” were filmed in and around the state. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," however, provides real landmarks and specific locations.

The real Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery was of the San Miguel Bank in Telluride, Colorado, and while the real “Hole-in-the-Wall” gang were active from Idaho to south Texas, the film places the action mostly in the Southwest’s rich landscapes. Train robberies were filmed on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (Durango) is also featured. Telluride’s New Sheridan Bar appears in one scene, and other locations include Silverton and the San Juan National Forest. And that famous jump? Upstream from Baker’s Bridge near Durango.

Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., and Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, professors of English

Plan your own own literary road trip with the location-based map below!

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