Day 37: Bishop's castle, bike polo, and a Napoleon

by James

Before bed the night prior, Patti had suggested that we go to Bishop’s Castle the next day. Seth had also recommended this place, sort of ominously, on Lisa’s back deck, saying that we wouldn’t “see anything like it anywhere else.” We were piqued, so we agreed and a visit to the castle was slated as first appointment for the day.

We lingered around the house for a while, using up the early morning. Patti and I hung around and played Guitar Hero while Mike took care of something or other; I can’t remember now.

Eventually we got moving and left the house for Coor’s Tavern, the birthplace of a local dish called the Slopper.

Sloppers in the Cavern
Inside of Coor's Tavern.

A Slopper is an open-faced cheeseburger slathered in green chili, which is a weighty, gravy-like substance that’s more yellow than green and rife with pork. Mike and I drank beers while the three of us chowed down on our respective messes.

Slimy, but satisfying.

We finished at Coor’s and hit 78, trailing southwest in Patti’s Honda. The two of us took turns playing DJ, sparking clusters of conversation about the choices we’d made and bursts of “oh have you heard _______?”.

Down 78.

On the way to the castle, still a mystery to Mike and me, we dropped by an old cabin that Patti’s family owns. We snaked through rural curves, passed a small town, and eventually settled the Honda on the edge of a driveway hidden in the woods. The gate guarding the driveway had a broken lock, so we left the car there and hopped the fence onto the property.

The cabin, too, was locked, so we circled it and peeked inside after unsuccessfully trying to gain entry through the windows.

Can't get in the cabin
Nothing doing.

We wandered through a creek behind the cabin and then up to a large shed, where an antique car rested, dilapidated and cobwebbed. Patti said that if she had the cash, she’d fix it up. Mike went into the technical feasibility of something like that, which made a job like that sound like a lot of work.

Found it
Found it.
Old car
The prognosis ain't good.

I asked Patti if she had ever come up here with her laptop and to telecommute for a week1 and enjoy the remote wilderness; she said she hadn’t, but had thought about it. She told us about a party she’d thrown up here, and the stargazing and high-altitude hangovers that’d ensued.

We left the cabin and stopped at an overlook along the road. I pulled the two out of the car for pictures.

Is that Kansas?

A few more miles down the road was Lake Isabel. The surface of the water was calm and seamless; we stopped for more photos.

Isabella's lake
Doing well, Iz.

As I sat on a steep staircase for pictures, Mike slid down the railing and almost knocked me on my ass. We laughed like idiots as I fought to maintain balance and Patti snapped a picture of us with her DSLR.

We got back into the car and drove for a few minutes, finally arriving at Bishop’s Castle. As we walked up to the plot of land, we saw a few carefully hand-painted signs, warning visitors that they were waiving liability by entering onto the grounds and seeing the castle.

Oh boy.

So here’s the deal: one guy, Jim Bishop woke up some morning and decided to build a castle. By himself. In the middle of the Wet Mountains of Colorado. Patti explained that he gets heaps of trouble from the county and state, but somehow brushes them off and keeps the place going. After seeing the castle, I bet that even the stiffest of bureaucrats marvel at this crazy place.

We worked our way over a moat, still in construction, and through the skeleton of a drawbridge. Then we saw the castle.

The Castle
One man did this. Himself. Against state and mountains.

Various pieces of construction equipment and pickup trucks littered the surrounding area. A shack of a house, which I took to be Bishop’s home, allowed entrance to a small gift-shop. More hand-painted signs sat warning and preaching.

Old Jim dabbles in politics... in his own way.
That's pretty neat handwriting.

After staring and gasping, all that was left to do was climb the precariously narrow staircase up and into the castle, which is what the three of us did. When we completed the climb, we walked around carefully, scared out of our minds, on the thin wireframe floor that creaked and popped at every other step.

This. does. not. meet. code.

We explored the castle, Patti and I climbing into the Ball of Terror and Mike going another route up to the tallest spire on the castle. The metal encasement surrounding us (and protecting us from a huge fall) ebbed in the wind, scaring the hell out of Patti and me.

From the top
Really scared.
But in awe.
One of many stairwells in the castle.
View from the top
View from the top.
Mirror sky
One guy did all this.

After we’d seen almost every bit of the castle, including a bridge to nowhere that hung suspended at least a hundred feet above the ground, we descended. Patti and Mike sat at a picnic table while I talked to the kid running the gift-shop who’d known Jim, the creator, for a few years.

On our way out of the castle, we saw Jim working on the drawbridge, ranting about the federal reserve and the gold standard. I yelled “fiat currency sucks!” in support of whatever crazy and moot point he was making and he shifted the spray of words over to the three of us. He went onto describe an apocalyptic black-copter scenario in which the federal government recreates the holocaust using cattle trains secretly stockpiled in the Coloradan hills. I asked him when the movie was coming out.

Jim is a nutcase, for sure, and it’s no wonder that minimal-government folks get a bad rap with characters like him around, but you’ve gotta respect someone who builds his own castle in defiance of both nature and state.

We hopped in the Honda and sped back to Pueblo to get ready for bike polo. We arrived at Patti’s house to pack up some leftovers from the barbecue2 and some residual beer. We trucked up to Springs to more of Patti’s music. It’s pretty rare that someone can hold my attention with a playlist, probably due to a little snobbery on my part, but Patti manages it with her extensive taste.

We arrived at the windy tennis courts in Springs, traces of a storm threatening to bloom into something much wetter. After some confusion, we made our way to a different set of courts, allocated specifically for bike polo. Plywood had been screwed into the corners of the court and behind the field-hockey goals. Tall George3 was sitting on the court, tending to his bike4, when we arrived.

A gang of motley polo’ers showed up steadily and, though we had arrived at the alleged start of the session, we were told that the group operated on “polo time,” which meant the games could start anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour late.

We pulled furniture out of nearby shrubs and opened a few of our own beers. Patti and I sat on a blanket we’d brought, munching the picnic food, while Mike got acquainted with riding a polo bike, complete with mallet. Seth had brought a few loaner bikes, one of which Mike used.

Bike polo chillin'
Poloers: Mike, Tall George, Adam Smith, and Trey.
Polo kids
I told Mike that this chick would knock him flat.

Seth stepped out on a PBR-run, leaving Patti and I entertained by the rest of the poloers. Occasionally I’d say something to Patti and she’d knock up against me in pretend-assault. The beer took effect and I felt a warm anesthesia while we watched a polo game start.

Patti entered the court and stuck to the sidelines, snapping pictures of the game. I watched the yoke of dusk crack and trickle red over the edge of Springs.

Bike polo court
The polo court.

The matches went on until dark, then we all decided to go out to a bar for a post-game celebration over cheap tallboys of PBR. A short drive later and we were walking to Tony’s in downtown Springs, Seth doing cartwheels on pavement and Patti seeing his cartwheels and raising him a handspring.

We made it to Tony’s and packed into the crowded bar, a din of drunk Olympians ringing in our ears. We coincidentally ran into Dave, the writer that we’d met in Monitou the night earlier, who was sitting at the bar and drinking alone.

The polo crew wrangled a table and we sat down right in front of a band setting up. The kick-drum told us they were named The Americans, so we settled in while they soundchecked about twelve times5. Luckily, we were kept entertained by Adam Smith’s wit and the various antics of the other poloers.

Patti and I waded up to the bar for a pitcher of High Life. We came back and the band started to play heavy rockabilly. They were roaring; I wondered if Chuck Berry had taken up possessing white kids from California. After a few songs, Smith grabbed Patti and the two danced a mean swing in front of the band.

The Americans in Tony's
The Americans, if you couldn't already tell.

The band paused for a break, so Patti, Mike, and I decided to leave for home. We rode southbound through the dark; Patti put on an Edward Sharpe western love tune and I took her hand in mine.

We got home. After cleaning up, I reprimanded two girls for being in bed together and detained one of them. Doors closed, dogs were rearranged, and an immaculate Napoleon just a little past its prime was unboxed somewhere in the warm dark.

  1. Patti’s a senior software engineer, meaning she can get away with tricks like that

  2. most notably some guacamole that Patti had made with a lot of salt and lime.

  3. dude is Tall.

  4. Bikes used for polo are very specifically customized. The use of only one chainring is allowed. Bikes are sometimes outfitted with drive-side spoke shields, and the left brake lever is modified to actuate both front- and rear-pads since a player’s right hand is devoted to swinging a mallet.

  5. okay maybe not twelve, but it was something ridiculous.

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