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Bucket List,  Travel

Estes Park, The Stanley and RMNP

Bucket List Item #346 – stay a night at the Stanley Hotel

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The truth about a bucket list is that not every check is going to be a home run. I’ve been lucky that they usually are thus far, but I also promised to be honest about these experiences, and this go around was interesting.

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I have to preface my experience with saying that I don’t believe in ghosts. I’m not religious and the idea of an afterlife or spirits trapped on earth just doesn’t compute for me. However, I always WISHED it were true or that I could experience something that made me think there might be an afterlife or some larger meaning to the human experience.
I’ve always wanted to stay at the Stanley because so many people have claimed paranormal experiences there. I thought this could be a real chance to learn something. So, when my mom and I decided to stay the night we booked the late night ghost tour and I brought a Ouija board for extra measure (even after being advised by some very enthusiastic Facebook friends that Ouija boards are not to be trifled with.)

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The entire stay here was sort of like a rollercoaster both in the paranormal realm and just a hotel stay.
We arrived to construction happening throughout the hotel. It was very loud and in disarray. Not beautiful and pristine like I imagined, but dust and carpet torn up and nails. Honestly, some of it was downright dangerous. I nearly broke my neck on some unattached carpet on a staircase. I’m still in shock they didn’t say anything when we made the booking. I would have come another time.

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I was told before making a reservation we could watch The Shining in the hotel. I had never seen the TV movie, which was filmed at the Stanley. I wanted to wait until we got there to watch as part of the experience. Well, evidently their DVD player was broken, and we couldn’t watch it. They gave it to anyway and said it might work. It definitely didn’t. I was so upset! Later on, I learned they play it on loop downstairs and no one offered that as an alternative when the DVD player didn’t work. 😡 Suffice to say I wasn’t happy.

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Our spirits lifted when a bird flew into our window. It was like something out of a scary movie! It lived and flew away, but it literally broke the glass all the way through in our room. I wish I could share the look on my mom’s face when this crash happened from behind her. I got to see it all.  A repair man came to fix the window, begrudgingly. He just taped it and sort half asked if we wanted to move rooms, like “I guess we could move you.” Normally I would have leaped at the chance of an upgrade, but we decided the bird was an omen and that if we were going to have a paranormal encounter we were in the right room.

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Later that evening we did the ghost tour and it was…disappointing. Actually, it was downright silly. We were in a group of believers, I guess. We downloaded some ghost app on our phones that helped detect them. Guys, the technology isn’t there. That’s just not a thing, but I played along. Maybe it would make it more fun! People were very into it though. They believed this app was detecting spirits and they were afraid to enter dark rooms with it because of the heat sensor (supposed heat sensor) detected ghosts. And then there were orbs. We were taught what to look for when we take photos and to rapid shoot for a chance of catching something and being able to use the photos without orbs or whatever as evidence when we show other people. At one point we were told a specific spot (the main staircase) was a location notorious for evidence in pictures and I just died laughing. Of course it is! It’s surrounded my mirrors and windows and there’s a chandelier above and lights from all directions. There’s bound to be something extra in there. Do these people not know how light works? And don’t get me started on the photo evidence shown to us. As a photographer it was laughable. I was shown film shots with ghosts (light leaks), moving ghosts (people who don’t know what shutter speed/ISO/aperture is have other humans in motion in an image), and even literal censor dust. I can’t even. However, my mom and I did laugh a ton at the expense of others.

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And then we ended the night by pulling out the Ouija board. I did some research after so many people had passionately opposed my purchase, so I decided I’d better do it right (just in case). We started out by thinking positive thoughts and saying a prayer. We both tested the planchette so we could test the feeling when someone else pushed it around, although we each promised not to move it on purpose. We chose me as the medium and tried to just have good energy. Nothing happened…at all. We asked easy questions and gave the board time to answer and nothing over and over. Then things got silly and I asked it if it thought I was pretty and still nothing. Just nothing. So, we said goodbye and ended the night with lots more laughs about the silliness of the day, wine and Stranger Things.

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So, do I think the Stanley is haunted? Not by a long shot. Do Ouija boards work? I say the ideomotor effect is the only explanation. Did I have fun? Hell yes, but only because my mom and I were together and got to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Would I recommend the Stanley? No, probably not. If you’re looking for something scary definitely not. If you’re looking for a lovely place to stay, I think it’s overrated. Their restaurant was yummy though! I also have to express my regret of not having any photos of the outside. I wanted to take some, but due to work being done on the outside of the hotel it was completely surrounded by scaffolding. There was nothing pretty to take a photo of, so if you really want to see the hotel as it should be this Google link is your friend.

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All this being said, I would like to circle back to Estes Park. I’ve been visiting Estes Park off and on most of my life with my family and again as an adult: by myself or with friends. While I don’t think the Stanley is worth the squeeze. I do think Estes Park should be on everyone’s Colorado bucket list. The little mountain town is really quite charming and if you like sweets it might be your favorite place on earth. There are actually 9 sweet shops in a stretch of maybe 10 blocks in the little downtown of Estes. You read correctly. There are more sweet shops than restaurants. So, if you like taffy, ice cream, fudge, etc. you will be in heaven. However, the real reason to spend time in Estes is Rocky Mountain National Park. No matter which way you drive in the park it’s literally perfection; there are a ton of great hiking trails and I’ve never not seen wildlife. At certain times of year, you’re basically guaranteed a moose encounter if you keep your eyes peeled (they might be fairly far from the road). If you go in the hopes of seeing a moose, the best time to go is September or November as this is rut season. They tend to like the lower lands and anything moist, so willows and aquatic grasses. I would highly recommend asking a ranger where you might find them when you arrive. They’re creatures of habit and generally return to the same spots, so they’ll know where they’re most likely to be. And be careful! Don’t get too close and remember they have poor eyesight. The last thing you want is a spooked moose charging at you, although it would make for a hell of a story. I have made this mistake before and was scared for my life. It was actually in the park many years ago. I got RMNP as a homework assignment in my travel landscape class in photography school. I really wanted a good shot of a moose. I knew that was going to be the winner for that assignment. When I spotted one it was way too far away to get a good shot. I decided I would get in some brush and sort of army crawl my way there through some tall grass. When I finally got close enough to get a decent shot, I noticed a baby. Yep! Mom with baby. I tried to quietly get myself in position, but a branch broke underneath me or something. It was like a moment in a movie. Mom’s head got really low and she was so still and then she started huffing. I didn’t know what to do. I stayed perfectly still, barely breathing, and tried to keep my wits about me. I thought that I was for sure about to be a statistic. I took some quick photos (which ended up blurry because I was shaking) and slowly made my way back to the road. It was so stupid. SO STUPID! And the shots were totally unusable because I was too freaked out to concentrate on a photo. Then, later in the park, I managed to take a great photo of a stag on the road. On my way out, it got even better! I managed to get a shot with some deer grazing on a hill with a moose in the foreground. So, the stupidity with momma moose was really pointless. Lol. I wish I could share those shots, but it was so many years ago. I don’t even know where to find them. I did give it the good old college try before posting this though.  😊

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I also want to make a special mention regarding the Estes chipmunks. If you enter the city via highway 36 coming from Lyons then you are in for a serious treat! Next to the parking by the signs there are a bunch of rocks, which is where the chipmunks live. They are so used to tourist that, with some patience, they will take food from your hands. I don’t normally recommend feeding wildlife, but these little guys have been fed by tourists for so many generations that I don’t think that will ever be undone. So, grab a seat and toss some food. The more patient you are the closer they’ll get until they’re in your lap taking food from your hand.

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Anyway, what I meant to say is RMNP is concentrated Colorado goodness. In my opinion, there isn’t a better place to get a real Colorado experience than Estes Park.

The day we went to RMNP on this trip it was snowing a fair bit and a lot of the roads were closed for the season. Even with the vast majority of the park closed in winter we still saw a lot of wildlife and general splendor. It’s my perfect place.

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