I was torn between where I was going to go.... I mean, how do you follow up a tour of the house from Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
So I went to Colorado with two potential plans. The first was to return to Pikes Peak. You see, I went to Colorado for the first time back in 2005 or so. I took the time to visit the breathtaking Garden of the Gods, as well as drove up the twisty, windy Pikes Peak Highway. It was March and, although it was a comfortable and balmy 70 or so degrees in Colorado Springs, by the time I got to the Glen Cove rest station around 11,000 feet elevation, it was 20 degrees and the road any further up was impassable due to snow.
I was so impressed by the mountain and the rugged beauty of Colorado's Front Range, I began writing a short story on the plane ride home. The basis of the story revolved around my endless preoccupation with answering the question of 'What's your plan, Dr. Z, if the zombie apocalypse happens RIGHT NOW?'
This mental exercise was made even more interesting to me because, after seeing Pikes Peak and its remoteness, and considering I was further away from home then I'd ever been (save a trip to London on my honeymoon); I was dealing with the fact that I had to figure out how to get home across thousands of miles of open ground. It seemed entirely plausible to me that, if one was hiking in the remote wilderness of the Front Range or the Rockies, the zombie apocalypse could smolder, spark, and turn into a flesh-eating wildfire without your knowing it. Imagine emerging from the back country to find the world completely changed and damn near post-apocalyptic?
That short story - when combined with another that I'd recently written about a zombie-like virus - morphed into my second novel, A Darkness Within.
My plan was to - since its June - ride up to the summit of Pikes and maybe take some pictures of the sites that inspired my protaganists Sully and Laura's story.
However, one of my coworkers changed her flight and needed to get back to Denver early... which threw a monumental, Ebola-ridden, and entirely mangy monkey wrench into my plans.
So I moved to Plan B.
Was Plan B better? Probably not. But at least its tangentially related to horror... so I guess it'll have to suffice.
I decided Plan B was to visit the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park CO. While closer to the airport than returning and driving the crazy time consuming Pikes Peak Highway, I headed north of Denver and into the wilds of the Colorado Rockies. I drove straight into the world of horror great, Stephen King.
Well, sort of...
You see, Stephen and Tabitha King decided to take a small vacation while they were living in Boulder and stayed at the Stanley in room 217. Unknown to them, they had booked their get away the day before the hotel closed for the season, so they found themselves the only residents for the short time. Given the hotel's history of hauntings, as well as the downright creepiness of a huge hotel where you're the only guest - it's only natural that King's imagination took a turn for the macabre.
Although the story may be apocryphal, it's said that King had insomnia and spent the night sitting up, creating and planning The Shining in his head.
The Shining went on to become a bestseller, a pop cultural touchstone, and was turned into one of the better (if not the best) adaptations of Stephen King's works.
Kubrick's masterpiece - featuring a tour de force performance by Jack Nicholson - is hands down one of the best movies of the era.
But, it goes without saying, the Kubrick masterpiece was NOT filmed at The Stanley. Alas, the film was shot at a hotel in Oregon - - but the Stanley's contribution to horror cannot be denied.
Plus, I feel a certain kinship to dear old Jack Torrance. He's a writer, I'm a writer. He likes drinking, I like drinking. He's prone to psychotic breaks and homicidal tendencies and I'm... well, nevermind.
Fortunately, if you're looking for a celluloid tie-in, I do have to mention that the remade TV miniseries starring Stephen Weber was filmed at the Stanley, which has a nice sort of karma to it, don't you agree.
Anyway, on to the travelogue.
So I drove on and, soon enough, found myself inundated with the earthy, delightful smell of junipers and pine trees as the elevation and flat plains of Colorado gave way to the majestic craggy canyons and mammoth rock faces of the Rockies. Around 7800 feet in elevation, lying in a valley below towering 14,000 foot peaks, is the town of Estes Park, Colorado.
And here's where my disappointment settles in.
You see, the Stanley, knowing its a tourist destination and that it has a unique place in literary history, charges you to go on its grounds. I, unfortunately, didn't have any cash and a talk to a nice lady at the Estes Park visitor center said the hotel frowned on horror geeks running around and snapping pictures inside the hotel. It apparently pisses off the guests. Whatever. It's a business - I get it. But they also have no problem touting the hotel's history and tie to Stephen King. Hell, they even run Kubrick's Shining non-stop, 24/7, on a channel in all their rooms. But, I was not deterred by their blatant capitalistic money grab.
I just took some pics from the grounds.
Here's a shot from almost straight on.
You may not know this, but the entire front lawn of the place is infested with prairie dogs. While I was snapping pictures, I had two especially vocal prairie dogs pop out of their holes and squeak at me in consternation. These are they.
By the way... I named the first prairie dog Cujo, and the second one Pennywise.
Here's a crappy shot of me taken by my lazily throwing my camera on the hood of the rental truck instead of digging a tripod out of my bag like I should have.
And, for comparison, here's a shot of the hotel from Kubrick's Shining...
A shot from the made for TV movie actually featuring the Stanley Hotel...
And one I took.
So, having been disappointed by my inability to get any better shots, I drove off and decided to drive the five miles into the Rocky Mountain National Park. I figured I would drive across the Continental Divide, and follow that up with drive up to a 14,000 peak and get a picture of myself in some snow in June. How cool did that sound?!?
And then I drove up to the gate at the edge of the National Park and saw that a couple hour driving pass was $30+.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that I'm cheap. So far I would have been out about $50 or so bucks and would have willingly paid it... but I hadn't taken the expenditure of money into account when I'd planned the trip. I have a work expense account that paid for my gas, food, and accommodations. I hadn't cleared $50 or more bucks with Mrs. Zombie before my little adventure... and the dark Pagan gods know how much Mrs. Z scares me when it comes to the frivolous shedding of drachmas.
She'd have literally killed me.
So, thanks to her frugalness, my fear of her blind, homicidal Accountant-like rage, and the travesty of the last four presidential administrations' gutting of the National Park budget resulting in a need to charge me to view our national treasures... I angrily turned around and went and found a McDonald's.
What can I say -- I'm an emotional eater.
I loved the sights, I still love the rugged beauty of Colorado, and would move there tomorrow... but my entire trip had the stink of unmet expectations all over it. I took some other pictures.
Like this cool rock formation the road drove through.
Or this elk or mule deer skeleton that had washed down the side of a cliff.
Or Long's Peak, which is over 14,000 feet in elevation and inaccessible without paying the government something I pay taxes for already.
Either way, it makes Dr. Z very unhappy.
But that's okay. National Park Service. I still love you. National Park Service? Darling? Light, of my life. I'm not gonna hurt ya. You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.
Heeerrreee's Doctor Zombie!!!!!