Estes Park, CO

Is the Elkhorn Lodge in Estes Park the Disney World of Spirits? A Haunted History of the Lodge

The Colorado Switchblade
The Elkhorn Lodge circa 1924Public domain

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park is widely considered one of the most haunted places in the world. But there are those that say The Stanley may not be the scariest place in Estes Park. Some locals insist the whole area of Estes may be a hot spot for paranormal activity, and many insist there is one place with a more frightening history than the Stanley, making it one of the most haunted places in town.

The Elkhorn Lodge is about thirty years older than the Stanley Hotel and is near the Stanley. The Elkhorn is thought to be the longest continuously operating hotel in the State of Colorado. The property began as a cattle ranch, located initially in the Black Canyon. In 1877, William and Ella James moved the then-cattle ranch to its current location because it was more suited to cattle, with the nearby Fall River access to water.

During that time, the James' had many people wander onto the property during the warm seasons, asking to stay for a while. Seeing an opportunity, the James' began setting up tents and building guest cabins to accommodate the influx of tourists. In short order, William and Ella saw much more potential to make money in catering to adventure-seeking visitors than in cattle raising. The Elkhorn Lodge was born.

The Elkhorn is unique in that, up until the start of recent renovations, it had been virtually unchanged since it was first built in the 1870's. The Elkhorn is a time capsule. The blond Elk heads that hang on the lodge walls are of a unique and extinct species that used to roam the area. At one time there were negotiations with representatives from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division to extract DNA from the teeth of the blond Elk mounts to try to reintroduce the species.

Old Man Mountain sits on the property. The use of this sacred site dates back over 3,000 years. It is believed that close to thirty-eight different native nations used the mountain top site for Vision Quest and Sundance ceremonies. These nations included the Cheyenne, Shoshone, Arapaho, Comanche, Ute, Mountain Ute, Southern Ute, and Apache peoples.

The previous General Manager of the Elkhorn facilitated contact with Erick Wright, a paranormal investigator, and his wife, Tammila Kay. Wright and Kay researched the Elkhorn for three years and produced the documentary, A Walking History of the Elkhorn Lodge.[1]

Wight and Kay are fifth-generation Coloradoans. Their families have helped to build much of the front range in the Pike's Peak region.

Wright and Kay have worked on numerous film projects as a production assistant and camera operator with projects for various outlets, including The History Channel, Discovery, SYFY, The Weather Channel, and their own production company, Pocket Watch Productions.

Wright first found his interest in the paranormal about 35 years ago when he experienced his first supernatural event as a child. While at his family's old homestead in Colorado City, he saw something come walking out of a wall, into the living room, and over into a corner where it turned around and then disappeared.

When he described the apparition to his father and grandparents, he said they turned pale. When he pressed them about what this could have been, his father, a retired Colorado Springs Firefighter, told him that he believed the apparition was his great-grandfather. The old man had lived in the house. It is thought the old man walked down a set of stairs to an oil stove, which blew up and killed him. Nether the stairs nor the oil stove habit the house today.

During his teenage years, Wright became an honorary adopted grandson of a man named Selo Black Crow, a leader of the Ogalala Lakota people. Black Crow was a traditional healer who helped reintroduce the Sundance ceremony.

Black Crow taught Wright about indigenous beliefs in medicine and spirits and the old ways.

"Being in tune with that world and also growing up in this society, learning the balance of the two and how to make that work has been a very interesting path,” Wright said.

Wright and his wife were instrumental in presenting the Elkhorn Lodge to History Colorado eleven years ago for protection and preservation.

What are some of the spirits that may roam the property?

It is said that many of the ranch hands that helped to build the lodge may still wander the property. Inscriptions carved into the rafters in the buildings are still legible.

There are also reports of a white horse with pink eyes, thought to be a protector of the sacred lands and burial grounds. This white horse is rumored to be seen on stormy nights.

Rich Johnson, the Estes Park Safe Ride guy, was the lodge's general manager for many years. He tells a story of a spirit known as Mr. Fix-It, an 80-year-old property handyman.

One day Johnson discovered an attic panel broken from a high ceiling that wasn't readily accessible. Rich fixed the panel and put it back into place, only to find it open the next day. He then investigated the disturbance. He found a broken pipe, which would have caused structural damage to the lodge had it not been discovered and fixed. He believes that Mr. Fix-It had directed him to the broken pipe.

Investigator Wright thought the most active presence on the property is a spirit called Maddie. Maddie was an eight-year-old girl that died in 1874. She died after accidentally being shot in the face after she and her brother found a shotgun leaning against a tree. Tragically, Maddie's hand slipped on the gun, causing it to discharge. She is reputed to haunt the back stairs of the main lodge.

There are reports of spectral cowboys riding through the cabins and up to the lodge. Unmarked and unknown graves were found with dowsing rods. There is a tale of a homeless man who had taken up residence in the attic without from the owners. He was a violent drunk, and a fight broke out when they tried to evict him. Unfortunately, he died when he fell down the stairs during the fight. It is commonly known that electronic equipment power drains quickly, and without an explainable cause in this attic.

Wright said that some of their best evidence was gathered at the lodge was using a borrowed hyperspectral camera.[2]This camera is reputed to pick up 256 bands of frequency beyond visible light and infrared. Wright says the camera “picks up frequencies, like paper slicing cheese,” then uses software to pull out images within the layer of frequencies, which is “beyond infrared and before near-infrared.”
The hyper spectral camera ~screen capture from the documentary A Walking History of the Elkhorn Lodgeused with permission of the filmmaker And Pocket Watch Productions

He said this spectral camera recorded video of a seven-foot-tall entity they dubbed “The Hunchback,” which had previously been seen on the property.
The hunch back spirit captured by the hyper spectral camera ~screen capture from the documentary A Walking History of the Elkhorn Lodge usedfrom the documentary A Walking History of the Elkhorn Lodge used With permission of the filmmaker

The production team also used many pieces of equipment you would see on any ghost hunting show. But Wright insists that their investigations “really boils down to capturing or witnessing something that you can't explain, with any source of viable information or being able to find concrete evidence, of something that is occurring based on historical fact or documentation. So, if we produce, and capture something, we will dig into archives and records, books, documents, and county records to try and find a historical basis to support that evidence."

“Walking into the Elkhorn Lodge is like walking into the Disney World for spirits,” Wright said. “We documented over 18 entities on the property.”


[2] Wright will not divulge the manufacturer of the company as they do business with the US Department of Defense.

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Welcome to our brave new world. It is becoming more difficult to support oneself, much less a family (including three daughters, a granddaughter, and the family wolf) in the ways a writer used to before the age of the vulture fund media conglomerates. I am local to Estes Park, Colorado, where I write for several outlets in Northern Colorado, including the Estes Park Trail-Gazette. As much as I love what I do for a living, it is challenging to make just a living wage writing for a newspaper, not to mention securing some perks like basic health care. So I have been looking for ways that I can continue writing while supplementing my income. Many writers around the world are now turning to subscription-based platforms like Substack to supplement their incomes. I hope that by giving my readers a direct portal to all of my writing, including articles and serialized fiction projects, they find enough value to help support and join me in continuing this journey. Some of my pieces will be editorial, and sometimes I will include some of the fine artwork that I show in contemporary galleries I will also be sharing some of my political satire art from time to time. Writing is the most powerful tool that we as human beings have to change the world for the better. It gives voice to the most vulnerable of our neighbors, shines a light on the injustices we must fix, and plants the seeds of change and hope for the future. I sincerely hope you will join me on this journey. ~Jason Van Tatenhove

Estes Park, CO

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