9,200 feet, the Lodge at Cloud Camp is just high
enough to see Pikes Peak on the Front Range, on the
SPRINGS, Colo. — Here’s the thing about Western art.
Like rattlesnake steaks and Rocky Mountain oysters, it’s
an acquired taste. If your great-grandparents crossed the
mountains in a covered wagon or homesteaded west of the
Missouri River, it could be in your genes.
when a friend from Connecticut scoffed at the genre’s
two most famous artists, Frederic Remington and Charlie
Russell, dismissing paintings of cowboys and Indians as
"just poster art, best painted on black velvet,"
I dared him to take the "immersion cure."
me for a couple of days at Cloud Camp, on Cheyenne
Mountain in Colorado Springs," I told him. "I’ve
been there. You’ll be surprised." What I didn’t
mention was that Cloud Camp, one of three backcountry
camps connected to the Broadmoor Hotel, in Colorado
Springs (www.broadmoor.com/cloud-camp), was owned by
billionaire Philip Anschutz, a Western enthusiast. Or that
cowboy and Indian paintings were part of the theme at both
Cloud Camp, where paintings and North American native
artifacts are displayed in every room, all the guests —
whoever they are, willing or not — are exposed to a
double-dose of what AI (artificial intelligence)
scientists call "deep learning."
put, this is the ability to recognize individuals in a
particular group — dogs, faces, airplanes, or in this
case, Western paintings — because you’ve seen so many
of them. Deep learning is why trained robots can
distinguish between a human face and last month’s
to a date, and the terms of the bet — a spa treatment
for the winner — we booked a couple of nights at Cloud
Camp and a couple at the Broadmoor. Then we bought
tickets, flew to Colorado Springs and checked in with
staffer Hannah Brenneman, at the Broadmoor’s Base Camp
a familiar-looking painting behind the desk, and two more
in the hallway, I mentioned it to Brenneman, telling her I
thought I’d seen it somewhere. Could it have been in a
could have," she said. "Or it could be a copy,
though I don’t know for sure. There are a number of
copies in our collection, but nobody knows which ones they
are. You’ll see some up at Cloud Camp, but they don’t
know either. And here’s your shuttle," she added,
escorting us to the door. "It’s seven winding
miles, with 12 steep switchbacks to the top. Enjoy the
"taking the cure," we decided to tour the Lodge,
a monumental chinked-log chalet worthy of a small Tudor
castle. Wedged between weathered boulders and a pine and
spruce forest, at a breezy 9,200 feet, the building is
supported by giant logs so long and broad they had to be
carried up the mountain one by one.
views from the rear deck outside took my breath away, with
the valley below and Pikes Peak to the north, its bald
summit rising above timberline. It’s that rare sort of
view you get only from the top of another mountain.
the Lodge, the Great Hall soared to the ceiling, 24 feet
at the highest point. Rows and rows of windows and 20-foot
walls offered enough space and light for the paintings, as
well as Navajo rugs, buckskin clothes, a saddle, leather
chaps, antique spurs and a stuffed black bear.
beams, two big fireplaces, sofas and chairs and a
banqueting table set for 26 announced that this was the
gathering place. And it was here, in the Great Hall, where
it sank in: we were at the heart of what might be the
single largest collection of Western art ever displayed on
a mountain top.
paintings, vertical and horizontal canvases in gold
frames, were everywhere, hanging between and over the
windows, above the doors, in the halls, over the
fireplaces and near the ceiling.
a detailed printed guide, we wandered from one painting to
the next, comparing Remington to Russell, and both of them
to Henry Farny, Charles Schreyvogel, Joseph Sharp, Walter
Ufert, Ralph McGrew and others.
couple of them new to me. And my friend, now
three-quarters of the way toward losing our bet, confessed
that he hadn’t expected such painterly skills, such
skillfully rendered shadows, and so many different scenes
and subjects. "You could tell the history of the West
through art alone," he said.
that, with the argument nearly settled, we put on our
hiking boots and headed for the closest trail. And like
most visitors to Cloud Camp, we crammed in most of the
activities, from a guided archery lesson, a mule ride and
a cooking clinic (with the chef). Horseshow contests and
corn-hole games with other guests filled in the gaps.
it was the evenings, with sunsets over the horizon, the
three-course dinners, the inventive recipes and fresh
ingredients and the other guests, convivial new
acquaintances, that won me over.
is a special place," said Julie Fuller, seated next
to me, explaining that it was her eighth visit to Cloud
Camp. "My husband, David, surprises me by organizing
it every year. Up here on the mountain we’re above it
all, down there. It makes you feel as if you’ve left
your troubles behind."
Fullers, traveling with family, said that one of their
group had tried the zip line, 10 separate double cables,
ranging from 200 to 1,800 feet long. Connected by short
hikes, it included two perilously swaying suspension
bridges. And for those with a taste for fright, you could
finish with a 180-foot long "horribly, excitingly,
scary rappel down to the Seven Falls." Next time, I
said, wishing I’d tried it sooner.
you want to include tennis or golf, spend your last couple
of days at the hotel, on the expansive Broadmoor
"campus," at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. You
can take a paddle boat out on the lake, work out in the
lap pool or sign up for fishing lessons. There’s a
bowling alley, a movie theater, a half-dozen pubs serving
craft beers and at least eight different restaurants.
time allows, consider buying a ticket to visit the Seven
Falls, which rush downhill in a nearby box canyon. But you
won’t see both the falls and the pools between them,
unless you’re willing to climb up 224 steps installed
along the side walls. Once a scenic pearl, lauded on many
a sepia-toned postcard, the Seven Falls have become a
commercial attraction. So I passed it up, and collected my
winnings instead: a more than satisfying massage.
you haven’t already overdosed on paintings, there are
plenty more in the Broadmoor’s three wings: 150 more, to
be exact. We’re saving them for next time.