What to do on a very cold and snowy Sunday? It was too cold and dark for skiing (minus numbers in the very high ground), and the snow made everything a bit dark; not to mention the dangerous driving. We wanted a compromise outing that didn't climb too far into the mountains and wasn't that far from us.
One of the two things that every I-70 frequent traveler notices is the "spaceship" Jetsons-style house perched high above Genesee Park. The second is the promise of the elusive bison, hard to see, even though we often obediently stop at the exit marked "Buffalo Herd Overlook". As we have found out several times in the past, the "buffalo" aren't aware that they are expected to be visible from the overpass, so generally aren't. Besides, "buffalo" are never visible there or anywhere in the US--these are "bison", as a sign clarifies after you stop to see the buffalo.
As luck would have it, the "spaceship" house and the elusive bison were theoretically at the same exit (254). Having gone through several time-wasting attempts in the past to track down the bison herd (which have access to both sides of I-70 due to a special "bison-only" underpass), we were literally stunned to see the entire herd, right near the questionably substantial fence, but exactly where they are "supposed" to be for good viewing! Granted it was literally 1 degree out and snowing substantially, but there they were, up close and way too accessible. In spite of a few smallish signs warning of the potentially dangerous and unpredictable nature of bison, this fence was constructed of wide wire squares, convenient for getting a camera lens through, but also entirely too easy to slip even a large and presumably expendable arm through.
When I walked up to the fence, amazed to see the huge beasts so close to the fence (a parking area has been created so that you can park just a few feet from the fence), one of the giant creatures actually charged the fence. The next thing I noticed was a man allowing his young daughter to hold onto the fence for a better look. The most absurd thing I saw was a foreign speaking tourist sticking his hand and arm through the fence with grass in his hand, trying to draw the beast's attention. He did just that, but was fortunate to be able to leave with both hands attached and intact.
It is hard to grasp how immense and powerful these creatures really are. Some of these looked the size and weight of elephants, but were considerably more agile and speedy. What few people know is that "unpredictable" is soft-pedaling the nature of the bison. They are misleadingly fast, and can match a quarter horse in a quarter mile, traveling about 40 mph. They are difficult to contain, as they can jump a 6-foot fence from a standing position, and an 8-foot fence with a running start. Their size, weight and speed combined make most fences a joke. At least, on the eastbound side of I-70, the fences are pretty unapproachable chain link fences with coils of razor wire on top made doubly strong and quite high. This is probably effective at confining the bison there, but makes photographing them literally impossible.
On the westbound overlook, the fence is much more accessible, the openings much larger, and it has only one string of razor wire on top. Were the beasts not so well fed, I have no doubt that they could break through that fence rather easily. And a few of the larger horned and humped beasts appeared to consider it from time to time when annoyed by tourists.
It was, nonetheless, the very best opportunity we have had in the 1 1/2 years of living here to see the herd so closely. Now, if they would just make the I-70 sign accurately say, "bison herd overlook", rather than the inaccurate "buffalo herd overlook". If you catch them just right on the westbound side, and use common sense about not getting too close, it is an amazing opportunity to watch the huge herd, grazing, romping, fighting and doing some unmentionable activities.
Having been chilled to the bone watching the bison, we finally decided to begin our quest to find the "spaceship" house. It turns out that it is really called The Sculptured House, and was designed and built by architect Charles Deaton in 1966, who embraced the principle that “People aren’t angular, so why should they live in rectangles?” Clearly, he had no pictures to hang, or those curvy walls would have driven him crazy. In any event, his funds ran out before the construction was complete, leaving it unfinished and uninhabited for 40 years. In 2006, a software magnate bought it and spent three years and millions of dollars finishing it and making it livable. Since this was well past the architect’s death, the designer never saw his vision become a reality.
Ironically, the unique house is best known from the Woody Allen sci-fi satire “Sleeper”, where it is portrayed as a safe house for Allen’s character who had been in a cryogenic sleep for 200 years. Allen rented the house for $2,000 a day for the right to film the exterior, as the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere. The setting for this movie in Colorado marks one of the few times in his history of filmmaking that Allen shot outside of New York. "Sleeper" was also one of his most popular movies.
So, we were really interested to see what the “spaceship”/Jetsons/Sculptured house really looked like, other than glimpsing it at 65 mph on I-70. We researched some directions, but inevitably, went the wrong way, several times. When you exit westbound I-70 at the Buffalo Herd Overlook, you must cross over I-70, and then turn right to climb South Genesee Mountain Road (our Apple Maps app took us left). Coincidentally, the correct road borders the eastbound side of the bison herd reserve and has the less approachable but stronger fencing. From here, you have to locate and turn onto Genesee Avenue, then (we read) onto Ski Hill Drive. After literally hours of following the Mountain Road up to the top of the mountain, having missed the first turn, then going back and turning correctly onto Genesee Avenue, we found no Ski Hill Drive, and just dead-ended on that road. We went all the way back on Genesee Avenue, but still couldn’t find Ski Hill Drive. We turned around and tried yet again, before we determined that there was NO marked Ski Hill Drive. We took a chance and turned onto what at first glance appeared to be a private drive, but found that it kept going up to a gated area atop the mountain. Luckily, the gate was open and we were able to see the Sculptured House.
It was still zero-1 degree out, but it was so still, lush, quiet and heavenly up there, and it didn’t feel cold at all. There were beautiful woods full of unintimidated deer that glanced curiously at us. The view from atop that mountain is unparalleled, looking across to the beautiful mountains on the other side of I-70. As to the house itself, ironically, this wasn’t its best side. The spectacular glass front is angled outward towards the far mountains, as it should be, but the back of it looked somewhat mechanical; and it appeared that a large cylindrical section had been built separated from the house, but matching the bottom portion of the house’s supporting shape. There could be a pool between the house and the large futuristic silo, but there were several cars there and we didn’t want to invade their privacy or be arrested for trespassing. We did stop to look at the metal marker that declared, “This property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior”. I wonder if they had actually seen the interior!
Reluctantly, we left this mountaintop haven for home, deciding to stop at Red Rocks on the way to see how it looked in the snow. We spend so much time there in the summer; it was interesting seeing it covered by snow. We found it quite beautiful any time of the year.
We were very satisfied with our multi-destination afternoon drive. If you catch the bison on the westbound side of I-70, and heed the warning signs, it is a fascinating experience. The Sculptured House really does look better from I-70, but driving up Genesee Mountain is lovely, and worthwhile. And, all just a few minutes from Denver. This is such a wonderful state!