Storming Bishop Castle
by Blake Fontenay
“I wonder what he was thinking.”
That was what my wife wanted to know as we were departing from Bishop Castle, the creation of a Pueblo resident that has to rank as one of Colorado’s most unique tourist attractions.
And I think my wife’s question was a fair one. As the story goes, Jim Bishop’s parents bought their son a parcel of land in San Isabel National Forest back in 1959, using money the 15-year-old boy had earned mowing lawns, delivering newspapers and laboring in the family iron works business.
Ten years later, Bishop began building what was going to be a one-room stone cottage. But then some friends kept remarking about how much the structure looked like a castle, so an idea was born. Bishop has spent the last 50 years building his own personal castle. And he’s apparently done the work himself, without the aid of any plans or blueprints.
So naturally, I had to check this out.
The castle is located right off state Highway 165 in Rye, a short drive southwest of Pueblo. Although it wasn’t featured in the movie, “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” it immediately struck me as the kind of offbeat place the Griswolds should have visited during their cross-country trek.
People had warned me beforehand that Bishop was eccentric. He wasn’t there on the day I visited, but there was plenty of evidence right out front that the castle’s owner was a different breed of cat.
There were several large signs for visitors to read, some outlining the castle rules and some expressing various religious and political viewpoints. One seemed to summarize some of Bishop’s legal battles, which apparently resulted in at least one of his guns being confiscated.
There also was a metal art installation in front of the castle that defies easy description. I asked a group of other visitors if they had any idea what it symbolized, but they were as baffled as I was.
That’s something you just have to get used to if you visit the castle. There are all kinds of random and unexplained decorative touches throughout, like antiques of unknown purpose in one room or the wooden carving of a giant hand along one of the walkways.
The castle itself is magnificent. Its total height of 160 feet is best appreciated from the upper levels, where there are stunning views of the surrounding forest. There’s a grand ballroom, beautiful stained glass windows, towers and a metal dragon sculpture that apparently has been rigged up to belch fire.
As we roamed through the rooms and stairways carved out of stone, my wife said she kept expecting to meet the character played by that hot platinum-haired woman in “Game of Thrones.” I was more afraid I’d meet my maker, since the narrow spiral staircases can take visitors to dizzying heights.
As I made my way slowly toward the top of one of the towers, I overheard a woman behind me talking to her kid. “Are you sure you want to keep going?” she asked. I was uncertain about that myself.
When I reached the top of that tower, there was a set of arching metal stairs that connected to another tower. That was a bridge too far for me. I also had a problem with the metal catwalks. No matter how skilled a craftsman Mr. Bishop must be, I couldn’t get past the fact that everything in the castle was supposed to have been made by hand.
Did I mention that there were a lot of other visitors there on a chilly Sunday afternoon? (It was so nice in Pueblo that I left the house wearing a t-shirt and crocs. Since there was still snow on the ground at 9,000-plus feet, I quickly came to regret those wardrobe choices.)
But the weather didn’t stop the crowds from coming and many of them seemed as impressed by what they saw as I was. “It must have taken focus to do this for 50 years,” one of the adults commented. “This is creepy,” a kid said, which I think he intended as high praise.
On our way home, my wife and I stopped for a delicious meal at Three Sisters Tavern and Grill in Colorado City, which is a place my hand surgeon, Charles Kessler, had recommended to me.
Reflecting back on our trip, I can’t say what would possess someone to work on a project like Bishop Castle for so long. But I’m sure glad that he did.
Blake Fontenay, The Chieftain’s opinion page editor, is new to Pueblo. His column, Pueblo 101, describes what it’s like to see the city through the eyes of a newcomer. To make comments or offer suggestions on what he should try next, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.