Skip to contents
Book Excerpts

Tracking the story of Colorado’s Cheley camps, where generations of kids have learned to love the mountains

From Frank Cheley's seed of an idea in 1921, the camps for boys and girls gradually grew into a rite of passage for kids from all over the country

Award-winning writer and naturalist Mary Taylor Young has been writing about the landscape and heritage of Colorado and the American West for 33 years. Her 20 books include ”Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years” and ”Land of Grass and Sky: A Naturalist’s Prairie Journey.”  Mary was a National Park Service Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain National Park in 2012. In 2016, she was the spring commencement speaker for Colorado State University College of Natural Sciences, her alma mater from which she earned a BS in zoology. 

Mary was honored to be chosen the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Colorado Authors League. She has taught writing to thousands of adults and children since 1988 at many venues, including the Rocky Mountain Conservancy Field Institute at Rocky Mountain National Park. She lives in Castle Rock with her family.

The following is an excerpt from “I Found You in the Mountains.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


2020 Colorado Authors’ League winner for Historical Nonfiction

Chapter Two:  The Camp

It was 1921 and Americans were flocking to the Colorado Rockies seeking recreation, renewal and a connection to nature. The time was right, Frank Cheley realized, to put his dreams of a children’s summer camp into action. 

Frank considered experiences in the outdoors as key to building character and resiliency in young people. He had seen through his work with youth at YMCA camps that firsthand experiences in nature helped build kids into responsible, confident adults. The mountains of Colorado offered the perfect setting for this and Frank determined to establish a summer camp based on his principles.

Mary Taylor Young.

Bear Lake Trail School

In 1921, Frank opened Bear Lake Trail School, An Alpine Summer Camp for Boys, on leased land on the shores of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Though barely six years old, Rocky was the most popular national park in the country. It offered a stunning location for a nature and outdoors camp, with access to wilderness landscapes from dense forests to the treeless world of the alpine tundra. Frank wanted his campers to become good sportsmen, which he described as “self-propelled, independent individuals with real character and personality.” Time exerting and challenging themselves outdoors in the national park was a perfect fit.

The original Bear Lake camp was a collection of log buildings clustered on the lake’s far shore. The main lodge, Tipi-Wakan, was built from trees salvaged from a nearby, twenty-year-old, forest fire zone. The first year the Cheley family boarded at the Bear Lake Lodge but soon built a one-room log cabin. The campers occupied two log dormitory buildings. Camp had no running water so counselors rowed out to a spring bubbling up in the middle of Bear Lake and filled a large pail. They poured the water into a huge stoneware crock on the lodge porch, where thirsty campers helped themselves via a communal dipper.

That first year, nine boys attended, coming mostly from the Midwest and Colorado, and there were three counselors. The second year, thirteen attended. 

Camp was divided into three tribes by age—the Ute tribe was older campers, Arapahoes were intermediate ages and “the younger fellows” made up the Cheyennes. 

By its sixth summer, Bear Lake Trail School participation had grown to 84 boys. But Bear Lake was increasingly popular with Rocky Mountain National Park visitors, too. “One day we’ll have 50 cars a day coming up here!” complained Frank. 

It was time for a change.

A Vigorous Camp For Vigorous Girls

With Bear Lake Trail School, now also known as Camp Haiyaha, growing and successful, Frank realized there was great interest in a similar camp for girls. In 1926 he opened Camp Chipeta, “a vigorous camp for vigorous girls,” named for the wife of Chief Ouray, iconic chief of the Colorado Utes. Camp Chipeta accepted girls ages ten to eighteen under the guidance of resident director Miss Kathryn Fravel of Minneapolis who “has had years of experience in dealing with girls in all sorts of recreational activities, is an expert swimmer and able to instruct in fancy dancing.” Chipeta would follow on the traditions of the boys’ camp, with the same quality leadership and programming, though at a separate location at Scott’s Heights, above the YMCA camp. 

“I Found You in the Mountains” by Mary Taylor Young.

Land O’ Peaks Ranch

In 1926, determined to get away from the teeming masses now visiting Bear Lake, Frank began searching for a new location for his camp. He found it on a beautiful mountainside above Fish Creek, outside of the national park. “One of the finest timbered mountain canyons in the whole region…hidden in a virgin forest with wide reaches of country in every direction and overlooking the whole green valley of Estes with the Mummy Range as a northern boundary and Longs Peak and Twin Sisters on the south.”

Situated at 8,000 feet in elevation, the new site offered the perfect setting for the physical, mental and spiritual growth of young campers. It was large enough to combine both the girls’ and boys’ camps at one site, including the addition of a new junior boys unit to be called Ski Hi. With the financial backing of Lansing Smith, his publisher, Frank acquired 230 acres of land. He would call the new camp Land O’ Peaks Ranch. 

But choosing the right new location was just the first step. The property had been homesteaded in 1919 by Mary Peel, who lived in a lean-to against the rocks where the current camp entrance road splits. She sold to Ted Jelsma, who built the small cabin soon to be dubbed Homestead House. There were ponds remaining from a commercial fish-rearing operation, but otherwise the site was undeveloped. Before it could receive campers, the camp needed buildings and facilities. Frank hired Orley “Pop” Enyeart who, along with his brother and son, began construction on Ski Hi Lodge, Chipeta Lodge, Totem Tepee, unit cabins and other camp buildings. Built of wood and stone, the handsome, new structures were simple but reflected the surrounding mountain landscape. Logs were harvested from the draw just above camp, then hand-peeled.

After much diligent work, Land O’ Peaks Ranch opened to younger campers for the 1927 season. Long-time counselor Ernie Altick ran Camp Haiyaha at Bear Lake for one final summer. The massive lodges and cozy cabins built at the new site in the 1920s and 1930s have been carefully maintained, providing a legacy of rich memories for the children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren of early Cheley campers.

This description of the new Camp Haiyaha dates from 1928: “Circling Totem Tepee and at its feet are the three sleeping cabins, Roosevelt Ranch, Powder River Ranch and Kit Carson Ranch, each housing fourteen boys and two counselors. Amid the cabins is the big bath house. A bit to the back is a spacious craft shop. To the front it opens out to the play field literally cut out of the forest. Across this field is the archery range and further up the hill the rifle range.”

The original Bear Lake Trail School headquarters lodge, the handsome log and stone building called Tipi-Wakan, was relocated to a commercial campground and is still in use. The administration buildings, director’s cabin and barracks Frank built at Bear Lake were eventually demolished by the National Park Service.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

With increasing enrollment of both boys and girls of various ages, Frank kept expanding, organizing Land O’ Peaks into units by age and gender, a system that still provides the best experience for youth today. The original units were Camp Ski Hi, “a Woodcraft and Indian camp for Junior Boys, 9 to 13,” Camp Chipeta Junior, “limited to Twelve Girls 9 to 12 years of age,” Camp Haiyaha, “for Older Boys 13 to 20,” and Camp Chipeta “a truly western camp for girls 12 to 20.”

Ages and units have changed over the years. Today kids 9 to 11 years old who have completed grades three to five are in Lower Chipeta (girls) or Lower Ski Hi (boys). For 12 to 13 year olds who have completed grades six to eight, there are Chipeta for girls and Ski Hi for boys. Senior Chipeta (girls) and Haiyaha (boys) welcome campers 14 to 17 years old who have completed grades eight to eleven.

Based on Frank’s original concept, the Cheley approach known as Fun Plus® targets programs to each age group, with activities based on individual needs and interests. Each unit is small so campers get lots of individual encouragement and attention in a noncompetitive atmosphere, keeping the focus on having fun while building character, in keeping with Frank’s vision.

The End of the Trail

By the mid-1930s, Frank thought campers were losing the pioneer spirit and getting soft. They spent a lot of time outdoors but slept in cabins with electricity and running water. What if Cheley could provide an experience that took kids back to a more rustic time? When pioneers arrived at the end of the trail by wagon train, they had to work together to set up camp, care for livestock, build a fire, prepare food. So Frank established a more “roughing it” camp where life and activities would be based on community cooperation. 

At a site along Fox Creek near Glen Haven in Devil’s Gulch, he opened Trail’s End Ranch for Boys (BTE) in 1937. Campers had no electricity or telephone, did all the chores, fed the pigs, cared for chickens and horses. They even had calves to practice their roping skills. Home was specially-built covered wagons without electricity, sleeping four boys to a wagon. The eighty acres offered room to hike, ride, fish and backpack or horse pack. Eventually, practicality and changing state requirements meant the more rustic elements of camp went away, though riding and horsemanship continue as a main Trails End focus.

Around 1939, a girl camper came to Frank and asked when he was going to build a Trail’s End Ranch “for me, too?!” So in 1941, Frank opened a second rustic camp, the Me-Too Camp for Girls. It shared the BTE property, the boys’ camp operating the first six weeks of summer, the girls’ the remaining four weeks. That same summer Frank purchased land along the North Fork of the Big Thompson River and began construction on the current BTE camp. A sawmill, on the location of the current riding ring, milled trees cut on the site into lumber used to build the log lodge, dining room and other buildings. The boys’ camp moved to the new site in 1942, while the original site remains home to Girls’ Trail’s End (GTE). Today BTE and GTE are open to campers 12 to 17 who have completed grades six through eleven. Sleeping in covered wagons is still a major attraction!     

Scaling Back During a World War 

Like all of America, camp was greatly affected by World War II. Wage and price controls, rationing of food and fuel, a lack of replacement equipment, a lack of gasoline and tires, even a shortage of male staff, made for a challenging time. Badly-needed equipment wasn’t available and the order of the day became repair, re-use, make-do.

Obtaining food for such a large group called for creativity. Campers had to send their ration coupons ahead to camp so food could be ordered. Camp leased a farm in Longmont where they grew fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs and poultry for the camp table. Sometimes rabbit had to be served because there weren’t enough chickens.

Campers were told to bring flashlights, batteries, film, their own rifle ammunition and even bed sheets with them from home because these items were unavailable. Those who wished to buy hiking shoes at camp were reminded “be sure to bring ration coupon number 17.” Due to a paper shortage and printing restrictions, no new camper manuals were issued in 1945. 

With many national park rangers off to serve in the War, campers helped the park pack in food and provisions to the Twin Sisters fire lookout. Counselors had to qualify as national park guides, and older campers and counselors were on call for the emergency needs of the national park. 

Through it all, Cheley continued to provide an outstanding experience through the resourcefulness and spirit of its hardworking staff.

Hiking counselor Ginny Stafford recalled realizing the faroff War had finally ended when she led a backpack trip into Forest Canyon in 1945 (long before cell or satellite phones). One night, they looked across the valley up to Trail Ridge Road and suddenly realized the cars were no longer driving with dim, blacked-out headlights. Their lights were fully on. The War was over. 

Camp Life A Century Apart

Camp Life – 1921

The boys are awakened at 7:00 a.m. for a brisk setting up exercise. 

Promptly at 7:15 there is a dip in Bear Lake, then assembly for flag raising, followed by breakfast. Next comes inspection of quarters and camp duties.

Two and one-half hours of the forenoon are devoted to definite field instruction in campcraft, woodcraft, geology, birdcraft, forestry, botany, horsemanship, simple surveying and mapping, handicraft, knife and hatchet, etc. 

At 11:45 comes the daily swim, for Bear Lake is a spring-fed lake and is somewhat warmer than the mountain streams formed by the melting snow. 

At 12:00 comes dinner in the big log dining lodge followed by a rest period of reading, writing, chatting and quiet games. 

The entire afternoon is given over to activity by choice to innumerable beautiful spots—horseback trips, fishing jaunts, hikes, nature rambles, the construction of camp furniture, shelters, shacks and shanties. 

Supper will be served at 5:00, followed by an hour of group games. With the coming of darkness the campfire will be lighted on a hill or by a lake as fancy may direct.

The evenings will be spent in singing and storytelling, in nature talks, health talks and fun. 

After short vespers conducted by the boys themselves, Taps will sound lights out for nine hours of refreshing sleep.

Camp Life — 2016

6:45 a.m. — Rise and shine, get ready for the day, make your bed, clean the cabin.

7:30 a.m. — Breakfast in the dining hall.

8:30 a.m. — Program groups meet for all-day, multi-day and half-day programs.

Noon — Lunch on the trail or in the dining hall.

1 p.m. — Rest hour.

2 p.m. — Afternoon activities or continuation of all-day programs.

4:30 p.m. — Visit the store, shower, hang out with your camp unit.

6 p.m. — Dinner in the dining hall or around the campfire on overnights.

7 p.m. — Evening campfire, songs and taps.

9:30 p.m. — Sweet dreams.

Buy “I Found You in the Mountains.”
Read an interview with the author.


The Colorado Sun has no paywall, meaning readers do not have to pay to access stories. We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable.

This reporting depends on support from readers like you. For just $5/month, you can invest in an informed community.