Steamboat Springs When the flames roared down off of Himes Peak Friday and jumped the White River, they destroyed the historic main building at Trappers Lake Lodge, but they left Old Glory standing.
"I don't understand it," Wayne Krstinich said. "The flagpole was right in front of the lodge and it was surrounded by trees. But it didn't burn."
Krstinich is the manager of the general store at the lodge. It is about 34 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs as the eagle flies, but a good two hours by car. Of course today, access is guarded by road blocks.
Krstinich was among the guests and employees who evacuated the grounds Thursday afternoon.
"I was on break and I was actually taking a nap," Krstinich recalled. "One of the other employees came and got me. The flames were right in front of us, coming down Himes Peak. It was not too comfortable. I was the one who had to check people out of their cabins. But there were still people out on the lake and out horseback riding."
Fortunately, no one was injured in the rush to escape the forest fire, and all 20 of the horses kept at the lodge were safely evacuated.
It turns out it takes more than a 10,000 acre wildfire to permanently close a family-owned guest camp on the edge of Colorado's second-largest wilderness area.
Krstinich said owners Dan and Melinda Stogsdill are already busy putting things back together. They hope to reopen on a limited basis as soon as possible perhaps even this Wednesday, Krstinich said.
Yes, the log lodge and its dining area, originally built in 1918, are gone.
Also burned was the barn, a work shed, cabins 8 and 12, and the recreation room. Gone is the super-sized hot tub big enough to accommodate 10 or 12 people, depending upon how friendly they are.
However, there are still cabins left standing and the main bath house is in good shape, Krstinich said Dan Stogsdill told him.
Most importantly, the diesel generators that supply the lodge and cabins with electricity are still intact.
"The generators didn't blow," Krstinich said. "If the generators had blown, that would have been bad. We'd just filled them with fuel."
The Stogsdills have owned the lodge for 5 years, and have been steadily making improvements. The cabins still have peeled log railings and rustic pine plank floors. There are wood burning stoves to ward off the chill on cool spring and autumn evenings.
Now, there are queen sized beds, and the blue checked curtains match the bedspreads.
The food exceeds expectations. The chef at Trappers Lake Lodge was alternating the menu nightly before his kitchen burned down this week.
Hikers making the trek over the top of the Flat Tops were as apt to ask strangers if they'd tried the chicken marsala at Trappers, as they were to inquire if other hikers had spotted any orchids.
Krstinich said the Stogsdills are hoping to begin serving meals out of a tent this summer and fall as they host a limited number of hunters. About 10 of the horses will be brought back to the lodge for the fall season.
Fortunately for Krstinich, the general store is still standing, and he will have his job for the rest of the season. But seven other employees won't be so fortunate, he said. Among the employees who had to evacuate the lodge are several foreign exchange students, two from the Czech Republic and one from South Korea.
Krstinich said all of them have been welcomed and fed by the proprietors of Ute Lodge, several miles down the White River.
"They've been very good to us," Krstinich said. "We're all refugees (of the fire) living in tents."
The relationship between the Flat Tops Wilderness and Trappers Lake Lodge isn't typical; in most cases, the U.S. Forest Service would like to see a buffer of undeveloped land surrounding wilderness areas.
The lodge is a short hike from the wilderness boundary, right at the lake, and has been able to rent canoes to hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors over the years, giving them a rare chance to paddle a wilderness lake.
The fact that the lodge stands so close to the wilderness has everything to do with history.
In 1919, a young man named Arthur Carhart was dispatched to gauge the suitability of Trappers Lake for a subdivision of vacation cottages. He returned so impressed with the surroundings that he was determined to see the area protected. Carhart turned to the notable conservationist Aldo Leopold and together they championed the cause.
The Flat Tops did not gain full wilderness status until 1975, when Congress set aside 235,035 acres of roadless area, most of it in the White River National Forest.
Now, Trappers Lake Lodge has historical standing just outside that wilderness, and many Northwest Colorado residents will be watching to see it rise from the ashes.
The lodge has microwave telephone service. And for reasons that are easy to understand, it isn't in full operation today. It's too early to return to Trappers Lake, but it's a good bet that the Stogsdills would enjoy hearing from their friends in Craig, Hayden and Steamboat. Their number is (970) 878-3336.
The forest surrounding Trappers Lake Lodge may not recover in our lifetimes. But the fires that claimed the old lodge also had the power to renew forests. They are spruce and pine forests that have been ridden with the burden of unhealthy piles of dead timber killed by a beetle infestation in the 1940s.
The 84-year-old lodge, your lifetime, my lifetime they're all just the blink of an eye in the lifetime of a forest.