GARFIELD COUNTY - It's easy getting lost.
At least that's what I was told upon finally arriving at Trappers Lake Lodge and Resort. The drive from Colorado Springs to this remote spot in the Flat Tops Wilderness was supposed to take about six hours, but it ended up taking me closer to eight as I made a few wrong turns in the northwestern high country, where cell service often fails. I got back on track one time thanks to a cowboy herding his cattle, another time thanks to a motorcyclist at an out-of-service gas station and one last time thanks to a fisherman deep in White River National Forest.
On the way to Trappers Lake, people get lost all the time, assured the smiling sisters Holly King and Carol Steele, proprietors of one of this state's hidden treasures, operating from June through October. They were preparing a spaghetti dinner for those staying this night in the 15 log cabins, some of which have stood for more than a century.
People come to these cabins and 72 adjacent campsites to get away. Though remote, Trappers Lake is no secret; its pristine water, reflecting on a clear day the flat-top mountains around it, is well-noted. Arthur Carhart in 1919 surveyed this landscape and wrote a memo that is considered the foundation of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which rather eloquently defined places worth protecting: "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Observed Carhart in his memo: "There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully property of all people. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification."
The idea caught on early for resorts that catered to the hunters of this wilderness. William L. Pattinson is credited for building in the mid-1880s the first cabins at what is now Trappers Lake Lodge and Resort. Today, people from around the world stay here to seek the roaming elk, moose and bears. Some fish for the lake's cutthroat trout, and some venture the trails that weave up to those flat-top tundras.
At the cabins, some just sit on their porches reading. They sit and take in the silence that is impossible to ignore.
One of the valley's 19th- century settlers tried putting it into words. "Homer voices hush their lay," reads the poem "At Trapper's Lake." "The centuries past have sculptured there / A grandeur that's sublime and rare, / And an awesome silence is everywhere / The spires of the crags are near the sky / at Trapper's Lake. / And the noise of the world is a far-off sigh."
It continues to inspire.
"It's magical," says Bobby Van Nostrand, the campground host who's lived here for the past seven summers with his wife. Home is the 300-square-foot trailer they bought to replace their Las Vegas house.
"Spend some time out here, and this place will grow on you, and you won't be able to get rid of it," Van Nostrand continues. "It will call you back constantly."
For King, 63, and Steele, 65, the calling came 11 years ago. The city life had worn on them. They had gotten what they wanted from their University of Texas education: King had spent 30 years at the head of a consulting firm in Los Angeles while Steele worked as a nurse in Denver. They had settled down - something they hadn't done much of bouncing around to eight states as the daughters of a wandering paleontologist.
And yet, however settled, they felt something other than ease. Steele felt anything but when she returned from working at a refugee camp in Africa, dwelling in a mud hut for 18 months. "I was living amongst people who don't own any clothes other than what they're wearing, have very, very little, but could still be happy," she says. "Coming back to the states where we are so wasteful and so privileged. . I guess I had a hard time adjusting."
She was delighted by what her sister found. King had been browsing for a chance at life in the mountains, the kind of life she came to admire in the times she escaped to a lodge in California's Sierras.
"When I hit the big 5-0, I thought, 'If I don't do this, I won't do this,'" she says. "And I was burnt out. The firm I'd started went national, then international, and I was burnt out at that point."
In 2005, the sisters purchased the lodge for $797,000, becoming its saving grace. Having ceased operations a year prior at the demand of the U.S. Forest Service, the site faced demolition if not sold. Hard times had followed the 2002 Big Fish fire, which left the area's lodgepoles and spruces dead and bare. Some regulars stopped coming, for they feared the tarnishing of their green memories.
Along came the unlikely city folks to breathe new life. Trappers Lake Lodge and Resort is a full-on outfitter, with guides on hand and boats and horses available for rent. The sisters say they make about 600 reservations every season.
"The other day a forest ranger came up here and said, 'We thought for sure you two wouldn't last three weeks,'" King says with a proud grin. "I said, 'Yep, 11 years.'"
They're proud of this existence, which isn't isolated in the sense of being alone; the sisters, after all, greet people every day, and they live with other workers in a house of eight bedrooms, each measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet. But it is isolated in the sense of being more than 50 miles away from civilization. That's the distance to either Meeker or Yampa, reached by a winding drive on Dunckley Pass' aspen-lined gravel road, with sweeping views of the valley below.
Someone at the lodge journeys weekly for supplies. The place is self-contained, with a generator providing the power and a tower providing a signal to the office phone and limited online connection. There is no reception for visitors, which is nice, Colorado Springs resident Mike Blomgren tells me in the lodge.
"It's nice," he says, "to find a place like this that doesn't have craziness."
King and Steele live here for five months of the year, before the snow. Then they return to the little mountain towns they call home. They do not miss the city.
"People look at me and can't believe I'm somebody who walked around in a business suit all the time," King says, recalling her Los Angeles days. "Now I go to a secondhand store and buy my blue jeans. And that's OK. You kind of find out as you get older that you don't need all that stuff."
The sisters' favorite moments come at 9:30 p.m., when they switch off the generator. They step out into the pitch-black night, the only sound the hush of the breeze through the trees still standing. The Milky Way shimmers above. And we look up at that, thinking about the good of getting lost.