The Church Camps near Buena Vista

Article by John K. Andrews, Jr.

Local History – October 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

We who live here on the roof of the continent have gotten used to the smug assumption of our coastal compatriots, especially those on the Atlantic end, that they are at the center of things and we’re at the outer edge. But in at least one respect it is the other way around, as two illustrations of names-in-common will show.

Chafee of Rhode Island, the senator, has been legislating in Washington for a generation. But nothing he has done in public policy, I submit, has touched more lives than what Chaffee of Colorado, the county, has done in youth camping.

Princeton of New Jersey, the university, has been graduating students for centuries. But I’ll bet that nothing it has done in classroom education has elevated more souls than what Princeton of Colorado, the mountain, has done in wilderness education.

For 70 years, the gulches and ridges west of Buena Vista have hosted youngsters from most of the 50 states and many foreign countries whose parents sent them out for “a summer of adventure and relaxation… rich in character-building experiences… in old frontier country which still offers the thrill of frontier life without its hardships.” (That’s the way a 1950 catalog from Round-Up Lodge for Boys put it.)

TODAY THE WHOLE WORLD is dotted with men and women who love the Collegiate Peaks region for its almost mystical part in their passage to adulthood. And the region itself continues to feel the economic and demographic impact of Round-Up Lodge and its successor camps — the Young Life facilities south of Mount Princeton and the Adventure Unlimited ranches east of Mount Columbia.

But when Dr. Alfred Marquard, a St. Louis dentist, started Round-Up Lodge in 1926, the world was vastly different. Teddy Roosevelt’s exhortations to the strenuous life, Lord Baden-Powell’s “Be Square” Boy Scout ethic, and Calvin Coolidge’s maxim that “the business of America is business” were accepted wisdom. Indeed Marquard liked to quote a remark Teddy Roosevelt made while hunting in the Buena Vista area: “Here is the playground of America.”

Now, in 1995 Malcolm Stitt, a Chicago businessman, leads Adventure Unlimited’s Sky Valley Ranch through its 40th season, but times have changed. Today, a camp or any other institution proclaiming itself “For Boys” is utterly pass, and even the “adventure in coeducation” offered in Sky Valley’s 1964 catalog sounds antiquated in the America of Pat Schroeder and Madonna.

Now, our President barely dares to plink at a duck or two, and he shuns the Scouts as homophobic. Our Vice President has progressed from forest play to tree hugging; his recent bestseller demonizes business and deifies the earth.

Yet here at camp in the high country such political and social ripples seem as inconsequential as the daily afternoon shower in July. In the Upper Arkansas Valley, 70 summers might be 70 seconds, for all the difference it makes in the essential magic of my daughter’s camp experience here in 1983, as opposed to my own in 1960, or my father’s in 1940, or his father’s in 1928.

Above timberline in the Sawatch, where straight-arrow counselors from UCLA lead puffing teens from Cleveland to bag their first Fourteener, and in Brown’s Canyon, where young boatmen guide squealing Sunday-schoolers through the white water, the physical challenge, the spiritual dividend, and the austere majesty of the land itself, are the same as they were in the days of Zebulon Pike and Chief Shavano.

So this essay is less a history of what has changed over the decades than a family memoir of what remains unchanging.

Doc Marquard lettered in football, basketball, and baseball at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating in 1919, Doc found time around the edges of his dental practice to do some coaching at Principia, a school for Christian Scientists in St. Louis, where he became acquainted with one of the history teachers: my grandfather, George A. Andrews.

In 1926, Marquard started a boy’s camp “nestling in Merriam Gulch” above Chalk Creek “nine miles southwest of the mountain village of Buena Vista where the boys detrain from the D&RGW.”

Soon afterwards my grandfather came out to work as a tutor for several summers in the late ’20s. In those days, Marquard’s Round-Up Lodge employed a staff of 40, and enrolled about 120 boys from well-to-do Midwest families. The camp facility included sixty-eight buildings; most were of rustic log construction, but they were extremely deluxe by ordinary summer camp standards of the time.

Next to last on the camp catalog’s listing of ten major activities, just ahead of the Daily Rest Period, was Tutoring (Optional): “Making up of deficiencies in the Grades or High School. Also preparation for College Board Examinations.”

To fill that tutoring position, my grandfather motored across mud-bogged Kansas with his wife, Frances, and their four sons. In time, the eldest, David, hired on with a Round-Up work crew while his next two brothers, Robert and George, became regular campers. At the time, their kid brother, John K. Andrews, my father, was too young for a bunkhouse berth. But he immediately lost his heart to the high country for life.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1940, prior to his junior year at Principia College, that Dad’s turn to work in Merriam Gulch finally came. But war had already engulfed Europe and Asia. A mere 15 months after Dad completed his single season as a proud member of Dr. Marquard’s counselor staff, war gripped the United States.

By the spring of 1942, my father was in a Navy uniform, one of the hundreds of Round-Up alumni putting their camp creed of “manliness, teamwork, comradeship, loyalty, and honor” to the test under fire. Before he came home from three years of submarine duty in the Pacific, Dad had vowed upon a prayerful dream: a Colorado boys’ camp of his own some day.

It would be many years before my father’s dream came true.

In the meantime, Sam Rayburn, a Presbyterian pastor in Dallas, felt that a new kind of ministry was needed to reach the teenagers he saw growing up without God in their lives. “Jesus Christ, the most fascinating person in the universe, will completely captivate the heart of any young person who knows Him,” the young evangelist said. “So we seek to present Him in the most attractive way.”

Rayburn’s organization, Young Life, grew so rapidly after its founding in 1941 that by 1946 it was able to purchase Star Ranch, a camp near Colorado Springs, and then in 1949 to add a second camp, Silver Cliff, which adjoined Dr. Marquard’s camp at Chalk Creek.

Finally, in 1951, Young Life bought Round-Up Lodge from Doc, who was ready for retirement after a quarter-century of helping raise other men’s sons. The Texan and his Young Life associates rechristened the spread above Chalk Creek as Frontier Ranch, and it quickly became a mecca for Young Life high school club members from across the country, while Silver Cliff, in turn, was converted for use by Christian adults and family groups connected with Jim Rayburn’s ministry.

The name “Round-up” lived on, though, since Doc and his wife, Mabel, had acquired a summer property northwest of Buena Vista and developed it into a lavish personal guest facility which they named Round-Up Ranch.

For my father, meanwhile, the Marquard connection had stretched but never broken as the years went by. Dad worked first in business for his father-in-law in Michigan, then as an administrator for Principia in St. Louis.

But his camp dream stirred from embers into flame in the summer of 1953 when he took our family to visit his uncle, Stanley Oakes, who was helping run Kohahna, the Christian Science girls’ camp near Traverse City, Michigan, which Mom had once attended.

The next summer my parents visited Doc and Mabel Marquard at Round-Up Ranch, and the summer after that John Andrews plunged in as a camp director in his own right.

In late 1954, I remember Dad, over the doubts of both my grandfathers, but with Marquard’s encouragement, prospecting by phone and mail for suitable facilities around Buena Vista. Sight unseen, my father signed a lease on Spring Canyon Lodge, just off the Cottonwood Pass road in the north shadow of Mount Princeton.

Spring Canyon today is a handsome retreat operated by the Officers’ Christian Fellowship. But when the Andrews caravan pulled in on a June day in 1955, with an Olds sedan and a Chevy wagon crammed with supplies for the 20 campers and half a dozen staff who were to arrive later in the month, we found a decidedly modest cluster of cabins around a lodge overlooking beaver ponds and aspen groves.

There were no bunks in the cabins; they’d be delivered later from Army surplus.

There were no horses, nor a corral yet; those would be supplied by Johnny Amrine, a former Round-Up Lodge wrangler.

There were no REA power lines; light came from a little gasoline generator in a hillside dugout which would quit mysteriously every few days and darken camp until it was restarted by a strategic kick.

No patch of ground was flat enough for a ballfield; games were played at the schoolyard in Bueny, where phone messages from parents and vendors were handled by Maude and Guy Wiershing at White House Liquors. (Some of our teetotalling church families were startled to discover where the camp’s “direct line” actually rang.)

Much was improvised that first summer. Anticipating that Spring Canyon would be no more than a temporary location, Dad hadn’t even formally named the new venture as yet. Enrollment brochures mailed from his office in a corner of our St. Louis home had called it simply “A Western Camp for Boys from Christian Science Families.”

To avoid either the citified stiffness of “Mr. Andrews” or the undue familiarity of first-naming the camp director, we campers were to call him “Cap.” This harked back to Dad’s Navy days and fitted with the Eisenhower era’s respect for the flag. It also complemented the sobriquet of our camp’s assistant director, Garner Hubbell, my great-uncle whom everyone called “Major” from his days of commanding the Principia cadet corps back when that institution was a military academy.

With the boys entrained for home in mid-August, Cap and Major met with Doc Marquard. That first season had been an experiment; should they continue?

Sky Valley Ranch — a house, barn, and two outbuildings on 960 wooded acres adjacent to the Marquard place on Three Elk Creek — was for sale from Fred Hargis, a Texan who then owned the Hi-Rocky Store in Buena Vista. It would provide the camp with a permanent home, room to grow, and a name. My parents decided to go ahead.

On opening day in 1956, boys lugging footlockers into the three new log bunkhouses had to step around carpenters driving the final nails, but enrollment doubled that year and doubled again the next.

Sky Valley became our family’s year-round home in 1957 as my father scrambled to cut expenses while raising four children and sustaining the expansive momentum of his new venture. It worked, though under circumstances tinged with sadness: following Doc Marquard’s death in the summer of ’58, Round-Up Ranch was acquired from his widow and refitted to open as a girls’ camp the next year.

Marianne Hutchinson Andrews was not quite the born camp director that her husband was, with his gregarious nature, leadership gift, and love for sports and the outdoors. But Mom’s idealism, faith, and pluck were fully the equal of Dad’s, and at Round-Up her generous heart soon embraced a hundred girls as warmly as it had always held me and Jim and Nornie and Sally.

No nicknames for this director — everyone knew her simply as Marianne — but under her, the new sister camp quickly worked up its own spirit songs and campfire lore, including the shadowy, nightriding Old Squaw who visited by torchlight to assign girls their horses for the summer just as the Old Prospector had traditionally done (for all of three summers) at the boys’ camp.

Half a mile down the road at Sky Valley, we scoffed at the country club amenities the gals had inherited from Doc and Mabel — curtained windows, flower-edged lawns — but we counted the days till they’d be over for Saturday barbecue suppers with square dancing afterward.

I was reaching the work crew age about then, and it was over the dishroom counter in Round-Up’s Marquard Lodge that I met a tall blonde from Bakersfield, Donna D’Evelyn, who is now my wife of 28 years. In 1960, we were both 16 and Kennedy and Nixon were vying to succeed Ike in the White House, but that all seemed irrelevant and far away.

With JFK the ’60s dawned, deceptively calm at first but with growing turmoil. Though the diffident black cooks in our camp kitchens and the grinning Japanese exchange student on Sky Valley’s staff might seem unrelated to civil rights protests in the South, and post-colonial liberation wars in Asia, the connection would be evident soon enough.

Doubt, disillusion, upheaval, and counterculture were in the air. My generation was headed in huge numbers for the campuses and later, in many cases, for battlefronts or communes.

By 1962, the year I entered Principia College, Sky Valley and Round-up were enrolling some 300 campers each season (counting those who came for only half of the eight-week schedule). With a return rate of perhaps 50%, their national constituency was growing fast.

My parents began hearing from Christian Science parents from across the country. There was a recurring theme of questions about branching out to offer year-round activities for teens in their hometowns as well as activities beyond high-school years.

Finally, several dozen of those most interested gathered in Buena Vista after the 1962 season for a conference to weigh the options. A nonprofit corporation, Adventure Unlimited, was formed to take over the operation of both camps and to explore additional avenues of youth outreach for adherents of Mary Baker Eddy’s church.

Mrs. Eddy’s statement early in this century, “We live in an age of Love’s divine adventure to be All-in-all,” was part of the inspiration for the Adventure Unlimited name, according to my mother, though promotional considerations also entered in. The name proved sound but not perfect; through the years it has occasionally been mistaken for that of a travel agency, and once for a massage parlor.

Whereas for Jim Rayburn and Young Life the sequence had been first the world and then Buena Vista, for the Andrews and Adventure Unlimited it was Buena Vista then the world. But the outcome was the same on Three Elk as on Chalk Creek. Each of the valley’s camp operations had evolved from the conventional, small-business, summer recreation model into ambitious links of a far-flung, year-round program serving thousands of children and young people, and fired by a commitment to devout faith.

Soon the A/U Ranches, as they now began to be known, were emulating Young Life’s Frontier and Silver Cliff Ranches by rescheduling the summer for repetitive one-and two-week sessions to accommodate more kids at lower tuition. The ranches began reopening around Christmas for ski groups, and charter buses were employed to bring guests from major cities as train service dwindled. Dining halls were equipped with coffeepots, and bunkhouses with baby cribs, as the family camping market grew.

For families, Young Life went one better in 1964, developing a separate, fully equipped guest lodge and retreat center called Trail West on rising land near Middle Cottonwood Creek, about midway between their camps and the Adventure Unlimited’s facilities.

Today, midway through the ’90s, both the Young Life and the Adventure Unlimited camps look to continue as a vital presence in Central Colorado well into the next century. Their brochures for the 1995 season sing the timeless appeal of our mountain summers (though some details might startle old Doc Marquard — like the go-kart track at Frontier, and the recycled-paper disclaimer with its multicultural assurances: “If you believe you have been discriminated against…write immediately to the Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250.”).

None of the patriarchs actually built a dynasty. Marquard was childless. The late Jim Rayburn’s son and namesake now runs a business in Colorado Springs after authoring a book on his dad, and I am currently inactive with Adventure Unlimited after having been its executive director in the late ’70s. But the dreams of Marquard, Rayburn, and Andrews guided several generations of respective camp families, offering a kind of spiritual fatherhood to many.

“We’ll always have a soft spot in our heart” for the valley and the camp friendships formed there, Glynn Clark of St. Louis told me recently. “The chemistry was great and the bonds are still close.” The ex-Marine and retired college president, now 83, was head counselor under Doc Marquard in 1940 and describes, as if it were yesterday, the “sparkling personality” of one young counselor that season, the 20-year-old Cap Andrews.

Glynn Clark still gathers for a quarterly reunion dinner with his Round-Up Lodge mates from the 1934-49 era, and he still owns a few ghost-town lots in St. Elmo, far up Chalk Creek. He asked if I thought land values up there would ever rebound, and I said they might, but reminded him I’d also said Roy Romer would be a one-term governor.

St. Elmo was always one of our trip destinations in the late ’50s when Sky Valley was getting started. We’d poke through the tumbledown buildings, gawk at the ancient crone who still lived in one of them (Annie Stark, I believe her name was), and then pitch camp further west on the Hancock townsite near the Alpine Tunnel. I’d lie in my sleeping bag next to my father in his, right out under the stars if the night was cloudless, and he’d teach me the constellations. If there was a happier kid alive then — you couldn’t prove it by me.

I saw things through those experiences, and had windows opened for me that have set the whole course of my life.

Cap has a favorite quote from John Muir that he liked to use in campfire talks and enrollment materials, and from it he took the name for the Chapel of a Thousand Windows which was built by the Round-Up Ranch lake in Marianne’s memory after her passing in 1978.

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest, days in whose light all things seem equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”

John Andrews, Jim Rayburn, and Alfred Marquard played a role as window-openers for thousands and thousands of kids here in decades past, and their legacy continues.

John K. Andrews, Jr., founded the Independence Institute in Golden in 1985 and was the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado in 1990. Though currently working in Denver as a TV producer, he says that Buena Vista will always be his true home. He publishes a monthly journal, Andrews’ America; call 303-692-4971 for a free sample.