10 Kooky and Unique Colorado Attractions and Museums | Westword

Ten Cool and Kooky Colorado Attractions and Collections

This state is full of natural beauty...and manmade marvels ranging from castles to a gator farm.
Terry Gale has filled a museum with workingmen's cars.
Terry Gale has filled a museum with workingmen's cars. Evan Semón
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Colorado is full of natural wonders, but the stunning settings have also inspired a lot of man-made marvels. Sure, you can beat the heat by whiling away your summer at Water World or within Meow Wolf Denver's air-conditioned walls. but wouldn't you rather get out and see some of this state's most colorful attractions this summer?

For an experience worth writing home about, hightail it to one (or all) of these dozen spots that are unlike anything else, anywhere else:

Cano’s Castle

It’s hard to say how many hundreds of hubcaps and beer cans line the walls of Cano’s Castle, but you’ll have plenty of time to think about that as you approach Antonito, as you’ll see the gleaming thing from miles away. Since you can't actually enter Cano's Castle, it's a good thing that it’s at its most remarkable from the outside. Take it all in from the roadside long enough, though, and there’s a chance you’ll meet its creator, Dominic “Cano” Espinoza, who may insist that it was God who built the castle and that Jesus lives inside. While a fire last year destroyed a portion of the compound, the twin spires are still standing and the site is still very much worth the trip to Antonito. While there, grab lunch at Dos Hermanas Mexican/American Steakhouse for heaping helpings (of course!) of authentic southern Colorado Mexican fare.
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Even Governor Jared Polis has visited the Sasquatch Outpost.
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The Sasquatch Outpost & Sasquatch Encounter Discovery Museum


There have been just 130 Bigfoot sightings in Colorado, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, compared to well over five times that many in Washington state — so it seems like the famous cryptid may just take in Colorado’s blue skies whenever she or he gets sick of the dreary Pacific Northwest. In your own travels, consider a detour to the Sasquatch Outpost in Bailey, right off Highway 285. There you’ll find the Western U.S.’s largest selection of Sasquatch souvenirs alongside more typical sundries and camping gear. If you’re not enough of a believer to slap a Bigfoot sticker on your bumper, head into the on-site Discovery Museum for a few animatronic scares and photo ops — and to evaluate various pieces of evidence, from photos to videos to plaster casts and, sure, 48 inches of “suspected Sasquatch scat” found nearby. Afterward, as your appetite allows, grab a dog at the recently reopened Coney Island Boardwalk. Find out more here.
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Beware bugs when camping!
May Museum

May Natural History Museum & Golden Eagle Campground

Colorado Springs

If this year’s historic miller moth infestation has left you wanting more (what’s wrong with you?), make a beeline to the May Natural History Museum in Colorado Springs. This is one of the world’s largest private displays of tropical bugs, with 7,000 perfectly preserved insects filling case after case after case in what amounts to the life’s work of amateur naturalist James May and his son, John. The museum proclaims that there’s a “bug for everyone,” from butterflies to beetles to spiders to scorpions and, yes, moths. If that’s not enough to get your wings flapping, book a stay at the adjacent family-owned Golden Eagle Campground, complete with hiking trails, stocked fishing ponds, campfire rings and a playground. Both are hard to miss: Just turn onto Rock Creek Canyon Road from Highway 115 next to the statue of “Herkimer, World’s Largest Beetle,” a ten-foot-high replica of the West Indian Hercules beetle. Get the details here.

Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum

All sorts of singular characters populate Colorado’s windswept Eastern Plains, though perhaps none more surprising than Lee Maxwell, the world’s foremost expert on antique washing machines. His eponymous Washing Machine Museum is a 20,000-square-foot shrine to the historical significance of the washing machine, which he argues in his book Save Womens Lives: History of Washing Machines was as significant an invention as the radio, computer, automobile and television. If that claim agitates you, take the tour of the more than 1,400 washing machines in his collection, proclaimed the world’s largest by Guinness World Records. You’ll count yourself lucky to have experienced some good, clean fun with Maxwell as your guide, and he’s as deeply funny and interesting at 93 as he was when he started the collection in 1985. The museum is open by appointment only, with booking information (and 23,000 washing machine patents) at oldewash.com.
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Rambler Ranch is packed with working man's cars.
Evan Semon

Rambler Ranch


You’d never expect sleepy Elizabeth, population 1,675, to host one of the most significant car museums in the world, but then again, everything about this 60,000-square-foot, 700+ car collection seems unlikely. Terry Gale’s Rambler Ranch, the largest known collection of Nash and AMC vehicles, started with a painstaking restoration of his father’s 1954 Nash Ambassador. It’s grown to include hundreds of cars in six buildings, including some real rarities, like the one-of-one 1955 Nash Ambassador Pinin Farina Speciale; the world’s only complete collection of the themed Westerner, Briarcliff and Mariner editions of the 1967 AMC Rebel Cross Country station wagon; and a Jeep Grand Wagoneer stretch limousine, one of only sixty ever made. While those impress, the collection staggers with the sheer number of working-class cars that turn heads to this day, like AMC Pacers, Eagles and Gremlins. Find out more here.

The Key Room at Seven Keys Lodge
Estes Park

Between 20,000 and 30,000 keys line the ceiling and walls of the Key Room at Seven Keys Lodge, formerly the Baldpate Inn (both names come from the 1913 best-selling mystery novel Seven Keys to Baldpate). It's billed as the world’s largest collection of keys, though some items boast an impossible (and largely unprovable) provenance — such as the alleged keys to Westminster Abbey, the White House bathroom, Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest and Adolf Hitler’s desk. Others, like the keys to Greeley’s first town jail, the first United Air Lines Mainliner and Columbia University’s long-demolished “Class of 1888 Gates” are presented alongside official credentials from people and places the world over that have donated their keys to the collection. Contribute to Colorado history by adding your own after booking a stay or popping in for an after-hike snack or cocktail, since the lodge is just steps away from the Lily Lake Trailhead. Get more details here.
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A tiny coffee cup is one of the miniature displays.

Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys

Now settled into its new digs in Lakewood after decamping from the historic Pearce-McAllister Cottage in City Park West, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys is still fundraising to open an additional 7,000 square feet of ADA-accessible space on its second floor. It’s a big goal for a museum dedicated to the tiny things in life, and your $6 admission fee (with cheaper rates for kids) will help. Tykes will delight in the hundreds of toys from every era in the pantheon of playtime (including collections ranging from Star Wars to Harry Potter and beyond), while adults will get a kick out of the staggering amount of detail in and around everything from high-end, artisan dollhouses to ivory-, silver- and gold-carved miniatures. With 20,000 pieces filling out the collection, there’s something here certain to please you in a big way, no matter how old (or young at heart) you might be. Find out more here.

The Koshare Museum at Otero College
La Junta

La Junta’s Koshare Museum is one of those places that’s both famous and infamous, for better and for worse. Its kiva, or round room, purports to host the world’s largest self-supported log ceiling, comprising 627 logs in a toothpick-inspired design initially deemed an architectural impossibility. Equally impressive is the fact that the kiva, the surrounding museum, and its world-class collection of Native American artifacts, pottery, textiles and Western art — including paintings by Joseph Henry Sharp, Bert Phillips and other founders of the Taos Society of Artists — came together as a project of the bootstrapping local Boy Scout troop. And then you learn that those largely non-Native Boy Scouts came to afford all this by touring the country, wearing Native attire over painted skin, performing an “interpretive” dance decried by Hopi and other Native leaders as culturally appropriative and religiously exploitative. In that way, the Koshare Museum serves as a crystalline reminder that the European-American people’s accomplishments here in the American West, no matter how impressive, can never be separated from the theft that made them possible. Learn more here.
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A Colorado alligator.
Colorado Gators Facebook

Colorado Gators Reptile Park

In April, the Colorado Gators Reptile Park, an eighty-acre geothermal refuge for rescued alligators, snakes and other reptiles, suffered an extensive fire. More than 100 animals perished, including snakes, lizards, pythons and parrots, though the Mosca-Hooper Fire Department managed to save eight tortoises, eight turtles and three dwarf caiman. Every alligator and crocodile survived, however, as did all of the sharks, and the park is open to visitors again and continuing to grow its stable as it works to rebuild. While operator Jay Young is about as eccentric as you’d expect, Joe Exotic he is not: For decades, he’s saved these neglected and unwanted creatures from exotic pet shops and previous owners who bit off more than they could chew – and in the wake of the fire, Young was praised by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for complying with every requirement. That means you can rest easy knowing that your $25 adult ticket fee goes toward a place worth rebuilding. Find out more here.

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Pueblo lights up!
Neon Alley Facebook

Neon Alley

Humming neon signs, once the most creative part of Main Street commercial districts the country over, have been replaced by sterile, soulless LED simulacrum in recent years. But Pueblo has been in the business of fighting for its own soul, on and off, ever since the Great Flood of 1921, so little wonder that neon has a secure home here, in Colorado’s most earnest city. Nestled in a narrow alley between B Street and C Street, just across from the famed Union Depot, you’ll find dozens of neon signs, collected from across the country and advertising everything from beer-and-hot dog joints to office products to Shell Gasoline — and much, much more. North of forty signs currently fill the space, with displays of more than a hundred more planned by Joe and Jim Koncilja, Pueblo natives whose downtown development efforts have lit up much of the Steel City. Go see the signs after sunset, then stroll a mile down Union Avenue to grab a cocktail or catch a show under the glow at Smitty’s Greenlight Tavern. Find out more here.
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Bishop Castle is a work in progress.
Bishop Castle Facebook

Bishop Castle

Thousands of tons of rocks rise up out of the middle of nowhere next to Highway 65 outside of Rye, wrapped together with wrought iron and cathedral glass to form the sixteen-story Bishop Castle — likely the largest self-built castle in the country, though the competition is probably pretty slim. For more than fifty years, Jim Bishop — a cantankerous Puebloan whose penchant for strong opinions is only exceeded by his passion for hard work — has done everything you see here, from hand-digging the foundation to lifting rocks to the top of the gargantuan spires to welding together the 800-steel-plate strong, fire-breathing dragon. After surviving a psychiatric hospitalization, a cancer scare and a high-profile ownership dispute, Bishop is still building away, with sky-high plans for more turrets, a bigger balcony, and even a roller coaster. If you're lucky, you'll catch Bishop during a visit. Just don't ask him about taxes or zoning codes, and make sure to wear closed-toed shoes: This is a construction site, after all. Get more details here.

World Famous Broom Wall
The Victor Trading Co. & Manufacturing Works

Once every barman’s best friend for sweeping last night’s dirt out the door, the humble broom has largely been supplanted in American cleaning culture by cheap plastic vacuum cleaners. Not so in Victor, home to the Victor Trading Co. & Manufacturing Works and its “World Famous Broom Wall,” a front-to-back, photo-friendly celebration of the history and lore of brooms and broomcorn — the coarse, fibrous sorghum used in broom-making that's said to have been introduced to the U.S. by Benjamin Franklin, of all people. Just in front of the broom wall, you’ll find Sam and Karen Morrison, who have been making brooms by hand using circa-1900 technology for 35 years. Call before you visit, and you can buy a top-quality, made-to-order broom to take home with you (and you’ll end up wondering if it’s really worth lugging that heavy vacuum cleaner room to room). Find out more here
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