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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Knock Knock Knockin' on Heaven's Gate

"We were young and strong and ridin' against the wind"

It was over, our mission complete. Nothing left to do but celebrate, dance to the music, and partake of hoppy IPAs. 
I proposed a toast: "Here's to another fine day outdoors in the company of fine people. Cheers!" 

This is a Geezer's permutation of  a day in the life of three modern-day Geezer Musketeers (One for all and all for nothing). 

After over four hours in the saddle—half of which was pedaling uphill into a Bob Seger wind—we were sore of ass and dry of throat. Time to recoup de gras at the Horsefly Brewery in Motown (Montrose).
Today's adventure plays out on Government Springs Road, somewhere middle-ish between Ridgway and Motown. GSR heads west off highway 550 at an elevation of 6200 feet, then snakes it's way up to the southernmost swell of the Uncompaghre Plateau, near the base of Horsefly's negligible knob at 9300 feet. 

Bobbie and I had ridden GSR before, but I'm guessing it'd been nye onto 20 some years ago. In those days it was a seldom maintained dead end gravel road. Nothing out there but a smattering of rural loners who'd become disenchanted with the Big Citah "police state" of Montrose (they hired a second cop). Just too much pressure and gridlock for them, what with the one stoplight and all. The gravel used to peter out in a few miles, after which it was one of those rutted fine-if-it's-dry-but-ya-ain't-commin'-back-if-it's-wet bottomless clay bogs.

But GSR got paved back in 2005 thanks to "Cornerstone Colorado," a massive development funded by a Texas oil billionaire who thought our remote wilderness could use one of those ostentatious "Heaven's gated" communities with a private 18 hole Greg Norman golf course. Holy Moly; 6,000 acres of prime Colorado high country got carved into "Hobby Ranch-ettes." Part of the "deal" was that Cornerstone had to pave not only all the roads within the development, but the ten miles of GSR that served as access to their "Heaven's Gate." 

All-in-all, with the costs of paving, infrastructure, utility runs, club house/restaurant, Greg Norman golf course, riding stables, lakes, ponds, and so on, the billionaire managed to spend 120 million dollars. Of course, this only managed to put a tiny dent in his financial empire... kinda like us loosing a dollar in a slot machine.

Long story short, after a gauntlet of red tape and promises, the billionaire's dream finally came to fruition in 2007. Ah, timing is everything, eh?  Yep, just as greed was about to catch up with a highly corrupted mortgage/investment sector, one that ended up melting down the housing and stock markets, Cornerstone put's out a "For Sale" sign. But "the rich" suddenly pulled back on buying second and third homes, the chicken shits. Home values, as well as the "the market," were in a free-fall and nobody knew where the "bottom" was.

Thus, Cornerstone became a "distressed property" after a few years... got sold and resold several times to "investors" who didn't exactly embrace the same utopian "vision" that was promised by the original developer. They were reluctant to dump more money into a "ship" that was still sinking. 

Eventually the fancy clubhouse/restaurant closed, then the fancy riding stable, the award winning 18 hole golf course, and so on, and so on. For the few who bought into the "dream" and purchased land, or worse, purchased land and built a fancy home on it... well, they got the "shaft" of their golf club rammed up their rear ends. Lawsuits are ongoing, as you would expect. But in today's big business "Donald Trump" world, it's hard to squeeze blood out of a financially sheltered "turnip." So it's the little guys that get hurt... the employees, the small investors trying to play with the Big Boys, hoping to make a little money. 

It isn't fair. All the "Donalds" do if things don't work out is file for bankruptcy. Poof. Oh well. You see, they shelter their personal assets by forming a "shell corporation." I mean, is Donald, alright, but if things don't go as planned his personal fortune isn't at risk. Pretty easy to "gamble" with those kind of rules and safety net. Meanwhile, most "Mom and Pops" second mortgaged their homes to try and keep their businesses afloat during the meltdown, and the bankers were not patient nor understanding when it came to foreclosing.  The game is rigged, me thinks.

So our ride was smooth... no traffic, on seldom used pavement. It was over 10 miles to "Heaven's Gate," steady uphill, and against the wind. We figured whoever owns Cornerstone by now probably isn't paying for the promised security that's supposed to keep the "rift raft" out, and simply rode around the gate. While the streets in "Heaven" were not paved with gold, the views were Heavenly. We rode six additional pleasantly vacant miles in solitude on Cornerstone's less traveled roads. Here's what we found behind "Heaven's Gates."

The Entry... supposed to be manned at all times. Nobody home.

The Riding Stables... for Urban Cowboys.

I doubt anyone's plowing the snow during wintertime. 

The "Clubhouse/Restaurant"... Not a soul stirring.

At the top... 9200 feet... where the pavement ends but the views keep going.

Looking into Utah... 

Just a couple of Geezer Trespassers

The closed Clubhouse/Restaurant

A peek through windows... 

And we had it all to ourselves

To the Greg Norman designed Golf Course that's closed and not being maintained

Yurts weren't locked... 

16 miles up plus 3000 feet of elevation gain equals 3 tough hours. Coming back down... priceless!!! 


  1. Wow. I just have no words. I have seen some of those "heaven's gate" kinds of places in the So Cal desert, and we even have a couple of them here in Klamath Falls...started in 2006 and up for sale in 2007. An abandoned paved road with street lights and nothing else. It is great for walking the dog. This is "beyond the pale" as they say in Ireland...that is where the saying came from I learned last year. Just gorgeous. It's fun to trespass.

  2. same deal on the Jack Nicklaus course down in Trinidad. Small guys get the shaft, developer leaves the bank hanging as he putts on down the road

  3. wow...wonder how long you could camp there before someone discovered you....I bet for a while..

  4. What a beautiful ride! I hope I can keep up that pace when I'm a geezer.

  5. I'm rather surprised that no one has trashed the place by now. It might sound crass, but our society likes to do that sort of thing to abandoned properties.

  6. An interestimg place. Some of these buildings would make a fashionable home. The whole story is so typical for some "big style" developments. It is now very long ago, but Campobello Island went through a similar story, except that hotels and cottages were acyually built, even though the entire adventure lasted only 30 years. If it hadn't been for the presence of FDR all of the fancyness of well-to-do Americans would have been lost for ever. But the island suffered under the decline. Oldtimers can still tell the story.

  7. Fascinating! It's amazing how well things have held up with minimal care. Sure is a beautiful location.

  8. Well I love it except I wish they hadn't done it in the first place. Nice buildings but it would look even nicer without them. Me thinks nothing has changed since 2008, nobody was punished, the game continues and we are in for another tanking in not too long. Just too bad the folks responsible never end up taking the hit.

  9. Thanks for showing us the failed development. Not only was that 16 miles and 3,000 feet, you did it on mountain bikes with lots of rolling resistance. Have you seen the neighborhood on the Whitney Portal road in Lone Pine? I am rooting for a failure there. The area looks much better without houses on it.

  10. Very interesting story. You wonder how many of those developments went belly up around the country.
    You guys are tough. 32 miles on pavement riding a mountain bike is not a fun ride!

  11. Enjoyed the ride. Quite a place. Just checked it out on Google Earth. A few gigantic homes scattered along the golf course, also. As Barbara said, it's a wonder the area hasn't been trashed. Must have security of some sort.

  12. New developers are trying yet again to revive this albatross. The property has changed hands many times since its original developers (Hunt)bailed out. They (Hunt) actually "opened" the Cornerstone development in the summer of 2008. Not exactly the best timing, as it turned out. It ceased operation in 2010, I believe, and laid off most of the remaining staff in June of 2012, leaving just a skeleton crew to oversee things.

    In 2014, the development changed hands for the first time as a distressed property, but that too went belly up. I don't know how many interim "owners" the property has had, but the latest, as far as I know, was Cornerstone Acquisition Group (CAG). I believe it is comprised mostly of those who bought in to the concept in its early stages who are probably trying to protect their investments.

    The last I heard, they are trying to complete the ~20 acres of practice golf development as well as what they're calling the Short Course. I think this is what is often more typically called an Executive Course in my experience. There was no golf taking place there last summer, but they had high hopes of opening the Short Course today (June 1, 2019), actually. Unfortunately, the heavy snowfall from last winter has delayed those plans for at least two weeks.

    There are two other similar developments within half a mile of Cornerstone - all three suffered the same fate and, to my knowledge, no one believes the other two will be resurrected. For that matter, a successful outcome for Cornerstone is equally in doubt.


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