DREAM IS HIS CASTLE
than 100 miles north of New Mexico's border with Colorado, on
State Highway 165 in the San Isabel National Forest, an inspired
56-year-old fanatic named Jim Bishop is building a great medieval
castle, stone by stone by stone. Anyone who stops to see it will
come away astonished.
The work began in 1969.
At first Bishop meant to build just a stone cottage on his 2"-acre
plot of private property off state Route 165 in the San Isabel
National Forest west of Colorado City. But when people told him
the cottage looked like a castle, the project became his magnificent
obsession. Indeed he would erect a castle, he vowed, with his
In Bishop's vision,
his castle would rival those built by European kings in the Middle
Ages. It would be a major tourist attraction, helping the economy
of the region. But he wanted the castle to be open to the public
free of charge, during all the years it was under construction
and then forever after.
Such was Bishop's dream.
But dreamers and bureaucrats seldom see things the same way, and
the project soon touched off a war of nerves with officialdom--a
war now 25 years old.
A self-described "poor
man," Bishop began using as his building material the large
granite stones that were forever washing down into the ditches
alongside the roads through the region. His plan was working fine--until
national forest rangers demanded $18 a ton. Infuriated and unable
to pay that cost, Bishop urged everyone he knew to call the Forest
Service and complain. Soon he was buying the rock at 10 cents
To help motorists find
his castle, Bishop put up a sign by the road. The highway department,
however, informed him that the sign was illegal and must come
down. Grudgingly he complied. Then he noticed signs pointing to
nearby ski areas.
Rankled when told that
those signs were "exempt" because skiers brought money
into the region, Bishop built a model of his castle, parked it
by the road, and erected a big sign inviting the public. He also
listed the highway department number for people to call. The sign
was allowed to stand.
And so things have
gone for Bishop and his obsession. He has avoided costly insurance
by posting notices that vistors assume all risk. He has avoided
property taxes by forming a non-profit corporation. He has sidestepped
building codes by assuring pesky inspectors he will make their
lives miserable if they apply their petty rules to his monumental
And what a structure
it is. Although Bishop figures another 20 years of unceasing labor
will be required to finish the job, already his castle soars into
the Colorado sky. The central stronghold, the "keep,"
rises 70 feet in three levels, capped by a steeply pitched roof.
The rear arch is bathed
in sunlight streaming through 85 huge panes of glass. Two towers
surge past the 100-foot mark, with two more to be added later.
One of them is to have a "solar-powered elevator" for
the elderly and handicapped.
Topping the front facade
is a fantastical creature, a fire-breathing dragon. Through 7-foot
stainless steel jaws, fashioned from discarded trays from a hospital,
a tall chimney from a stove belches fire and smoke into the forest
Future plans are more
grandiose still. They include a moat and drawbridge, a great wall
encompassing all 2" acres, an organ chapel, a concert balcony,
"hanging bedrooms," and, of course, secret passages,
tunnels, dungeons and torture chambers. And though it is hard
to believe, Bishop swears he alone has done every bit of work
on the already-huge castle.
Except when he's out
hauling rocks or other materials, he can be found at the castle
almost all the time, eager to push his dream, solicit donations,
and express his contempt for government and other "godless"
forces in America, the land he loves. His castle shows, he says,
what one free man can do.
Jim Bishop's eyes confirm
him as a man possessed, consumed by a strange, white-hot passion.
Yet long after the works of more reasonable men have crumbled
back into the earth, his wondrous monument will continue to amaze
all who stop to look.
To order Richard McCord's
book "The Chain Gang," a real-life adventure about journalism
in Santa Fe, visit Amazon.com.
Articles by Richard McCord