Lots of people have crazy and wild ideas, but not many follow through with them. Custer County is home to many dreamers and shakers who took risks to create something that ultimately enriched the region.
Our observatory is named after Smokey Jack, a visionary who organized Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley in 1998. This group went on to earn Westcliffe and Silver Cliff’s International Dark Sky Community Designation in 2015.
Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley is now run by Jim Bradburn, lead architect of the Denver International Airport and visionary in his own right. It was Bradburn who dreamed up the airport’s signature white peaks to signify teepees rising from the plains.
Long before Smokey Jack gazed upon Custer County’s night sky, 15-year-old Jim Bishop bought a parcel of forested land in 1959. He’s now the man who never stops building a stone castle all by himself. Years of stacking stone and welding metal have awarded him a fortress boasting cathedral windows, iron and steel walkways, stained glass and a stainless steel, fire-breathing dragon. What began as a simple home is now one of Custer County’s most visited attractions.
Chris and Tara Seegers bought the entire community of Hillside—all 9 acres of it—in 2015 to keep the historic ranching hub from turning into a ghost town. They restored existing buildings, most notably the post office, which serves as a meeting place for local ranchers. Hillside now offers four modern, rustic cabins as vacation rentals to accommodate outdoor enthusiasts.