Glenwood Canyon loses denizen " and a part of river’s lore |

Glenwood Canyon loses denizen " and a part of river’s lore

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentGerald Wayne McKeel, 69, died of natural causes on Nov. 2. He lived in this house that was best accessed via a cable system strung across the Colorado River.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A man who was part of Glenwood Canyon lore has passed away.

Gerald Wayne McKeel, 69, died Nov. 2 as a result of natural causes. McKeel lived in a house near the Colorado River east of Glenwood Springs, near the No Name rest area.

His presence on the river was fairly well-known among the rafting community. He lived a private life in a home with no running water, electricity or telephone service.

His house could only be reached by walking the railroad tracks from Glenwood Springs or by pedaling a car suspended on a cable over the Colorado River near the rest area. Some raft guides would tell tall tales about Gerald ” even off-the-wall ones like he was Santa Claus’ twin brother.

McKeel would often sit out on the property, visible to people floating by on the river. People joked about what kind of laundry would be hung up on his clothesline.

One guide said losing McKeel from the Colorado River was almost like losing the Statue of Liberty for visitors to New York. The guide said there are many people who may not have known Gerald personally, but will miss him nonetheless.

McKeel had an imposing presence. He was “a mountain man and a mountain of a man,” his obituary said.

“He had a very big presence but he was very gentle,” said his son, Joe McKeel. “He was just a big teddy bear kind of guy.”

Joe said Gerald at one time stood 6-feet-8-inches tall and weighed just shy of 400 pounds. Joe remembers him as a kind-hearted man.

“He was full of life. He enjoyed traveling,” Joe said. “He was very sarcastic ” just a very dry sarcastic sense of humor.”

Joe said Gerald would give the shirt off his back. Gerald made the newspaper decades ago when someone got their truck stuck on an older version of Interstate 70 in the snow, he said.

“A guy came out of the mist and fog with a shovel on his back, dug them out and disappeared the same way,” Joe said. “They never knew who he was but he made the paper.”

Joe, who has served in the Navy for the last 12 years, said that a paving project on an older version of I-70 removed a bridge leading to the home. To get across the Colorado River, Gerald built the cable setup in the early 1970s. Joe said that the road construction crew commandeered the telephone line to the home so it could communicate outside of the canyon but the crew never restored service.

Gerald in his later years wrote at least a few eccentric letters to the editor with an anti-authoritarian slant. His eccentric side also led to a little trouble in the late 1990. He reportedly got in trouble with police in 1999 after taking an overnight bus to Denver and demanding to speak with former Gov. Bill Owens at the state Capitol.

Gerald’s father, Kenneth, was living in Grand Junction but traveled a lot and happened to spot an ad for the house near the river during a trip to Chicago, while walking along a downtown street.

Gerald had followed in his father’s footsteps and worked at a Denver switchyard for the Rio Grande Railroad. He later worked for Motorola International but had retired.

He was born in Chicago but lived in the house near the Colorado River from the time he was about age 11 until he graduated from Glenwood Springs High School, around 1957, Joe said. Gerald would later return and live in the house for more than seven years, until his death.

“He liked being away from the city,” Joe said. “He liked being able to talk to people when he wanted to talk to people.”

Joe also remembers Gerald as a generous man.

“You’d ask anything of him and he would go out of his way for you,” Joe said.

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