Frank Doll, the explorer |

Frank Doll, the explorer

Shirley Welch
Vail CO, Colorado

Long about this time, Helen Doll declared she had enough of living in tenant’s houses and wanted a place of her own. When she mentioned it to her husband, he didn’t understand her displeasure, so she took it up with her two brothers who lived in the Denver area, one who worked in real estate and the other two who worked in construction trades. It was decided that the two brothers would find a contractor who would come to Gypsum and build her a house, but first she had to find a chunk of land to build the house.

Frank and Helen approached his father about giving the couple some land, and he refused. By this time Frank and his father argued continuously about ranch matters, and although Frank didn’t know it at the time, his father had borrowed against the ranch so that he was deeply in dept. Next they went to see Uncle Sam, and Helen begged him to give them land of their own to build their home. Being the generous soul that he was ” and maybe to spite the brother with whom he had not spoken in some years ” Sam gave them 10 acres in the northeast property. On this property, Frank and Helen built a fine home, one that had two stories and four bedrooms.

So finally the Frank and Helen Doll had a house of their own. In the summer of 1933, a major decision was made that had a profound effect on young Frank Doll. Helen decided to spend the summer with her relatives in Denver and took Morton with her.

So Frank watched his mother and brother leave him behind on the huge Doll Ranch. Frank’s father decided that Frank would go to the ranch’s line camp over near Deep and Sweetwater Creeks. This was some 6 miles away from everything, deep in the heart of cattle country, near where old Ute Chief Yarmony held his tribal ceremonies.

The cow camp was nothing more than a shack with the barest of necessities to get along: a couple of bunks, a wood burning stove, a place to leave a horse. With his father checking in from time to time, Frank was left by himself at the cow camp. He had to manage the stove and cook his meals. He had a milk cow to tend. His dad left him with a list of chores. He had fences to mend, a horse to ride, a .22 rifle to shoot, a fishing rod to try. Still, he was only 12 years old and grew up pretty fast that summer.

The very best thing about the line camp that summer was that one of his best friends, Dwayne Skiff lived only about two miles away. He was the same age as Frank and they had been classmates since forever. So here we find the two boys, virtually left alone in the great outdoors, and it’s pretty much remarkable that Frank is around today to relate the many stories those boys had together at the cow camp that summer.

At one point, the boys had extra time on their hands and tried to come up with a plan for something to do. Lazing away the afternoon with cotton-string clouds drifting overhead, the two boys decided it would be a swell idea to fish the ENTIRE length of Deep Creek Canyon. Deep Creek Canyon runs from the Colorado River to its source at Deep Lake, some 10 miles up stream from the confluence with the Colorado River.

Deep Creek is aptly named. It begins as a sparkling, bubbling creek, running gin clear over smooth glacier stones but soon turns into a deep gorge with vertical drop-offs into the creek. Sheer cliffs plunge vertically, down to scree slopes where pines and spruce trees have a tenuous told on rock ledges. There, at the bottom of the gorge, Deep Creek flows as a glistening white ribbon of water through a pine forest, pausing in deep pools where trout linger in the shadows. Toward the end of the creek, where it meets the lake, it flattens out somewhat and to traverse the creek bed is not a life threatening proposition. But that is only the last mile or so.

So Frank and Dwayne started on their mission. Frank recounted that it took more than several weeks to accomplish their task, and not without life-threatening situations. They would ride their horses to the put-in point, get down into the canyon, and carefully make their way toward the end point. Sometimes they had to climb up rock shale cliffs to get to the next point and then climb down to the creek and start again.

Sometimes they were left dangling by no more than an inch or two of shale, where just their toes gave purchase. Sometimes they had to get in the water to navigate their way. Sometimes they simply had to sit and ponder their next steps, wondering if they would be alive by the time they took those steps. Sometimes it took an entire day just to reach the bottom of the gorge. By the end of the day, they would climb out of the canyon, back track to their horses, and ride to the line camp. When time allowed, they would start where they left off. The good news is that the two boys accomplished their task with no more injuries than a skinned knuckle to report. It was just a good thing Frank senior didn’t know what they were doing.

E-mail comments about this story to

Support Local Journalism