Glenwood Canyon river icon dies |

Glenwood Canyon river icon dies

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, 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 by a cable car over the Colorado River.

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

Gerald Wayne McKeel, 69, died due to natural causes Nov. 2. McKeel lived in a house by 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.

It could only be reached by walking the railroad tracks from Glenwood Springs or by pedaling a cable car suspended 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 back property visible to people floating by on the river. People joked about what kind of laundry would be hung up on the clothesline on his property.

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,” his son Joe McKeel said. “He was just a big teddy bear kind of guy.”

Joe said Gerald at one time stood 6-feet-8-inches tall and was 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 car 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 by 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 since he was around 11 until graduating from Glenwood Springs High School around 1957, Joe said. Gerald would later return and live in the house for more than seven years full time 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.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121 or

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