A Tale of a Whale…Rock

Polly Brinkhoff's Whale Rock. Photo by Jonson Kuhn.

Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News

Have you ever heard of the Whale Rock in Bellvue?  Well, if you haven’t, let me just (respectfully) make it perfectly clear that it can NOT be found on Whale Rock Rd.  Sure, I can understand the confusion and it’s an easy enough mistake to make, however, Whale Rock Rd. itself is a private road that the good folks living up there would like to keep private.  And why not?  We all like our privacy, especially these days when it almost seems as though nothing at all is ever private.

The good news is that if you make it to Whale Rock Rd. in search of the mysterious, if not legendary Whale Rock, then you’ve essentially made it because you can literally see the rock on the side of the road from the intersection of Whale Rock Rd. and Rist Canyon Rd.  The actual rock itself is nestled just off the side of Rist Canyon, right before you get to Whale Rock Rd., which again, you shouldn’t travel on at all unless invited. But perhaps I’m not providing enough details about this Whale Rock, to begin with, because there’s quite a story behind it that involves one quite extraordinary individual, whose name we all should be familiar with, even more so than the actual rock itself.

Polly Brinkhoff was many things, but just to name a few, she was an artist, a mountain woman, and a proud resident of Bellvue living within Skin Gulch, which is located right between Rist and Poudre Canyons. Polly and her infamous husband Rattlesnake Jack were two real-life people, who if you didn’t know any better, you might think walked straight off the pages of a tall tale along with Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill.

Polly is the one credited with having started the tradition of painting Whale Rock to, well, look like a whale.  She lived in Skin Gulch without electricity or indoor plumbing from 1953 until her death in April 1999, and within that time she maintained the rock, always repainting it as needed, but as I said, she passed away in 1999…and yet the rock remains repainted to this very day.

So, this naturally begs the question, who’s still painting it?  That question, unfortunately, seems to be right up there with questions such as what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa or who shot J.R. on Dallas.  As I stated earlier, that’s a pretty private community up along Whale Rock Rd. and though there are many stories to be shared, not everyone is so willing to share them in print.  But if I may be so bold or permitted to ponder, perhaps the answer to the question of who is still maintaining the rock is the same person that’s been doing it all along…Polly!

Just hear me out (and have an open mind); Polly met her unfortunate and untimely demise when her truck went off the edge of the Poudre Canyon, a road she had traveled along for nearly 50 years. It’s speculated by friends and family that she was transporting a chicken on that particular day, but yet nothing was ever found other than a shivering dog left hiding in the backseat.

After her passing, as part of Polly’s obligation to the Forest Service, her children burned her home down in Skin Gulch and barricaded the access road with rocks and earth, just as Polly would have preferred.  But in doing so, maybe this somewhat ceremonial act might have preserved a bit of Polly within that region for all of time, therefore leaving her spirit behind to continue her artistic duties to the very Whale Rock she herself created!  I know…it’s a stretch, suggesting her spirit is still somehow coming around from time to time and applying a fresh layer of paint to the rock as is needed…but it certainly beats simply saying I have no idea who’s still doing it.

Do you? Reach out to us at info@northfortynews.com, we want to hear your stories about this infamously local (and cool) landmark.

Photo by Jonson Kuhn
Photo by Jonson Kuhn

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