Did They Dance the Charleston?

Unexpected discoveries often occur in unusual locations. During a camping trip in Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest a few weeks back, my husband and I enjoyed two calm nights under a full moon at Davenport Campground adjacent to Squirrel Creek, where large historic markers recount a fascinating chapter in the local history, and what follows is my own simplified version.

In the wake of southcentral Colorado’s devastating Ludlow Massacre which affected coal miners and their families in 1914, unions gained increasing influence, working conditions for various laborers finally improved, and vacation time was at their disposal for the first time. The working classes became interested in recreation, and discovered the plentiful woods west of Pueblo as a camping destination. It soon became evident that the unstructured foray of masses of humans into the forest created attendant problems.


Arthur Carhart (1892-1978)

In 1919, landscape architect and World War I sanitation officer, Arthur Carhart, was recruited by the National Forest supervisor to come up with solutions to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and destruction of land and timber. Arthur was a visionary who anticipated the growing utilization of natural places, and the resultant need for infrastructure. When Congress refused to allot funds for recreation for the Forest Service, he did not capitulate, but founded a private non-profit corporation, with Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron one of its major contributors, the same responsible for the infamy committed at Ludlow.

Mr. Carhart is credited with designing the first modern campground along Squirrel Creek, with each site including space for tents, picnic tables and benches, fire rings, and access to so-called “sanitaries”, ensuring the separation of human waste from drinking water. Having camped at numerous private, state, and federal campgrounds, we were intrigued to learn who masterminded this nearly ubiquitous layout. In 1922, he also adapted a wagon trail along the stream for automobile use, which became known as Squirrel Creek Road and improved accessibility to a mounting number of recreation sites.


Camping before the advent of structured campsites

For travelers not inclined to sleep under canvas, Carhart planned the Squirrel Creek Lodge in 1922, a two-story structure whose rooms were complemented by a center hall, two large fireplaces, a roomy kitchen and — a dance floor. What else could one ask for after escaping the sweltering heat of Pueblo, but to seek shade under the cool forest canopy, and to cut a rug, dancing the wildly popular Charleston during the Roaring 1920s?

Alas, all good things must come to an end. The Great Depression followed the upbeat twenties, and additional tourist attractions by the early 1940s led to a decline in the popularity of the Squirrel Creek developments. The death knell was sounded in 1947 after a flood washed out portions of the road and campgrounds, plus several bridges.


Hiking trail along the former Squirrel Creek Road

For modern day visitors, this story comes alive along the former Squirrel Creek Road, now a hiking trail, which starts at Davenport Campground and connects to the Pueblo Mountain Park approximately 5 miles east, as the crow flies. Along its course are scattered remnants of picnic tables, fire rings, concrete anchors for wooden guardrail posts, and a reconstructed Adirondack-style picnic shelter. After years of disuse, a conflagration claimed the lodge in 1979, and all that survives today is its foundation.


Foundation of former Squirrel Creek Lodge

However, when I listened closely, mixed in with the murmuring of Squirrel Creek, the breeze stirring the boughs of ponderosa pines, and the haunting tune of a hermit thrush, I’d swear I heard soft notes of dance music drifting through the air.

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Fall Equinox

In celebration of the first day of autumn, my husband and I make our customary pilgrimage into the mountains. Spoiled by a wide array of choices, we nonetheless seem to gravitate to Pancake Rocks year after year.

As we leave Colorado Springs and wind up Ute Pass, we detect first flecks of orange among the scrub oak, and patches of yellow in the cottonwoods and willows that line Fountain Creek. A waning half moon still lingers in the western sky. Near Woodland Park, we espy small clusters of changing aspen, which become more numerous once we veer from Highway 24 onto 67. When we get out of the car after a 40 mile drive, we enjoy the nibble of fall in the 65 degrees that greet us, especially after our recent heat wave.


Start of the Pancake Rocks Trail

Our trail starts directly after a collapsed railroad tunnel. We avoid this popular area on weekends, but at the height of the season, multitudes of leaf peepers may abound even during the week, and so it is today. We barely find a parking space, but it turns out that, for once, it is better not to be among the early birds. As we ascend, most other hikers descend, so that we encounter very few people, the closer we are to our goal.

For the first mile, the path to Pancake Rocks is identical to one leading to Horsethief Falls. When it forks, instead of going straight to the falls, half a mile away, we turn right, and commence a two mile trek through a coniferous forest. The higher we climb, the richer the hillsides are with our favorite aspen tree. A breeze emphasizes one of its most prominent features: the quaking, or trembling of its canopy, reflected in its name, Populus tremuloides.


A carpet of aspen leaves

Where leaves flutter through the air, we walk under showers of golden flakes, and tread on a golden carpet. Their rustling is music to our ears, punctuated by the tweets of small bands of chickadees and juncos, and the chattering of pine squirrels busy with eating and stashing provisions for future use.


Stacks of pancakes

When we reach our destination whose geologic features reminded someone of their favorite breakfast item, we, too, reward ourselves with food. During our picnic, we relish a window in the clouds and soak up the warmth of the sun from these rocky outcroppings, while we are swept away by the vista. Highway 67 winds through a wide mountain valley bordered by hills entirely covered in trees whose tones range from the dark green of spruce, firs, and pines, to the lighter green, yellow, orange and red aspen foliage can assume, creating a multi-hued tapestry, before the backdrop of the western mountains, and under a cerulean sky dotted with white and gray tufts of cotton.


View from Pancake Rocks

Welcome, and adieu, beautiful time of year. Your transition leaves us mildly wistful, so we are grateful for your burst of color which will warm and accompany us through winter, until the arrival of another spring.


Autumn in Colorado

A View of Manitou

While hiking the Paul Intemann Memorial Trail between Crystal Park Road and Ruxton Avenue not long ago, scenes of Manitou Springs gradually unfold, and with them reminders of how marketable the hamlet has been from the moment it was put on the map.

Since George Ruxton, British explorer, travel writer, and namesake of a prominent avenue and creek, traveled through the area in 1847, and commented on the “boiling waters”, much has been said and written about its major and minor selling points. General William Jackson Palmer and Dr. William Abraham Bell, who reveled in those bubbling soda springs during a railroad survey in 1869, became enamored of the site, and once Colorado Springs had been founded in 1871 by the General, his close friend and business partner Dr. Bell was credited with the creation of its neighbor to the west, Manitou, only a year later. In the ensuing decades, it was touted as a destination for sightseers and health seekers, thanks to Colorado’s sunshine and pure air, in addition to Manitou’s miraculous mineral springs. Even though the stream of seers and seekers has ebbed and surged at times, it has continued unabated. Boosters have successfully advertised every nature- and man-made feature for the nearly one-and-a-half centuries of the town’s existence.

From our vantage point on the trail, which winds along Manitou’s southern foothills, we note some of those attractions. Even the ones which no longer serve their original function have been reincarnated, thereby extending their life.

Incline scar on Mount Manitou, with Red Mountain in the foreground

Incline scar on Mount Manitou, with Red Mountain in the foreground

The most conspicuous mark on the landscape is a swath along the flank of Mount Manitou, location of the former Incline cable car which ran from 1907 until 1990. Initially, it conveyed supplies for a water pipeline, but was soon refashioned to carry humans. Its disassembly after a destructive landslide did not include the wooden ties which have become a major magnet for fitness chasers from near and far. As older photos attest, it used to be a steep ride, but appeared harmless in comparison with the lesser known Red Mountain Incline, a rickety and hair-raising affair, which might account for its short lifespan after its opening in 1912. Red Mountain has morphed into a hiking destination, accessible by a spur off the Intemann Trail. Somewhere near its summit, Emma Crawford, one of the luckless victims of consumption, as tuberculosis was known, chose to be buried, until her coffin was washed down the slope during a deluge. Even this macabre event was turned into a well-visited celebration, the annual coffin races happening around Halloween.


Williams Canyon, with visitor center for the caves

Beyond US Highway 24, the angular rocks that border Williams Canyon draw our attention to the Cave of the Winds, promoted since 1881, when it was discovered by two school boys. The nearby Manitou Cliff Dwellings prove, “if you build it, they will come.” Little matter that Pueblo Indians did not call this part of our state home, several collapsed Ancestral Puebloan buildings from near Cortez, Colorado, were collected by an entrepreneur, and re-erected in their current enclave in 1907, where they continue to be open to the public.


Manitou Cliff Dwellings

Manitou Avenue, the main street, bisects the community and is lined by shops and eateries, to which people have always flocked. The central spa building and numerous mineral springs recall one of the main reasons for the settlement’s existence — health. Adjacent to Memorial Park, we make out the latest rebirth of the spa tradition which seems to be a success. And today as yesteryear, health-conscious individuals imbibe mineral water from various springs, one of the few offerings which has remained gratis, even though schemes to sell bottled water have come and gone throughout the ages. Last, but not least, from the trail’s end, another major longstanding prosperous enterprise comes into sight, the Cog Railroad, transporting tourists to and from the top of Pikes Peak since 1891.


View of Garden of the Gods and the Great Plains from the Intemann Trail

While one might admire the business acumen of the town fathers and mothers, in my eyes, Manitou’s most precious asset has been and will always be its stunning natural beauty: the breathtaking setting at the foot of America’s Mountain and Ute Pass, with sweeping views of Garden of the Gods and the Great Plains. Luckily, this is still free for everybody to enjoy.

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The Enchanted Garden

Were it not for visionaries like General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, who realized early in its history that precious land needed to be set aside to preserve and protect forever, it is unlikely that his generous gifts to the city which included North Cheyenne and Bear Creek Canyons, as well as Monument Valley and Palmer Parks, would have remained natural oases.

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One such oasis, considered by many the crowning jewel in a collection of precious gems, is Garden of the Gods. Even though it was not donated to the city by its founder, the General still deserves indirect credit. He convinced one of his friends and fellow railway aficionados, Charles Perkins, president of the Burlington Railroad, to purchase the land with the spectacular sandstone formations. Mr. Perkins opened it to the public during his lifetime, and after his death his children honored his wish and bequeathed it to the city, to “be kept forever free to the public”, as a large plaque at North Gateway Rock in his honor attests.


For residents and tourists alike, it is one of our main attractions, though as a local lover of this curvilinear array of iconic rock, I derive the greatest pleasure by visiting early in the morning, and by avoiding weekends altogether. A dearth of parking spaces and bumper-to-bumper traffic can lessen one’s enjoyment significantly. I am glad to have participated in a few interesting and informative events there this summer, but they reinforced my need for solitude.

In May, I signed up for a guided hike during the 2nd annual Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival. While watching the sunset with its attendant play of shadows in the Central Garden, and listening to the descending tune of Canyon Wrens, a pair of nesting Prairie Falcons was busily hunting. Myriad circling and screeching White-throated Swifts made use of the last vestiges of daylight. Their annual migration to and high numbers in the park were among the arguments resulting in its designation of National Natural Landmark in 1971, one of 13 in Colorado.

My husband and I attended one of the weekly bat tours in June. Led by a very knowledgeable volunteer, it started with a brief lecture at the Visitor Center. We learned that out of Colorado’s 20 bat species, three oversummer in local stony clefts and crevices, the Little Brown, Big Brown, and Pallid Bats. Interestingly, only the males travel here, leaving the females behind in New Mexico, to tend to the raising of their offspring. Near a cliff wall at nightfall, we witnessed their emergence from their daytime hangouts. Before the nocturnal hunt for insects, they quench their thirst from a pond at nearby Rock Ledge Ranch. Hand-held echolocators enabled us to hear their species-specific signals with which they navigate. Expecting the bats’ crepuscular flight, a pair of Great Horned Owls was occupying real estate in the vicinity where we made out their silhouettes against the darkening sky.

One July day, I participated in a guided walking tour. It focused on the geologic processes of sand deposition and subsequent tectonic uplift responsible for the area’s vertical slabs, but as intriguing as these scientific explanations are, they pale before the rubicund beauty of this enchanting destination at the foot of Pikes Peak. IMG_5740 (24)

Diverse groups of people have traversed this land throughout the ages, American Indians being the first. Even though no written records exist of their experiences, we know from their interactions with the early newcomers, that they considered this a special, if not a sacred spot. Each successive wave of passersby has felt a similar sense of wonder, reflected correspondingly in the Garden’s name, and no matter how often I am there, I am overcome with the same, abiding sense of awe.

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Back to La Mancha-Some Thoughts

Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote loomed on my literary horizon for over 30 years, ever since I enjoyed a portion of a German translation as a teenager. Still venerated as one of the masterpieces of world literature, Cervantes (1547-1616) published part one in 1605, but required the impetus of a fake sequel by another writer to complete part two, which appeared only one year before his death. This summer, I finally tackled the 2003 English translation by Edith Grossman, extolled by experts and critics.

It took three cycles of borrowing the 940 page volume from the library before I finished it, as fellow readers were as eager for a copy as I, a testament to its enduring popularity. This intermittent, but extended interaction over the course of three months enhanced my enjoyment, since I didn’t simply plow through it. During each enforced hiatus, I imagined what might be happening to my newfound friends, and looked forward to spending time with them again.

As a refresher, here is a very abbreviated cast of characters, followed by a brief plot summary:

-Don Quixote of La Mancha, namesake and protagonist, knight errant

-Rocinante, his nag, as thin and haggard as his master

-Sancho Panza, his erring squire

-The Gray, Sancho’s donkey

Don Quixote, a member of Spain’s impoverished gentry, has too much time on his hands which he fills with the study of romances of chivalry. These engender the unquenchable thirst to revive the lost tradition of knight errantry. He employs a local peasant, Sancho, as his squire, and they set out into rural Spain looking for adventures, all in an attempt to win the heart and hand of the Lady Dulcinea of Toboso, a figment of Quixote’s fancy, inspired by a real woman in the locality. In his single-mindedness he interprets every event in the tradition of the stories of old, and sees everywhere damsels in distress, and wrongs that need to be righted. Sancho Panza starts out with some common sense, but this is gradually replaced by a Folie à deux, as he embraces Don Quixote’s delusions.

Even though he is intelligent and extremely well spoken during lucid moments, the self-proclaimed knight is considered mad by most. During the first part of the novel, he actively drives the action with his misguided attempts to provide unsolicited assistance for which he suffers brutal physical attacks and punishments. In the sequel, he is passively drawn into a maelstrom of situations staged by his fellow human beings, which seem to support his imaginary world, and which he is unable to resist. Either way, he is ridiculed and demeaned. One might view Quixote as misguided, mistaken, or insane, but one feels sympathy for his quest which is all-encompassing, and gives meaning to his life, even to the detriment of his health and standing in society.

Frequently described as a proto-novel, Don Quixote is significant for the author’s masterful language, his profound sense of humor, and the careful and loving depiction of his characters. I found his deliberate use of synonyms and meandering narrative with a thousand subplots liberating, refreshing, and therapeutic, because they stand in stark contrast to much modern-day writing which tends to be terse. His autobiographic, historic, and literary allusions paint a detailed picture of his time and background. Even though I was briefly tempted to skip a portion when weighing the hefty work, I soon realized that I did not want to miss out on anything that befell our heroes, once I allowed myself to travel along at Rocinante’s and the Gray’s pace, and to take innumerable detours along small country roads.

Satisfied to have waded through the depth of Cervantes’s masterpiece, I am nonetheless sad to have closed the tome. Contrary to the tale’s ending, in my mind, his immortal creations Don Quixote and Sancho Panza continue to travel the chivalric heavens, still prepared to right all wrongs, when they are not arguing about Sancho’s stringing together of proverbs. While the knight errant is on the lookout for fresh exploits, sitting in his saddle on Rocinante while leaning on his lance, erring Sancho is filling his corpulent paunch with vittles and generous swigs from a wineskin, before drifting off to carefree sleep.

Have you read Don Quixote? What did you think of it?

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Dr. Bell’s Retreat

It is a human trait to be attracted to beautiful natural locations, and Manitou Park in Teller County, north of Woodland Park, along Colorado Highway 67, is no exception. The broad mountain valley parallels Trout Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River, and is bounded in the east by the Rampart Range, and in the west by the West Creek Range.

We do not know if American Indians hunted or camped there, but the availability of water and game suggests as much. What we do know is that it didn’t take the residents of newly-founded Colorado Springs long to discover it for themselves. It is likely that the trappers of the early 19th century, and the gold seekers following the 1858/59 Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush were familiar with the area, but our historical knowledge becomes detailed only after Dr. William Abraham Bell, personal friend and business partner of General William Jackson Palmer, and founder of Manitou Springs, purchased a tract of land in 1872. He christened it Manitou Park and likely considered it a complement to his town at the base of Ute Pass. In the ensuing years, he developed it into a resort where well-heeled travelers could recreate with fishing, hunting, bowling, golfing, even gambling. 1874 saw the first in a succession of three hotels which occupied the valley, each of which succumbed to the all-too-common fate of wooden structures during the early settlement years — that of being consumed in a conflagration.

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Manitou Lake looking west

The Bell family eventually donated some of the property to Colorado College for a forestry program, but after its discontinuation, it came into the possession of the government. In combination with other private holdings and public lands, the Manitou Experimental Forest was founded in 1936. Initial efforts for the site focused on revegetating forests and rangeland which had been depleted by uncontrolled logging and grazing operations. Subsequent research emphasized fire management, meteorology, habitat and wildlife preservation. One fascinating field of study revolves around Flammulated Owls. Since the 1980s, Professor Brian Linkhart from Colorado College has dedicated his career to the examination of their migration, breeding, and nesting behavior, and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about this elusive, diminutive owl species of western pine forests which overwinters in Mexico and spends summers in Colorado.

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View of Pikes Peak from Manitou Lake

For the casual visitor, a trip to Manitou Lake Recreation Area is a pleasing way to experience a small portion of Manitou Park. A $6 entrance fee includes access to picnic tables, fishing (with a valid license), hiking, and nature observation. The setting is beyond picturesque. The astounding vistas of the north face of Pikes Peak alone would be worth a few hours of one’s time. Even though camping is no longer possible at Manitou Lake proper, several nearby Forest Service campgrounds are available whose fees include admission to the recreation site.

My visits to Manitou Lake have always centered on birding, and I have never been disappointed. What I remember best are flocks of white pelicans, a great blue heron rookery, waterfowl, warblers, flycatchers, jays, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and myriad swallows, to mention only a few of the species which call this spot home, temporarily or otherwise. The wildflowers in the summer add color and texture to the canvas, and insect lovers will find many grasshoppers, damsel-, and dragonflies to boot.

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Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird

I have only recently become more acquainted with Dr. Bell’s retreat in easy driving distance from Colorado Springs, and look forward to future excursions. Unlike him and his contemporaries, I won’t be playing golf, but like them, I will enjoy watching the canopy turn golden and Pikes Peak dress in white, while anticipating the return of spring.