America the Beautiful

Barr Trail is one of the Pikes Peak region’s most iconic hiking paths and whether one trains for the annual Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon, or simply desires to hike it for its own merit, it packs a punch. Beginning at an elevation of approximately 6,800 feet in Manitou Springs, it climbs steadily to 14,115 feet, over a distance of about 12.5 miles. Even though various trails up our local 14er had existed since the early 1870s, Fred Barr surveyed the mountain in 1918, and supervised the construction of the route we still use today. In my mind, it is divided into four parts, each measuring roughly 3 miles, and each endowed with its own character.

The seemingly endless back and forth of the switchbacks right from the start presents the least welcoming aspect. Their repetitive nature is compounded by Incline return traffic which, depending on time of day and week, can result in the need to sidestep the narrow path nearly incessantly, to allow runners to pass. The nearby Incline, an old cable car track, spans 2000 vertical feet in just under a mile, and has become one of the premiere fitness challenges for athletes from near and far. Incidentally, it is visible as the oblique swath that transects the trees below Pikes Peak in the featured photo above.

Beyond the various Incline connections, the crowd lessens, and one’s view widens, including a first glimpse of the summit. At No Name Creek begins one of my favorite segments, by virtue of its profusion of wildflowers and avian activity. Who can fail to be cheered by the chirping of chickadees? Gradually, more expansive scenes of the mountaintop appear, even though, depending on one’s physical form of the day, this can be inspiring or demoralizing. IMG_6700 (43)

After 6. 5 miles, Barr Camp, 10,200 feet high, offers a welcome resting spot, if desired or needed. Also built by Fred Barr, it was used by the tourists he guided up from the top of the Incline, to catch a few hours’ sleep, before leaving for the peak at 1 AM, where they hoped to witness the sunrise on this purple mountain majesty. IMG_6700 (51)Now as then, one can gather strength there, before transitioning to the following section leading to the A-Frame, a wooden shelter. This stretch is steep, and somewhat tedious, but what sustains me here is the proximity of timberline and with it, the promise of the beguiling beauty of the tundra.

Once above the trees, boulders of varying size dot the slanting meadows, brilliant yellow cinquefoil and other colorful blossoms nestle in their shelter, and butterflies feast upon this delicate, yet tenacious alpine flora. Photogenic chubby yellow-bellied marmots, and furry pikas fast on foot keep guard, or hope for a morsel of nourishment. IMG_6700 (76)In the east, the velveteen foothills roll into the wide expanse of the Plains, with its amber waves of grain. The stony face of Pikes Peak looms large in the west. The last three miles zigzag across the façade of the mountain and terminate with the Sixteen Golden Stairs. My heavy breathing, and jelly-like legs convince me that this is a misnomer. Sixteen hundred must be closer to the truth…

Knowing firsthand how extraordinary the trip to Pikes Peak by automobile or cog train can be, reaching this pinnacle under one’s own power is even more gratifying. But all visitors seem united in a similar sense of elation, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is not enthralled by the panoramic view, under spacious Colorado skies. Surely, Katharine Lee Bates would agree. Even though she spent only a few months in Colorado Springs in 1893 to teach at Colorado College (she was an English teacher at Wellesley, as well as a published poet, lecturer, and suffragist), her one trip to the top of Pikes Peak in a horse- and mule-drawn carriage inspired the words of a poem which would later be set to music and become a beloved hymn.

IMG_4160 (24)

Katherine Lee Bates gazing at Pikes Peak from a rock in front of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Addendum: This is only the 2nd post I have ever re-published (with a few alterations). It first appeared on WordPress on 08/17/2016, when I had very few readers. I thought the middle of August was a good time to share it with more of you, for the following two reasons.

This year’s Pikes Peak Marathon is scheduled to take place on August 23, while the Ascent on August 22 has been canceled.

If you have read my two previous posts about the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, you will recognize the building in the photo behind Katherine Lee Bates, whose sculpture is one of many that grace Alamo Square Park. She was born August 12, 1859. If I had paid closer attention, I would have posted this a week earlier. Happy belated birthday, Katherine.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/wunder-der-bergwelt/

Ute Valley Park

Colorado Springs harbors a wealth of lovely parks, putting us locals in the enviable position of having to choose which one to explore on any given day. Allow me to introduce Ute Valley Park, located in the northwest quadrant of our city. Even though it’s only about 13 miles from home, busy traffic corridors act as a deterrent, and I don’t visit as often as I would like, because it’s otherwise a very attractive destination, both with regard to scenery and wildlife.

Colorado Springs beheimatet eine Fülle reizender Parks, weshalb wir Einheimischen oft die Qual der Wahl haben. Erlaubt mir, Euch Ute Valley Park im nordwestlichen Teil der Stadt vorzustellen. Auch wenn er nur etwa 21 Kilometer von unserem Haus entfernt liegt, schrecken mich die Verkehrswege etwas ab, und ich besuche ihn weniger oft als gewünscht, weil er ansonsten sehr attraktiv ist, sowohl was die Landschaft als auch die Tierwelt angeht.

As the name implies, the area is nestled in a wide valley and characterized by rolling hills, rocky canyons, and sandstone formations, all of which are variously covered by grassy meadows, desert-like plants, shrubby vegetation, or piñon/juniper forest. The view west is dominated by Pikes Peak, which remains in sight from all but the most secluded trails. I never tire of gazing at our local fourteener, and am fascinated by its moods, which it wears on its sleeve, or its head, as it were. It does not pretend—shares a sunny smile when all is calm, but surrounds itself in a cloak when change is brewing—and in so doing, serves as our meteorologist.

Wie der Name andeutet, liegt das Areal in einem weiten Tal und ist durch sanfte Hügel, felsige Schluchten und Sandsteinformationen gekennzeichnet, die je nachdem mit Gras, wüstenartigen Pflanzen, Sträuchern oder Nadelwäldern bedeckt sind. Der Blick gen Westen wird von Pikes Peak dominiert, der von den meisten Pfaden aus zu sehen ist. Ich werde nie müde, mir unseren 4.000 Meter hohen Berg anzuschauen, und ich finde seine Launen faszinierend, die er offen auf seinem Angesicht zur Schau stellt. Wenn das Wetter mild ist, lächelt er, doch wenn sich etwas anbraut, umhüllt er sein Antlitz, und fungiert so als unser Meteorologe.

As is evident in my pictures taken mid-January, the ground is snowless, in all but the most shaded spots. After promising November and December snowfalls, most of our region has not had any precipitation for four to six weeks. While January is often a dry month, the absence of rain or snow serves as a sobering reminder that many parts of Colorado have been in a drought since the start of the new millennium. As of January 21, the drought monitor reports that 26. 4% of the state (Colorado Springs included) is abnormally dry, 37.4% is in a moderate, and 13.8% in a severe drought.

Wie meine Bilder von Mitte Januar zeigen, ist der Boden bis auf die schattigsten Flecken schneefrei. Seit einigen vielversprechenden Schneefällen im November und Dezember gibt es fast überall in unserer Region in den letzten vier bis sechs Wochen keinerlei Niederschläge. Auch wenn der Januar oft ein trockener Monat ist, dienen die Abwesenheit von Schnee und Regen als ernüchternde Erinnerung daran, daß viele Gegenden Colorados seit Beginn des neuen Milleniums unter Dürre leiden. Laut Trockenheitsmonitor vom 21. Januar sind 26,4 % des Staates (dazu gehört auch Colorado Springs) ungewöhlich trocken, wohingegen 37,4% von mittelmäßiger und 13.8% von starker Trockenheit betroffen sind.

The following photo shows a section of the Rampart Range. Instead of green trees, you might recognize their skeletons—silent witnesses of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, which swept over the hill and burned not only forest, but also an entire residential area, tragically claiming the lives of two people and countless animals. With the heart-rending inferno in Australia and the memory of this and several other recent conflagrations still fresh on everybody’s mind, we are enjoying our sunshine while we urgently hope for some moisture from the sky.

Das folgende Photo zeigt einen Auschnitt der hiesigen Rampart Gebirgskette. Statt grüner Bäume ist es möglich, ihre Skelette zu erkennen. Sie sind stumme Zeugen des Waldo Canyon Feuers, das 2012 über den Hügel schwappte und nicht nur den Wald, sondern auch ein Wohngebiet verbrannte und tragischerweise zwei Menschen sowie unzähligen Tieren das Leben kostete. Das herzzereißende Inferno in Australien und unsere eigene Feuersbrunst sind uns noch frisch im Gedächtnis, und auch wenn wir die Sonne genießen, wünschen wir uns, daß der Himmel uns dringende Nässe spenden wird.

A Tranquil and Treasured Place

Ever since my inadvertent discovery of Colorado’s Roxborough State Park more than five years ago, I have harbored the wish to introduce it to my husband. Its location near Denver, about 65 miles north of Colorado Springs, had been a slight deterrent because of the attendant drive and traffic, but we finally made the journey in mid-July.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

We are enthusiastic devotees of Colorado’s State Parks and, for years, have happily invested the $70 fee for an annual pass that allows access to all forty-two parks, save one. A mere ten visits per year amortize the investment, and we typically far exceed that number. As the parks are scattered throughout the state, those that remain to be explored outnumber the ones we are familiar with, among them our nearby favorites, Cheyenne Mountain and Castlewood Canyon.

Roxborough State Park, fringed by the plains in the east and the Rocky Mountain foothills in the west, is one of the least developed parks. It is open only during daytime, does not offer picnic or camping facilities, and only allows human foot traffic. If this sounds restrictive, it is done in the noble attempt to limit visitation and minimize impact on its fauna, which includes 181 recorded bird species, plus multiple mammals, among them deer, elk, fox, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. When I recently published a post about our rare encounter with a rattlesnake, little did I know that soon afterward, we would run into another – at Roxborough. Again, this individual was not aggressive, and slithered away into the tall grass lining the trail. Shortly thereafter, we nearly stepped on another snake, and were jolted to attention when it hissed and curled. Fortunately, the bullsnake, albeit of impressive size, is not poisonous, and merely wanted to alert us of its presence.

Roxborough’s most outstanding features are geologic. Slanting red sandstone slabs form several parallel ridges along the park’s north-south axis, like the spinal columns of so many slumbering dinosaurs. The rocks are representative of the Fountain Formation. These oblique rubicund walls are even more remarkable when one comprehends that they originated as the bottom of an ancient inland ocean before its uplift some 300 million years ago. This is where my comprehension ends. As much as I hate to admit it, my geologic grasp is miniscule. Each time I read about rocks and minerals and millions and billions of years, my eyes glaze over, despite repeated attempts to remedy my ignorance. Ignorance does not equal inattention or inappreciation, but not everybody can be a rock hound.

Contrasting and complementing verdure, stimulated by several streams, creates a far lusher appearance than we are accustomed to from the otherwise geologically similar Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. The versatile flora comprises tallgrass species and wildflowers, but our nearly decade-long regional drought has temporarily suppressed the number of flowering plants. The entire American West hopes for more summer rains.

This exquisite jewel of a refuge has attracted humans for eons. Evidence of local activity dates back nearly 12,000 years, and those Paleo-Indians were followed more recently by Utes, and, to a lesser extent, by Arapahoe. The locale owes its name to Henry Persse, a New York transplant. In 1903, he built a stone house on the north end of the valley, originally called Washington Park, before he rechristened it after an ancestral Scottish location. He intended to transform the area around his summer home into a resort, replete with hotel, golf course, and guest cottages. Mercifully, this plan never materialized, and his and some surrounding property amounting to a total of about 3,300 acres came into the possession of the state of Colorado, and was opened as a park in 1987.

Despite its proximity to the greater Denver metropolitan area with its three-plus million inhabitants, and despite the doubling of the annual visitation from 75 to 150 thousand in the last four years, when managing to avoid weekends and holidays, it is still possible to experience transformative tranquil time at this treasure trove.

A Fire Lookout

If my office sat atop a 9,748 foot rocky perch and offered panoramic views of Colorado’s mountains and plains, I, too, would happily climb 143 steep steps each morning to get to work. I would not frown upon the employer-provided domicile, or upon having to use an outhouse. Rather, I would relish residing remotely each summer, 1.5 miles from, and 939 feet above, the nearest trailhead.

Unfortunately, this lofty office, built in 1951, whose elevated raison d’etre is the early detection of wildfires, does not have any openings, as the role of fire lookout has been filled by the same person since 1984. Mr. Bill Ellis, a U. S. Forest Service employee, was in his mid-50s when he jumped at the chance to take on the full-time seasonal position, moving to the cabin with his wife and, to begin with, their four children, each fire season, with the exception of only a few years. In his mid 80s now, he has become a living legend. His is a dying profession, because modern fire monitoring technologies are supplanting the human eye.

As residents of Colorado Springs, we enjoy occasional newspaper articles about the renowned fire tower lookout at Devil’s Head, a rocky promontory reportedly resembling Satan’s noggin from a few vantage points. This destination had long lingered and languished on our wish list until late June, when we finally saw it for ourselves. Though located less than 45 miles from the city as the crow flies, the trailhead lies off the rough and gravelly Rampart Range Road, and it took us nearly two hours to drive there. Out-of-the-way as it might be, its popularity has been growing exponentially, in lockstep with Colorado’s population, and the parking lot, albeit not full, contained many vehicles on the morning of our weekday visit.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover the cursor over it.

The 1.5 mile, tree-lined, narrow footpath sparkled with wildflowers, glittered with butterflies partaking of their sweet nectar, and resounded with birdsong, the melancholy tune of the Hermit Thrush audible above other voices. When we reached the flat area where Douglas Fir spread their verdant boughs over the couple’s home benignantly, we did not see the second famous local resident, Mrs. Margaret Ellis, but the towels drying on a clothesline in our low-humidity air bespoke her presence.

Huffing and puffing up 143 stairs rewarded us with 360 degree views from the tower, balanced like a raptor’s nest on the uppermost point. Its door was wide open, and inside the well-known lookout, binoculars at the ready, went about his business – the early espying of anything that resembles flickering flames or spiraling smoke, in order to activate a network of firefighters intent on preventing a potentially disastrous spread in our region suffering from a near decade-long drought. Despite an almost constant trickle of hikers, whose numbers approximate 40,000 annually, he greeted each party individually, and seemed more than willing to answer questions, and to pose for a photo.

I never tire of elevated places and bird’s eye views and suspect Mr. Ellis shares this sentiment. Despite the physical challenges of living at high altitude, off the grid, and without indoor plumbing for months at a time, and despite the daily demanding trek to his high post, he seemed completely in his element. May his quiet dignity and competence continue to be part of our local landscape and lore for as long as befits him and his wife, and may their future paths be smooth, sunny, and smoke-free.

Click here for the German version/bitte hier für die deutsche Version klicken:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/ein-beruhmter-brandbeobachter/

A Stroll in our State Park

Cheyenne Mountain State Park opened its gates in 2006. Even though this coincided with our return to Colorado Springs, it originally did not engender curiosity enough to make us pay the $7 entrance fee, when the area offers a host of alternative outdoor playgrounds, all free of charge. That changed a few years back, when we invested in an annual pass which affords unlimited entry to all of Colorado’s 42 state parks, for $70. We soon realized how effortlessly we exceeded 10 visits in a 12 month period.

Among our intermittent destinations are Castlewood Canyon State Park in neighboring Douglas County and Mueller State Park in Teller County, but Cheyenne Mountain State Park’s proximity to our house is a decided advantage — to reach its entrance from our driveway takes under 10 minutes. Situated just south of Colorado Springs, off Colorado Highway 115, El Paso County’s first and to date only state park is nestled at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, famous in olden days for being much loved by Helen Hunt Jackson, local author and Indian activist extraordinaire, and, in contemporary times, for concealing NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) in its man-made caves and conduits. The land used to be a homestead and was saved from a housing development by the combined efforts of the city, the county, an association of state parks, and a number of private organizations.

Twenty miles of trails invite hiking and biking across differing terrain. My husband makes occasional use of the archery range to practice with his recurve bow. Sporadically, we participate in bird and wildflower outings, as well as in literary walks which have as their central theme writers of regional interest. They commence with a biographical overview at the Visitor Center, and culminate with a reading in the ”rock garden”, accessible by a short stroll. The popular campground is typically filled on summer weekends and holidays, mostly with RVs, but two walk-in tent loops are also in high demand.

Visitor Center

Rock Garden

From the access road, the scenery unfolds like a canvas. The grassland of the lower reaches is punctuated by wildflowers. Yellow stalks of mullein, pink heads of thistle, and snowy disks of prickly poppies peep out of the green. Prairie coneflowers wear sun-colored skirts, creamy yucca blossoms dangle like garlands between the bayonet-like leaves. This prairie-like environment also harbors winding warrens for prairie dogs. Their chirping sounds I interpret as a friendly greeting. Mobs of magpies attempt to drown out the marvelous music of Western meadowlarks in vain. Tree swallows line the fences near their nesting boxes. The foothill scrub oak and juniper plant community of intermediate elevations is the preferred habitat of Spotted Towhees and Scrub Jays. At higher altitudes, it gives way to a predominantly coniferous forest, with aspen interspersed now and again. Vanilla-scented Ponderosa Pine hide Hermit Thrushes whose haunting melodies float down the hillside. Invisible silken strings stretch across the trails, dragon- and butterflies flutter by on soundless wings.

Impressions from the trail: The rock tree

Impressions from the trail: An unusual growth pattern

Prickly Poppy

Prairie Coneflower

An occasional summer visitor with an onomatopoeic name: Dickcissel

Mule Deer

We are content to explore the existing routes in changing combinations, yet are pleased about the prospect of a path leading to the very top of Cheyenne Mountain, heretofore off limits. Currently under construction, it is slated to open in the foreseeable future and will add another attraction to a favorite retreat right at our doorstep, with an even loftier view of the park and its environs.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/ein-spaziergang-in-unserem-state-park/