Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak, and Garden of the Gods

Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak from Memorial Park (image from Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Leaving the northern-most planned destination in Colorado, I headed south on Route 25, perhaps to reach New Mexico. However, the traffic was congested in the Denver area. My thoughts went back to my travels in 1962, when I circled and crisscrossed around America for 7 months and over 20,000 miles.

Today, at age 80, I am immensely thankful to be able to spend time visiting places and presenting the Olmsted Play in places like the State House in Albany, Niagara Falls and its library, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural site, and the Botanical Gardens as part of South Park in Buffalo. Originally, Olmsted wanted three times as much land to extend South Park to Lake Erie.

Leaving New York, the visit to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, between Cleveland and Akron, was exceptional for many reasons described earlier. The adventure was followed by a day’s immersion at the Lincoln Home. I continue to be motivated by a paper given to me by our host, a park service employee who is director of education and research.

Then, the long drive across The Great Plains. Greatly successful despite (or because of) surviving a violent thunderstorm with heavy rain and hail. Followed by my immersion into Rocky Mountain National Park. Beyond belief.

The highway south was to be taken without any major stops. However, when I approached Colorado Springs, I recalled a visit 53 years ago. Therefore, I pulled off the highway, stopping for a bottle of orange juice. Speaking with the person who provided the drink, I asked about Pikes Peak. She became very excited about the idea of taking a ride up Pikes Peak.

On reflection, I am thankful that Pikes Peak was added to the places to visit. Something about this mountain made an impact 53 years ago. And again, today, I was deeply moved by the winding road up this iconic mountain. We call it “America’s Mountain.” As write this my mind envisions climbing Mr. Washington in the wintertime. Clearly, an experience rooted in the marrow of my bones. And, with luck, my bones are not in some remote area of the Mr. Washington wilderness. Now, my mind recalls all the deaths as people moved west and took great risks to settle new lands with intriguing challenges and opportunities.

But why America’s Mountain?

As I drove away from Pikes Peak, my heart, mind, and spirit became filled with the words and music of “Oh beautiful for spacious skies”… “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty”…

Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods (image from Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Yes. From my childhood, the ideals of America came into my life through example and by visiting town, city, state and national parks.

When I reached the last major town in Colorado, I pulled off the highway. First, I stopped for gas to be prepared for the next day’s ride to Santa Fe. I purchased a bottle of milk and sat down to review the map for tomorrow. Shortly after, three young guys walked in as if they were dressed for some type of race on a muddy track. It turned out that two were graduates and lacrosse players at Penn State. The other was an older brother from North Carolina. The other was from near my hometown in New Jersey. We had a conversation of some 20 minutes. They had been on the road for over two weeks, riding motorcycles that were covered with dirt. They were camping out. After about 15 minutes, during which they were sharing their lives and expectations of settling down in Oregon, my mind envisioned the Oregon Trail.

They became interested in what I was doing. I summarized Olmsted’s report on Yosemite, with a simple statement about preserving the beautiful scenic lands that they were driving through. One of the guys stated, “When you put it that way, you are right.”

So many exchanges which are so greatly cherished.

Back to Pikes Peak. There is a fascinating relationship with the city of Colorado Springs and the Forest Service, which is in the Department of Agriculture. Since 1947, the City has been responsible for the management of Pikes Peak. After speaking for some time to the assistant of the director, she encouraged me to communicate with her about the present status and future possibilities. Again, the deep rooted commitment is within so very many people. But how to orchestrate coalitions that will bring to the parks at all levels (town, city, state and national) the resources which are so badly needed?

An old timer, probably longer than me, was listening to us. His face showed years of being worn down. “Now you will probably call me a racist, but this town has been going downhill for years, and there is not much left. Nobody wants to work. Everybody wants a free ride.”

I had noticed a sign where bottles of soft drinks were for sale: ‘You cannot by drinks with food stamps.’ First time I had seen such a sign.

“There are 30 places to buy marijuana in this town of crap.”

The three young men didn’t respond, and we went out to take pictures in front of the muddy cycles. A certain grit and determination filled these three guys with a driving perseverance… Much energy in this generation to be harnessed…

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