It really was a foretaste of heaven; driving south on Highway 67 from Divide, Colo., toward the tiny town of Victor, the highway became like a golden tunnel, full of the famous “quaking aspens” that high-altitudes in this state are known for. I had to drive to 9,600 feet to see them and it was delightful jumping out of the car and clinging onto those birch-like trees whose leaves rustle in the mountain breeze like nothing else I’ve ever heard.
Seeing the aspens was one of my goals for the two full days we’ve spent in Colorado Springs. I first tried ascending to the heights via Gold Camp Road, a very old route through the mountains that takes you through canyons with dizzying drop-offs with no guard rails. I made it up the first few miles of this road – in sheer terror in my rental car – before finding out that the rest of the bottom half of this road had been closed for years due to a cave-in; somehow this vital point was not included in my tourist literature. So we returned to the Springs and drove up the much wider Highway 24 to Woodland Park, then headed over to Divide and then south.
Just north of Victor, I discovered the western half of Gold Camp Road and drove down it a half-mile and the beauty of that route through a high mountain valley cannot be described. Again – didn’t want to get caught somewhere with a flat tire and no cell phone service so drove back toward civilization which – in the case of the nearby gold mining town of Cripple Creek – has meant being given over to casinos. Veeka napped part of this time as I hopped in and out of the car snapping photos of the aspens. The weather could not have been warmer and brighter which was a real gift considering how cold it can be at those altitudes.
On the way back, had a strange experience visiting the site of what was once the Colorado branch of the Community of Celebration which I wrote about in my “Fire and Glory” book. I was last there 30 years ago in 1980 – in late September in fact – attending a conference on Christian communities that was at an old Episcopal church camp that the Celebration folks fixed up. The site has since been sold to a company that rents out cabins there; the same cabins I’m guessing that were built or refurbished several decades ago. It was the oddest thing walking about on that property, feeling the ghosts there. The only thing left that hinted that a religious community had been there was St. Martin’s Chapel, pictured here, a quaint wood structure way back then but now in much disrepair with junk piled high inside of it. Let’s hope it’s been deconsecrated. So many trees have grown on that acreage that it no longer has the fabulous views of Pike’s Peak that I remembered from back then as a 24-year-old who drove 3 days from Oregon to get there.
Today, Veeka and I visited Garden of the Gods, a fabulous park of bizarre red rock formations with cool trails everywhere. Veeka saw one man rappelling down one of the sheer faces and she was fascinated as to why someone would do such a thing. Her little world has been much broadened in the past few days with all the things she’s seen, such as the big-horned sheep that casually walk about where we’re staying. That’s at Glen Eyrie, a conference center and hotel owned by the Navigators that is in a canyon next door to Garden of the Gods. Veeka has been much taken by the lovely castle where we eat our daily breakfast. The grounds are fabulous and it’s a site where Billy Graham almost relocated his ministry to before deciding to stay put in North Carolina. His loss, I think; what a place to base a ministry.
Veeka and I went on a hike this morning and in spite of all the wailing about being ‘too tired’ to make it to the top of a very short peak known as Dawson’s Grave, she actually enjoyed it once she got on the trail. We also enjoy the magpies about the grounds and other cool wildlife not seen back east.
Off to Seattle on Wednesday for Carley’s wedding. Also want to say the Economist ran my first blog post today here which was a triumph in that my first two attempts didn’t fare as well. Small victories.