Welcome to Day # 210 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure!
I enjoyed a wonderful weekend, driving three hours up to Kissimmee to spend time with my mom in a rehab facility. The experience of being among many ill and elderly people was a drain on my energy, so I consciously focused on remaining positive and uplifted. The bounty of nature around me was a big help, as the cloud formations in Florida's "Big Sky" can keep me enthralled for hours.
Balanced Rock is one of the signature features of Garden of the Gods Park. Wiki photo.
As I got onto the highway to come home Sunday a rainbow greeted me across the sky, and I was able to pull over and take a picture. Four rainbows later, I arrived at our boat to find Frank well into a sundowner party next door, with two other couples, one of whom we're just getting to know. For a few hours the conversation flowed from sailing experiences among the Greek Islands to the Galapagos, and the sharing of challenges met and matched at sea.
One very jarring note from the weekend was this article that my friend mentioned in conversation. I asked her to send it to me and when I read it, I felt the blood curdle in my veins. It shows the relationship between the shutdown of the federal government (which everyone agrees is orchestrated by a small minority), efforts to reduce access to the vote in urban areas, and gerrymandered districts that assure unassailable Republican enclaves. The writer lays out how these and many other tactics are intended to undermine the "one man, one vote" on which our democracy is built. Thus, the demographic shift will count for naught, as power is concentrated in the hands of a small, white elite.
As I read the article I kept thinking, "But, this is the antithesis of democracy." I am sharing it so that you can make up your own mind, but the subject is far too important to ignore. It's going to be hard for us to win if we don't know the real contest we are in.
You may find the title of the article off-putting, as several people did when I posted it on Facebook yesterday. My response is that, as a journalist by training and inclination, I know the reporter doesn't get to write the headline. We shouldn't miss the forest for the trees.
We took the seat-clenching drive to the top of Pike's Peak, from where Katharine Bates was inspired to pen the words to America the Beautiful. Here it is silhouetted between the rock formations known as the Siamese Twins in Garden of the Gods. www.angelslanding.com Photo.
The surest way I found to put this story in perspective was to return to the Garden of the Gods, which we toured in 1999 with our fledgling club, Earthtones Camping and Travel. Among this jaw-dropping concentration of delicately balanced, glowing red rock I felt the spirit of the Ute Indians, the "Blue Sky People," who camped among them in long ago winters before heading out to hunt in spring. I felt gratitude to be an American and have this as part of my birthright, and I felt pride in the American people who had saved this and so many other places for our enjoyment and inspiration. Most of all, I experienced the certainty that a force so much greater than man is in charge of the universe. I am suffusing myself with that feeling today.
The park is operated by the City of Colorado Springs and is a National Natural Landmark. Before we visited, my friend Ranger Leigh Robertson whom we have yet to meet, wrote this description which we published in our newsletter, Pickup & GO! in 1997:
The Siamese Twins formation - Masters o f their Domain. Wiki Photo
"Twelve years later, I remember my first glimpse of the mysterious, red rock formations called Garden of the Gods. I was from the east and had come to Colorado for a job interview. From downtown Colorado Springs, I could see some big orange blobs against the foothills in the west. 'What in the world are those?' I wondered.
"As I drove closer, I realized those blobs were towering sandstone rock formations. They knifed into the brilliant blue sky, rising 300 feet from the valley floor. What an incredible orange color they were!
"I was drawn to the rocks like metal to a magnet. I parked my car at the base of the massive North Gateway Rock. Standing below this red monolith, I was astounded. How could such a tall rock be sticking vertically out of the earth?
"I hiked an easy trail that wound through all kinds of interesting rocks. Flocks of birds wheeled around the tops of the rocky spires. Nearby, scrub jays and magpies squawked from the scrub oaks. What a wonderful introduction to a park I would visit many times over the years.
"Today I'm the Interpretative program supervisor at Garden of the Gods Park... I interpret the stories of the park's history, plants, animals and geology to visitors.
The rock formations across the 1367-acre park puts me in mind of supernatural beings. Wiki Photo.
"Most people are amazed to find this beautiful 2-mile-square park is owned and managed by the City of Colorado Springs. They are also pleasantly surprised to learn that both the park and Visitor Center are free. I don't think I'm being biased when I say the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center is one of the nicest in the country.
"The view from the deck and dining room is spectacular. There are many hands-on exhibits explaining the park's natural and cultural history. A state-of-the-art multi-media show vividly brings to life the region's history and explains how those red rocks got there. . .
"The Garden of the Gods was revered and well-utilized long before Colorado Springs was established. The Ute Indians, known as the Blue Sky People, used the garden for their winter encampment before heading over Ute Pass to hunt in South Park.
"Plains tribes migrated to the region in the 1700s, camping in the garden before heading southwest. The lure of gold in the Rockies drew would-be miners and other explorers who often paused in their journey to visit the renowned site.
Wow!!The magpie is one of my favorite birds and this one posed on a red rock in this setting is achingly beautiful. Flicker Photo.
"For all its splendor and mythical allure, the Garden of the Gods, having no water on site, was of little interest to Gen. William Jackson Palmer who founded Colorado Springs. Instead, another railroad tycoon, Charles E. Perkins, purchased 480 acres o f rock formations of extraordinary character. Perkins intended to leave his property as a gift to the city. However, he died before his will was amended. Fortunately, Perkins' children honored his desire, with one simple condition, that the park be 'kept forever free to the public.'
"Today the park houses the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, a living history museum providing interpretation of the site's cultural history from 1860 to 1910.
"The garden is a unique biological melting pot - it is here that the grasslands of the Great Plains meet the pinon-juniper woodlands characteristic of the southwest, and merge with the mountain forest of Pike's Peak. As such, diverse plants and animals coexist. Throughout the year prairie falcons, honey ants, rattlesnakes, mule deer, magpies, swifts, hawks and bighorn sheep share the park. Its oldest living survivors are the twisted and weather-beaten juniper trees, some more than 1,000 years old.
"The 1,367-acre park is designated as a National Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior."
Thank you, Ranger Robertson! We are in your debt for this wonderful tour all these years later!
I can totally appreciate why this mind-boggling place is named the Garden of the Gods. Seeing these wonders in our country leaves me in awe of the power of nature, the passage of time and the fleeting life spans of people on the land. I am so grateful that those who preceded us sought to leave us a natural legacy and the philosophical political foundation of a democracy. Let us in this generation not be derelict in our duty to defend our great experiment in human dignity, freedom and equality that we call America the Beautiful!