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Exquisite Metaphor 

"Next time, by hook or crook, make sure you're born with a mountain in the front yard. It comes in mighty handy all the way around. When you're no bigger than that, you can hang onto the grimy window curtains and watch it hour after hour. Then you know it best with all its moods and mutations, its sternness, dignity and immeasurable depth. It is like the face of an old medicine man, which only a child can understand. Toward the last when everything else seems gone and you're just another old fellow sitting alone on the stoop with your pipe, its big cone helps to fill up the heart's emptiness, and you know it's one thing that won't pass."
--Frank Waters, The Colorado

Vastness of landscape, intricate life, the spectrum of youth to age -- 24 hours of photographs taken one July weekend in 1999 evokes writer Frank Waters' boyhood memories of Pikes Peak early this century. Images of 300-million-year-old sandstone flank those of alpine primroses that bloom in the few short summer weeks above timberline. Shiny urban car reflections contrast with rough gray wood of long-ago cabins. Varied kinds of beauty shine in faces: childhood's bright newness, both resignation and hope among the middle-aged and youth, the settled sagacity of elders. But it is the natural splendor of this region, and people's responses to it, that have been the core of visitors' and residents' awareness from the outset.

Colorado Springs' founder, Gen. Palmer, had promised his fiance, Queen, that he would consider settling in New York City, notes Marshall Sprague in Newport in the Rockies, "even though he knew that was impossible. He had seen too much of the mountains. The tonic climate and elastic air of the Rockies, their majesty and friendliness and simplicity, the heady freedom and infinite horizons, had spoiled him forever for the cramped and soggy East. Somehow he would have to make Queen love the mountains, too. ... On the early morning of July 27th, 1869, he ... passed Pikes Peak for the first time. He bathed at dawn in the sandy, ice-cold Fountain (Creek) ... and toured that cathedral park of violent reds and deep greens which Pikes Peak pioneers had been calling the Garden of the Gods since 1859. He loved everything. ... On that day, Palmer believed that he had the solution to his problem. Here was the one spot in the whole Wild West fit for Queen Mellen of Flushing, Long Island."

Four years later, English traveler Isabella Bird visited the region on her solo horseback exploration of Colorado. In A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, she wrote, "I then came to strange gorges with wonderful upright rocks of all shapes and colors. ... The track then passed down a valley close under some ghastly peaks, wild, cold, awe-inspiring scenery. After fording a creek several times, I came upon a decayed-looking cluster of houses bearing the arrogant name of Colorado City, and two miles farther on, from the top of one of the foothill ridges, I saw the bleak-looking scattered houses of the ambitious watering place of Colorado Springs. ... A queer embryo-looking place it is, out on the bare Plains, yet it is rising and likely to rise."

The Pikes Peak region had been a cherished part of the Ute Indians' homeland from time immemorial. By 1882, they had been removed to reservations in Utah and southwestern Colorado; in 1912, a group was brought back on a visit to mark the old Ute Trail. Frances Heizer (daughter of Cascade's founder) recalled the Utes' joy in being allowed on their old lands once again. "All the Indians were gay and happy. They chatted in the Ute language and were singing their songs. (Seventy-year-old) Buckskin Charlie, chief of this tribe, had not been over this trail since the Utes had left this country 30 years earlier. His birthplace was the Garden of the Gods, and he remembered every turn in the trail he had ridden since a boy."

My father's introduction to the Pikes Peak region came in 1924, when he'd been waiting in a hobo jungle in Pueblo for the next freight train to California. Dodging a policeman, he ran by a rack of scenic postcards. A Garden of the Gods view, recalled vividly from pictures he saw at age 5 in Missouri, impelled him to detour to Colorado Springs instead. He and his friend started up Pikes Peak at dusk, intending to see the sunrise from the top. They gave up, nearly frozen, near the summit. He later wrote: "Our spirits rose with the sun, and it felt so good to be at the bottom again, 12 hours after we'd left, that we kept right on hiking till seven that evening, making it a 24- hour trek. ... What a thrill it was to be confronted with the places I'd seen through the stereoscope when on my mother's lap. It was like dreaming of an ancient ruin you never heard of -- one of those vivid, lasting dreams -- then suddenly finding it after you'd all but forgotten it."

Responding to the theme of Twenty-four Hours in the Pikes Peak Region, Steve Dass' entry, "Balanced Rock," is a single 24-hour exposure, taken from noon July 24 to noon July 25. During this time, many people passed in front of the pinhole camera, yet none was there long enough to show up in the photograph. It's an exquisite metaphor for ephemeral humanity -- hoping, laughing, playing, loving, weeping, dreaming -- amid the timeless, enduring rocks, plains and mountains in our front yards.

  • Photographs evoke writer Frank Waters' boyhood memories of Pikes Peak early this century.

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