For more than 150 years, Manitou Springs has served as a mountain town retreat and gateway to the country’s easternmost fourteener: Pikes Peak. Filling in the base of a box canyon, Manitou’s sheer ragged boundaries provide unique mountain vistas. Along Manitou Avenue, you can tour its rows of shops housed in antique buildings. A free shuttle can take you to its famous Incline or the Cog Railway that will ferry you into the heavens. But between Manitou’s various features is the epoxy that keeps it all together: A community of art.
In the past half-century, Manitou Springs’ art scene has blossomed, forming the basis of the town’s economy and augmenting its unique touristy charm. Among its advantages: the dedicated voluntary efforts of a tightly knit community of creatives; a city government that has largely worked to enhance its artistic industry; and a focus on promoting artwork not only within its boundaries but across the region. It’s a combination that’s helped Manitou Springs weather physical, financial and societal storms time and time again — challenges that would obliterate communities that don’t share its drive, flexibility or dedicated volunteer base.
This resilience has seen Manitou, for the second consecutive year, rank as Colorado’s sole candidate in USA Today’s “10 Best Small Town Arts Scenes in America” list, climbing to No. 5 from No. 9 the year before. “We save the community, but the community saves us back,” says Natalie Johnson, Manitou Springs city councilor and executive director of the Manitou Art Center. Manitou’s residents understand the pressure such a title carries. “We gotta walk the talk,” says Nancy Wilson, member of the Manitou Arts, Culture, and Heritage Board (MACH, pronounced “match”), a new tax Manitou uses to fund art initiatives within its boundaries.
Artists are invited to inject their creativity in seemingly every aspect of Manitou’s operation, turning the ordinary — the rear of a building or a trail into the wilderness — into a creative, proprietary feature.
Manitou Springs flourished as a charming mountain tourist town for a century before its modern artistic movement kicked off, attracting painters, potters and prolific artists like Floyd Tunson and C.H. Rockey. Over drinks at Red Dog Coffee, the Indy asked multidisciplined muralist and sculptor Manuel Pulido how he wound up in Manitou. He had visited with his wife in 2012 and fell in love, moving up from north Texas a few years after. “It’s not an odd story, it’s pretty common,” he says. “After living here for eight years, I realized everyone has a very similar story.”
The town’s galleries, restaurants and cafés display fine art and offer live music, but Manitou doesn’t care about your credentials or whether you consider yourself an artist at all. Events like Poetry and Pottery exist to get your hands on pens and clay to try new things. Or you can tour the Manitou Art Center’s Moonlight Market, where artistic entrepreneurs sell their creative wares. Both of these events, among so many, are funded by MACH. For Manitou, it’s a municipal priority to get people of all ages and skills working side by side creating and expressing out in the open.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Combing the Pikes Peak Library District archives in the early ’90s, former Business of Art Center board member Deborah Thornton discovered that in 1902, steam trains would arrive 52 times a day in Manitou, ferrying in tourists from distant coasts. But by the 1970s, the luster had begun to fade. “When I first came to Manitou [in 1982], the only time it would be in the newspaper was when it was the butt of jokes — ‘The Weirdos of the West,’” Thornton says.
Inspired to make Manitou an artistic hotspot similar to Taos or Albuquerque, New Mexico, and promote the arts of the region, a group of ambitious artists formed the Commonwheel Artists Co-op in 1974. They held their first art fair that winter — a small holiday show — in Manitou Springs’ City Hall. “The police were watching to make sure they weren’t selling pot,” says Julia Wright, an early Commonwheel artist. Wright arrived in Colorado in 1974, taking up residence at a farm in Greeley while attending the University of Northern Colorado and touring her macrame art. By 1976 she was living in Manitou Springs; she would work Larkspur’s Renaissance Festival for a decade and coordinate all three of Commonwheel’s annual art festivals. Nearly 50 years later, the co-op’s Labor Day fair survives as the sole Commonwheel Art Festival, helmed by Wright.
Commonwheel took over the May Be Shop in 1975 to serve as its first gallery; that space is now the town’s Old Tyme Photography Parlour. The cheeky “May Be” name reflected owner Sophie Cowman’s approach to business, which rankled the more conservative critics in city council and local industry. “Maybe I’m open, maybe I’m not,” Wright explains, “Maybe I’m in the back carving wood, maybe some other artist is up front.” The co-op’s early exhibitions were similarly informal and unstructured. Artists would present their work on the ground on plinths of any random material they could get — or from inside their vehicles. Music was provided by the buskers who showed up.
Their fairs were quirky and thematic, celebrating the group’s diversity and attracting thousands of visitors from out of town, impressing local business owners. In 1981, more than four decades before Manitou’s first Pride event, Commonwheel held the “Rainbow Show.”
“It was very fun how people interpreted it,” Wright says. “It doesn’t matter who that person was. If they’re a good business person and they are doing good for our town, look at them as a person.”
While the co-op sought to foster all artistic disciplines, the scope eventually narrowed. One festival year featured three nights of theater in the cramped gallery basement, but concerns over fire safety ruled out future exhibitions. Commonwheel artists were also very serious about their craft and juried their festival exhibitions, not willing to accept poor or store-bought items from local vendors or artists abroad. Wright said she made a few enemies maintaining exhibition standards.
Among the artists who emerged during the 1970s was C.H. Rockey, a local legend known for his impressionistic paintings of Manitou and its minute details as well as his imaginative works and sculptures of fantasy realms. Rockey’s father had disapproved of his pursuit of art as a living, prodding him to join the military, which he did briefly. While other Manitou artists toured with their work, exhibiting nationwide, or uprooted entirely to places like New Mexico or San Francisco, Rockey had already spent 25 years teaching seventh-grade art at North Middle School before retiring to Manitou in 1972 and exhibiting locally. As his collection of artwork grew, it filled the viewing area of his home, now a museum, which sits across the street from the Commonwheel Artists Co-op.
Commonwheel worked to formally organize their efforts, impressing their critics and beginning an artistic transformation of the town. Commonwheel artists volunteered time and effort to improve the town’s historic Miramont Castle long before municipal funds were available. They painted mailboxes they thought were ugly. As more venues presented art, Manitou
landlords and business owners began employing artists to enhance them, seeing the value in fixing up aging buildings to appeal to new tenants. At a time when urban renewal swept through Downtown Colorado Springs, demolishing classic buildings in favor of more modern facilities devoid of charm, Manitou Springs went the other way, opting to preserve its irreplaceable past. The Manitou Springs Historical District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and remains one of the nation’s largest.
By the mid-’80s, Manitou’s art community had grown beyond what its artists could have imagined just a decade earlier. Commonwheel formalized and celebrated exhibition, but no single gallery in Manitou had the presentation power of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center or the Broadmoor Art Academy — entities that leaned on exhibiting nationally known artists, not local ones.
And then there were up-and-coming artists still growing their skills that were being left behind, unseen. One of those artists could have been K8e Orr, who runs Jibwa, the retail space at the front of the Manitou Art Center featuring paintings, crafts, jewelry and buttons. She produces 90 percent of the art available for sale. “To be an artist, you already need to be a jack of all trades because you need to learn math to do taxes and know you’re getting your worth for your items,” Orr says. “You need to know how to write grants and you need to know how to speak to portray yourself to others. When you go into the career of art, you already need so many things in your toolkit.” Potter Mark Wong, facilitator of the town’s long-running Clay Fest competition, concurs. “[There are] all of these details I have to take care of in the studio that isn’t just throwing: cleaning, mixing glazes and prepping areas,” he says.
But what could Manitou do to bolster its artistic economy while providing a space to exhibit its local talent? Manitou City Planner Paul Intemann, who had envisioned an elaborate trail that connected with the Colorado Springs network along the town’s rocky southern boundary, saw the confluence of those problems but conceived a solution from a number of opportunities. “He really saw that the strength of Manitou was in the artist community and culture [and] he really valued the input of young people,” Thornton said. With government grants available for small business incubators, the enthusiastic support of Commonwheel and inspiration from the Torpedo Factory, an art center built out of a former naval munitions factory in Alexandria, Virginia, Intemann drew up plans for the Business of Art Center, or BAC.
Through a Community Development Block Grant and fundraising, the first board of the BAC, which included Thornton, was able to take control of a 13,000-square-foot former skating rink. Thornton came from the Ozarks, where she had 40 acres of land with a house she’d built on it and a hotel she renovated and ran as a bed and breakfast. Entranced by Manitou’s art community, she moved west. With rolls of tape, she masked out the broad spaces of the BAC inside the old skating rink, wondering if individual studios would be big enough.
The BAC offered studios for artists to rent where they could practice their craft in a communal space, working with and off each other to learn and ponder their skills in new and different ways. Among the BAC’s earliest tenants was Wong, whose parents afforded him six months’ rent after graduating from Pomona College in 1990. It was there that he learned and practiced the craft of pottery at the business level, understanding the practicality and ergonomics of usable pottery like cups and bowls. It took him a year to become consistent in execution, ensuring each new piece came out exactly like the last. He would eventually acquire his own shop and become a volunteer firefighter, helping in deployments around the state.
Wong, alongside printmakers, sculptors and painters who came through the BAC, benefited from the facility’s equipment, especially as pottery required more expensive and specialized tools than other arts. The studios featured large windows, encouraging passers-by, either from other studios or the public at large, to peer in and see how much work went into the artists’ crafts. “I think the Art Center gives visitors a chance to meet the artists producing the work” says Orr. “That person is going to go home and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, I got this piece of art handmade by this artist I got to meet at the cutest place in Manitou Springs.’”
The BAC also became a gallery for local artists, opening over a decade before the Cottonwood Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs. “We knew when we created the [BAC], we weren’t creating an art center just for Manitou — we knew that there was no facility like it in the state,” Thornton says. “The governor was here for the opening of the Art Center [and] it got a lot of national attention. By enriching the artists, it certainly improved what was happening in Colorado Springs.”
Rockey famously refused to sell his art, reasoning that doing so would make money the primary determinant of its value — but in 1992, he agreed to an exhibition at the BAC. His work filled the gallery and while he priced the individual pieces, no price tags were found on the artworks themselves. After the exhibition, Thornton presented Rockey with a check for his share of the sales. “Tears started rolling down his cheeks,” she recalls. “He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you need to take your part out?’ and I said, ‘We’ve already taken our part out — this is yours.’ And he said, ‘I just wanna stand out in the middle of the street and shout and show my father.’”
It would be nearly a decade before Rockey would offer his works for sale again. In January 2001, he provided 200 items for exhibition, half of which were available for purchase. The other half purely for display, giving people a glimpse into his home studio. The exhibit filled much more of the BAC that time and was famously known as the “blizzard exhibition” because of the snowstorm that descended on Manitou. Still, there was a frenzy for an opportunity to own one of Rockey’s works and people flew in from across the country. All 100 items sold in less than three hours.
NATALIE Johnson grew up an hour and a half from Chicago and was called to Manitou nearly two decades ago. After bouncing around the country, acquiring a bachelor’s degree in art history and English and a master’s in women’s studies along the way, she embraced Manitou. Johnson opened Black Cat Books, which she operated for eight years, while attending or hosting a variety of local art events. She was a regular at city council meetings before eventually becoming interested in the BAC which, after the 2008 recession, struggled to operate without public funding. She wondered why it couldn’t be more and joined the board, eventually becoming executive director.
Understanding the BAC’s operation and finances, she borrowed from her experience running a community center in Seattle. “If we created a program [in Seattle], sure, some people would show — but if the community created the program and we supported it, it was really successful,” she says. Today, the Manitou Art Center offers 150 classes a month run by members of the community; Johnson even bartended for one of them. Visitors can learn to play piano, mend clothes, explore 3D printing and earn certifications for various crafts.
Pressure eventually built around the Business of Art Center’s name and its mission. “I think the biggest issues we ran into when we talked to our artists here was that people didn’t understand what we are,” says Johnson. ”But when it said ‘the Business of Art Center,’ it felt like that meant it was closed to the public.” The 2013 search for a new name was extensive, drawing 185 submissions. “Manitou Art Center” [MAC] won out. “Our artists said, ‘We want the name of where we’re located and what we are,’” Johnson recalls, “and we said, ‘We can do that!’”
But art in the region was shifting. More galleries were opening, featuring local artists through Old Colorado City and Downtown Colorado Springs. Where did the MAC fit in then? “As our vision succeeded… I think it shifted [the MAC’s] role. And so now it’s become more focused on the Manitou Community. … The MAC no longer needs to be the economic driver that the Business of Art Center needed to be,” Thornton says.
Still, the MAC is an important tool for Manitou’s economy. “[Money] is fuel for what you actually want to do. We want artists to get paid because they reinvest in their community,” says Becca Sickbert, the executive director of CReative AlliaNcE Manitou Springs (CRANE). Wong reflects on the unique situation the BAC provided that allowed him to become a professional artist: “I don’t know where else I could have started otherwise.”
For all his creativity, advocacy and compassion, Paul Intemann wouldn’t get to see the BAC come together or thrive with the community’s help. In March 1986, Intemann was killed in a head-on crash on the way to Albuquerque for a conference. His pregnant wife, Robin, was in the vehicle and survived, suffering a broken wrist. She and their young son dedicated the BAC upon its opening in 1988 and she ultimately served on its board. Both the nature trail Intemann envisioned and the main gallery of the MAC are named for him.
Because of Manitou’s unique geography, it’s been no stranger to natural disasters. Evacuations are rare, but more common than on the open plains of Colorado Springs to the east. While the massive Waldo Canyon Fire stayed north of Manitou in 2012, the town was still evacuated as a precaution. Weeks later, vandals broke into the MAC’s 515 building, plugging the drains and causing flooding that did $175,000 worth of damage. Johnson, who didn’t have experience with wildfires and had just begun her tenure as executive director a few weeks earlier, reached out to the community. Within 48 hours, they were able to raise the money for the repairs, bolstering the MAC’s profile within the community as a public asset.
A year later, however, the burned, glassy hills couldn’t hold up to the rainy season and the town was flooded by an incredible volume of hillside mud. It pushed cars down the highway and flowed through the town, finding rest in every low-lying area. The mud flooded basements, forcing residents to spend weeks shoveling it out while clearing the streets and open areas. The MAC opened its door to events that had been canceled when other venues were unavailable, so the space saw ROLL Bike festival attendees mingling with zombie cosplayers and singers bellowing show tunes while residents, covered in mud, showed up after long hours of labor. As Johnson recalls, Smokebrush Foundation for the Arts’ Don Goede turned to her and said, “Stop and see what’s happening now. I think we’re so busy [that] we’re not tracking how bizarre this moment in our lives is.”
Beyond being a matter of life and welfare, the disaster eroded artists’ livelihoods. Inventory was ruined. Orr lost between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of art. In Chris C. Bowden’s 2016 short film about him, Rockey explained that after his basement flooded, he was convinced he would need to close up shop and move. But the following morning, 200 people showed up with shovels and began digging him out. Among them was Jonathan Ellis, better known as activist musician Iggy Igloo.
Igloo’s art was storytelling through music, helping him in his redemptive arc from troubled young adult to community advocate. Sickbert first met him at a Fine Arts Center event. “He was so animated and so transfixed by the music that I knew he was someone I had to meet.” Igloo temporarily relocated to Standing Rock to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline extension over native lands in South Dakota, which is where Pulido met him, calling him a “true activist.” Igloo served as Orr’s point of contact with whom she would organize and send care packages to protestors. “I got really close to Iggy during Standing Rock. From Rosebud [Indian Reservation] to Manitou, we were still able to form connection and community because of what grew here.”
Manitou Springs’ arts community leadership has had to find creative ways to fund its various initiatives. As the MAC turned its attention toward the community, there was a growing need to get the state’s attention for financial, logistical and promotional support. Colorado Springs had been designated a creative district in 2014, so Johnson helped spearhead a group to get Manitou Springs recognized by the state as a creative district as well. With a strategic plan in place, the city of Manitou Springs submitted their application, but were rejected for not having enough “skin in the game” in terms of municipal investment. The city of Manitou Springs and its chamber of commerce each agreed to pay half of Johnson’s salary as the district’s executive director. That satisfied the state, which approved the application in 2016.
The Creative District became Manitou’s hub for art resources. When the city wanted to calm aggressive traffic around Memorial Park, it sought help from the Creative District. The solution was an asphalt mural of 52 turtles in front of the SunWater Spa that slowed drivers.
While the Creative District was extremely important in providing funding and support for Manitou’s artistic projects, it wasn’t a check to pay for them. “At the end of the day, we had the people and we had the creativity — we just needed money to make these things happen,” Johnson says. In 1988, the Denver region approved a .1 percent sales tax to support the local arts, even as municipal budgets were being slashed across the board. To date, it has netted the region’s arts industry a collective $1 billion. Johnson and her collaborators saw this as a potential solution for Manitou. In late 2017, Manitou Springs’ city council announced that its .3 percent sales tax to pay off a package of infrastructure improvements was set to expire. This inspired Johnson and a board of four others to pursue a MACH Ballot Measure that would replace that infrastructure tax and provide steady income for municipal arts. “We knocked on every single door, we had door hangers and all the yard signs and buttons,” says Johnson. “It’s crazy that we were able to do what we did.”
The new MACH tax featured two tiers: the first two-thirds was reserved for five aging public facilities that required regular maintenance or additional support, including Miramont Castle, Hiawatha Gardens, the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, the Carnegie Library and the MAC. The other third of income was designated for competitive grants awarded on merit to local artists or regional artists doing business through and presenting within Manitou. As Johnson pitches it: “Get your butt to Manitou and make some art, we’ll give you money to do it. Let’s go!”
After a year of energetic campaigning, election night was a nail-biter. The measure initially failed by five votes, then won by five votes in a recount. Despite voter approval, the sitting Manitou City Council rejected the measure. MACH supporters would need to wait until a new, sympathetic council arrived the following February for it to receive approval. In the meantime, they faced a six-month loss of revenue. Former Manitou Springs councilor Jay Rohrer, who voted against the measure, said, “Just because a majority of a group of people think you should go in a certain direction does not mean that that is a wise choice.”
In celebration of the town’s 150th anniversary this year, Manitou Springs is going all out. Sickbert and CRANE, the newly merged entity of the longstanding Manitou Springs Arts Council and the new Creative District, have been working on a walking audio tour that’s due out later this year. THEATERdART produced a play called “Merriments and Mystery,” in which a hyperactive 10-year-old has to present the history of Manitou Springs for a class assignment. Claire Swinford, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, which supports art efforts around the Pikes Peak region, is helping the town build a public arts registry to catalog its permanent displays.
But Manitou shares the same moral dilemma in its celebrations of westward expansion as other towns do: America’s destruction of the native populace, their way of life and their history. Perched above the town is the controversial early 20th century Manitou Cliff Dwellings, an amalgamated tourist attraction of stolen Native artifacts and improvised architecture. (Johnson is quick to point out that the town receives no revenue or financial benefit from the attraction.)
“From a native standpoint, what are you celebrating? 150 years of what? Colonization? We’re trying to change that, from both sides of the coin,” says Pulido. He serves on a Native council called the Sacred Sage Consortium which seeks to preserve indigenous history that only exists in artwork and oral tradition held by a shrinking number of elders.
Manitou has an important role in the creation story of the Tabeguache Ute. They believe that they were created atop Tava (the Ute name for Pikes Peak) and their mothers would give birth in the waters downstream, which they considered sacred. When American settlers found gold in the mountains nearby, they forced the Utes off the land by treaty and force. The contemporary Ute nation has largely abandoned Manitou, Pulido says.
But the Consortium’s aim isn’t reparation or to shame the descendants and beneficiaries of the country’s invasion — something Pulido admits he’s also benefited from — it’s education. The Consortium wants to preserve and present the history of the Native Americans through art, old and new. Next year, they’ll have a new exhibition in the Manitou Heritage Center about the Natives’ history in Manitou that will take up roughly a third of the museum. They also want to normalize the usage of Tava as the name of America’s Mountain in hopes it will be officially re-recognized with its original title.
“[The past] already happened,” says Pulido. “Now let’s find a way to live together and be happy about it and grow and be stronger about it.”
Under the guidance of a seven-member board, including president Neale Minche and member Wilson, the MACH fund is already producing results. Brenda Biondo’s MACH-funded nature murals dress the bus stops at Memorial Park. Molly Wingate and Mark Wong’s MACH-funded Poetry and Pottery allowed for the restoration of Soda Springs Park, providing food, water and shelter for homeless and at-risk people in the park’s pavilion. It’s this social collaboration that Wingate calls “environmental policing.”
Through its artistic grants, MACH has boosted arts events by allowing event organizers to charge less for admission — or providing for prizes, in the case of Clay Fest. But it’s also helped to fund newer and smaller events as well. “MACH allows for artists around here to not have to walk around here, hat in hand, begging for money to do things,” says Wingate, an experienced grant writer and former Writing Center director at Colorado College until 2001. There are many other events that MACH has supported or made possible, including the Pollinator Festival, Shakespeare in the Park and Children of Gaia, an annual event promoting Black voices to speak truth to power through art in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by then-Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
Sickbert’s efforts with CRANE have been instrumental in adapting the community for a new, post-pandemic age. In the same way that the BAC taught artists how to conduct business and hone their craft, Sickbert’s grant-writing tutorials instruct a new group of artists on formalizing their pitches for funds to the city and for opportunities farther afield. Likewise, enabling virtual First Fridays and socially distanced sales during the pandemic allowed CRANE to teach older, less tech-savvy artists and gallery owners to exhibit and sell their work online.
Manitou’s city councilors are unpaid, and while the council hasn’t always cooperated with its art community, artists understand that they have a role in city management as well. “Once you’re in it for a little while, you look around and say ‘There’s not a lot of us, we’re all gonna have to step up and take our turn at some point,’” says Johnson. When a city council seat became available, Johnson stepped up and was voted in unanimously based on her extensive work promoting the arts in Manitou.
But Manitou faces a compounding problem: age. “When you look around the [Commonwheel] Fair, you see a lot of gray hairs,” says Wright. Manitou can’t grow much larger and its historical profile prevents the densification that would allow more people live in town. “Folks want to live in Manitou forever, we’re aging in place. … If we want energy, if we want young people, we have to look regionally for that,” says Johnson.
Manitou’s struggle, however, isn’t unique. Rents are up nationwide, but even mountain towns like Telluride, Leadville and Aspen that embraced their art communities eventually gentrified. The question becomes “how do you protect the diversity of Manitou, even with its artistic culture?” Wong uses Clay Fest and Thornton’s What IF… Festival in Colorado Springs to entice a new generation to become potters. Sickbert is thrilled to see MACH funds being used to expand Manitou’s offerings beyond the visual arts into live performances and literary arts. Wright praises newer dedicated Manitou artists like Orr. “She was at our fair a number of years ago and I told her, ‘I love [your] work,’” Wright says. “I could see how it connected to not just teenagers, but that younger set of people trying to find their way in the world.”
In a town this tightly connected, it’s a community event when one of its icons passes on. In declining health, Rockey died in 2019 at the age of 87. In tribute, Wong produced a series of 880 mugs that, together, resembled Rockey’s unique visage, standing 10 feet tall. A year later, Igloo succumbed to stomach cancer at the age of 38. Orr and others spent seven months getting pre-approval with PARAB (Manitou Springs’ Parks and Recreation Advisory Board) before seeking MACH funds for his memorial mosaic along Fountain Creek. The community was invited to vote on a design.
Arriving in Manitou via the Route 3 bus, Mayor John Graham presents passengers with a warm, prerecorded greeting prompted by a legally drawn boundary, but the Ute believed Manitou was much larger. The Creative Circuit is a coalition between Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City and Downtown Colorado Springs promoting a human-scale, experience-filled corridor. “We’re the creative sector,” says Swinford. “Don’t ask us to color inside the lines.”
There’s plenty that other cities can learn from Manitou and public art is expanding here in Colorado Springs despite some high-contrast reactions. “Not everyone is going to agree [on municipal art], or if you do, it ends up milquetoast. […] When you look at [Weidner Field], the photos that people show aren’t of the green field, it’s of that crazy orb thing, it’s the artistic part,” says Johnson.
Manitou knows better than other communities about how to weather disaster. In the face of gentrification, climate change with more severe, frequent wildfires or the prospect of Colorado Springs potentially siphoning off recreational marijuana sales tax revenue through legalization (Minche says this won’t affect MACH much at all, although the city’s coffers will be another story), Manitou’s artists express optimism.
But what is it that really lures so many people to Manitou Springs? Pulido offers an explanation. “I’m not a religious person by any means, but one thing that I can’t deny is energy,” he says. “And I think that the energy left when we leave our body is left on this land. I think that’s what makes this land so attractive to other people. The calling here is just beyond words.”