Just Another City Park

One of the oldest “parks” in Colorado Springs is North Cheyenne Cañon. Ever since the founding of the city by General William Jackson Palmer in 1871, this local landmark has enjoyed great popularity among residents and visitors alike. The official park originated in 1885, when the city purchased 640 acres from Colorado College, and reached its current size of 1600 acres through a land donation by General Palmer in 1907, as well as later additions.

Starsmore Center

The park’s entrance is graced by the Starsmore Discovery Center. This massive stone house formerly served as the residence of the Starsmore family and stood a couple of miles east, at the corner of S. Nevada Avenue and Cheyenne Road, the location of a present day fast food chain. In a spectacular action, the entire 200 ton building was moved to its new home on a trailer in April 1990, and opened as the park’s main visitor center two years later, which was also when the Friends of Cheyenne Cañon nonprofit organization was created. This year, it celebrates its 25th anniversary — Happy Birthday, Friends!

North Cheyenne Cañon Road

A serpentine, newly re-paved road lined by giant Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs winds up the narrow canyon for nearly 3 miles, paralleling the course of North Cheyenne Creek to the foot of Helen Hunt Falls. These are named in honor of a famous writer who relocated from the East to Colorado Springs for its purported beneficial climate. More about this remarkable woman in a future post. Adjacent to the falls sits a log cabin, in operation as a second visitor center since 2013. It replaced a dilapidated predecessor, known as The Cub. This structure was associated with the nearby Bruin Inn, a retreat originally owned by Colorado College that has long since burned.

Helen Hunt Falls (in the background on the left) and Visitor Center

A small distance beyond this site, the pavement ends at the junction of the Gold Camp Road and High Drive, now a parking lot. The former was built as the railroad bed for the so-called Short Line, to transport gold mined in Cripple Creek at the back side of Pikes Peak, and destined for the processing mills in Old Colorado City. Once mineral extraction ceased to be profitable, the rails were removed and the gravel route became available to car traffic.

Junction of High Drive and Lower Gold Camp Road

Parking lot, often filled to capacity

Following the collapse of one of the railroad tunnels, the affected portion of the road was barred to cars, and reserved for horses, pedestrians, and bikers. When flooding washed out stretches of the High Drive, it, too, opened only for travelers on hoof, foot, or spokes. Owing to this rich past, North Cheyenne Cañon Park received special distinction in 2009, by being included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The attractive scenery is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. Miles of spurs branching off the Gold Camp Road and High Drive, combined with hiking opportunities in the canyon itself, result in a near-endless web of trails covering this mountainous margin of Colorado Springs. My husband and I have walked many of them, but keep gravitating to the Columbine Trail which begins at the lower trailhead west of the Starsmore Center, at an elevation of 6250 feet, and reaches the upper trailhead at an altitude of 7300 feet, after four miles. Southern exposure makes it one of the earliest, snow-free paths. Meandering in and out of copses of conifers and clusters of scrub oak, it affords glimpses of the Helen Hunt and Silver Cascade Falls, of the rock formations which rim the ravine, and of the vast expanse of the Great Plains to the east.

Columbine Trail

View of Silver Cascade Falls from the Columbine Trail

Looking east

Depending on the day, week, or month, the park may be crowded, and since we seek solitude, we avoid weekends, and other busy times. While breaking a sweat and feeling the blood course through our veins, we delight in the warm caresses of sunbeams, the rushing sounds of the creek, and the joyful songs of feathered tenants. Chickadees, nuthatches, jays, and towhees flit in and out of the trees, ravens and raptors soar overhead.

For years past, North Cheyenne Cañon has provided pleasures to seekers from near and far. This seeker hopes to find them there for many more in the future.

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     In my writing, as in person, I return to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs time and again. An amusing anecdote about the wonderful name of this wonderful spot recounts how two early local residents and co-founders of Old Colorado City, Melancthon S. Beach and Rufus E. Cable, were surveying the area in the late 1850s. When the former suggested it would be a good location for a beer garden, the latter replied indignantly, “A beer garden. This is a place fit for the gods”. Fact or fiction, the name is fitting. Luckily for us, the park is fit for mortals, too, and this mortal usually makes exciting discoveries there, at times more serendipitous than at others.

     This past week, the “Garden” was the destination for my weekly birding group, since it attracts feathered beings as well. We counted 20 species, among them a pair of mating Prairie Falcons. On the following day, I came back with high hopes for sighting a Northern Saw-whet Owl previously spotted by other observers. Having transitioned to Daylight Savings Time two days prior, I arrived at 7 o’clock in human time, corresponding to 6 o’clock in owl time. Early for me, but apparently too late for the nocturnal creature, which was neither seen nor heard.

      As is often the case when one plan is foiled, its substitution might be as good or better. Not only did I experience a moonset behind Pikes Peak, and a near-simultaneous sunrise which painted mountains, rock formations and vegetation in soft shades of pink and orange, these celestial phenomena were accompanied by a terrestrial symphony. Among the multitude of musicians, American Robins, Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, and House Finches sang the leading parts.

American Robin feasting on juniper berries

Spotted Towhee in its beloved leaf litter

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay

Their melodies were complemented by courting behavior and nest-building, as well as aerial acrobatics of White-throated Swift, only recently returned to their summer habitat from the South. The temperature in the high 40s was at least 15 degrees more comfortable than on the previous day, enlivening not only me, but also some of the smaller birds, including chickadees and juncos. I was well entertained for an hour and a half which seemed like the blink of an eye. Content with the morning, and ready to return to the car, my gaze fell on two other visitors, at which point I did a double-take.

     The couple was evidently enjoying the climbing and vocal skills of a hyperactive little Canyon Wren.

Canyon Wren

Binoculars draped around their necks, and the woman’s camera with a long lens (I was admittedly envious) gave them away as fellow birders. I recognized her from a photo I had seen on her blog the day before. It was only my second or third visit to her site, in response to a comment she left on mine. My post “Dippered Out” appealed to her because they, too, had searched for American Dippers at Elevenmile Canyon. From her blog I knew that she and her husband were on a one-week excursion to Colorado from Texas. We had never met in person but when I approached her and asked, “Are you Shannon?”, she nodded, and replied, “You must be Tanja.” Despite their itinerary ranging up and down Colorado, we ran into one another at this singular spot. What are the odds?

The Central Garden

     After shaking our heads in disbelief, we chatted and admired birds and scenery together for nearly an hour. Alas, another get-together was precluded during this trip. Shannon and Scott, it was an immense pleasure to meet you both. I wish you continued Happy Birding wherever you are, and hope our flight paths will cross once again.

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Another Amazing Einstein

My current hometown, Colorado Springs, once was home to a third degree cousin of Albert Einstein. Dr. Otto Einstein was born in Hechingen, Germany in 1876, graduated from high school in Ulm in 1895, and from medical school in Tübingen in 1900. He practiced pediatrics in Stuttgart for thirty-five years, before he escaped Hitler’s anti-Semitic genocide at the last minute, in April 1939. Most of his children left Germany in the early 1930s, but Dr. Einstein opted to stay, caring for his Jewish patients as long as possible. Like other Jewish physicians, he had volunteered during WWI, and as late as 1935 was awarded a Medal of Honor, which likely conferred a degree of protection, even though he was demoted to Krankenpfleger (male nurse) and expelled from the German Society of Pediatricians in 1938.

After fleeing from the dinner table with his wife Jenny and their youngest son, the Einsteins’ first refuge was Nicaragua. He worked at a missionary hospital of the Moravian church for nine months, while awaiting a visa to enter the United States. Albert Einstein pleaded with the authorities in a handwritten note for permission for his cousin to enter the country. Once granted, the Einsteins arrived in New Orleans by steamship in 1940. They lived in Denver for two years, where Dr. Einstein’s eldest son was a doctor. Otto found employment as a resident physician at National Jewish Hospital, a center for the treatment of tuberculosis. Colorado was among the premiere destinations for consumptives, on account of its purported beneficial climate, and Dr. Einstein started a new career as a tuberculosis specialist at sixty-four – an age when most individuals at least ponder retirement.


Memorial Plaque at the site of the former Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium

In 1942, Dr. Einstein moved to Colorado Springs and was hired by the Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium, the city’s largest. After 1947, he dedicated the remaining years of his life to the care of patients at Cragmor Sanatorium. This establishment for well-heeled patients opened in 1905/06. In 1952, it was leased by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as a treatment center for Navajo (Diné) women from Arizona, with the goal to cure their disease with newly discovered antibiotics. Patients and staff described him as a caring, gentle individual who tried to ease his charges’ physical and emotional pain. Despite communication barriers created by his heavily accented English, he and his American Indian patients were able to comprehend one another.


The former Cragmor Sanatorium, now Main Hall of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS)

A principled man, Dr. Einstein insisted on paying for medications taken from the pharmacy for personal use, and on tearing up uncanceled stamps. A lifelong scholar, he studied subjects as diverse as medicine and comparative religion. He worshiped at Temple Beth El, the Reform Jewish congregation in Colorado Springs. It was there that he eulogized Albert’s life after the Nobel Laureate’s death in 1955. Five years earlier, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph had printed an interview in which he reminisced about their childhood friendship in Germany and several stays at Princeton with the famous physicist and his wife Elsa, who also happened to be a cousin of Jenny. After Dr. Einstein’s death of myocardial infarction in 1959, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday, he was buried at the Sons of Israel Cemetery, adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery.

Dr. Einstein was survived by his wife Jenny, their two sons, Robert and Georg, two daughters, Lisa and Eva, and a son, Hans, from Jenny’s first marriage. While all have passed in the interim, numerous grandchildren and their offspring are alive today.

I first learned about Dr. Einstein in a book about Cragmor Sanatorium, Asylum of the Gilded Pill, by retired UCCS Professor Douglas R. McKay. During an exploration of our local cemeteries, I stumbled across Dr. Einstein’s distinctive gravestone which heightened my curiosity. When I found the eulogy given by his rabbi, I called several synagogues to find more information about him. One obliging secretary put me in touch with Dr. Perry Bach who is working on the completion of a series of books, Jewish Colorado Springs. He was most gracious, shared his knowledge, and put me in touch with a family member of Dr. Einstein, architect Alan Gass of Denver, the designer of the tombstone, who filled in additional gaps. While visiting Stuttgart last fall, I discovered more archival sources about Dr. Einstein’s life in Germany.

This short biographical sketch is my attempt to shed a little more light on a remarkable person whose full life is too little known.

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Rock Ledge Ranch

Today I will add to the lore about General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. Based on numerous testimonies, he was a generous man. Only a few years after his marriage to Mary Lincoln “Queen” Mellen, his father-in-law died. Mr. Mellen had married Queen’s aunt, following the premature death of her mother when the girl was only four, which resulted in the gradual addition of seven half-siblings to Queen’s kin. After the patriarch’s passing, the General basically adopted the extended Mellen Clan, and they moved in at the Palmers’ home at Glen Eyrie for a period of time. William Palmer supported his relatives, even after most decided to live in England, and he continued to do so after Queen’s early demise at age 44.

Orchard House, frontal view

Orchard House, frontal view

During a stroll through Rock Ledge Ranch, adjacent to gorgeous Garden of the Gods, the stately Orchard House reminded me of the convoluted Palmer-Mellen family saga, and of the General’s character. He had purchased Rock Ledge Ranch, a former homestead, circa 1900 from the Chambers family. After one of Queen’s half-sisters, Charlotte (Lottie), went through a scandalous divorce and remarriage to the noted British zoologist William Lutley Sclater, the couple established residence in Cape Town, where he became curator at the South African Museum, until his resignation in 1906 when he and Lottie accepted the General’s invitation to relocate to Colorado Springs. Not content with securing his relation a teaching position at Colorado College, Palmer commissioned noted local architect, Thomas MacLaren, to build the pair their own domicile, Orchard House, in the Cape Dutch style of their former dwelling near the Cape of Good Hope — kindness and thoughtfulness taken to a high level.

Orchard House, back view

Orchard House, back view

The Sclaters’ time in the shadow of Pikes Peak coincided with General Palmer’s final chapters of life, following his horse-riding accident and ensuing near-quadriplegia. This did not prevent him from leading a vibrant life and Lottie was a great help and comfort to him for over two-and-a-half years, until his death in 1909, when the Sclaters returned to England.

Chambers House

Chambers House

Opportunities to explore Rock Ledge Ranch, now a living history farm and museum, abound. Multiple festivals throughout the year afford entrance into the former occupants’ residences, and glimpses into their lives. Mr. Sclater was an impassioned ornithologist. Because I share his fascination with feathered friends, an earlier visit to his office, and his collection of stuffed birds, left a lasting impression. At that point, I was not aware of his renowned two volume A History of the Birds of Colorado, published after he left the state. I would like to take a look at it, and an occasion will present itself soon. What I do recall are the delicious aroma and taste of Christmas cookies baked and served in the kitchen of the Orchard House during my last tour. As it happens, the annual holiday celebration will take place this coming Saturday, December 17, 2016, from 4 till 8 PM. For further details, please follow the link to the website here.

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The Enchanted Garden

Were it not for visionaries like General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, who realized early in its history that precious land needed to be set aside to preserve and protect forever, it is unlikely that his generous gifts to the city which included North Cheyenne and Bear Creek Canyons, as well as Monument Valley and Palmer Parks, would have remained natural oases.

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One such oasis, considered by many the crowning jewel in a collection of precious gems, is Garden of the Gods. Even though it was not donated to the city by its founder, the General still deserves indirect credit. He convinced one of his friends and fellow railway aficionados, Charles Perkins, president of the Burlington Railroad, to purchase the land with the spectacular sandstone formations. Mr. Perkins opened it to the public during his lifetime, and after his death his children honored his wish and bequeathed it to the city, to “be kept forever free to the public”, as a large plaque at North Gateway Rock in his honor attests.


For residents and tourists alike, it is one of our main attractions, though as a local lover of this curvilinear array of iconic rock, I derive the greatest pleasure by visiting early in the morning, and by avoiding weekends altogether. A dearth of parking spaces and bumper-to-bumper traffic can lessen one’s enjoyment significantly. I am glad to have participated in a few interesting and informative events there this summer, but they reinforced my need for solitude.

In May, I signed up for a guided hike during the 2nd annual Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival. While watching the sunset with its attendant play of shadows in the Central Garden, and listening to the descending tune of Canyon Wrens, a pair of nesting Prairie Falcons was busily hunting. Myriad circling and screeching White-throated Swifts made use of the last vestiges of daylight. Their annual migration to and high numbers in the park were among the arguments resulting in its designation of National Natural Landmark in 1971, one of 13 in Colorado.

My husband and I attended one of the weekly bat tours in June. Led by a very knowledgeable volunteer, it started with a brief lecture at the Visitor Center. We learned that out of Colorado’s 20 bat species, three oversummer in local stony clefts and crevices, the Little Brown, Big Brown, and Pallid Bats. Interestingly, only the males travel here, leaving the females behind in New Mexico, to tend to the raising of their offspring. Near a cliff wall at nightfall, we witnessed their emergence from their daytime hangouts. Before the nocturnal hunt for insects, they quench their thirst from a pond at nearby Rock Ledge Ranch. Hand-held echolocators enabled us to hear their species-specific signals with which they navigate. Expecting the bats’ crepuscular flight, a pair of Great Horned Owls was occupying real estate in the vicinity where we made out their silhouettes against the darkening sky.

One July day, I participated in a guided walking tour. It focused on the geologic processes of sand deposition and subsequent tectonic uplift responsible for the area’s vertical slabs, but as intriguing as these scientific explanations are, they pale before the rubicund beauty of this enchanting destination at the foot of Pikes Peak. IMG_5740 (24)

Diverse groups of people have traversed this land throughout the ages, American Indians being the first. Even though no written records exist of their experiences, we know from their interactions with the early newcomers, that they considered this a special, if not a sacred spot. Each successive wave of passersby has felt a similar sense of wonder, reflected correspondingly in the Garden’s name, and no matter how often I am there, I am overcome with the same, abiding sense of awe.

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Pikes Peak’s Little Brother

Cameron Cone, at a height of 10,707 feet, does not figure among the tallest giants of Colorado, or even the Front Range, but its conspicuous shape and situation as one of Pikes Peak’s sentinels have always fascinated me. Until a recent invitation to join a small group of Colorado Mountain Club trekkers as a guest, I had only admired it from afar.

Crystal Park Road and Cameron Cone

Crystal Park Road and the east face of Cameron Cone overlooking Colorado Springs

The official path starts at the Barr trailhead in Manitou Springs and rises nearly 4000 feet over 4 miles. Being escorted by a resident of the private community of Crystal Park, we tackled the mountain from an access at an altitude of approximately 8000 feet, which halved our trip to about 2000 feet and 2 miles. I never fail to be enticed by new climbs and novel vistas in my back yard, and Cameron Cone did not disappoint. On the day of our outing, a thick cloud cover lay over Colorado Springs, but as we wound our way up Crystal Park Road we emerged above it. Drifts of cotton wafting up from the prairie and out of the valleys created a fascinating atmosphere.

Rampart Range enshrouded in clouds

Rampart Range protruding through the clouds

After the steep approach which involved some bushwhacking, the summit afforded fresh perspectives of Pikes Peak, several reservoirs, and additional conspicuous sentries, including Almagre Mountain (also known as Mount Baldy), Mount Rosa, and Cheyenne Mountain. While we were picnicking on the flat top, we were surprised to discover clusters of ladybugs clinging to rocks and wooden logs, and even more astonished to see them covering us and our backpacks. It took some persuasion to convince them not to hitchhike downhill with us.

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Ladybugs on a log

The landmark’s namesake, Robert Alexander Cameron (1828-1894), hailed from New York, but moved to Indiana with his family as a teenager. A man of many talents, he practiced medicine, published a newspaper, and was a member of the Indiana State Legislature, serving at the Republican Convention of 1860 which elected future President Lincoln. At the onset of the Civil War, he volunteered for the Union and achieved the rank of Brevet Major General. After its end, he followed the call of the West, and became involved in the founding of Nathan Meeker’s Union Colony in what would later be called Greeley, for Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who was credited with the phrase “Go West, young man”. The colony movement was popular just then, and General Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs, espoused some of its tenets, such as cooperative irrigation, and the temperance clause. In fact, our city was briefly named Fountain Colony. Palmer hired Cameron away from Union Colony and employed him as the manager of the Colorado Springs Company which platted the town sites, controlled land sales, and administered the newly founded community. According to our late local historian, Marshall Sprague, General Cameron named the cone for himself, but I have been unable to elicit if he ever summited it.

Unlike many early settlers who put down roots, Cameron pulled up stakes, and set out for further exploits. Following a stint in California, he returned to the Centennial State, to serve first as postal clerk in Denver, and next as warden of the Colorado State Penitentiary. He continued to live in Canon City after his retirement and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. Even though he did not remain in Colorado Springs, he nonetheless left an indelible mark on our region.