Stratton Open Space

Near the former Stratton Park put onto the map by and named for the remarkable Winfield Scott Stratton after his death, Colorado Springs set aside precious land to preserve and protect from development. Surrounded by human habitation, Stratton Open Space was created in 1998 and represents one of nine open spaces under the city’s jurisdiction.

The 306 acre parcel in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is among my favorite spots for running, hiking, and birding. A maze of trails measuring a total of eight miles welcomes visitors on feet, paws, hooves, and wheels (though a few paths are off-limit for bikes). The relatively compact area encompasses five ecological zones: a riparian corridor and wetlands, prairie-like meadows and a scrub oak/juniper plant community, as well as a ponderosa pine/Douglas fir forest.

With the exception of rows of peaks rising in the west that are best seen from lower altitudes, the higher the vantage point, the broader the panorama. The hulk of Cheyenne Mountain dominates the south, beloved view and destination of Helen Hunt Jackson, one of my favorite historical personalities.

Cheyenne Mountain on a clear day

…and on a not so clear one…







The sonorous chimes of the Will Rogers Shrine on its flank divide each hour and might also rattle the remains of Spencer and Julie Penrose, who built the tower and chose it as their final resting place. Philanthropists and benefactors, they also founded the Broadmoor Hotel, easily visible from the park. It celebrates its centennial this year, having accommodated its first guests in 1918, and prides itself of having received a five-star Forbes rating for 57 consecutive years.

The Broadmoor Resort

Will Rogers Shrine








In the east the ever-expanding suburban space adjoins Colorado’s High Plains which eventually merge with those of our neighboring states, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Eastern sunrise

Eastern balloonrise







As pleasing as the wonderful vistas are the local flora and fauna. Each season has its charms, and even when flowering plants are absent, the dormant vegetation creates color and contrast. At the height of summer, a multi-hued carpet of wildflowers provides a feast for the eyes, and golden tapestries of sunflowers persist well into autumn.


Indian Paintbrush

Mariposa Lily

Purple Prairie Clover














Avian activity abounds year-round, but other critters can commonly be seen as well.

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
















For the last two to three decades, Colorado Springs has been in the throes of rapid, unchecked urban growth. The more buildings, people and traffic, the more indispensable and treasured are oases like Stratton Open Space where, despite a degree of human management, nature still has a chance to run wild.

A Quiet Champion

Soon after the founding of Colorado Springs in 1871, a young carpenter from Indiana moved to the bourgeoning town, attracted by the prospect of gainful employment – new home construction depended on woodworking skills. Wood was his professional life, but within a few years, precious metal filled his dreams. Starting in 1874, he took a yearly summer sabbatical and headed into the mountains to prospect for gold; in the ensuing years he attended college classes in assaying and metallurgy to better the chances at succeeding in his quest.

He had been too young for California’s gold rush of 1848/49, and for Colorado’s ten years later. The discovery of gold in the Cherry Creek area near the future site of Denver in 1858/59 had brought waves of hopefuls to Pikes Peak, but in those early years of exploitation, the region did not reveal its riches. Three decades later, the fortunes of Colorado Springs and many of its residents changed when veins of the shining ore were discovered on the southwest side of the mountain. After 1890, Victor and Cripple Creek arose from the rocky ground almost overnight and, ere long, tens of thousands of optimistic miners called these towns home.

One of the “fortunate” who possessed a claim was Winfield Scott Stratton (1848-1902), said carpenter – after 17 years of tireless exploration. His rich Independence Mine made him one of the richest citizens of Colorado Springs. Unlike other newly minted millionaires, he did not put on airs, or put up a new, ostentatious home for himself. Never forgetting his humble beginnings, he was content to live either in a small shack near his mine, or in relatively modest houses in Colorado Springs. And he was always willing to give to the needy.

Among his beneficiaries was Bob Womack. The old cowboy-turned-gold-seeker might have been the first to find gold in Cripple Creek, but he sold his claim for $500, did not benefit from the town’s bonanza, and remained poor to his end. Mr. Stratton also came to the rescue of the townspeople of Cripple Creek who suffered in the wake of a devastating fire in 1896, when he financed a train to haul necessities from Colorado Springs to the bereft victims. He developed the Colorado Springs & Interurban Railway Company, an electric trolley system that served the city, as well as an amusement park at one of the trolley’s terminals at the west end of town. He called it Cheyenne Park  but it was renamed Stratton Park after his death. Its bandstand was the location of a free concert each Sunday. He donated land for City Hall and the Post Office, financed the Mining Exchange Building, supported Colorado College and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. He gave away vast earnings in various philanthropic ventures, but when he sold his Independence Mine to an English company in 1900, he found himself with an additional 10 million dollars, the equivalent of about 240 million in today’s currency.

Stratton Springs in Manitou Springs, one terminus of Mr. Stratton’s trolley line

The former Mining Exchange, completely financed by Mr. Stratton, now a hotel








Money did not buy Mr. Stratton happiness. Once his quest for gold was fulfilled, life did not seem to hold many charms. It is said that he could not walk anywhere without being accosted by someone begging for money. The constant requests for slices of his pie were a heavy burden and the following words are ascribed to him: “Too much money is not good for any man. I have too much, and it’s not good for me. A hundred thousand dollars is as much money as the man of ordinary intelligence can take care of. Large wealth has been the ruin of many a young man.”

Always a recluse, he increasingly preferred a bottle to human company and died in 1902 of liver cirrhosis, at the age 54. A dozen women suddenly declared having been his lawfully wedded wives. He had married once, but the union had ended in divorce. His wife bore a son of questionable fatherhood, but now his purported offspring lay claim to his inheritance. Former mining partners remembered old promises. Aware of his approaching death, Mr. Stratton had willed vast sums to various individuals and institutions. But he had assigned the bulk of his capital to fund “a free home for poor persons who are without means of support and who are physically unable by reason of old age, youth, sickness or other infirmity to earn a livelihood.” It was to be named after his estranged father, Myron Stratton.

Mr. Stratton’s gravestone at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs

Back side of his gravestone

The uproar created by the opening of his testament could be heard across the country. It was contested by many, including real or imagined relatives, the city and even the state that went so far as to question his mental stability. In the end, after much frivolous litigation and many settlements, his steadfast trustees succeeded in having his wishes honored. With a 6 million dollar endowment, the Myron Stratton Home opened its doors in 1913. It has provided housing, education, and work to countless Colorado Springs residents, and continues to function as a home for seniors in need of assistance today. Many firsthand, inspirational accounts of individuals saved by this foundation speak to its enduring legacy. Winfield Scott Stratton might not have been content with his life’s work, but he would be overjoyed with the wide-reaching windfall his wealth created, for the greater good of mankind.

Mr. Stratton’s statue on the grounds of the Myron Stratton Home

Gone to the Ducks

Birders regularly recall the trigger bird that stopped them in their tracks and awakened their curiosity about the avifauna. While I can’t name one particular trigger species, I owe my fascination for feathered friends to the manifold ducks that migrate to Alaska during the summer. When my husband and I called this northernmost state home in the early 2000s, my interest was aroused whenever we chanced upon colorful waterfowl on the myriad bodies of water that pepper the state. I went so far as to invest in a guide book to Alaskan birds, and even owned a CD with recordings of regional birdsong, but being rather consumed by professional life then, I birded only incidentally.

Ducks, geese and assorted additional water-associated avians are rewarding for beginning birders because their size makes them visible on the water’s surface, and they commonly stay in one place for extended periods, facilitating their proper identification. Now that we no longer live in “The Last Frontier” with its legendary biodiversity, I regret not having dedicated more time to ornithological pursuits there.

My fondness of ducks, nonetheless, abides. It so happens that within walking distance of our current residence in Colorado Springs, two lakes provide habitat for assorted waterfowl.

Quail Lake with view of Pikes Peak

Doubletree Pond with view of Cheyenne Mountain

 I did not acquire a digital camera until we were in the process of closing our Alaska chapter, and consequently don’t own electronic photos of the beautiful winged creatures encountered there. Instead, I would like to share pictures of some of the visitors of these urban oases in Colorado Springs who, likewise, have stolen my heart. Unlike other birds, they stay (or arrive) here in winter and help brighten the darker days.

Mallards are our most common ducks…

…and Canada Geese our most common geese

Northern Shovelers have spatulas for bills

Hooded Mergansers are spectacular in…

…and out of the water

Common Goldeneye, I wonder why

American Wigeon, aka “bald pate”

Doubletree Pond in winter

This, of course, does not qualify as waterfowl, but when I saw this white dove at the Doubletree Pond on January 1, it embodied all my hopes: Peace on Earth for this new year.

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Butterfly Fever

     Late summer and early fall brought an invasion of the Rocky Mountain region by legions of gossamer-winged Painted Ladies. Denver weather radar detected large swarms of these lovely lepidopterans undulating across the screen in what amounted to a seventy mile band. While this is not an unusual phenomenon in eastern states, it was a novelty for Colorado. Many were the reported sightings and resulting delight shared in newspapers, on television, and numerous blogs.

     Between the end of August and the latter part of October, Colorado Springs residents and guests were also treated to a winged visitation of another kind. Thanks to the 10th annual “Flight” event organized by the Rotary Club, twenty-four handcrafted butterflies landed on the lawn of our local Pioneers Museum, where they contributed color and whimsy to an active downtown arts scene. Those steely individuals with three foot wingspans alighted on seven foot tall poles after they were fashioned by Colorado artists. They were subsequently auctioned off at a special fundraiser and the proceeds will support arts and science programs in our largest school district, besides additional worthy causes.

     One of our incredible bluebird autumn days found me at my favorite museum. I benefitted from perfect climatic conditions and clicked away with my camera. Being encircled by a cloud of enchanting, enormous creations resulted in difficulty electing favorites. Each butterfly was named and each told its own story on its ventral and dorsal surfaces, the intricacies of which were impossible to capture. My photos show a small selection of these inspired labors of love.

Transformation-The Flight of the Phoenix

Tiger Passion

Sunset Silhouette

Harmonious Dream

Huichol Wilderness

Into the Light

Beauty and the Beast

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

     When, among those immovable creatures, I perceived the quivering of so many mobile wings, delicate in detail yet sturdy enough to convey their owners to distant lands, I was both humbled and exalted to witness this magical moment.

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The Splendor of a Rainy Day

     We Coloradans are spoiled by living in a state that claims at least 300 sunny days per calendar year. Colorado Springs has benefited from this natural phenomenon since its founding in 1871, even calling itself “City of Sunshine”, to better attract tourists and health-seekers. For sufferers of consumption, a change in climate was frequently a desperate attempt to cure this age-old scourge of humanity. Before its cause was known, and before the discovery and development of effective antibiotics in the 1940s, treatment consisted of a multi-pronged approach, with exposure to fresh air and sunshine being one of its mainstays.

     Though most visitors and residents no longer arrive in Colorado Springs for health reasons, all still revel in our Columbine-colored skies, and the mood-enhancing effects of solar rays (their known potential for adverse health-effects notwithstanding). Originating from Germany, I was accustomed to extended episodes of gray and gloomy conditions, but it did not take long to convert me to the pleasures associated with a helio-dominated climate. But even in this sun-kissed region, the sun’s smiley face is concealed periodically. We might even forget that the Rocky Mountains rise directly in front of our doorsteps, when banks of mist and fog shroud our local fourteener, Pikes Peak, and its lesser but no less attractive neighbors.

     During one such beclouded stretch in early autumn, I stroll through one of my favorite local refuges, Fountain Creek Regional Park, also the focus of several previous posts (Monarchs and Milkweed, An Ode to Fountain Creek Regional Park, and Summer Sorrow). An alteration in weather is commonly paralleled by an alteration in animal activity, apparent as soon as I approach the Nature Center. A gobble of fourteen Wild Turkeys greets me from the meadow adjacent to the parking lot. They don’t flee as is their wont and, more remarkably, still roam the same vicinity two hours later, when I complete my loop.

The lower than usual sky seems to slow down pace and movement of all life. Whereas color and contrast diminish noticeably, many structures and textures are highlighted and brought into sharper focus, drawing my eyes to details I might otherwise overlook.

     I am grateful for the brightness and warmth that spoil us regularly, but instead of bemoaning the occasional sun-deprived period, I try to embrace it, resting assured in the knowledge that luminous and brilliant days will, once again, follow.

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A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak

To be called a “Bloomer Girl” was not a compliment in polite society. According to Victorian mores, proper clothing for proper women equaled an ankle-length skirt, regardless of its impracticality for many activities. “Bloomer Girls” donned dresses that reached slightly below the knee and were worn over a pair of billowing, loose-fitting pantaloons – a scandal. Even though she did not design the outfit, it was named after Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894), one of the early proponents of women’s suffrage, and an advocate for dress reform. Women who donned these progressive garments protested society’s arbitrary norms and typically supported the early feminist organizations and their goals of equality, and the right to vote.

“Reform Dress” or “Bloomer”. Illustration from A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak.

The title of this post originates from a book I recently discovered. Published by the Denver Library District in 1949, The Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak refers to Julia Anna Archibald Holmes (1838-1887). Born in Canada, she moved to Massachusetts at age 10, and to Kansas in the mid-1850s, where her abolitionist family was part of the movement that settled the state to prevent it from becoming pro-slavery. They helped found the town of Lawrence where she met James Holmes, a fellow abolitionist, and, furthermore, a member of John Brown’s Free State Rangers. Julia married him in the fall of 1857, when she was 18. After the discovery of gold in Colorado the following year, the couple joined the Lawrence Party in June 1858, among the earliest hopeful gold seekers. Crossing the Great Plains in covered wagons and on foot, they arrived at the base of Pike’s Peak about one month later and set up camp near the future Garden of the Gods.

Half a century earlier, in 1806, Captain Zebulon Montgomery Pike had led the first U.S. government expedition to the region acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. While searching for the source of the Arkansas River, he saw and approached a tall mountain in the distance, but was prevented from its ascent by November’s inhospitable conditions. In his journal, he expressed the conviction, that “no man could have ascended to its pinnacle.” On August 5, 1858, however, Julia and her husband summited, and Julia is generally presumed to have been the first white woman to stand on top of the 14,115 foot mountain named after Pike years after his death. Ironically, she did so wearing her Bloomer dress which facilitated her journey, whereas Pike and his men were prevented not only by snow, but also by their inadequate summer uniforms.

Julia kept a journal, and even though it has been lost, letters to her family as well as articles written for women’s magazines have survived and provide insight into her adventures. They form the core of The Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak. The following are quotes from the book.

We were now fairly launched on the waving prairie. A person who has beheld neither the ocean nor the great, silent, uninhabited plains, will find it impossible to form an adequate idea of the grandeur of the scene. With the blue sky overhead, the endless variety of flowers under foot, it seemed that the ocean’s solitude had united with all the landscape beauties. (page 15)

I commenced the journey with a firm determination to learn to walk. At first I could not walk over three or four miles without feeling quite weary, but by persevering and walking as far as I could every day, my capacity increased gradually, and in the course of a few weeks I could walk ten miles in the most sultry weather without being exhausted. Believing, as I do, in the right of woman to equal privileges with man, I think that when it is in our power we should, in order to promote our own independence, at least, be willing to share the hardships which commonly fall to the lot of man. (page 20)

I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself and now I feel amply repaid for all my toil and fatigue. Nearly every one tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now, here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all. In all probability I am the first woman who has ever stood upon the summit of this mountain and gazed upon this wondrous scene, which my eyes now behold. (page 39)

Modern-day view from the summit of Pike’s Peak

When gold proved elusive, Julia and her husband moved to New Mexico for a number of years. Of their four children, two died. Julia was granted a divorce in 1870, probably as a consequence of domestic abuse and adultery. She made Washington, D.C. her permanent home where she remained active in the suffrage movement and worked for the US Government until her death at the age of 49. I have not been able to establish the cause of death. The portrait above shows Julia at about 32, when she left her husband. Does anyone else think she bears an uncanny resemblance to Julia Roberts?

“America’s Mountain” reminds me regularly of the eventful and accomplished life of “A Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak”, the progressive, abolitionist, suffragist, writer, and first known female to scale its steep summit.

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For weeks the unmistakable signs of approaching autumn have advertised the change in seasons, yet they coexist with vestiges of estival exuberance.

Still, butterflies drink deeply of the sweet nectar of friendly flowers whose vital force continues to pulsate.

Still, the sun warms the air and lights the days, though they are growing shorter. Birds wing southward to milder climes, and while one swallow does not a summer make, the absence of their multitudes signals summer’s end.

Barn swallows at the height of summer. Now they are gone.

The transformation of green foliage into hues of yellow, orange, and red, and of colorful blossoms into seed-bearing vessels is the most obvious harbinger of the earth’s ever-increasing distance from our solar orb. It is accompanied by a chill that rides on Aeolus’s wings, by leaves that tumble in his wake, and by the smell of composting vegetation on his breath.

It is a time of endings. The ending of vibrancy. The ending of the earth’s most productive period.

     A time of wistfulness.

     A time to reflect on goals unfinished.

     A time of regrets.

It is also a time of beginnings. The beginning of dormancy. The beginning of the earth’s most conservative period.

     A time of gratitude.

     A time to celebrate accomplishments.

     A time of hope.

Hope, that life will continue, that we will have another chance, that spring will once again spring.

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