Literary Outings Highlight Beauty of Cheyenne Park

Literary Outings Highlight Beauty of Cheyenne Park

Article by Stewart M. Green

“I am sitting in the canyon, under a grove of cottonwood, Douglas fir, silver spruce,” wrote Rose Kingsley in a letter to her father and mother in England on Valentine’s Day in 1872. “My chair is a lump of red granite, with a wall of the same rising behind me reflecting the hot sun, so that I begin to feel like your idea of perfect bliss — a lizard on a hot wall.” Tamara Teale, local literary scholar, stood in front of a black bear interpretative sign at the Rock Garden in Cheyenne Mountain State Park reading excerpts from Kingsley’s writing about Colorado Springs’ earliest days. A group of 26 people sat on their own lumps of red granite beneath the shade of tall ponderosa pines listening to tales of Gen. Palmer, the city’s founder, and his wife Queen, and about early settlers who “expected a large town, with fine farming lands, ready ploughed and fenced,” instead of an 18-square block town of dusty streets, crude frame buildings and no trees.

The event at the state park was the fifth and last Literary Walk in the Woods this season, a program now in its fourth year that selects five different nature writers and how they interpret the natural world, find a sense of place, and bring us readers into their intimate space.

“This program was my little brainchild,” said Lucy Bell, a volunteer naturalist since Cheyenne Mountain State Park opened in 2006. “I love nature writing and nature, so I thought, what about combining them?” Her supervisor said, “Give it a shot. If nobody’s interested we’ll let it go.”

Bell’s program started in 2013 and turned out to be quite popular, attracting 20-60 people each session. The program was well-loved from the start, Bell said, because former Gazette columnist Bill Vogrin wrote a story about the late nature writer Ann Zwinger, who was Colorado Springs’ own Henry David Thoreau. “After Bill did a fabulous story on Ann, we had so many people sign up that we had to split them and have her do it two times,” Bell said. “That got us off to a good start.”

Each program is presented by a local author or naturalist, who first gives a short lecture at the park visitor center about their chosen nature writer. This year, besides Kingsley, the featured writers were Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Gretel Ehrlich and Robert Frost.

After the initial remarks, the group piles into cars, drives to a trailhead and then hikes halfway out the mile-long Zook Trail to the Rock Garden. “It’s a beautiful place,” Bell said. “We sit on boulders and the speaker reads quotations from the author under the shade of the pines. It’s a really good experience.”

Kris Baril, a park naturalist for four seasons, said, while walking on the trail, “It’s like a book club and a hiking group all melded together. I like learning about different authors and some I’ve never heard about. I enjoy the presenters. Lucy brings in a lot of interesting people to talk.”

Baril said the walks usually reach their maximum number of people. “We often have to turn away people. Every single one is popular, but we can usually take a few walk-ins although they’re often reserved well in advanced,” she said.

Baril also said, “We have a core of regulars that come every time. There are about a dozen of them. Looking around I would say half of the group today are repeats.”

This was the first Walk in the Woods, however, for Jan Kelley, who recently moved to Colorado Springs from Grand Junction.

“I found Cheyenne Mountain State Park,” Kelley said, “and I thought it was lovely.” She hiked trails, took a yoga class and went on a guided wildflower hike. “It was funny,” she said, “because my late husband was a botany professor at Mesa State University so I learned all the proper names and didn’t know the common names for flowers. Then I heard about the literary hike and thought that sounded like fun. It was great. It was wonderful. It was very interesting to hear about Colorado Springs since I know nothing about its history. It was interesting to hear about the railroad and settlers. There’s nothing better than coming out for a hike and listening to great literature.”

Besides the public’s love for the Literary Walk in the Woods, Bell said the park staff likes it too.

“It hits a different kind of audience for the park,” she said. “These are people that like nature writing and like to read. Anytime we can get somebody out to this beautiful setting, we know that they will come back. It’s just so pretty here.”

Original article here:

Photo Details: Participants in the fifth Literary Walk in the Woods, featuring the writings of Rose Kingsley and Gen. William Jackson Palmer, hiked out the Zook Trail to the Rock Garden on Sept. 17. Photo by Stewart M. Green