Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wanderings In The Rain

I thought it was still pouring rain outside, but the roaring that I hear coming through my open window is from the swollen creek several hundred feet from my cousin’s back fence.  Usually there is no noise at all from this trickling watercourse, which is entirely concealed by a meandering copse of trees, but hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are rushing down from the mountains, and it sounds like a healthy waterfall as it sweeps tons of mud and other debris downstream.  I expect there will be silt all over low-lying areas when the sun comes up in a few hours.  The sound is so loud it woke me up about 2 AM, and I finally went downstairs to have a homemade chocolate-chip muffin (as decadent as it sounds) and a glass of milk at 4 AM, and I am writing with the jet-engine “whoosh” running nonstop in the background—I expect I’ll need my earplugs to sleep again.  My cousins’ sprinkler system keeps springing to life, and there is an occasional chittering sound from the frame over the back patio, where I suspect the herd of raccoons is busy denuding the grapevines.

Yesterday, I drove to Colorado Springs, as planned, though it rained most of the way and was cloudy and drizzled periodically throughout the day.  My first stop was Cave of the Winds, which has been commercially developed since the nineteenth century.  I am a sucker for walkable caves (spelunking—crawling on my belly through claustrophobic spaces—has never appealed to me)—they remind me of my childhood Wind in the Willows-inspired fantasy of living in a burrow like Badger.  Allegedly, CoftheW contains some seven miles of passageways, but ordinary visitors only get to see a tiny (maybe ¼ mile, perhaps less) fraction of this.  The tour, while well-led (with entertaining patter), relies on most people not having a sense of direction underground, because it backtracks a great deal , with the guide pointing out different features while traversing the same passageways in the opposite direction.  It was overpriced ($18 for adults—the only available discount was for active military servicemembers) for its length, but still enjoyable.  The portion of the caves we went through have been heavily altered (the floors have been lowered by two to four feet, permanent lighting installed throughout, and several passageway ceilings have been covered with colored cement). I’m glad I went, but the little Florida Caverns in Marianna, FL, are better (the caves are more alive, with less obvious human alteration), and considerably cheaper.   

I had planned to spend the next several hours wandering through the Garden of the Gods, which is a city park (apparently pieces of it were also commercially developed back in the day, but it was willed to the municipality with the stipulation that it be free and open to the public), but it was so damp and the sky looked so ominous that after getting the obligatory photo at the huge balanced rock near the entrance, I turned around and drove into Manitou Springs, determined to taste the waters.  Manitou reminded me a lot of Zakopane, Poland.  Pleasant little wooded mountain village with small shops and cottages staggering up the sides of curving streets.  The stream through the middle was a brown torrent, and many of the lower-lying businesses had a berm of sandbags at their thresholds as a precaution.  I’d stopped at the visitor center to pick up a “complimentary tasting cup” (I’d expected something a little more grand than the wee pee-sample disposable I got, but it did fit handily in my purse), and I followed a map from spring to spring, all of which were naturally carbonated).  It was a pleasant stroll, which took me past a dulcimer shop with stained-glass doors, a penny arcade with hundreds of games and a display of curious old vending equipment, and the requisite clusters of tattooed and pierced wanderers wearing alternative clothes and hairstyles which mountain towns seem to attract in large numbers. 

After I visited an interesting handmade clothing shop where I managed to find three things that fit me (Anita would have loved it—it was all funky stuff in her favored artistic style), I drove to the Museum of the American Numismatic Society (AKA the Money Museum) in downtown Colorado Springs.  It was only an hour and a half before closing at that point, and I anxiously asked the nice lady at the front desk if that were enough time to see everything.  She told me that if I couldn’t, she’d give me a pass to come back for free another day—an offer I ended up accepting when I had only progressed to the second room by 5 PM.  The armed security guard seemed kind of hovery, and I wondered if I looked particularly suspicious, but after he’d twice pointed out ways of learning more about the collection, I deduced that he also acted as an informal guide to the small number of visitors.  Their special display was called “A House Divided: Money of the Civil War”, and was so extensively documented that a Martian could have walked off his ship into the exhibit and come away able to discuss North-South relations, key players, battles, and—yes—monetary matters at great length and exhaustive detail with the next bewildered human he encountered.  I skimmed over the cases, and it still took me almost an hour to work through it.  I did learn many things—for instance, I didn’t know how the North had financed their campaigns, how much the war cost ($2 million a day in its final stages!), or how the war had essentially altered the nature of American currency and collections thereof (somehow, I always thought that the IRS was established in the early years of the twentieth century, but the curators traced its beginnings to the 1860s, when internal federal taxes were levied on a huge range of luxury goods).  And, oddly, there was even a vignette about Civil War medical care, which contained several tidbits of information I hadn’t encountered before (about the establishment of the American Sanitary Commission)—you never know where you’ll find something new about subjects you are researching! 

There was a whole room filled with American gold coins, from the earliest examples to the early 1900s, and I was still staring at these when the security guard told me it was time to leave.  I hope to return later in the week, depending on the weather’s dampening my outdoor plans.

Holy cow, it’s 5:20 AM and raining again!  They are going to have flash floods all over the place.  Really bad erosion, too—all the fires of earlier this year removed vegetation which might have held the soil in place on the slopes.  My cousins have a copy of Allende’s Zorro, which I’ve been meaning to read, so if it continues to pour in the daytime, I may spend tomorrow (later today) curled up on the couch with one or both of the cats, reading.
I only know a handful of flower names, but they are beautiful!

Misty, moisty mountains.

Charred tree trunk from recent forest fires.

Stalactites cling tightly to the ceiling; you might trip over stalagmites. Caves are so cool! 

The obligatory picture in front of the large rock.

Fountain for Seven Minute Spring.

The wee sample cup.

Sadly, this sign was behind glass and the machine that had once accompanied it was nowhere to be seen.

Indian Spring.  Heavy calcium deposits were starting to form cave formations in the fountain!

Twin Spring--even the dogs could have a taste.

Stratton Spring.

Cheyenne Spring.

Argh, Psy is everywhere!!!

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