Most families choose to live in Colorado because of the scenery, but since my family has been established in this area for generations, one might assume that I take our beautiful state for granted. On the contrary; waking up in the shadow of Pikes Peak every day reminds me of why I have never felt the impulse to move away. Some people fault the altitude and crazy weather patterns as reasons to leave, but I’m so used to being dry one minute and soaked the next that I hardly think about taking clothes with me for a variety of temperatures. I’ve been dressing in layers since birth.
One thing I have to thank my parents for is the opportunity to grow up in the mountains. Outside of Colorado Springs by several miles, and on the back side of Cheyenne Mountain, lies a little hamlet called Red Rock Valley Estates, and this is where I spent my childhood. Along with seven other families, my parents, two older brothers, and I founded this community back in 1972. This community was so new, and so far from the city, that we had to share a phone line and, at times, our water supply.
That phone situation was a challenge. One phone line among eight families meant a different ring pattern for each of us. We had to listen for our pattern, and only answer the phone when we heard it; to answer someone else’s pattern was a serious breach of privacy. Because all these families had to share, we had to keep our phone calls short out of respect for the others. I was only a kid, so I didn’t spend too much time on the phone, but my teenage oldest brother had a hard time with the short-conversation rule once he started dating. Our neighbor, Mrs. Gomez, was a gossip, so I overheard many of her conversations as I checked frequently for an open line. That’s all I was doing, I promise.
We had a little reservoir out there that served as our water supply, but with so many families sharing, we had to learn to conserve much more than we have been asked to in recent years. Our family chuckled at the conservation rules given out by the water company a few years ago when the city faced drought conditions—we have always been so conditioned to turning off the taps, watering on odd days, and using the same water for multiple purposes that the water restrictions imposed by the utilities company seemed relaxed compared to what we were used to forty years ago. A few times we had to save water in the bathtubs and use it sparingly from there, in a time before bottled water was sold at the stores. A three-minute shower? No problem.
Although living far from the city had its issues, the positives far outweighed the negatives. As kids we were allowed to spend all the time we wanted outside, because there was no fear of human predators. We could camp on our property any time we wanted, and we hiked several miles every afternoon. I used to take a different Peterson’s Field Guide with me every day, so I learned the names and descriptions of the local wildflowers, edible plants, animals, birds, trees, and bugs. Our bird feeders were so popular we fed magpies from the suet tray at one end of the balcony, and hummingbirds from the four feeders at the other end. We had so much hummingbird traffic that students from Colorado College came out to study them, identifying over 15 species of these amazing little birds, including the rare Calliope, the smallest bird in the world. The hummingbirds were so tame that they would regularly perch on our fingers to sip delicately from the feeders.
Red soil is what gave Colorado its name, and the formations of red stone that become visible above ground in areas like the Flatirons in Boulder and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs reappear above the surface in Red Rock Valley, too. I learned to climb up and slide down these steeply angled surfaces like a skier, angling my feet to keep from slipping on the sandy surface. I learned first-hand why the guides at Garden of the Gods caution people not to climb on the rocks without a permit and climbing gear.
Winters at our house were spectacular. Often we had so much snow that the roads were passable only by snowmobile or sled, so we spent hours riding around the pristine landscape, crisscrossing unseen boundaries of road and stream as we traveled over wide expanses of white. The hill next to our house was high enough to create just the right momentum for us to sled for more than a mile down the road, if we took the corner just right. Our Samoyed husky loved to run alongside and pull the sled back up the hill for us. Somehow that mile walk home after a thrilling sled ride was much shorter than it was when we walked home after a long day at school.
One of these days I’m going to contact the people who live in the house my dad built all those years ago, and see if I can’t arrange a visit. I’d love to be able to see the mountains in reality as I remember them in my dreams. The five acres we lived on have been parceled out, and other homes have been built in the neighborhood, but the distinct rock formations and landmarks are still visible from Highway 115. Each time I drive by, I reflect on my childhood there. I appreciate nature because I grew up immersed in it, and although I hike in other areas as often as I can, I would love to go back home to see if the trees remember me.