Nowadays, if you visit the sandstone formations at Colorado Spring’s Garden of the Gods, there are signs on the rocks saying, “Proper climbing equipment is mandatory. Climbers must register at the Visitor’s Center,” and they are serious.
This is how it should be, considering the numbers of people who now visit this beautiful place and the damage and injury that result through the sad combination of carelessness and ignorance. Nature fascist that I’ve become (just kidding, kind of) I’d probably want it even MORE difficult for people to get near the rocks. But when I was a teenager in Colorado Springs, attending high school, WAY back in the late 1960s/early 1970s, such was not the case.
Back in the day, far fewer people visited the Garden of the Gods, and most just drove their station wagons through the park, got out at the famous spots, took pictures, Oooooed and Ahhhhed and drove to the next famous tourist site. Colorado Springs when I was a teenager had 400,000 fewer people than it has now. It was a different world. The Garden of the Gods and the nearby trails, hills and mountains were mostly empty and ours to explore.
My brother, Kirk, and I had no equipment, and we weren’t looking for elegant routes. We were looking for ways up that wouldn’t kill us and that might work as navigable descents that would, also, not kill us. The whole point was that we were having a really good time accepting the challenge of the rock and, on the top, we’d have a spectacular view. We had a couple of favorite formations. One was the formation known as the Kissing Camels.
My brother and I also loved to scramble up a small mountain somewhere at the far end of Manitou Canyon. It was a south-facing talus slope most of the way up, and, of course, down. At the bottom was a creek. I never knew the name of the hill or the creek, but my guess now, after so much time, is that it was Fountain Creek. Scrambling to the top was a sweet, frustrating, ankle-twisting challenge over the talus. We celebrated the jubilant moment of reaching the top with song, oranges and a joint before — as high as cheap Mexi ever got anybody — we launched ourselves down the hill. We ran, invulnerable and silly, looking for the few dirt covered slides in that talus slope so we could ride down on our asses. Sometimes we ripped our jeans, sometimes not.
The song my brother “composed” one warm February afternoon on top of this pile of rock is meant to be sung to the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah. It went like this (feel free to join in).
“Diiiiig the rebop, the rebop, the rebop. Diiiiig the rebop, the rebop, the rebop. Dig the rebop…” etc.
If you think that’s silly, you’re right, but it really does work. I know. I just listened to the Hallelujah Chorus to make sure this wasn’t just nostalgia. Truly, dig the rebop.
On the top of everything — every high point — we sang, toked, and shared an orange. It was an especially meaningful ritual from the top of the Kissing Camels as the shadow of Pikes Peak slowly covered us at end of the day. “Di-ig the rebop! Dig the rebop, the rebop, the rebop…” We climbed down in twilight’s pink and purple light having dug the rebop.
You know the song is stuck in your mind right now.
Those adventures culminated in green chili burritos.
Yes, boys and girls, even in the late 1960s and early 1970’s — oh wait, ha ha, never mind — it was a sweet thing to celebrate the height of a successful climb or scramble by sharing a joint. Of course, the weed we had at the time was leafy, dry, green stuff for which we paid $20 an ounce. Sometimes we had to clean out the stems and seeds. It gave my brother and me a gentle, warm and fuzzy high that was not in the least incapacitating. It was a very long way from the designer weed of today.
Thirty years later, in 1999, I visited the Garden of the Gods with my brother and his daughter. That’s when I first saw the signs, fences and rules. There were well equipped climbers on the rocks, some of whom had been taken up by experienced, paid guides. My niece and I sat on a bench and watched them. I couldn’t imagine an orange, a song, or a toke. I was glad they would be safe, but I felt a little sad for them, too. Then I said to my niece, “Your dad and I used to climb up that all the time. We didn’t have any protection and no one was here.”
“My DAD? MY DAD?”
Our climbs were not up any complicated routes. Our goal — which is, I think, the goal of any good climber — was to get to the top and get down safely for a green chili burrito, all the while, digging the rebop.
Caveat: I’m not advocating climbing while intoxicated. The weed of 1970, available on that era’s very shady market (weed was illegal everywhere and all the time) would be considered extremely low quality today. Seriously. The most messed up I got with cheap Mexi was the time I drove home from a friend’s house and stopped at red lights two blocks ahead of time. I’ve tried the modern weed, and I honestly cannot handle it. A few years ago a friend gave me a snickerdoodle. I ate 1/4 of it and spent the night crouched in a corner of my kitchen hiding from “them,” definitely NOT digging the rebop.
Editor’s Note: Martha Kennedy is one of our favorite bloggers/writers and we are honored to share this original piece. Martha’s personal blog is an excellent source of entertainment, motivation, and a valuable lesson in what really good writing looks like. HERE is a link. Martha is also the author of several books which are available on Amazon. HERE is a link.
Photo Credit: Martha Kennedy