We arrive at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center on the edge of Colorado Springs, not quite knowing what to expect other than what we’ve read. Yes, it’s crowded, and it’s hotter than usual–that’s also to be expected. But the park is free and open to the public, which probably helps explain why it’s so crowded.
Garden of the Gods is a 2 million-year-old geologic wonder of sandstone fins, fans and finials balancing in the presence of Pikes Peak, as if performing for an audience of one mountain’s pleasure. It is an impressive act, and beloved by the Colorado Springs stakeholders. But…having just arrived from Utah’s National Parks, and having seen miles upon miles of looming red rocks, it all seemed a bit underwhelming to me. We took a short trail to view the Siamese Twins with a keyhole view of Pikes Peak, but other than that, the hills left us flat.
The twisting road through the many park features and attractions carried us out to Manitou Springs, the gateway to Pikes Peak, and a pop culture village filled with hipsters, curiosity seekers, and wannabees.
Our drive to the top of town took us through droves of tourists filtering through the galleries, boutiques and juice bars. Leah and I found it hard to resist ice cream at Patsy’s, a local landmark on the edge of Amusement Arcade row.
We followed the rotary around, and u-turned out of town to tend to an errand, but we would return to catch the 5:20 pm cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak.
The parking lot was overflowing, as was the overflow lot, but I managed to shoehorn the F-150 into a compact car space as per the instructions of the gun-toting parking attendant. It’s as if I was required to undergo a motor vehicle coordination exam to determine my customer-worthiness. If I can park a big truck in a small space in a crowded lot, then I get to buy weed.
We were warmly welcomed at the service counter by effusive Eddie. “How’s it goin’ today? Are you guys first timers?,” he asked, taking our IDs.
“We’re visiting from New Jersey,” answered Leah.
“Welcome to Maggie’s Farm,” he gushed. “We’re here to take good care of you.”
“Is it always crowded like this?,” I wanted to know.
“It’s the weekend, and it’s summer, and the tourists are coming,” he responded. “This won’t take long,” referring to our driver’s licenses. “I just need to record these, and you’ll be on your way.” While typing, “By the way, we only accept cash. There’s an ATM by the wall if you need it. Okay?”
When he was finished, he handed back our IDs with a paper stub–the same kind of numbered ticket you’d pull at the deli counter in the supermarket. “Hold onto your number, and move to the next room past the door. Then take a seat, and wait for your number to be called,” Eddie advised. “And have a high time.” were his parting words.
We were number 57. We sat on a foam bench waiting our turn with six other people sitting on both sides of us, all of them different. I noticed three generations of women from the same family, a millennial on his phone, a middle-aged man who had to be a tourist since he was wearing a Tilley hat, and a tattooed Vet who seemed to still be fighting in the war.
A perky forty-something with a fire-red pixie haircut, pushed open the “employees only” door to announce, “Our budtenders are very busy, and the checkout line is backed up, so please be patient.” Then she disappeared, back behind the door. All we could do was stare at the wall four feet in front of us. There was a closed door marked “ROOM 1” and a closed door marked “ROOM 2” separated by a LED-TV monitor broadcasting the marijuana menu–breaking it down by strain, THC content, and price per weight. One could choose between flowers, concentrates, edibles, or patches. At the bottom of the screen was a tax disclaimer, breaking down the percentages taken by city (9.03%, and 6%), and state (10%). I couldn’t believe I was surrendering 25% of my purchase power to the government.
A tap on the glass by a bearded face peeking over the wall above “ROOM 1” beckoned us into the inner sanctum. “Me?” I mimed. He nodded and we stood ready to accept his religion.
The other side of the wall revealed an emporium of earthly delights displayed the way a candy shop would showcase their variety of fudges. “Buddy” asked for our IDs and scanned them with a UV pen. Looking up, he grinned and proclaimed, “Congratulations! They’re real.” Handing back our IDs, “So what would you like to do–smoke, eat, or vape?”
Leah and I glanced at each other, but I decided that smoke was the way to go.
Buddy popped open several containers of THC-laden buds of different shades of harvest green, and aromas ranging from musky to fruity to diesel fuel. Dropping our noses into the jars for a full-blown whiff gave us enough of a heady bouquet to prepare us for an anticipated revelation.
“These buds are huge and seedless,” I exclaimed, reaching in and extracting a jaw-breaker sized nugget of Triple Diesel Sativa hybrid.
“Uh, that’s a no-no,” Buddy cautioned. “No touching. Here, use these,” he suggested, handing me mini tongs to more closely inspect the wares.
“You’re looking at about 2 grams there,” Buddy advised.
“Looks good to me. I’ll take it,” I asserted.
“Sorry, you can’t buy this,” Buddy interjected. “These samples are just for display, but I’m entering your order now…[a few key strokes by Buddy at the computer], and it’s ready at check-out where those customers are standing. Thank’s folks, and have a high time.”
We joined the lengthy line where customers from both rooms converged against the far wall. Buddy was already engaged with the next customer ushered inside the room. “So what would you like to do–smoke, eat, or vape?,” I heard him ask.
The line reduced quickly. Finally, one of three cashiers motioned for us to approach the counter. “Got your number?” Money Man asked.
I fumbled around inside my pockets, but came up empty. “I must’ve left it on the other counter,” I apologized. “But it’s ’57’ if that helps.”
Money Man called out “57” to the pharmacist behind the wall, and soon returned with a plastic vial, offering it for inspection. Uncapped, it smelled as pungent as before. The transaction was finalized. I handed him cash, and he inserted a “Consumer’s Guide to Responsible Recreational Marijuana Use” in my paper sack before stapling it shut.
“Remember to wait until you’ve left the lot before lighting up, and have a high time,” he exclaimed.
The ride back to town had thinned, as most of the visitors had withered and wilted under the heat. But Leah and I were prepared with sweatshirts for our cog-way assault on Pikes Peak, the second most visited mountain in the world behind Mt. Fuji.
The rail cars were packed except for two seats directly facing us, giving us flexibility to change our inclined perspective between looking up the mountain or looking down.
The pull to the top was slow and steady at a 25% grade. The rail car cut through a trail of boulders and evergreens, climbing up the mountainside, eventually reaching Inspiration Point…
a sight so inspiring, that Katharine Lee Beats was compelled to pen “America the Beautiful” after seeing it for the first time.
Once we cleared the tree-line, the vistas opened on all sides, providing views of distant peaks,
and the valley beneath us.
It also exposed us to an uncommon drop in temperature, with shades of winter resting on the rocks,
and gusting gales blowing across the barrenness,
causing marmots to wonder what happened to Spring.
At 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak ranks as Colorado’s 30th among 53 fourteeners, but it remains more famous than all the other fourteeners put together, thanks to breath-taking panoramas on the summit,
and a cog railway that’s been bringing millions of visitors to the mountaintop since 1891.
Although the views are enough to distance you from the rest of the world, the cold is enough to bring you closer together.
Dedicated to Leah, who thinks I never post enough pictures of her. I hope this makes up for it. Love you.
BTW, this marks my 50th post and my first fourteener.