As we packed our belongings this morning in our hotel room, I paused while checking the bathroom and noticed a centipede trapped in the sink. I’m not sure how he wandered into it, but he struggled to find purchase on the slope. Just as he would make progress and elevate himself several proud millimeters, invariably he would encounter water droplets from our ministrations, adhering to the sink and obstructing his path. After watching him try a few lateral moves in vain, my wife extended our complimentary copy of USA Today to him like a lifesaving rope and left him on the sink to pursue his appetites or frighten the housekeeper, whichever came first.
Our morning route wove through the south end of Colorado Springs, circumnavigating the former wildfire zones to the northwest. We never saw any of the much-publicized damage to forests and homes, nor were we interested in ogling it. We were heartened to see several local businesses with fundraising jars and cans at their registers, doing their part for charity, relief, and kindness. My wife spotted T-shirts for sale with a slogan to the effect of, “Community Doesn’t Burn.” For want of timely precipitation, opportunities to love and provide were born in response.
Our first attraction was Seven Falls, a mountainside chain of seven vertically successive waterfalls, each one a tributary to the next one below it. Several nearby geological formations also sport shapes vaguely resembling other things if you squint at them just right and use your imagination. A lengthy staircase leads healthy visitors several stories high, permitting a meaningful gaze upon the seven-part waterway from above, and connecting to a mile-long trail leading to the grave of a local author. Across from the falls and on the other side of the larger of two gift shops, an elevator carries visitors to a deck perched high enough to observe the falls in their entirety, but from a distance.
That was pretty much our entire Seven Falls experience: the one set of falls, the ways to see them, and the surrounding peculiar rocks. We arrived a few minutes before 9 a.m. as the first customers of the day. Neither gift shops nor snack bar were open yet. We enjoyed a two-way elevator ride, some brief marveling at the star attraction, and several minutes of my family watching me ascend and descend the first several dozen steps of the staircase without incident. Without a mood for a mile-long walk that early to pay respects to an unfamiliar author, we were over and out by 9:30. Paying admission to view some water grated on us a little. It was too simplistic an application of the basic roadside attraction formula: find unusual natural thing A; surround with gift shop B and cafe C; develop heavy marketing plan D; rake in profit E.
To the southwest, several miles past the town of Cañon City, lay another example of man corraling water for entertainment and employment, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. The centerpiece is the Royal Gorge Bridge, reputedly the highest suspension bridge in America, crossing nearly a thousand feet above the Arkansas River and spanning over 900 feet across canyon sides. Timid visitors can cross the bridge slowly in their car, viewing the sights from within a heavy metal capsule that wouldn’t save them if the cables were to snap. Bold visitors like us can walk across the bridge themselves and experience firsthand the swaying in the wind, the occasional loose board, and the sight of the gorge bottom between the cracks.
Walking across on foot also provides better photo ops. Each of the fifty state flags is hung across the length of the bridge in alphabetical order. We had to unfurl the snarled Indiana flag ourselves, then sighed as a group when we found it frayed and in dire need of replacement.
The bridge itself isn’t the only activity available. Their railway elevator can transport over two dozen visitors to the foot of the gorge for a closeup of the Arkansas River. We had fun watching a sextet of rafters courageously concentrating on rowing their way downriver, rather than sticking to the safety of a riverside deck. A few amusement park rides offer unrelated thrills for small children, as did a boisterous stage performer who fancied herself Minnie Pearl reborn, complete with shrill yet accurate “HooowDEEE!” that could be heard from blocks away. An overzealous local club was on hand to sell fundraiser lemonade to anyone not tempted by the park’s own free-refill amenity.
If you successully cross the bridge, promises of more entertainment await you on a series of adjacent hillsides. We were afraid to approach their pretend mountain-man shanty-town. A “wildlife park” had spacious enclosures for several bighorn sheep, a herd of bison, and some elk. A “petting zoo” allowed direct physical contact with a couple of cows, two llamas, and all the goats you want, including one particularly crafty kid who worked his way onto the roof of the goats’ shelter and tried gnawing at some stray grass wedged between the slats. Burro rides were available for anyone between 22 and 48 inches tall, thus disqualifying our party. A bungee-like contraption swung paying victims through midair and over the gorge in ways that interested none of us.
Once we concluded that the far side of the bridge wasn’t quite the draw that we thought it was, we tried making our way through the rising midday heat to the aerial tram that would spirit us to the other side. I followed their cartoon map to the best of my ability, guided us slowly up a few consecutive inclines, and stopped when I thought I was several feet short of victory…only to see the correct location still two hills away. At the same time, we also watched a park trolley pull past us, loaded with passengers riding to the other side in style. We fumed, fussed, and decided to cross the bridge on foot once more, back to the starting side. We already knew the way.
Once we returned to square one, we cooled down at their largest gift shop and celebrated our successful stubbornness with cheap cafe lunch. My elk bratwurst suited the occasion just fine. Although the ancillary activities were underwhelming, we found the gorge and bridge to be an impressive display of the peculiar relationship between man and water. In this instance, water and its surroundings maintained whatever forms they pleased, and man worked around them.
Four miles of winding roads returned us to Highway 50, which stretched directly east from Cañon City to our next night’s base in Pueblo. On the way we stopped in the town of Florence for photos of their Veterans Memorial Park, containing a veterans’ memory wall and several parked, decommissioned Army vehicles apparently donated by nearby Fort Carson — a Phantom II jet, one medical chopper, one war copter, a small tank, and a howitzer. It was a brief diversion that partly made up for no one being enticed of my offers to drive us to other local attractions such as the Dinosaur Museum or the Colorado Museum of Prisons.
After checking in to our Pueblo hotel, my wife and I let our son hang out with his friend Uncle Laptop while the two of us excused ourselves for a romantic time at Pueblo’s own Historic Arkansas Riverwalk. As it turns out, the Arkansas River flows from Cañon City forty-plus miles to Pueblo, where the city has contained and reconfigured it into a peaceful riverwalk, not unlike San Antonio’s famous Riverwalk or Indianapolis’ own White River Canal Walk. Pueblo’s Riverwalk is shorter than either of those for now (construction on one side may or may not have foreshadowed future extension), but not without its own charm. By sheer happenstance, we showed up the same night as a planned Farmers’ Market, which allowed us to view and sample local wares such as multiple varieties of goat cheese. (That was my favorite stand, anyway.)
Two restaurants offer dinner seating on their Riverwalk. Angelo’s Pizza looked overcrowded, so we opted instead for an Italian meal at The Sicilian, a recently opened establishment whose modest prices and quality meals shamed all our Olive Gardens back home. If their Eggplant Rollatini hadn’t already won me over, their cannoli would have for certain. Without my Italian-hating son with us, we relished a moment alone with a fabulous meal and waterway scenery. I wouldn’t’ve minded staying and enjoying the company of this tamed portion of the Arkansas for a while after that, but gathering stormclouds threatened us with a less captive, more aggressive form of water.
Our evening at the hotel was slightly deprived when we flipped through TV channels and witnessed the casualties of the DirecTV/Viacom brouhaha that has apparently gripped the nation with fear and rioting while we’ve been away from home and ignoring entertainment news. We had the same problem with the previous night’s hotel, as a good third of the hotel channels were now blank screens thanks to DirecTV’s corporate protest of corporate greed. With fewer options at our disposal — by which I mean no Adult Swim King of the Hill reruns for our second night in a row — we were forced to settle for lesser fare, such as a rerun of an episode of The Office we’d all hated the first time around. The subsequent top-notch Parks & Rec rerun was more to our liking.
Scraping the bottom of the TV barrel, we even sat through part of an episode of Wipeout, which I’d never seen before. In this poor man’s Ninja Warrior, or perhaps an even poorer man’s Double Dare, blustery contestants face physical humiliation for prizes and fleeting fame. Every slippery obstacle or jarring punishment sends the contestant unceremoniously plummeting into the water below the course.
Beyond fulfilling the necessities of life, bodies of water have been co-opted by man for countless secondary uses: to exemplify natural beauty; to foster creativity in overcoming or traversing it; to embody tranquility for quality-of-life enrichment; even to stimulate local economic gain.
But to see so much water wasted in service of something as low as reality TV? I felt embarrassed for that poor, sullied water.