It was all rather surreal.
Jimmy Blackwolf Ramirez of the Colorado Springs Indian Center purified the scene, burning a traditional and pleasant-smelling mix of cedar, sweet grass and tobacco. We stood hundreds of feet above the floor of Williams Canyon, on the overhanging concrete deck at the Cave of the Winds complex. Jimmy then similarly prayed to each of the cardinal directions, before offering a blessing to Mother Earth by directing the sacred smoke at the artificial ground.
He called it "a wonderful, honorable day." Another elder from the Colorado Springs Indians plugged in a small plastic boombox and put on a tinny recording of traditional song. The other American Indian men present began dancing, and invited the crowd of onlookers to join in.
First to enter the dance circle was Cave of the Winds general manager Grant Carey. No, that's not Cary Grant. Decked out in a boisterous checkered shirt, thick mustache and rather intense grin, however, Mr. Carey still cut a striking character. "More people, more fun — that's my motto!" he cried. He called the ceremony "a blessing to stimulate this ride into many years of safe operation."
Despite its vertiginous altitude (elevated nearly 150 feet at its highest), the Bat-a-Pult is meant to offer the same kind of "family-friendly" activities as the rest of the Cave complex. "We don't want to have children rides and adult rides," said Carey. "We want to have family rides." The quarter-million-dollar new ride joins the year-old Wind Walker Challenge ropes course that also toes the edge of Williams Canyon — which seems to be rapidly aggregating into a full-fledged, hodgepodge amusement park of sorts.
The Cave of Winds was first advertised as a tourist destination in 1881, according to its website, and has been open to the public continuously ever since. The Bat-a-Pult now offers visitors "a more vertical experience" in addition to the subterranean one, said Carey, who has guided tours at the Cave since 1972 and worked as GM since the 1980s (though something about his carnivalesque enthusiasm struck us as more 1890s and very fin-de-siècle.)
Eventually the pleasant wafts of American Indian shamanic herbs receded, replaced by a smell of wet paint. Then we rode the Bat-a-Pult.
Should you choose to do the same, this is what it will be like:
You will be strapped into a metal seat. Someone, probably a bearded man in cargo shorts, will open the gate before you. There will be an abstract whirring sound. Then everything will be in motion, quick and blurry, but you will be surprised by how effortless and smooth the whole thing feels. You will even wonder if you are truly moving — if that canyon floor beneath is truly the ground, or if it's all just a simulated, phantasmic image moving backward under your feet while you hang frozen, in some uncanny, groundless space.
Then it'll pull you back up again.
Tickets cost $15. Riders must stand at least 48 inches tall and weigh less than 300 pounds. The ride operates daily, weather permitting.