Columns » Outsider


Red Rock Canyon's beauty and beast


A few days ago, taking advantage of an unseasonably warm November afternoon, I put on my trail shoes, loaded the faithful mutt into the car, and headed for the newly opened Red Rocks Canyon Open Space.

It's easy enough to find; just take Highway 24 to Ridge Road, turn south, and there you are.

At first, it's not terribly prepossessing -- just an old dirt road leading from the parking area to some low hills. But I knew that I was in the right place, thanks to an official sign warning me to keep my dog on a leash and to remove any fecal matter that he might have the temerity to produce.

Duly noted; but in one of those ironic juxtapositions that so delight journalists, there was a gigantic, steaming pile of turds just a few yards from the sign. And not dog turds, either -- these were legal equine feces, courtesy of somebody's noble steed. Our city ordinances, reflecting the age-old disparity between the cavalry and the infantry, are not about to require a horseman, a person of demonstrably higher status than some hiker with a mongrel dog, to dismount and clean up his mess. The very idea!

The steaming pile bypassed, we were soon in the canyon itself. It's amazing, spectacular, beautiful -- in some ways, more so than the Garden of the Gods. Sheer walls of red rock rise hundreds of feet on either side of the canyon floor. And thanks to the efforts of a corps of volunteers, a fine trail system is partially in place.

It's extraordinarily quiet and peaceful -- no cars full of tourists, no city noise. And it's an enormous space, wild and beautiful, a calm oasis of nature in the midst of the city, a treasure for us and for generations to come. I thought gratefully of the people who fought so hard for so long to preserve and protect this land. I was proud to have been among them, prouder still of this newspaper, whose publisher and editors never wavered in their determination to preserve our city's natural heritage.

And most of all, I was proud to be part of a city whose citizens agreed to tax themselves in order to acquire these magnificent lands. There ought to be a modest plaque somewhere in the canyon, honoring those who fought this long battle, and never gave up, and never lost heart. You'd start with Richard Skorman, and of course Lee Milner, Kent Obee, Don Ellis, Joe Fabeck, Bill Koerner and Shanti Toll, not to mention Mary Lou Makepeace, Sallie Clark, Ted Eastburn, Manitou Mayor Marcy Morrison and ... I guess it'd have to be a pretty big plaque.

Like all public spaces, it needs care, protection and thoughtful attention. It needs a caretaker -- somebody to live on the property and make sure that vandals, fire setters, poachers, graffiti artists and underage drinkers stay away. Happily, there's already a perfect caretaker's cottage on the property in the form of a magnificent late-modernist house designed and built by the longtime owner of Red Rocks, John Bock.

Modest, low-slung, flat-roofed and built of the same red sandstone as the towering canyon walls, it's unique, architecturally important, and beautifully situated beside a small lake. With its ancillary structures, and low retaining walls, it'd be a perfect picnic spot/visitor center/ caretaker's residence. It's in fine shape -- any sane person would be delighted to move in tomorrow and take the caretaker's job for room, board and spending money.

And that, no doubt, is why the city, in a sublime piece of bureaucratic idiocy, has decided to tear the house down, claiming that it would cost 250 grand to make necessary repairs. Huh? What repairs? It turns out that the house doesn't really need them -- the city just wants to run in an 8-inch water main so there can be a fire hydrant in case there's a fire.

But wait a minute -- there's already a 2-inch main, as well as a lake beside the house. For a few grand, you can have a sprinkler system and an emergency pump from the lake. And, let's note, the house is made of basic rock -- not a highly flammable substance!

As you'd expect, the indefatigable Don Ellis is on the case, now fighting to preserve the historic built environment of Red Rocks. It seems like a slam-dunk -- tearing down a historically important, architecturally distinguished and eminently useful structure is an absurd idea. I mean, who comes up with this kind of crap?

The same person who wrote the city turd ordinances, perhaps?


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