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Sunday Morning, 4 a.m.



I'm not usually up at 4 a.m., let alone on my bike in downtown Colorado Springs. But this last Sunday was the annual Starlight Spectacular benefit bike ride, and I was the last rider out, sweeping the route alone, making sure no one was left behind on the 14-plus mile course.

It was an absolutely gorgeous night -- clear, cool, no wind. The stars were out and ambient light from the city had given a sort of black light glow to the exposed rock ridges just north of the Garden of the Gods where we'd all started. It was nice to see all the new landscaping going in out front of the Intel plant as I hurtled down the "improved" Garden of the Gods Road.

So, when did they put that new stop light in, west of Centennial, huh?

Once I got down Nevada, past the incredibly rough intersection at Fillmore, the new paving made me feel as if I was floating -- except for that island-like protrusion into the street by Penrose Hospital which is gonna kill someone if they don't mark it better, or at least warn you it's coming.

I noticed as I rode more than a few folks seemingly out strolling that early in the morning. Regular folks, no shopping carts filled with their life possessions, just people out walking -- safely, calmly, neighborly. It struck me as odd and wonderful at the same time. The big houses in the Old North End that these folks were strolling past looked mighty stately as I rolled by. Silent, stoic, huge, well kept -- all the signs of a place where its residents love to live.

As I passed Colorado College, it was easy to see the advancing commercialization up Nevada Avenue. Not necessarily a bad thing, as ably demonstrated by several converted manses and some thoughtfully inserted infill projects. There's some less-than-thoughtful infill there too, which just goes to show that zoning regulations can't always make up for poor judgement.

Anyway, as I rolled past Palmer High I looked over and saw Acacia Park beckoning. I pulled in at the northeast entry and rode the diagonal through the deserted park. With the nice lighting and the tall trees it was very pleasant.

Then I looked straight ahead, and there was Uncle Wilber. Like many, I'd felt that the one-man-band fountain idea was a little goofy when first proposed, but it was private money, so what the heck. Since it has become operational, my attitude toward it has changed, yet I was not prepared for the experience of moving down the long sidewalk with the tree canopy framing that colorful, domed fountain at the end and the sound of its cascading water building steadily. I circled around it a couple of times, not wanting to leave the sound, then headed back to my mission, south on Nevada.

I know that John Hazlehurst has said more than once how sad it was to lose the historic buildings that sat between First Presbyterian Church and the old City Hall, but with them gone, that stately old building looks mighty fine. Their removal has allowed the historic City Hall to reassume its once overwhelmingly prominent position, a visual that will be enjoyed by Springsians for generations to come. The wheels of progress are not always kind to things in their paths, yet, every time those wheels turn 'round, you're bound to cover just a little more ground.

When I made the corner to head west on Colorado Avenue, the future seemed to take hold. All that's really left of the old city in that area is the ex-Art Hardware building. Everywhere else is the "new" downtown. I rode past the early morning quiet of the bars and restaurants on Tejon, the Plaza, Alamo and Fargo towers, the Sun building, the new Avenue bridge and that area where (depending on who you talk to or voted for) Confluence Park and an expanding downtown district will someday be.

Sorta like Uncle Wilber, some ideas that folks initially scoff at could be the most exciting things our city's seen in a long time.

I finally caught up with the tail end of Starlight riders at Bancroft Park on the west end in Old Colorado City. The last of us rode through the Garden of the Gods at daybreak, a religious experience if there ever was one. There was still a crowd enjoying breakfast at the Visitors Center as we pulled up.

The sun was rising on the rocks, glowing redder and redder as the light got higher. It had been a long night and only one thought was in my mind at that point: Is this a great place to live, or what?

Mark Cunningham is a semi-native re-developer who lives on the West Side.

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