2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

    Sun, March 31, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    John-Michael List

    John-Michael List

    A handwritten letter came to The Gazette newsroom recently from a fifth-grade student in California. He very politely asked for information about “your magnificent state, Colorado.”

    Diego Lopez, at the Napa Valley Language Academy, wanted pamphlets, postcards, souvenirs or anything that would help him write a report about our history, economy, famous residents and parks.

    How could I resist?

    Rarely do I turn down an opportunity to pontificate, especially on something I love as much as Colorado. I can talk for hours about its virtues, history and trivia. (Just ask my poor wife.)

    In his note, Diego asked if we might publish his request in our letter section.

    He was so nice I figured I’d publish it myself.

    Then an email arrived from John-Michael List in Carson City, Nev. He’s in fourth grade at Fritsch Elementary School and he had a similar request. Besides written materials, he was asking for “small rocks from the Rocky Mountains, pines from the Colorado Blue Spruce or anything else that would be useful.”

    Both boys said they’ll be writing about Colorado landforms, climate, resources, history, attractions and things such as our pro sports teams, indigenous wild animals and unusual facts.

    Gold miners combed the Rocky Mountains, including the slopes of Pikes Peak, during the first gold rush of 1859.

    Gold miners combed the Rocky Mountains, including the slopes of Pikes Peak, during the first gold rush of 1859. Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    Hmmm. I wondered if this was a setup.

    “It’s no hoax,” said Irene Waltz, assistant principal at Fritsch Elementary.

    Actually, the boys are learning a pretty standard lesson in most every grade school curriculum.

    “It’s one of our state standards,” Waltz said. “We try to teach students about where they live, other states and the nation.”

    I was unable to reach the Napa Valley school due to spring break. But I confirmed the existence of Diego’s teacher, and I’m confident his request is legitimate.

    So, if anyone wants to help Diego and John-Michael with their reports, you are invited to write them.

    Diego would like information sent to his teacher, Mrs. Dearborn, at 2700 Kilburn Ave., Napa, Calif., 94558.

    John-Michael hoped for responses via his mother, Mary-Margaret Madden, 930 W. Robinson St., Carson City, Nev., 89703.

    I figure Side Streets readers will have no trouble helping the boys.

    This lithograph from a wood etching was captioned: "Pike's Peak - party of miners going on a prospecting tour. " It appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 20, 1859. It shows men, most with bedrolls, rifles and shovels, standing in front of covered wagon. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District Special Collections.

    This lithograph from a wood etching was captioned: “Pike’s Peak – party of miners going on a prospecting tour. ” It appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 20, 1859. It shows men, most with bedrolls, rifles and shovels, standing in front of covered wagon. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District Special Collections.

    So, I’ll save my own spiel about how our region was explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and they named its major river Colorado for the color of its water, tinted red by silt. Or that it was part of the Kansas Territory and became the 38th state in 1876.

    I won’t mention our diverse geography. Or that black bears, mountain lions, bobcat, coyote, fox and more are common sights in cities and vast public lands.

    Or that Pikes Peak, known as America’s Mountain, became the symbol of the 19th century gold rush.

    I have no doubt you folks will cover it all

    Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs. In the 1859, it beckoned miners seeking gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains.

    Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs. In the 1859, it beckoned miners seeking gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains.




    Wed, July 13, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Andrea Brown, former Gazette columnist

    My former colleague, Andrea Brown, wrote a piece in 2007 about how her family kept the ashes of her mother-in-law, Grandma Brown, in a cardboard urn in a linen closet.

    It was a funny piece. Read it here. Of course, Andrea often made me laugh. Even when she didn’t mean to.

    Anyway, I thought of Andrea and Grandma Brown when I learned what other folks do with the cremated remains of their relatives.

    Turns out, lots of folks spread ashes around Colorado Springs parks, trails and even golf courses.

    Playing through!

    In fact, back in 1995, maintenance crews at Patty Jewett Golf Course, found a strange-looking substance spread on the 17th green.


    Patty Jewett Golf Course boasts spectacular views.

    Dal Lockwood, manager of the city’s golf enterprise, tells the story:

    “There was a fair amount of stuff spread all over the greens. One of our old guys, an old sage, tasted it. He said it tasted salty. We had it tested. It was cremated remains.”

    Wonder if it tasted like chicken?

    Anyway, it’s a pretty common practice, as I learned. City parks, trails and golf courses get used for a lot of things besides the obvious.

    Of course, weddings are a common activity especially during spring and summer. Some places must be reserved for a fee. Learn more here.

    Garden of the Gods Park

     Topping the list are the Garden of the Gods and Grandview Overlook in Palmer Park, says Kurt Schroeder, parks, trails and open space manager for the city parks department.

    Both parks offer inspiring views and spectacular backdrops for ceremonies and photos.

    Some prefer getting hitched atop Pikes Peak with the panorama of the city as their backdrop.

    Others like the American Mothers Chapel at Rock Ledge Ranch or the

    Heritage Garden in Monument Valley Park.

     The gazebo and pond at Nancy Lewis Park is a favorite spot for tying the knot. The splashing waters of Helen Hunt Falls in Cheyenne Cañon attract some for their nuptials while others exchange vows at the Red Rock Canyon Open Space pavilion.

    And there have been plenty of wedding receptions of Patty Jewett.

    But I was surprised how often the same venues are used to spread cremated remains.

    “The Garden of the Gods is probably the place the most ashes are scattered,” said Paul Butcher, retired parks department director. “We’ve always had hearsay stories that people scatter ashes in Garden of the Gods, Palmer Park and from the top of Pikes Peak. It happens. We never encouraged it. But I’m 100 percent sure people have done it.”

    In fact, Native American groups tried unsuccessfully to stop construction of the visitors center in 1994 by claiming the garden was a sacred burial ground of the Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

    Here’s a link to a video about Patty Jewett Golf Course.



    Sun, June 12, 2011 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Pikes Peak rises behind the Kissing Camels rock formation, on the right, in this file photo by Mark Reis of The Gazette

    Kissing Camels Estates is one of the most affluent and prestigious neighborhoods in Colorado Springs.

    It is a gated community overlooking Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.

    It represents old money, wealth and power – a place where 80 people were invited to join if they passed a series of interviews with founders Al and Margaret Hill and their associates.

    The lucky elite charter members — legend says the list included Walt Disney and John Wayne — were granted access to the regions most exclusive golf, tennis and social club.

    Behind its guardhouse off Mesa Road are 550 custom homes and townhomes along a sprawling, wooded 27-hole golf course. It has a 108-room club complex and recreation center with 13 tennis courts, pools and a fleet of golf carts.

    But all is not as placid as it appears in the community the Hill opened in 1951 .

    Below is a photo of construction of the Garden of the Gods Club in May 1950, taken from the club’s Web site, showing developer Al Hill, third from left, overseeing work on his project. He conceived it as a luxury summertime-only tennis and social club with guest rooms.

    Developer Al Hill, third from left, is seen in this May 1950 photograph on the mesa where he built the Garden of the Gods Club and the Kissing Camels Estates and golf course.

    The Kissing Camels Estates housing development began at the same time but, according to the Web site, it was years before Hill was convinced to include a golf course. The original 18-hole course opened in 1961, 10 years after the club.

    Here’s how it looks today.

    I saw this photo on the Garden of the Gods Club Blog. It shows the Kissing Camels Golf Course in 1969.

    Margaret Hunt Hill in a 1994 file photo

    According to its history, Al and Margaret Hill bought the 1,600-acre mesa in 1949 and the club held its grand opening in June 1951.

    It soon rivaled The Broadmoor as a retreat for the rich and famous.

    This 2007 obituary for Margaret Hunt Hill gives more detail of the couple and their vision for Kissing Camels. Al Hill died of complications from hip surgery in 1988, four months shy of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.

    I wrote about Kissing Camels and problems with its homeowners associations back in 2007. This is a link.

    I also wrote a blog in 2007. It was one of my first. See it here.

    Read all about the lawsuit filed by the Kissing Camels Property Owners Association against the 49 members of the Kissing Camels Townhomes.

    You can read Judge Timothy Schutz’s complete ruling here.

    Here’s a link to the covenants and governing documents for all the Kissing Camels neighborhoods.



    Wed, November 3, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Drive up to the Appletree Golf Course off Peaceful Valley Road east of Fountain and see if you can find it. It’s not recognizeable. 

    Not the greens, tees, fairways or sand traps. 

    It has died of neglect. The sign on Marksheffel Road tells the story. 

    There are a few hints that the weedy pasture once was a Lee Trevino-designed golf course. Concrete cart paths betray its past. Also the ghostly, abandoned clubhouse atop the hill overlooking the 156-acre property


    Here’s a map to the course: 

    The place is in foreclosure. It’s owner, Morley Golf, owes $14.2 million on an $18.2 million loan used to buy the closed course in 2006 and renovate it. 

    Look past the weeds, willows and thistle and you can see where the money went. 

     Miles of concrete was poured for cart paths and curbs. A new sprinkler system and pumps were installed. The clubhouse was under renovation and expansion. Five holes had been built on a new 220-acre southern expansion of the property. 

    The clubhouse sits vacant, abandoned in the midst of a renovation and expansion.

     But in 2008, the bank that made the loan failed and was bought by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The money dried up and the developer, Jim Morley of Colorado Springs, had to abandon the project. 

    Folks who live along the edges of the golf course couldn’t understand why one day the course was poised to reopen and the next it was empty again. 

    George Gatchel stands in his sunporch, flanked by what used to be the 14th tee of the Appletree Golf Course. In recent years, it has been an overgrown, weedy pasture.

    Neighbors like George and Leta Gatchel had bought their house on the 14th tee in 2001 because they loved the location. George golfs and has a cart he used to buzz around the property serving as a marshal on the course. 

    Gatchel fears the closure and abandonment of Appletree has cost him upwards of $100,000 off the value of his home. 


    Others, like Michael and Donna Leischner, are learning the hard truth about the damage it is doing to property values. 

    They bought their home in 2005 when the course was will operating. 

     They were capivated by the view of Pikes Peak over the lake, seen here on the Appletree web site in its glory days. 

    Today, the lake is drying and receding. 

    The water has left behind caked mud and collecting trash and tumbleweeds. 

     Here’s a look at Appletree from FlashEarth.com before it was abandoned. 


    Here it is today, as George Gatchel sits in his golf cart amid the fairways of the old course. It looks more like the pastureland it used to be than a golf course. 




    Wed, May 5, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with 45 comments

    Prairie Vista Meadows is one of dozens of subdivisions scattered around the outskirts of Colorado Springs in eastern El Paso County

    It’s just 63 lots, carved out of former ranchland, where folks trying to get away from the city go and buy five-acre ranchettes

    Sometimes, they envision themselves as gentlemen farmers, with a horse or a cow or maybe another farm animal or two. 


    One of the big selling points is the spectacular views they enjoy of Pikes Peak and the Front Range from their vantage 10 miles or more from downtown Springs. 

    But folks trying to get away from the city sometimes take their issues with them to the countryside. 

     That’s the case at Prairie Vista Meadows where a couple homeowners are complaining about the homeowners association, covenants and architectural control committee governing life in the subdivision. 

    They are angry that the rules limit the number and types of farm animals to just two horses or cows. 

    Homeowner Chris Meier wanted a llama to guard his two cows from coyotes that roam the plains. And a goat would be nice. Or maybe some chickens. He wants his eight children involved in 4H programs and that might mean raising any variety of barnyard animals. 

    Neighbor Shannon Rogers wanted a third horse to go with her original two.  And maybe a horse arena. And she wants to store a trailer behind a screen of Blue Spruce trees.

    Noreen and Craig McConnell

    Both said they were misled by developer Craig McConnell to believe the HOA would be relaxed and willing to waive covenants and let them bend the rules. 

    McConnell sells real estate with his wife, Noreen, through Avalar Real Estate Solutions in Falcon

    McConnell said they misunderstood. He said the rules are the rules. Most of the 24 homeowners in Prairie Vista Meadows like the rules and want them enforced. He said five-acre lots are not big enough to allow many animals. 

    Here is a look at the subdivision from the El Paso County Assessor’s website: 

     McConnell said he’s trying to maintain the quality of the development by enforcing the covenants. He accuses Meier of wanting to take control of the HOA and rewrite the covenants to suit his lifestyle. 

    He says Meier has been out of compliance with covenants since he moved in last June for failing to paint his barn and for not screening his RV behind a fence or in a building, as rules require. 

    Meier counters that he likes the covenants and simply wants residents of the neighborhood to control the HOA, not a developer and his partners who don’t live in Prairie Vista Meadows. 

    The moral of the story is a classic: read everything before you buy and get all promises in writing. 


  • RAINBOW FALLS: years of work rewarded; years of work remain

    Wed, February 24, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    L’Aura Montgomery came to Colorado Springs in May 2005 for a week-long business trip.

    She took a drive up Pikes Peak and on the way down, she pulled of U.S. Highway 24 to use her cell phone. Her exit happened to be along Fountain Creek near Rainbow Falls and it led her into Manitou Springs.

    “I thought: ‘Omigosh, where am I?’ ” Montgomery recalled. “There was such an energy about Manitou. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

    She was so enthralled that when she got back home to Lancaster, Pa., she sold or gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in her car and headed back to Manitou.

    “I cut all my ties and drove out here,” she said. I left my two adult boys, my ex-husband, mom and dad, brother.

    “I came here without knowing a soul here. But it called to me.”

    It didn’t take long for L’Aura, 49, to immerse herself in the community. The jeweler and photographer made friends, was joined by her sons and eventually found love in Lane Williams. Here is a photo of L’Aura and Lane:






    An activist by nature, she was quick to take up the cause of Rainbow Falls, a postcard-beautiful waterfall. Here it is on a historic postcard .











    I love the hype used in describing the falls. Actually, I’m surprised they got away with the “largest falls in Colorado” line since it is only a fraction as high as Seven Falls, a few miles away.













    Still, it was a popular tourist destination a century ago.



     But the falls had become a sad joke in recent years, known as “Graffiti Falls.” Here’s how it looked Wednesday. Snow covered much of the graffiti near the falls.

    It’s trouble started in the 1930s when the state built a bridge across it, obscuring its view. In recent years, it has become the favorite canvas of juvenile delinquents with spray paint.

    Then came the taggers.

    They clearly like the location, in a remote canyon accessible only by foot along a historic wagon road to the gold fields of Cripple Creek and South Park. Here’s a look at the location from FlashEarth.com.

    The taggers spare nothing in their quest for fresh canvas. Here is the sign erected at the canyon entrance to alert people to the historic nature of the road.

    The short hike to the falls is more of the same:

    Then you reach the bridge.

    Not only is it ugly, but it is deteriorating. If it needs repair, maybe it ought to be removed altogether, daylighting the falls!

    Not only did the state obscure scenic beauty, it created an environmental nightmare of gravel fill that continually slides into Fountain Creek below the falls.

     The hillside has pumped tons of silt and sediment into the creek over the years. Colorado Department of Transportation crews have made the situation worse trying to stabilize the hillside by dumping huge boulders down the hillside. Many rolled right into the creek, actually changing the course of the creek and causing even worse erosion to the tow of the hill.

    In this photo, boulders are strewn down the hillside and in the creek.

    For decades, the falls have been privately owned. Recently, the owners, Mansfield Development Co., which also owns the Cave of the Winds, agreed to give the property to El Paso County. Already, a preliminary rainbow falls master plan has been drafted addressing all the issues and goals for the property.

    Once the change of ownership is official, a new round of public meeting will be held to update and formalize the master plan. Money will need to be raised and work will begin to clean up the area, build a trail, picnic areas and more.



    Sun, February 7, 2010 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    What would Katharine Lee Bates think?


    The  Wellesley College English professor spent the summer of 1893 in Colorado Springs teaching at Colorado College.

    During that summer, she and some other teachers rode a wagon to the summit of Pikes Peak.

    The trip inspired her to later write the words to “America the Beautful” and the poem was first published July 4, 1895, in a church magazine in Boston.

    It was later set to music and became the unofficial national anthem. A bronze of Bates was commissioned and unveiled in 2002. It sits outside the Pioneers Museum, positioned so Bates appears to be gazing at the El Paso County Courthouse. Oops. Actually, she was facing Pikes Peak until the courthouse additional nearly blocked her view. But that’s another blog.


    Terry Sullivan

    Local tourist official Terry Sullivan, right, worries what Bates might write today, if she were to witness the effects of budget cuts on city parks and institutions.

    What would she think of unwatered grass in our parks? No trash cans? Pools and neighborhood community centers boarded up? Streets dark because the city turned off 10,000 streetlights.

    Sullivan is president of Experience Colorado Springs, the area’s convention and visitors bureau. Tourism is his life.

     Even worse, he worries what folks across America think after word of the crisis made national news last week.

     It started with a story in the Denver Post and spread across the Internet, finding its way onto blogs and network television newscasts.denverpost












     Read the entire Denver Post story.

    The biggest blow, in Sullivan’s eyes, was , including a 28-second sound bite by ABC News anchorwoman Diane Sawyer on the evening news. Here’s a link to the ABC News report


    It really wasn’t a huge story for Sawyer and ABC.

    Just a brief mention of the problems.

    But it was enough to get the attention of folks like Sullivan, who knows just how important a tourist destination’s reputation is to its success or failure.

    Some in Colorado Springs caution against overreacting to the bad-mouthing.

    mike-kazmierskiMike Kazmierski, right, president of the Colorado Springs Reginal Economic Development Corp. counters that the harsh headlines are a sign of the times.

    Hardly a city in the United States isn’t suffering in this historically bad economy, Kazmierski said.

    And he is quick to point to three pages of accolades in 2009 from magazines on Web sites that praised the Pikes Peak region.

     In each, Colorado Springs is rated one of the healthiest, happiest, smartest places to live and do business in America.

     “Our problems are transient,” Kazmierski said. “The mountains, our quality of life, will be here forever.

    “We’re all i na tough time. But we live here for a reason. It’s a wonderful community. We’ll get through this. We always have.”