We’re spending the week in Colorado Springs, home of stunning scenery, Evangelical Christians, and my husband’s parents and sister. Our visits here generally revolve around hanging out with family, eating vast quantities of delicious food, hiking among beautiful rock formations, and being simultaneously fascinated and repelled by the prevailing religious climate.
Colorado Springs is fertile ground for Evangelical Christianity. For years, we would exit the airport past a billboard that read, “Abortion is always wrong – God.” (Who knew God took out billboards?) Once we visited the world headquarters of anti-abortion, anti-gay Focus on the Family, and saw founder James Dobson’s father’s red dinner jacket displayed in a glass case, like a relic. Last year we noticed signs on bus stop benches urging us to “save the date.” The date was May 21, 2011 – the day Revered Harold Camping calculated the rapture would occur. This year we visited Glen Eyrie, a gorgeous, park-like property adjacent to Garden of the Gods.
Glen Eyrie is owned by The Navigators, an interdenominational, Christian ministry founded in 1933. The Navigators proselytize on military bases and college campuses, in prisons and at youth camps. They also run Navipress, a Christian publishing house. At Glen Eyrie they hold spiritual retreats and conferences on topics with new-age names like “Becoming a Woman of Simplicity” and “Scribbling in the Sand.” We were interested in the property’s hiking trails, which are open to the public – provided you reserve a slot in advance, sign the lengthy legal waver, and bring your photo I.D.
A curving driveway brings you to the gate house, where you check in. Beyond are manicured grounds, tall rock formations and old stone buildings, including the impressive “castle.” The feel is part state park, part sanitarium. Our hike followed a narrow canyon threaded between steep cliffs. The stream that carved the canyon runs wet during spring melt, but most of the time, it’s dry. The water is trapped by a dam and channeled into a pipe, which carries it to the top of a nearby mesa, where the Navigators hold it in a reservoir and sell it to the city. Wooden boardwalks and bridges suspended by thick metal hooks give the walk a mild amusement-park vibe.
It was really lovely. I stopped again and again to admire and photograph the angled rocks, the brittle remains of desert plants, the juxtaposition of fabricated and organic environment. High above us, it was a beautiful day, the sky perfectly blue, the tops of the rocks bathed in golden sunlight. Below, where we walked, it was chilly dusk, the trail deep in shadow, the footing lumpy with ice. As we gazed down at the dry creek bed, we could hear the rush of water through the pipe. My thoughts toggled between, How nice of the Navigators to let us share this and How odd to be able to fence off and own a slice of natural beauty.
We didn’t see very many other people: just the guys in the guard house, a few men with name tags strolling between buildings, and one or two people climbing into cars. Did they give us a second thought? Did they recognize us for the non-believers we are – people come to enjoy the scenery, with no interest in attending their workshops or being saved by their God? Did we inspire smugness? Pity? Or did they see as potential converts, lost souls lured by the scenery who might one day believe as they do — feel the warmth of their sun, walk their smooth path, drink from their carefully channeled water?