Comanche Grasslands

Road trips are freedom to me. Especially since the plane crash I’d rather get in the truck and just go. No plan. No itinerary. No schedule. That’s the essence of it. You find stuff that way. And it’s usually stuff no one else finds anymore, because they’re all so damn in a hurry to get somewhere.

We hit Comanche Grasslands on the way down to Tejas a couple days ago. It’s in southeast Colorado, right on the Oklahoma border. I guess this was plains injun country until we wiped them out. Ash and I passed the site of the Sand Creek Massacre a few miles before the Grasslands.

“November 29, 1864, a 700-man force of Colorado Territory militia attacked and destroyed a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped in southeastern Colorado Territory,killing and mutilating an estimated 70–163 Indians, about two-thirds of whom were women and children.”

The whites did it for money, really. Indians had become an impediment to the flow of aspiring miners from Kansas to new-found gold in Colorado (then Kansas Territory) in what was known as the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The influx of people created both Boulder and Denver. The slaughter of Native Americans was just a side note. Today it’s just a sign on a dusty old back road.

Comanche Grasslands is a white man’s park. There’s a parking area and picnic tables. Maps, little kiosks that explain things in Dick-and-Jane simplicity. We explored Picture Canyon. It’s tucked into one of the grasslands’ deceptive swales. You’d pass right by the whole place and never know. But get back on Country Road J, take a quick right on CR 18 and you’re suddenly below the plains. You’re standing before Cheyenne pictographs stoic and silent on the walls of hidden sandstone caves. You’re meandering through canyons choked with scrub oak and rushes, snow still clinging to the north faces of dribbled stone domes and polished sluices.

For a minute you forget persecution and work and the pressure of life. The sun moves across the sky and the stone becomes pink. Someone lived here once. They were free. They painted blue horses on the ochre stone for nothing, for pleasure, to remind us later that there was something valuable here long before gold.