Hey folks let’s get a list going of hippie/bohemian rural enclaves/outposts in North America [and beyond] like the one written about below. Email editor at arthurmag dot com with your tips, or leave a comment. Thanks! — Jay Babcock, Arthur editor
In Colorado, a ‘Hippie Mayberry’
By ANDY NEWMAN
October 19, 2007 New York Times
MYSTERIOUS forces draw people to Manitou Springs, Colo., a little jewel box of a village at the foot of Pikes Peak; mysterious forces inform even their mundane errands around town.
Donna Laffoon, a former jockey who works behind the counter of a gem shop on Manitou Avenue, the town’s main street, originally arrived looking for help with a rare skin disease. She found not only a cure — drinking the lithium-laced waters of one of the 10 fizzy mineral springs that burble up through the town — but a home.
One afternoon last month, in a lull at the shop, she took time to help her 11-year-old daughter, Christina, prepare for a homework session by handing her a chunk of lepidolite, an amethyst-colored stone purported to help the mind focus, and a bit of further instruction: “Now take your rock across the street to Eagle Dancer and go get a medicine bag.”
“Mom,” Christina asked, “after that, can I go meet Kelsey at the Maté?” She meant the Maté Factor, a nearby teahouse specializing in a Brazilian stimulant drink and run by a commune-dwelling Christian sect. Ms. Laffoon assented, excused her daughter and took a sip from her own iced lemon maté.
“Welcome to the hippie Mayberry,” she said.
Manitou, an artsy, charmingly eccentric town of 5,000 residents, has a many-layered history — sacred ground to several Indian tribes, gold-rush-era resort, tuberculosis treatment center and Old West mountainside tourist trap as well as 1960s hippie haven. A 752-building swath of town was declared a national historic district in 1983, and many of its late-19th-century buildings are now bed-and-breakfasts.
Manitou is also defined by what it is not — its neighbor Colorado Springs, a sprawling, chain-stored center of conservative evangelical Christianity looming just beyond the Garden of the Gods, a 1,300 acre array of Gaudíesque red-rock formations that acts as a sort of buffer between the towns.
“Manitou is very different from Colorado Springs,” said a soft-spoken Manitou restaurant manager, Frog Rainbowstar (not quite his real name — that, according to his Colorado driver’s license, is Purplefrog Eightoak Rainbowstar).
Manitou is busiest in summer but draws plenty of visitors in the fall and through the Christmas season. On Oct. 27 it will hold its biggest annual event, the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, named for a 19th-century spiritualist, buried on a mountaintop, whose coffin, according to local legend, slid downhill in a flood. All across central Colorado, racing teams are preparing homemade wheeled coffins for a 250-yard sprint up Manitou Avenue, which curves gently up toward Pikes Peak.
Other than in a coffin, the best way to see Manitou is on foot, spending a day or two sampling shops and restaurants as you tour the springs, which are scattered across the town. Each issues from a spigot installed in a unique font — a small pavilion, a mosaic wall, a pedestal guarded by a statue. Begin with a swig from the sulfurous Seven-Minute Spring at the foot of El Paso Boulevard, and proceed up Manitou Avenue.
Across the street from the Dulcimer Shop, run by a tie-dyed former mayor, a sign beckons: “Angel’s Crossing: A Co-op of Energy Information Services/Palmist /Runes/Medium/Classes/Come in for a Cup of Tea and Great Conversation with Me.” The Me in question is Maria McGill, an effusive redhead who one recent morning was wearing a necklace made with a Tibetan healing stone wrapped in copper wire — “It’s an etheric weaver,” she explained. She arrived in Manitou two years ago, after her car broke down in Garden of the Gods. “Nine days it took to get a distributor cap,” she said, “and on the seventh day I rented an apartment. Ever since then my lifeline has grown.”
A few paces farther on is Shoshone Spring, its waters rich in fluoride and natural radioactivity, and half a block from there is Arcade Amusements, housing one of the nation’s most impressive collections of working vintage games, all playable at their original prices. For a penny, stiff, threadbare, monkish-looking soccer players kick a silver marble across a lumpy metal field. For a nickel, you can try a crane that deposits a load of lentils into a miniature grain hopper. The air is filled with the glorious chuck-thunk of pre-electronic pinball machines — two five-ball plays for a quarter!
Adjoining is Patsy’s, purveyor of fine popcorn and salt-water taffy since 1903. The current owner, Jack Johns, said he tried making lemonade with the water from Navajo Spring, which is just behind the store. “But when we test-sampled it out to the customers,” he said, “they said it was too carbonated, too many minerals in it, just yucky. They said, ‘Pfoo!’ ” To demonstrate, he procured a glass of Navajo water from the tap at the back of the building, mixed in lemon juice and sugar and, voilà! — an effervescently putrid flavor clash.
Across Manitou Avenue from Patsy’s, two miniature yellow octagonal buildings contain a sort of condensed history of Manitou. Former tuberculosis quarantine huts, they now house a Mexican restaurant called the Tiny House Grill, along with an impossibly small trinket shop. Inside, the 10-year-old son of the owners, Zak Cabello, when he’s not helping out in the restaurant, makes bone-and-bead necklaces that sell briskly down the street at All My Relations Creations, which claims to be Manitou’s only native-owned native craft store.
JUST down Canon Avenue, Manitou’s other shop-lined street, a sun-drenched storefront displays a fantastic multitiered diorama of hobbit huts and pink trees and twig staircases and pebble walls. Inside, the sculpture’s creator, C. H. Rockey, 75, labors away at his masterwork, a profusely illustrated storybook about 64 types of love.
Nothing is for sale there, but you can buy the work of more than 30 local potters, painters and fabric artists at Commonwheel Artists Co-op, one of about a dozen galleries in town. Just past it is the Crystal Wizard shop, a great place to pick up some fairy balls or a glitter-covered ceramic dragon.
A lovely place for dinner is Adams Mountain Café, although many locals say they refuse to enter its new home because of the curse. The restaurant moved this year to a former spring-fed bathhouse known as the Spa Building, said to have been damned by Indian spirits enraged at the white man’s attempt to profit from the healing waters. The curse does not seem to be working. “Our business is up 60 percent,” said the owner, Farley McDonough.
When day dawns again, fuel up with a yerba maté, a pleasantly woody-tasting concoction, at the Maté Factor, a 24-hour-a-day hangout (except from Friday at 6 p.m. to Saturday at 2 p.m.). Its proprietors, members of a pacifistic sect called the 12 Tribes, favor flowing beards for men and flowing pants and peasant dresses for women.
Next, take a quick tour of Miramont Castle, the 42-room brick-and-mortar hallucination of an aristocratic 19th-century French priest, comprising no fewer than nine architectural styles and now home of the Manitou Springs Historical Society. Pause for a bracingly metallic drink from the Iron Spring.
Half a mile uphill is the head of the Barr Trail up Pikes Peak, maintained, according to the sign, by the Earth Spirit Pagans. The parking lot is full — it has been since 6 a.m., which is how early you need to start to make the 13-mile, 7,500-vertical-foot trek up the mountain and get back down in one day.
Why not take the train instead? The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is Manitou’s biggest draw by far, carrying more than a quarter-million people a year up the mountain. You will notice on the platform that all the artsy, New-Agey types have vanished, magically replaced by conventional-looking tourists.
Up, up goes the little train, through surprisingly lush pine forests that thin out, then give way to an endless, barren boulder field that looks like Mordor.
THE train reaches the summit. You are 14,110 feet above sea level. Of course there is a well-stocked gift emporium, along with what may be the world’s highest-altitude doughnut shop. Unless you make this sort of ascent every day, you are dizzy and lightheaded. You are not alone. All around you, tourists stumble uncertainly, clutching their Pikes Peak refrigerator magnets and commemorative T-shirts, blindly scarfing down fresh warm doughnuts, which the body suddenly seems to crave. There’s not a vegetarian wizard or a sulfurous lemonade in sight.
Now this place is weird.
Manitou Springs is west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24, about 15 miles from Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. Maps showing the mineral springs are available from the Chamber of Commerce (354 Manitou Avenue; 719-685-5089; http://www.manitousprings.org).
Blue Skies Inn (402 Manitou Avenue; 719-685-3899; http://www.blueskiesinn.com) has 10 rooms (from $145), including the Indian Rock Art suite with walls decorated with an Indian pictograph mural.
The Bed and Breakfast at Historic Onaledge (336 El Paso Boulevard; reservations, 719-685-2505; http://www.onaledge.net) is a 1912 Arts and Crafts lodge said to be inhabited by at least five ghosts, including a kindly gentleman named Stew. Rooms start at $115.
At Adams Mountain Cafe (934 Manitou Avenue; 719-685-1430; http://www.adamsmountain.com), the delicious, mostly meatless fare includes specialties like ginger-peanut-sauced Senegalese vegetables ($13).
Maté Factor (966 Manitou Avenue; 719-685-3235; http://www.matefactor.com) serves the Brazilian stimulant tea yerba maté in lattes and other configurations more commonly associated with coffee.
The Garden of the Gods (1805 North 30th Street, Colorado Springs; 719-634-6666; http://www.gardenofthegods.com) is a free 1,300-acre park with dramatic red sandstone formations.
Manitou Springs Mineral Water, from one of Manitou’s springs, is bottled commercially (www.manitoumineral.com) and exported to South Korea and Japan. In this country, it is sold only in a few pharmacies in Korean neighborhoods in New York and in California (and not in Manitou).