A veil is placed between the past and present. Most often this curtain is thick and opaque, allowing the events of yesteryear to remain in purdah. Sometimes the screen is diaphanous, permitting us a peek into the characters who forged history. At Red Rocks Park in Colorado, the drapery between the prehistoric and today is rent asunder so that we walk hand in hand with ghosts. Few places like this remain. I find either the contemporary has stamped out any remembrance of bygone days or antiquity has been mummified. In the latter instance it is impossible to commune with the spectres of long ago, so carefully has history been sanitized in order to preserve it.
Yesterday, my paleontologist friend Ben and I explored dinosaur tracks five miles away from here. Today, he wants us to meet his workout mates and exercise with them at the arena, but I cannot keep up with them. Instead, I watch the runners perform their grueling routines in between the wooden risers and imagine how once stegosaurs and allosaurs roamed the Colorado floodplains. I envision their plaintive bellows suffusing the skies. The orogenesis which tilted these Pennsylvania age sandstone layers into sharp fins, mushroom caps, and monoliths also brought back to life the Jurassic-era creatures who recount their adventures in this semi-arid environment. The racers continue their courses never hearing the paeans emanating from the giant sandstone colossi. Stegosaurus and allosaurus perished ages ago, but tectonic forces have immortalized them. Now their skeletons sing to the audience ballads of Pangea, shallow seas, conifer taigas, and an unspeakable calamity that brought it all to an end.
Many centuries after, when the landscape was dotted with temperate vegetation, neighboring nomadic tribes who spoke a common language wandered across the Great Basin as a loose confederation. They camped in Red Rocks Park because its natural formations provided shelter from elements and enemies. The harsh Colorado sun casts deep shadows across the symmetric stadium planks. The fulvous outcrops burn vermilion in the cascading light. I startle a foraging deer on its peregrinations through the gardens. Perhaps its forebear peered from the thicket as drums beat and the circle of dancers called to the spirits for a fruitful spring. Their prayers echoed from the Creation Rock and the Ship Rock. Perhaps, as the evening fell, elders gathered to tell stories of brave ancestors and fickle gods. Their melodies collided with the geologic bulwarks, forever trapped within this acoustic stage.
This valley of arkose with its carmine crags has heard the strains of Mary Garden, Jethro Tull, Pat Boone, and Jimi Hendrix. Their operatic-rock-pop anthems have reverberated beyond the park’s encompassing ramparts. This hallowed ground of sound croons its own concert: a peculiar tune wherein scraps of “Hymn 43,” the ululations of Utes, and the pitched keening of ancient reptiles mingle together with countless canticles. The music haunts me with its unwieldy refrain. For a fleeting second I am in contact with the passing silhouettes of time. They are dim and cannot endure in the afternoon glow. The song fades, the shadows flee; I am left with the common thud of racing feet and the lonely strains of a boy practicing his violin.
Musicians love playing at Red Rocks Amphitheater because of the stunning landscape and exceptional acoustics. While bands like Grateful Dead and Depeche Mode try to return to the venue multiple times, the rock group Widespread Panic boasts the most sold-out concerts with a record number of forty-two shows.
What historic landmarks are being used in modern ways today? Is there a place you feel lives both in the past and present?