Have you ever built up a destination so big in your mind, planning, dreaming, traveling, only to find when you arrive, you are completely disappointed?
Colorado Springs is not one of those places. It was simply love at first sight for me.
Located around 60 miles south of Denver, at the eastern foot of the Rockies, it ranks as the 2nd post populated area in Colorado with around 500,000 people. It is home to several military facilities which account for about 40% of the economy. I found the people very warm and friendly. And as seems to be the case around the United States, most do not hail from the area, but have chosen to make it their home.
We arrived in Colorado Springs on a cool, sunny Sunday afternoon. Our new home, because home is where you park it, was Goldfield RV Park. The park was basically a city gravel parking lot outfitted with electric and sewer hook-ups located directly behind Highway 24, a heavily traveled local road. The place was a nice mix of America’s mobile workforce, young people on a grand adventure, and nomads such as ourselves. What this place lacked in amenities, it made up for in location. We quickly set up our city RV site and set out to explore the area.
We were just 2 blocks away from Old Colorado City, a section of Colorado Springs. As seen in many revived American towns, Old Colorado City has a very vibrant and artsy feel to it. We found many fine eating establishments, eclectic shops, and fun drinkatoriums.
When you first arrive in a new location, you really have no idea what you are looking for. Our usual plan is to drive in, park (free parking in Old Colorado City!), wander around, and see what’s going on. We always talk to the locals to see what’s really happening beyond all the usual touristy stuff, and discover what they do in their free time. We did just that and started formulating our plan for the visit.
The next morning we awoke to a bright blue sky just demanding some adventure. We set off to explore one of the area’s biggest attractions, Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the Gods is a 480 acre plot of land that holds within it’s confines huge 300 foot sandstone formations of all sort of shapes, the most famous being Balancing Rock. The land was donated by the children of Charles Elliot Perkins in 1909 with the stipulation that it always remain free to the public.
What a gift to the area and it’s people and visitors. We packed a lunch and spent a good portion of the day wandering around in awe. So much to look at my eyes could barely take it all in.
It is a very congested area, lots of visitors everyday, so if you go, bring your patience, and your walking shoes. You can drive the area, but really, this is one of those places you want to get up close and personal.
Some days you just feel like escaping from the crowds and hiking a bit more remotely. The next day was one of those days for me. We decided to visit the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Red Rocks is another free recreation area, a 789 acre city park. The park contains a number of reclaimed industrial sites, old quarries, gravel pits, a gold refining mine, and small landfill. Other than the quarries, none of this was visible to the eye. Just more glorious views.
Red Rocks was just a few blocks from our site well within walking distance, and soon became our favorite place to catch a hike. There are numerous trails some easy, some tough, to choose from. I think by the time we left we had done nearly all of them. If I were a local, I would be there all the time!
Another nice area to hike on the other side of town is a place called Pulpit Rock Park. There is a series of small trails with the highlight being a climb to Pulpit Rock Ridge.
When they say small trails, they mean it. Trails going every which way. No signage, it’s a guessing game. We worked our way up a trail which seemed to be a main one. Winding higher and higher, the rocks became more loose and unstable. Sometimes heights get to me. They did on this day, and I had to call Uncle and turn around before I reached the summit. I later discovered we were on the most difficult trail up. Now I have another reason to return and reach that ridge!
Speaking of heights, Have you ever heard of a mountain named Pikes Peak? It’s so popular it is nicknamed America’s Mountain. And what a hill it is. It is the 2nd most visited peak in the world, coming in right behind Japan’s Mt. Fuji.
Standing tall at 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak is the 31st tallest peak in Colorado. The summit can be reached in one of three ways. You could hike it from the Barr Trail at the base, a climb of about 13 or so miles, drive the Pikes Peak Highway,a 19 mile twisty road, or take the Cog Railway with an average grade of 45%.
I am a decent hiker, but would in no way attempt this climb without the proper training. Driving is out since my encounter with Forest Road #69 in the Great Smokey Mountains (never again!)
We opted to spend the money, $40 per person, to ride the rail. I am so happy we did. It is about a 3:40 round trip from base to summit. The guide was wonderful in giving us bits of information and history. Seating is tight, and you are faced toward another set of seats, so you get to know your seatmates in a quick hurry. We faced a lovely older couple who had taken the trip previously, and filled us in with some more tidbits of information.
Upon reaching the summit, if you’ve never felt the effects of a high altitude, you certainly will here. The minute the door opens and you step out, your breath is literally taken away. By the thin air and scenery. Woozy, is what I would call it. I rather liked the feeling, I felt euphoric. On top of the world.
I could see many people were not enjoying it, or the cold, it was about 25 degrees with the wind chill. I am a Michigander. I look at weather regularly and dress accordingly. I am guessing the folks in their shorts and flip-flops did not. It was around 80 degrees in Manitou Springs.
I had such fun floating around that summit. I could see others were as well. A young lady twirling a hula hoop, a guy meditating into the open space, people like me giggly with lack of air, and literally stoned from the views. I am sure this is where the term “high” originated.
However all good things must end. After about 30 minutes at the top, the train’s bell rang and we had to prepare for departure. Some people feel the effects more than others, and altitude sickness may set in after 30-40 minutes at the summit.
We had a young couple join us on the return trip who had just completed the hike, and opted to take the train back to base. They started their trek at 4:30 AM and finished 11 hours later. They were exhausted, oxygen deprived, elated, and looking forward to a steak dinner and a cold brew to celebrate their success. Maybe I should attempt that hike someday.
Another place of note on our tour of the area were the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The dwellings are are a group of relocated Anasazi ruined cliff dwellings that were moved to Manitou Springs, reassembled, and has been open to the public since 1907. There is a bit of controversy to the place. Is it real or a kitchy tourist trap? A bit of both it seems, due to the fact they were not the original dwellings, but rather a reconstruction. In any case, I always find ancient civilizations fascinating, and there is an attached museum which holds many artifacts.
One of the highlights of our journey was a trip to Aurora, a suburb of Denver to meet up with my BFF’s son, Tyler, who had recently moved there himself, embarking upon an adventure of his own. He and his roommates had relocated to the area in search of a different way of life and a taste of something new. The 4 roomies from Michigan share a house and are all gainfully employed and completely engaged with life. And, hey Janet, Tyler’s room was very clean! We hung out at their house for a bit, went to dinner, and once again had to say some goodbyes. It’s always so nice to see familiar faces. And to see young people pursuing their dreams, well that’s just a bonus!
We spent the majority of our time outside, doing what we enjoy best. Hiking in new areas, enjoying the company of the locals, trying out a few new restaurants (Rudy’s and their luscious brisket, sadly I have no picture, I ate it way too fast), a couple brew pubs, and, of course, basking in the joy that travel and adventure bring to us.
I have to say, Colorado Springs currently tops the list of places in the continental U.S. that I have had the pleasure of traveling to. And yes, I will be back…
…Meanwhile, I’ll see you in Austin, TX. The next stop on our journey.