Colorado Springs was founded as resort town in 1871. It’s Colorado’s second largest city and home to more than 60 man-made and natural attractions. It’s home to America’s Mountain, Garden of the Gods, U.S. Air Force Academy, Olympic City USA, a zoo on a mountain and is not far from the highest suspension bridge in Colorado. Every time I explore “the Springs” as the city is sometimes called, I find myself wanting to spend more time there.
Drive to summit of America’s Mountain
Pikes Peak is called America’s Mountain. A 19-mile highway takes you to the top of this 14,115-foot peak. It’s one of Colorado’s “14ers,” or fourteen thousand-foot peaks. My friend Nancy and I started with a temperature of 54° at 7,400 feet as we headed up the mountain road. We decided to drive up to the summit and do the overlooks and stops along the road on the way down. This road takes you from forest and meadows to treeline to tundra. About halfway up as we were getting close to treeline, light snow showers started. I was white knuckled as I drove the switchbacks and steeps stretches to the top. The temperature dropped to 25° at the summit and it was windy. Both of us were really glad we had coats. Weather changes quickly on Pikes Peak so make sure you have layers (including a rain jacket in summer for afternoon storms) in the car with you.
At the summit, we had swirling light snow showers as we took our picture by the 14,115 feet sign and enjoyed the jaw-dropping view. It was this view that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” in 1893. That’s why Pikes Peak is called America’s Mountain. After oohing and aahing at the view, we headed inside the Pikes Peak Summit House to warm up with their famous donuts. You have to try one since they’re the only donuts made at 14,115 feet. The warm yumminess melts in your mouth. I’m not normally a donut fan, but these are worth every calorie! Plus, where else are you going to get to try a donut at over 14,000 feet high?
On the way down, we stopped at a couple of the overlooks to check out the views and enjoy the light snow showers. Both of us laughed when we saw the Bigfoot sign on the way up. It was a must-stop on the way back down. According to legend, America’s favorite Sasquatch is roaming around the area. Yes, we looked around for Bigfoot, but had no luck spotting him. There have been reports of an unidentified creature in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Our last stop was at Crowe Gulch. It was the perfect spot to snap some pictures with Pikes Peak in the background. Allow for 2-3 hours to do the drive, enjoy the summit, and to make a few stops. We did it in just under three hours. You can drive the 19-mile highway or hike the Barr Trail to the summit. The Pikes Peak Cog Rail is undergoing renovations and upgrades. The world’s highest cog train and highest train in America is expected to re-open for rides in 2021.
Seeing Siamese Twins
Before heading to the hotel, Nancy and I decided to get a late lunch and quick hike in at Garden of the Gods. I can’t be in Colorado Springs and not stop at this breathtaking natural landmark. The Trading Post has been welcoming visitors since 1929 and is the oldest gift shop in the state. After scarfing down sandwiches from Balanced Rock Cafe, we ordered some fresh fudge to go. I’m a sucker for peanut butter and chocolate homemade fudge! The fudge lady suggested we hike to the Siamese Twins formation. “Best view of Pikes Peak from Garden of the Gods,” she told us. Turns out, we were very close to the trailhead. The hike to the Siamese Twins is on three-quarters of a mile round trip with a vertical rise of 150 feet. It’s an easy and short hike with a big pay-off of seeing this unique rock formation along with a stunning view of Pikes Peak through the center of the formation. We are also very close to Balanced Rock and drove over to see one of the most famous formations in the park.
A Resort Stay and a Sunset Fit for Gods
Cheyenne Mountain Resort was I where stayed during this trip. There are 316 rooms and suites surrounded by beautiful views. My balcony overlooked part of the resort’s 18-hole championship golf course with a view of the mountain ridgeline. There’s a 35-acre lake, pools, tennis courts, and spa along with hiking and biking paths surrounding the resort.
We connected with my friend Adeina at Cheyenne Mountain Resort and we set off for an early evening walk in the central garden area where there is a concentration of thirteen formations. The 300-foot-tall reddish-orange sandstone formations began over 300 million years ago and were sculpted by erosion. The president of the Chicago Burlington Quincy Railroad, Charles Perkins, bought the land in 1879. After his death, his family gave the land to the City of Colorado Springs with the stipulations it be called Garden of the Gods and be free for visitors. Seeing a sunset or sunrise in Garden of the Gods is a special experience. We arrived just in time.
As we were walking into the central garden we spotted a rainbow fading away. We walked past formations like Kissing Camels, White Rock and Cathedral Spires. As we got to Three Graces, the evening glow was breathtaking and worthy of a yoga Zen moment. I climbed up struck a warrior two pose as the sunset hues kissed my face. We walked over and hiked up the Sunset Trail on Gray Rock. A little bit of effort had a big payoff. It wasn’t the most colorful sunset I’ve ever seen but seeing the last light of day glow on the red sandstone was pure magic as the sun dipped behind Pikes Peak and the Front Range of the Rockies.
As we walked back to our car, deer were enjoying their dinner as they grazed in the central garden area. That was a cue it was time for us to eat too. We decided to dine at Mountain View Restaurant at Cheyenne Mountain Resort. I was a little chilled from the cool evening air and the soup du jour of potato soup sounded perfect for a light late dinner. Adeina ordered the black bean and hemp hummus served with toasted naan and vegetables. The food hit the spot for all of us to fall into our beds and get a restful night’s sleep.
The early morning view of the golf course and mountainscape was worthy of coffee on the balcony to start the day. Adeina and I had a full day of adventure planned and fueled up with a hearty breakfast in Mountain View Restaurant. I ordered the avocado melt. It was a cross between avocado toast and eggs benedict. I really liked the hint of sweetness with cranberry and dried apricots added along with chia seeds sprinkled on top. I added an egg for extra protein. I paired my wonderful breakfast with an almond milk latte and a great view out the huge windows of the restaurant.
Highest Suspension Bridge in America
After breakfast my friend Adeina and I set off for a day of adventure and wine. Our first stop was about an hour’s drive away. Royal Gorge Bridge and Park has the highest suspension bridge in America. I’m afraid of heights and the gusty winds that morning were not helping to ease my fears. But one step at a time, while singing a made-up tune to myself, I made it across the quarter of a mile-long suspension bridge that’s 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River.
Our greeters on the other sider were a herd of mountain goats grazing. We walked around and saw the Tommy Knocker Playground and Plaza Theater. Here’s an interesting weather-related tidbit – 90 percent of the park was destroyed in a wildfire in 2013 and it was rebuilt in only 14 months. On a previous visit I did what’s considered the world’s scariest rollercoaster. The Skycoaster takes up you then plunges you out over the canyon at 50 mph. It’s one of the scariest and most exhilarating at the same time. Our plan was to either zipline or take the gondola back across the 2,400 feet wide Royal Gorge. But the winds were gusting over 30 mph, even over 40 mph at times, so the only option was to walk back across the bridge, which I did at a rather brisk pace with Adeina laughing at and with me. There are signs for all of the states so I did make quick stops at the South Carolina (my home state) and Colorado (my current state) signs. Once back across we grabbed lunch in the Royal Gorge Bridge’s Café 1230, aptly named since it sits at 1230 feet above the Arkansas River.
White-knuckle Drive and Dinosaur Tracks
We made two stops on the way back to Colorado Springs. The first was Skyline Drive. The narrow one-way road goes up the hogback then rides the ridgeline, with steep drop-offs on both sides, and finishing with a hairpin turn as it winds down the east side.
The road was constructed by inmates from the Colorado State Penitentiary in 1905-1906. In 1932, the Gateway Arch was built as the entrance marker. It was built with a stone from every state. The geology is fascinating. The Dakota Hogback formation formed about 105 million years ago. The red rock layer near the base of the ridge is called the Fountain Formation. The Morrison Formation is where dinosaur fossils have been found. Near the top we saw some dinosaur footprint casts that were imprinted into the side of the cliff. It’s well marked so you won’t miss it. The tracks were discovered in 1999.
We took about an hour to do this drive with stellar panoramic views from the ridgeline.
A Winery at an Abbey
I had been to a unique winery nestled in the serene setting of the Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City. If I’m ever close to the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, I’m pop in for a tasting. In 1886, the Order of St. Benedict Monastery was established by two Benedictine monks from Pennsylvania who opened a boarding school and established a winery. The boarding school remained opened until 1985. The Abbey’s remaining twenty monks established a vineyard as new stream of income. The monks’ winery is now privately owned and produces close to 10,000 cases a year. The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey makes wine from Colorado and two grape varietals from California. Wine flights in the tasting room cost $5.00 with options to upgrade. Divinity is my favorite wine. It’s always fun to taste their wild card wine in the Wild Canyon Harvest made from locals’ grapes every year. From this tasting, I took home a chardonnay and their Sangre de Cristo Nouveau, which is a red table wine that’s perfect for sangria. I also took home the rose blend named Vineyard sunset, because I love rosé and sunsets!
Doggone Fun Dinner
For dinner we tried a one-of-a-kind eatery. At Pub Dog Colorado, your pup can play while you dine. They have a fenced in off-leash area right off of the patio. If you want to eat inside, your pup can come in too. We ordered the overloaded nachos and the sampler to taste their pretzel bites and stuffed jalapenos. The spicy hibiscus margarita hit the spot too. On the dog menu they have puppy patties, pupcicles and even a dog beer. It’s a “pawesome” place.
After dinner we explored Old Colorado City. It was the first territorial capitol of Colorado established in 1859. We strolled the tree-lined streets admiring the historic architecture and popping into a couple of galleries and boutiques. Our favorite find was Vino Colorado Winery at the Sweet Elephant, a coffee and wine bar. While in Sweet Elephant we noticed some of the wines they have pictures of animals. We struck up a conversation with the owner and he told us they are animals at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Sweet Elephant donates a portion of the proceeds from those wines to the zoo. I ordered a chamomile tea to take back to Cheyenne Mountain Resort. After a fun-filled day, the soothing tea sent me into dreamland quickly.
Hike of Many Colors
The next morning, I got up early for a hike. Paint Mines Interpretive Park had been on my radar to hike for a while. My friend Nancy met me for this adventure in a landscape that looks like it’s out of this world. It took me about an hour to get to where the rainbow striped sandstone is a stark contrast to the surrounding open space. As we hiked through the open space admiring the Paint Mines from the trail, we saw jack rabbits and deer.
The trail took us into the formations.
As we navigated the maze of colorful hoodoos and spires, it felt like we were on another planet. Erosion created the geological formations incising gullies exposing the colorful layers of the Paint Mines. Archaeologist have found evidence of human life dating back to 9,000 years ago. Native Americans used the colorful clays caused by oxidized iron compounds to make paint. If you’re going to do the two big loops like we did you need at least two hours for the hike and time to marvel at the formations.
Wild Time with Wildlife
We went for a wild adventure for the afternoon. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo sits at 6,714+ feet in elevation. I say “plus” because the zoo sprawls out up the mountain. There are more than 750 animals, but my favorite are the giraffes. You can hand-feed one of the largest reticulated giraffe herds in the world. As you hold out lettuce, a giraffe will stick out his or her long tongue to grab the snack. To ensure the health of the giraffes, you have to buy the lettuce from the observation deck of the giraffe feeding area. I promise you’ll giggle as you interact with the giraffes.
From the observation deck, we walked over to the giraffe building to see a few more of the gentle giants. We headed over to see the meerkats, elephant and lion. When Nancy and I got to the monkeys, both of us realized we were starving and made Grizzly Grill our next stop. I was pleasantly surprised by how good my sandwich was for lunch. I had the apple brie sandwich with brie spread on the bread and topped with green apple, sliced arugula, lavender honey and sliced almonds.
After lunch we wandered through Rocky Mountain Wild area. It’s my favorite area of the zoo. We stopped to see the bears, porcupines, otters, moose and bald eagle.
Australia Walkabout was our last area to explore and boy was it fun with wallabies hopping freely around us. We also caught a vibrantly colored male peacock showing off and strutting his stuff. We could have easily stayed longer but it was time for us to go and we walked down the Drive to the Shrine of the Sun road that cuts through the zoo. If you have time, visit the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. The historic monument is 1.4 miles up Cheyenne Mountain and is included in your zoo admission for the day.
As we were leaving, both of us dropped “Quarters for Conservation” in the giant display near the entrance of the zoo. You get the tokens when you enter the zoo, but you can also drop in spare change. I dropped my tokens in for wild orangutans and the African elephants and rhinos. They have a variety of creatures from toads to giraffes you can support with this program.
From a wild ride up to the summit of Pikes Peak to a wild time at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, this was how author Jennifer Broome spent an adventurous 48 hours in Colorado Springs. Check out blog on rest and relaxation weekend at the Broadmoor Resort for how you can spend a chill weekend in the Springs. If you want to get your heart pumping and earn some workout cred, take on the Manitou Incline, which I call Colorado’s holy grail of cardio.