Friday, July 31, 2009

Colorado... As Nice as Nebraska!

I know that my stated purpose for this blog is to tout all things Nebraska, but I have to admit that I enjoyed my road trip to Colorado immensely! And truly, my real purpose is to get the message across that there are great things about EVERYWHERE, and great people to enjoy them with, so get out and do them!

The daughter and I left our homes at about the same time, she from Huntington Beach, CA and me from Sutherland. I had a beautiful drive through rural Nebraska and Colorado, she had a long drive in traffic, a long airport wait and a crowded and probably uncomfortable flight.

Just across the Colorado line is a great view of the wind farm at Kimball. Good ole' Nebraska harnessing that relentless wind we're so famous for (kind of like what this blog does...)
Three hours later and here is my first view of the unique Denver International Airport.
And here's what I've been waiting for. I can't believe that it's been nearly two years since I've seen my baby girl.
As a foretaste of the adventure to come, lunch was underneath the closest shade tree we could find (which was about an hour south of DIA), from the cooler in the back of the truck. She is holding the vacation book, more than an inch thick, containing the plans for all of the fun we're going to have. She should have read the fine print a little closer.
Only a few minutes south of our lunch stop, we encountered our first diversion of the trip. Driving along on the beautiful Colorado prairie, when a glance out of the west window revealed a magnificent, rock-strewn canyon. Of course we had to stop!
The canyon is very aptly named. If you take the drive on E-470 south from DIA, then join highway 85 and continue on to Colorado Springs, you'll pass Castlewood Canyon State Park. It's very scenic and the trails are suitable for a quick leg-stretch or a more strenuous hike.
We opted for the quick leg-stretch, then back on the highway to Colorado Springs and Garden of the Gods. That's the difference between a destination vacation and a road trip. A road trip leaves plenty of room for side forays. There are very few points of interest, scenic overlooks or historical markers between Nebraska and Cortez, Colorado that we didn't see.

Here it is, our first home-away-from-home, a camping cabin a Garden of the Gods Campground in Colorado Springs. Not quite as rustic as some we've stayed in, or will stay in on this trip, but adequate. A little sparse on the cleanliness side, but when what you're doing is considered "camping", and we brought our own sleeping bags and linens, it's not anything to get overly concerned about.
In no particular order then, are some photos of the actual Garden of the Gods. It is truly a spectacular place, with great trails, some handicap accessible and an easy walk, and some a strenuous hike. There is a great trading post and a very nice visitor center.
Garden of the Gods isn't a State park nor a National park, but a City Park maintained by the city of Colorado Springs.

Charles Elliot Perkins, head of the Burlington Railroad purchased the Garden of the Gods property for a summer home in 1879, but never built upon the land out of respect for the wonderful scenery.
In 1909, Perkins' children, knowing their father's feeling for the Garden of the Gods, conveyed his four-hundred eighty acres to the City of Colorado Springs. It would be known forever as the Garden of the Gods "where it shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, where no building or structure shall be erected except those necessary to properly care for, protect, and maintain the area as a public park."

Isn't it fantastic what one man's vision can wrought? Garden of the Gods is truly a treasure, and by the way, listed in "1000 things to do before you die". At last count, we were up to five or six on this trip alone.

Colorado Springs is closely bordered by tiny Manitou Springs, which is as delightful a little town as you can ever imagine (be sure to visit the link, because we didn't take any pictures of the town itself). We were fortunate enough to be visiting on Market Wednesday, when all of the local growers, crafters and food vendors gather in Soda Spring park and share a wonderful evening of food and music.

First there was a nice local bluegrass band.
Then we were treated to a performance of the South Dakota National Guard 147th Army Band. They were spending their two-week deployment at nearby Fort Carson and took time out to perform in Manitou Springs.
In the interest of full disclosure here, I must admit that we didn't stay for the entire performance. As the band was setting up, Manitou Springs was hit with the deluge that had been threatening all day. Several inches of rain, lots of lightening and thunder. The jazz band and swing band instruments were standing in water, and while the band members got everything cleaned up and dried out, the temperature kept dropping... and dropping... We vowed to stay for a few songs, which we did, but as all of our warm clothing was back at the cabin, we finally retreated, shivering to the warmth of the truck and later the cabin!

So ended our first day of Road Trip 2009. Since the daughter and I are on the same internal schedule, we were out of bed at 5:00 a.m., getting our turn in the showers first. As we headed down the highway en route to our final destination of the day in Durango, we passed the sign for the Pikes Peak Highway. As it was just at the opening time of 7:30, we decided to take another detour.
Just a few miles up the road is a beautiful lake, which is aptly named Crystal Reservoir. We were feeling very smug and proud of ourselves at this point, thinking this was just going to be another quick diversion on the way.
We were wrong! You'll notice that none of these pictures are actually taken on the trip UP the mountain. That's because both of us were nearly in tears with fear at the drive, the steep inclines, the sheer drop-offs and the other cars who kept passing us!
After we made it to the top, we were able to collect our composure and decide that we really would survive the trip back down and so could relax and enjoy it A LITTLE!
The views from the top are just as incredible as all the travel brochures describe. In all honesty, I would encourage everyone who has a chance to take this drive. Yeah you might have to close your eyes sometimes (passengers only, not the drivers, although I think my eyes were closed some of the time), but it is well worth it. And the Pikes Peak Highway is also listed in 1,000 things to do before you die!

Proof that we made it to the top! It was about 38 degrees at the summit, but with all that adrenaline pumping from the upward climb, it wasn't so bad.

A side note here - there is a sign at the base of the mountain that the drive requires a half-tank of gas. We started the trip with just over a half-tank, and in the Ford F-150 truck, that's a considerable amount of gas. We finished the trip with less than 60 miles to go to empty! It really does take that much gas to go 40 miles, when you're traveling to 14,110 feet and back. Yes there are service stations within 60 miles of the base, in case you were wondering.

Now on to the next adventure of the day, the St. Elmo Ghost Town. St. Elmo was quite the thriving metropolis in the latter part of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century, but as the mines played out, people began moving away one by one. There are now just a few (and I mean a few, by some counts 3 and others 8) full time residents, and all of the buildings are privately owned, but the beautiful little town is quite a destination for outdoor lovers.
Visitors are welcome to walk the streets and visit the two operating businesses, a general store and inn, but otherwise asked to be respectful of the private property.
There's a lot of preservation happening, yet the town is retaining the feel of a ghost town right out of the days of the old west.
There are 24 buildings of the original town standing including businesses, schools, private homes and churches.
Everyone enjoys the chipmunks. The little buggers are everywhere, and have learned that the sunflower seeds sold to the tourists make a delicious meal and are great for stocking up for the winter.
Notice this little guy's cheeks? He is definitely saving some for later.
Next come the hummingbirds. There are feeders on most of the buildings, and you can hear them humming through the forest and streets constantly.
I know I got really long winded on this post, and we're only half way through the second day!

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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