After being camped at the Air Force Academy for nearly two weeks, we thought it was time to visit Colorado Springs number one attraction. Yes-that would be the Academy Chapel with a view of the academic grounds. Since our visit was a few days after graduation, we had to time our arrival at the Chapel around the numerous post graduation weddings of the recently graduated Air Force 2nd Lieutenants. According to the chapel hostess, there are many weddings that follow graduation.
Besides the chapel, there is little to explore at the Academy, as the rest of the grounds are off limits and in fact there cannot be much of interest in dorms and class rooms. It is still a pleasant visit and you can get the feel for cadet life by watching a video at the visitor center along with numerous exhibits.
The next afternoon, we headed to COG Railway station to take the train to the top of Pike’s Peak, where the temperature is 30 degrees lower than that at the railway station. The climb to the top takes well over an hour and provides a wonderful view of the area and gives you a real appreciation for what it would take to climb the mountain by foot.
Pike’s Peak is the most visited mountain in Colorado, but it is not near the highest. There are 54 peaks over 14,000 in Colorado and Pike’s Peak is 31st.
We have been top the top some 20 plus years ago with the girls, but went up via the toll road by car. This time there was still lots of snow and ice and this required careful navigation of the grounds. We enjoyed the view of the area including a developing thunderstorm just north of the peak. While we did not buy any souvenirs, we did partake of hot chocolate and the high altitude fat free donuts.
After we got some exercise at the Garden of the Gods, we headed to Manitou Springs for lunch. This is a small town west of Colorado Springs that got its start as a mineral spring’s health resort. The mineral waters and cool dry air was thought to help ease Tuberculosis symptoms. Some of the old resorts remain and there are a number of restaurants in town.
Currently, it is likely best known as one of the gateways to Pike’s Peak via the Cog Railroad. As we wandered the main street I was struck by the idea that it was a town very much like Sedona, AZ. It relies on its location near natural attractions and all the stores are filled with stuff to extract money from tourists. Good luck in finding a grocery or hardware store.
Nevertheless, it is a pleasant town to walk around and we did find a very good place to have lunch. We ended up at PJ’s located in one of the original hotels in town that is currently a full time resident hotel. It is always a gamble when having a meal in a local tourist town eatery, but we lucked out. This place is operated by folks from Poland and they prepare northern European dishes that proved to be both reasonably priced and very good. In fact, we plan on going back for a second sampling while we are here.
Yesterday, we got an early start, as we were wakened at 7 AM by the military police to remind us we had to leave the campground at 9AM due to the graduation ceremony in the stadium across the street. Since it was a nice day, we headed to the Garden of the Gods Park. This park is listed in several of those books listing the places to be visited before you die. It is, in fact, a City Park of Colorado Springs and is free to all. It is a great place to walk, hike or just relax and enjoy the beautiful rock formations that have been formed over millions of years. The park has an interesting geological and historical history, but for most who visit –it is really about the enjoyment of the present.
We first took a guided 45 minute walk with a volunteer to learn some of the history of the park, the rock formations and about the plants and wildlife to be found here. Then we just wandered around on foot and also drove the scenic road.
We observed some of the famous images in the rocks such as the kissing camels, white buffalo, and the balancing rock. It is a great place to relax, exercise and just enjoy the surroundings. Oh yes- and you can then check it off the list of places to see before you die.
We arrived in Colorado Springs a week ago Sunday and are camped at the Air Force Academy campground. We have spent most of our first week assisting our daughter, Katie, in her search for a house to purchase as her new home while she is assigned to the teaching staff at the Air Force Academy. The weather has been less than helpful with rain and cold weather our constant companion. We looked at a number of homes and Katie made a good choice and managed to get an accepted offer completed by the end of the week and just before another potential buyer made their offer. What a difference than the Toledo housing market.
After a celebratory dinner, Katie headed back to Las Vegas for her final checkout and we found ourselves with a new guest in the motorhome. Cosmo the cat will be spending a few weeks with us until Katie gets settled in. We learned early that we need to pay more attention to simple things like leaving cabinets open and to look before sitting. So far there have been no major problems.
Our first full day on our own again, we headed out to Old Colorado City for their annual Territory days celebration, but we did not get to see much as we were quickly driven back to the car by heavy rain and lightning strikes in the area.
Today was practice day for the Air Force air demonstration team-The Thunderbirds-as they get ready for their show at the Academy graduation ceremony tomorrow. Unfortunately, they practice directly over the campground. While I normally would love to observe this from close quarters, the FAA has a different view and all campers had to leave during the actual practice period. We did get to see some close up passes early in the morning as they made some routing flights over the area which were not covered by the FAA rules. It was tough trying to get pictures among the trees as planes, going nearly 500 mph, fly over head at just above tree top level.
After vacating the area for the practice, we did find an acceptable spot to watch the practice and I only wish I had the presence of mind to bring my telephoto lens.
We will be evacuated again early tomorrow, thus also avoiding the crowds for graduation and weather permitting hope to get in our first full day of sightseeing in the area.