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Things to do in Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is one of my top-5 favorite American cities.

It’s a playground for the athletic and outdoorsy, with a seemingly endless list of activities that can be enjoyed on foot, bike, or horseback. After a much-appreciated trip to “Little London” recently, I scribbled highlights for anyone considering excursions there in the future.

North Cheyenne Cañon Park, as viewed from the Daniels Pass Trail.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park, as viewed from the Daniels Pass Trail, on June 3.

First, a little bit of background: Quaker-raised Delaware native William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871, after studying railroad building in the United States and United Kingdom. During the Civil War, he fought for the 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and was captured. He spent months in a Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia, before being released in a prisoner swap. He would go on to hire many veterans to survey and to construct the Kansas Pacific Railroad.

Palmer’s belief that all employees should own stock and profit from the railroad, “as if it were their own and not some strange, soul-less corporation,” set him apart from his contemporaries, Philip F. Anschutz highlights in Out where the west begins: Profiles, visions & strategies of early Western business leaders (2015, p. 186). Palmer invested in numerous Colorado Springs-based institutions and civic organizations – many which still thrive. Other local leaders, often coming to the area initially with hopes of striking it rich in mining or improving their health (e.g., tuberculosis), built Colorado Springs into what it is today.

Looking west across Cheyenne Lake at The Broadmoor on May 31.

The Broadmoor is a Mediterranean Revival, pink stucco hotel and resort that is a small town onto itself. Forbes has ranked it a 5-star hotel for decades, and it boasts 784 luxury rooms, multiple restaurants, boutiques, pools, spas, and various packages for adventures, such as zip lining, hiking, falconry, fly fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, a train ride to Pikes Peak (see next entry) and a “Wild West experience” (i.e., axe throwing, archery, and pellet gun shooting). The Broadmoor has hosted numerous championships, for at least golf, hockey, clay shooting, and figure skating. The Skate Bench memorial on Cheyenne Lake honors eight members of the Broadmoor Skating Club that were killed along with the rest of the U.S. World Figure Skating team in the 1961 Sabena Flight 548 crash in Brussels. Julie and Spencer Penrose built The Broadmoor in 1918, creating the hotel’s look and feel based on their 30 years of experience visiting various resorts, restaurants, and shops around the world. They hired top architects from the East Coast and recruited Italian painters to paint frescoes and ceilings. They kept their exotic pets on the grounds as well, until a monkey bit a hotel guest and an elephant trampled golf course greens, according to Anschutz (2015). The Penroses established the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to house this growing menagerie, and went on to found or to fund establishments that collectively make Colorado Springs a tourist destination.

View from the cog train depot on Pikes Peak's summit on June 1.
View from Pikes Peak's summit on June 1.

The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway runs almost 9 miles (14.3 km) from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak. This is about 3 hours, round trip. I can’t say enough about this experience. It’s a fantastic way to learn about the history of “America’s Mountain” and to grasp how an awestruck Professor Katharine Lee Bates could have been inspired to pen “America the Beautiful” after reaching the summit in 1893. Expect marmots to greet you as you approach the treeless alpine zone, and to see gorgeous scenery. I will caution, though, that elevation sickness is no joke here. The station at Manitou Springs is 6,320 feet above sea level (1,926 m). The summit is at 14,115 feet (4,302 m). I saw bloody noses and fainting, and could no longer fight the urge to fall asleep by the time our train began chugging back down the mountain. The difference in temperature from the bottom to the top is striking as well. It was a cloudless 79 F (26 C) when we left the station in Manitou Springs. But when we arrived at the snowy summit, we donned winter coats. Not being prepared for temperature changes is only one factor that has cost ambitious hikers their lives – and even led to a ghost story or two, according to Stephanie Waters in Ghosts of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak (2012). Thankfully, some tall tales have been debunked: Sergeant John O’Keeffe’s baby daughter, Erin, was neither killed by man-eating mountain rats in 1876, nor did O’Keeffe witness a volcano spontaneously appearing, then erupting, on the summit.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum is the most interactive museum I’ve attended. Anywhere. More than a Hall of Fame, the museum's galleries explain Olympic history and display numerous artifacts, including Olympic torches. (As a side note, the 1936 Berlin Games were the first time both the Olympic torch and nations’ overall medal counts were displayed, the latter intended to showcase to the world what Nazi Germany presumed would be their nation’s athletic superiority.) A person can scan an interactive map to locate Team USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes' home states throughout history, and there is a track where a person can “race” to see how their time compares to Team USA sprinters. Guests can try their hand at virtual bobsledding and archery, and a lab explains how science and technology are used in training and competition. The track and archery exhibits were my family’s favorites, as well as a presentation from skier Tyler Carter, who competed in the 2014, 2018, and 2022 Paralympics.

I didn't go to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center during this visit, but I have toured this training venue for Team USA athletes and it is worthy of mention. It has an Olympic-size swimming pool, shooting range, velodrome, courts, and numerous gymnasiums. Approved athletes accessing these facilities can live on or off campus, and there are residence programs for numerous Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Garden of the Gods, as seen on June 2.
Garden of the Gods, as seen on June 2.

Garden of the Gods: Three Graces. Twin Sisters. Balanced Rock. These sky-scraping rock formations stand out from their surroundings, in color, texture, and shape. After the inland sea covering much of North America retreated hundreds of millions of years ago, plate tectonics pushed mountains upward, bending sedimentary rocks. The softer rocks eroded, leaving harder rocks to stand. Native Americans have been in the area since at least 250 BCE, with ancient petroglyphs typical of early Utes present, according to Toni Hamill in Garden of the Gods (2012). The distinct rock formations became a park after Charles Perkins donated the property to the City of Colorado Springs in 1909, under the conditions that it “shall remain free to the public, where no intoxicating liquors shall be manufactured, sold, or dispensed, [and] where no building shall be erected except those necessary” (see Elizabeth Wallace’s Colorado Springs (2003)). I recommend taking a tour in order to learn the history of the park and to be able to see the formations from multiple angles. Also, avoid the temptation to climb the rocks. Doing so without a permit is illegal. According to Waters (2012, p. 110), “Dozens of unfortunate awestruck visitors, lured by the towering passion of the Kissing Camels, have accidentally plunged to their deaths.” Also, don’t neglect the Visitor and Nature Center. The dinosaur exhibit alone make it worthwhile.  

Rodeo at Flying W Ranch on June 2.
Rodeo at Flying W Ranch on June 2.

Flying W Ranch is one of the last remaining original ranches in Colorado, and has been owned and operated by the same family since 1947. The ranch is credited with introducing the quarter horse to Colorado and to raising champion Herford bulls. The scenery is unmatched, and there is a lot for the whole family to do, such as a private rodeo, chuckwagon suppers, horseshoeing, narrow-gauge railroad rides, cattle roping, cowboy hat branding, axe throwing, archery, and tending to ranch animals. And then there is a nightly performance by the band, the Flying W Wranglers. If you’re not a fan of Western music, listen to this talented quintet, and you will become one.

Poor Richard’s Book Store is a “must see." As the website adequately states, it really is “about the experience.” The place is brimming with unapologetic bibliophiles, perusing thousands of new and used books while sipping coffee, tea, or wine at adjoining Rico’s Café and Wine Bar. A toy store is also connected, offering high-quality toys for little ones to look at as well.

North Cheyenne Cañon Park showcases hiking trails cut 1,000-feet (304 m) deep into the 1.5 billion-year-old granite rock. Though I haven’t hiked to Helen Hunt Falls yet, the Daniels Pass Trail System does not disappoint. Great views, picturesque crevices, and waterfalls.

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