By Valerie C. Coffey
Mitch and I have been so busy with work and exploring new places that I haven’t blogged in over two months – I hope you can forgive me, dear reader. I have at least been posting frequently to my accounts on Instagram and Facebook, so if you’re ever wondering what we’re up to, please check out the action there. This week finds us in Page, Arizona, at beautiful Lake Powell! It’s great to have been in Utah’s red-rock country for the past six weeks. While in Bryce Canyon, Utah, two weeks ago, we celebrated our two-year “nomadiversary!” It’s hard to believe we are now in our third year of living, traveling, and working from our RV full-time!
Our travel post this week comes to you from our visit to Colorado Springs in June. Mitch and I spent six weeks in Colorado from early June through mid-July. We left loving the state even more than we already did. Before our full-time RV adventure started in 2012, we had both spent time in Colorado – Mitch on vacations, skiing and RVing with his kids, and Valerie having lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, for six years in elementary and junior high school. But neither of us had ever spent much time in the city of Colorado Springs – our loss entirely.
Garden of the Gods RV Resort sounds nice, right? Well, the RV park is not as impressive as its name. Although the website claims “spectacular views of Pike’s Peak,” we noticed that the trees pretty much obscure the view throughout the campground. It wasn’t even worth a picture of the RV in its site. But the location near the mountainous west side of Colorado Springs (near the town of Manitou Springs) was perfect for exploring numerous sights. In fact, CO Springs had *so* much to do and see, that our ten days there were barely enough.
Each of the following “Things To Do” are “Must-Sees” in and around CO Springs. Each deserves its own blog post. But as time, metered data, and cellular connection are limited, I’ll stick to just the top few.
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Before our arrival in Colorado Springs, we spent six weeks in the flat-lander kingdom of Texas, so the elevation of 6300 feet made itself felt immediately. The evening we arrived at Garden of the Gods RV park, we took a walk, and while huffing and puffing around, we noticed the sign of fellow working-age RVers Marc and Julie Bennett of RV Love. I recognized “RV Love — Live. Love. Travel.” from somewhere – turns out we follow each other on Instagram – and contacted them to meet up.
In this RV life where your neighbors come and go every day, it’s always special when you meet someone you hit it off with right away – especially when you have a chance to get to know them for ten days. And we had so much in common and so many notes to compare. Honestly, I loved Julie the minute I heard her Australian accent on the phone and she made a bawdy comment – my kinda girl! We soon discovered that Marc’s boss was a friend of mine in high school (there’s only one Bert Wegner in my book)! And a few people noted to our amusement that Marc and Mitch looked so much alike that they could be brothers. So our visit to Colorado Springs was quickly enhanced by having instafriends in the same park for ten days, especially since they have also been working and traveling in their motorcoach for two years, like us.
Other than having great company in our new friends Julie and Marc, what else made our list of favorite things in Colorado Springs?
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods Park was the number one feature on my list of things to see in CO Springs – just the pictures are enough to make you swoon. And this park did not disappoint. In fact, we’ve never seen — and probably never will — a *city park* as spectacular as this one – which in all rights could be a national park! As a city park, admission is free to visitors, unlike state and national parks.
The red rock walls and spires stretch to the sky like new crops sprouting from the earth – looking for all the world like rocks planted by the gods. The park has beautiful dirt paths for walking, trails for hiking and biking, and lots of things to climb. Meadows of green prairie grass and juniper trees accentuate the paths, which are set off by stone and split-rail fences.
The temperature in June was hot – the way we like it — in the 80s or low 90s. During the ten days we stayed at Garden of the Gods RV park, a prominent weather pattern emerged: every afternoon, the nearby Rocky Mountain range would begin to collect clouds, and by 3 or 4 pm, a thunderstorm would let down with lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. The rain often spread to our RV park in Colorado Springs and the nearby town of Manitou Springs.
That’s me ignoring the oncoming afternoon thunderstorm at Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods, not even slightly convinced that I can actually push this rock over . (The kid, however it appears, did not notice me.)
One of the trails in Garden of the Gods leads to this view of Pike’s Peak. The colors of red rock combined with green junipers and blue mountains are what make this park so stunning.
Pike’s Peak and the Cog Railway
The other main attraction Colorado Springs is best known for is Pike’s Peak, the highest peak in the southern Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. At 14,115 feet, the summit of Pike’s Peak is one of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners, the only one of which has a roadway and cog railway to its summit.
We didn’t realize that the historic Manitou and Pike’s Peak Cog Railway is so popular. Reservations are recommended. When we arrived at the depot in Manitou Springs to buy tickets, the schedule was full. We got on a waiting list for the last train of the day at 4 pm, and two of us just squeeked on.
Tickets in the summer are a bit pricey at $38.00 for adults, $20.50 for children. To drive up the 19-mile scenic roadway is $12/adult, $5/child or $40/carload of five max. Either way, it’s a special thing to do for all ages. We think it’s worth it. Parking is limited near the cog railway depot in Manitou Springs. Additional parking is available in Manitou Springs, with a free shuttle to the depot.
The view from the summit of Pike’s Peak looking back down toward Colorado Springs – the view that inspired Katharine Lee Bates in 1895 to pen the song, “America the Beautiful” with its reference to purple mountain majesties. There’s that afternoon rain coming in!
It was cold up at 14,110 feet – about 45 degrees F (7C)! And the air is so thin, with only 60% as much partial pressure of oxygen than at sea level, visitors get a little light-headed. The Visitor Center at the summit has gifts, drinks, donuts, and restrooms.
Our next adventure in the area was a road trip to Royal Gorge Bridge and Park near Cañon City, Colorado, an hour and a half from Colorado Springs. I thought we were just going to walk over the pedestrian bridge suspended high across the canyon formed by the Arkansas River 1250 feet below, an thrill in itself. I figured we might take the aerial gondola across the gorge. But no. When we arrived in the Visitor Center to get our tickets ($23 for adults, $16 for children 4-11, $20 for 60 & over after a $2 online advance discount, children 3 & under are free), Mitch decided to do the rides that the park has offered since 2013, the Royal Rush Skycoaster and the Cloudscaper Zip Line. I demurred, wanting to see the gorge and watch the riders first.
But when we sat down at a table in the snack center, we watched some brave souls arriving on the zip line and it didn’t look too bad. I’ve never zip-lined before, partly because they look a bit boring. But this one would take about 40 seconds. And it definitely did NOT look boring! So I agreed. We bought my ticket, took the gondola across, and got in line for the zip line, waiting to zip back across the gorge.
Would you take the zip-line across Royal Gorge? The suspension bridge for pedestrians across Royal Gorge is quite an adventure in itself.
I was a bit nervous, but then when you’re in the harness, the ground in front of you doesn’t drop away for a while, and then it gradually drops away one cliff at a time. Before you know it, you’re 1250 feet above the Arkansas River, soaring like a bird! It was awesome!
THEN, it was Mitch’s turn to do the Royal Rush Skycoaster, which is a gigantic swing. One or two riders at a time get in a harness, and are strung up 100 feet in the air by their feet and dropped headfirst, where you swing out over the edge of the gorge. I accompanied Mitch across the pedestrian bridge to watch him swing (‘cause I’m not a huge free-fall enthusiast).
But…then we got to the ticket booth, and in a moment of bravado, I said I’d do it. This resulted in a video of (mostly me) screaming, yelling, and (mostly Mitch) laughing for much longer than I anticipated. The swing just keeps going back and forth, sometimes swinging headfirst, sometimes feet first, prolonging and repeating the rush…which is why it’s called Royal Rush.
In the second half, Mitch said, “You can let go of my arm now!” But I held onto him like a bear trap until we stopped the swing.
Here’s a quick list of several other fun things to do we discovered in and around Colorado City:
Old Colorado City
Old Colorado City, located a mile or so from Garden of the Gods RV park, is a charming Old West historic town with great local places to shop, dine, and explore. We discovered a local restaurant and tavern called Thunder and Buttons II, named for the two bull elk used by a colorful resident to race his carriage up and down the avenue in the late 1880s. The menu offers some decent vegetarian options, much to my pleasant surprise, and we had fun at karaoke, which they offer nightly on Wed/Th/Sat.
Manitou Springs and the Manitou Incline
Manitou Springs, about two miles from Garden of the Gods RV Park, is a bustling mountain-side town with quaint history involving elegant historic architecture, creek-side dining and eight naturally carbonated mineral springs that you can still get a drink from today. How cool is that? This is the town where the Pikes Peak Cog Railway depot is located.
The Manitou Incline, in Manitou Springs, is a fitness enthusiast’s wet dream! Rumor has it the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs sends their athletes to race up this steep trail most days at 5 am to train for their next Olympic Games. The trail was originally an old tourist cable car track that was damaged in a mudslide in 1990, now converted to a heart-pounding workout that ascends very steeply by 2000 feet over 0.8 miles. The difficult endurance climb is made even more difficult for tourists arriving from sea-level (like us!) as the base of the trail is at over 6000 feet. Nevertheless, Mitch convinced me to do it, and although I took my time, we both did get to the top. Mitch actually did it 1.5 times looking for me! Then he did it again a couple days later (he’s a glutton for punishment).
We recommend anyone interested in completing the Incline does so before the daily afternoon thunderstorms arrive, as they inevitably do, or bring raingear. We got caught in a lightning and thunder storm taking the four-mile (more gradual) Barr Trail down, and it was not pleasant running four miles downhill in the cold rain and mud after that rough ascent.
Marketed as “Colorado’s Most Majestic Waterfall” and “The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado,” Seven Falls is a magnificent series of seven waterfalls cascading 181 feet in the confines of the 1,250-foot South Cheyenne box canyon. Parking is located behind the Broadmoor Resort, where you can take the free shuttle that runs frequently to the entrance and ticket booth. The athletically inclined can skip the tram ($2) and walk the 0.8 mile up a gentle rise into the canyon, and take narrow stairways up 224 steps to the top of the falls to reach some spectacular hiking trails (admission is $14/adults, $8/children). We loved outhiking the crowds on the trail to Inspiration Point overlooking Colorado Springs, which seemed to make the cost much more worthwhile.
The Broadmoor Resort
After our trip hiking around Seven Falls, we stopped to explore the historic Broadmoor Resort. It’s free to park and explore the massive five-star luxury hotel and grounds, a Colorado Springs icon built in 1918. You can wander around the spectacular pond with romantic footbridges, shop and peruse boutiques and art galleries, and pretend to be a turn-of-the-century elite tourist.
We enjoyed a creative cocktail and light snacks alfresco at the Penrose Lounge – this was our view! We didn’t want to leave. The server encouraged us to take our drinks with us as we walked around the pond.
Colorado Springs is known for its pink and gold sunsets, and they can be viewed in style at the Broadmoor Resort. The evening clouds of Colorado Springs were said to have inspired the painter Maxfield Parrish, who was commissioned to paint a picture of the hotel and lake with its mountain backdrop in 1927.
The Airplane Restaurant
Solo’s Restaurant is a cute, aviation-themed dining room that is practically a museum of (mostly military) aviation history, and is great for the kids with relatively affordable (if uninspired) meals in and around a real old tanker plane. Kids can “pilot” from the cockpit of the plane, a “fully intact” Boeing KC-97 tanker built in 1957 (TripAdvisor gives it three out of five stars, mostly for the worn and dated décor and lackluster food). Vegetarian and wine selection were limited.
The Colorado Renaissance Festival The annual Colorado Renaissance Festival is held in the tiny berg of Larkspur, Colorado, roughly halfway between Colorado Springs and Denver (30 to 40 mins away, respectively) every summer weekend from mid-June through late July/early August. Explore a sprawling medieval village on the side of a forested mountainside, recreated in full 16th century Faire mode, from master revelers and minstrels to King Henry himself. Watch a joust, have a “roast turkey legge,” (I had a several vegetarian choices, too) and some honey meade while costumed cast entertain you. We actually attended this festival during our stay in Denver, but it’s reachable from both Denver and Colorado Springs.
I was surprised how many animals were involved in the Faire. Period performers featured and educated the audience about all kinds of animals. Among them were a Harris hawk, screech owl, black spotted leopard, white Bengal tiger, an ocelot, a jagarundi, elephants, camels, pigs, and dogs!
The COS Summer Rodeo Series
The Colorado Springs (COS) Summer Rodeo Series offers some solid local western entertainment for families every summer on Wednesday evenings. The rodeo features some pro exhibitions but is mostly made up of amateur competitive events, including herd sorting, bull riding, and “mutton bustin’” (sheep riding) – even kids can compete to race on sheep or stay on a steer for as long as possible. I grew up going to rodeos in Colorado and Nevada, but they were a total blank in Mitch’s life in Brooklyn, Philly, Ithaca, and Boston – so far. (I like to say, “Mitch has never lived west of Philly,” and since the rodeo ain’t a thing in those parts, it was his first time ever seeing what they’re all about.) The cost of $34/adult included a picnic-style BBQ dinner, “balloon glow,” and concert following the main bull riding event. We weren’t particularly keen to pay $14/pp for a burger and potato salad, so we opted to walk in for $20/pp. The Coors Lite in the big cans are extra (but ya gotta do it—it’s the standard in Colorado).
Thanks for the amazing adventures, Colorado! We’ll be back!
We look forward to continuing our adventures in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada in the coming months. Here’s our schedule: Where RV Now?
See you in the warm places,
Val (and Mitch!), RVLuckyOrWhat
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