Pike's Peak
and The Garden of the Gods

Colorado Springs, CO

May 6, 2001

On a beautiful day in May, I found myself sitting in a trailer park that backed up against one of America's natural wonders (Garden of the Gods Park), with yet another wonder (Pike's Peak) visible to the west, was pretty impressive. The history of Colorado Springs tells that the area was pretty much up for grabs until the end of the Civil war. The Indians had it, the white man took it, there were raids and killing and at least one massacre. Some gold was found but ran out quickly. In 1868 General William Palmer fresh from his success in the Civil War, teamed up with an English adventurer, William Bell, to complete a survey for the Kansas Pacific Railway. They were enthralled by the fantastic beauty the area presented along with the numerous boiling springs that dotted the area. Within four years a health spa community sprouted, guided by the General who profited greatly in the process. Over a half century earlier, in 1806, Lt. Zebulon Pike, while leading a military patrol, discovered a high mountain which he tried to scale, only to be turned back. It was subsequently named after him and became known as "Pike's Peak". This, by far, is the area's most significant attraction. Starting at around 7000 feet, with an entrance some twenty miles west of Colorado Springs, the mountain is now part of the National Park System. In 1893, Katherine Bates was so impressed with the view from the 14,000 foot summit, she sat down and penned "America the Beautiful", professing the greatness of this "Home of the brave and land of the free". The National Park Service has slightly modified the description to "Land of the Fee", with the addition of a $10 a day entrance fee, Welcome to progress! Our attempt to climb the magnificent piece of real estate was halted at 8,000 feet by several feet of snow, recently deposited on the roadway. We learned on our first day in town that snow is related to elevation. Each day of rain forecast came with a "snow elevation point". After a rain, for which we had several, we would look out and the Rockies to the west would be covered with snow, down to a point. It was quite a strange feeling to leave 60 degree weather and drive into standing snow. Crystal Lake was magnificent, cloaked in a white blanket that hung like a cape on Cedars along the bank. But alas like Zebulon Pike himself, we failed to make the summit. It did help that we were comforted in our disappointment by a 5 foot big horn Ram at the Lake gift shop, who was most sympathetic. For those who prefer a scenic train ride, there is the 100 year old Pike's Peak Cog Railway. This nifty train has a third rail, located between the two normal tracks. It looked like someone unwound a gear and laid it flat, with the sprockets facing up. In the center of the engine is a cog which meshes with the center rail allowing the train to climb at an angle prohibited to normal trains. Even with this capability, the train could only climb to 10,000 feet before it was stopped by the snow. Almost as spectacular as the mountain, is the "Garden of the Gods" city park. The distance from the back door of the trailer park, to the closest "unauthorized" park trail, was three tenths of a mile. These trails are actually on private land that has yet to be developed. They connect with the official park trails about a half mile further in. This 1350 acres of really neat stuff was once the back yard to General Palmer's estate. Donated to the city in 1909, it is a "Free City Park". No gates, no rangers, just mile after mile of trails. Oh, and what trails they were. Tremendous formations of red sandstone that jutted out of the ground in all manner of shapes, sometimes surrounded by large flat ledges suitable for standing to get that spectacular panoramic photograph I just had to have. The piece de résistance to this natural wonderland is "Balance Rock", a massive bolder teetering precariously on another massive rock structure. There are also such formations as "Cathedral Mountain" or "Sleeping Giant" that dot the horizon, no more than 5 miles away. Many of these formations are 300 million years old, a product of time and erosion. The park runs northward for many miles. Past the park, continuing in the same direction is Glen Eyrie, the grand estate that General Parker began in 1868. The General named it for a golden eagle's nest he found high on a cliff side. The nest is still there today, though the eagles are long gone. The name is Scottish and means "valley of the eagle's nest" The General lived there until his death in 1909, after which the castle manor fell into disrepair as it passed from person to person. The furnishings were siphoned off by relatives until the walls were bare. Oil tycoon George Strake bought the estate in 1938 and lived there until the great flood of '47 destroyed most of the holdings. In 1950 he was approached by a Christian religious order known as The Navigators. Being a devout man, he reduced the cost of the holding until the Navigators were able to purchase it and hundred of acres around it. It is now a conference center and retreat. The Navigators have done much to restore the old grandeur to the castle. The ground floor is open for tourists, as are the grounds. Now, well cared for, it reflects a stately and serene atmosphere in which to study and reflect.
When including the sister city of Manitou Springs which abuts the western edge of Colorado Springs, the list of adventures available is increased. Here we found the Manitou Cliff Dwellings which present a unique look at Native American culture. We were able to wander through the preserve and explore the fascinating architecture of the ancient Anasizi Indians. There were two museums which featured cultural displays of prehistoric Southwestern Indians. If this isn't enough, hidden in the middle of Manitou Springs is Miramont Castle. Built by a French Catholic Priest for his mother. It was used by the Church for a time after it's intended guest returned to France and now stands as a museum for the area's artifacts. It includes a magnificent collection of dolls and doll houses, along with many items from an older Catholic order. Still there are other things too numerous to mention. A great Pioneer museum is free to the public and of course the Air Force Academy makes its home here. Even with a 7 day layover it was impossible to see it all. This is really quite a place.

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