Destination: Colorado Springs, Colorado
When we visited: July 2012
Why to go: Directly off the major highway leading southbound from Denver, Colorado Springs is home to two of the most beautiful landscapes in the southwest – Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.
What to See: The highlight of any visit to Colorado Springs has to be a trip up Pikes Peak. At 14,110 feet, it's one of the highest elevations we've travelled to. Even after spending a couple of days in Denver to acclimatize to a higher elevation, we were warned to take it easy going up.
The other warning we received was to take warm clothes. I felt ridiculous, putting on my capris and carrying a sweater as I left the hotel in 91 degree (F) heat. But I’d read that there can be a 30 degree temperature difference between the base and the peak, and that sounded pretty cold.
The drive up is a bit white-knuckle, as some sections of the road have nothing between it and a free-fall to the base. But the view is so stunning that it’s easy to see why it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the words to “America the Beautiful”. From the peak, the scenery unfolds for miles and miles in every direction.
And I was glad for that sweater, as the temperature had plummeted to 52 degrees – nearly a 40 degree difference!
After leaving the peak, we stopped at several overlooks on the way down for more pictures. At the final one, we had the good luck to meet one of the firemen who had fought the catastrophic forest fires that burned so much of the Colorado Springs area earlier this summer. It was incredible to see the landscape through his eyes. From this lower elevation, he pointed out a red line of fire retardant that had been dropped from a plane. On one side of the line, the vegetation was completely burned out; on the other side, it was green and fertile.
As if that wasn’t enough, we next drove to the nearby Garden of the Gods to see the beautifully sculptured sandstone rocks. Eerily lovely, the red cliffs thrust into the blue sky, providing an unforgettable panorama.
Where to Stay: We spent a night at the lovely Cliff House in Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs and on the doorstep of Pikes Peak. The room was quite small, but we didn’t care as we spent virtually all our time in Colorado Springs outside. And although the staff was all young, the service was amazing!
Where to Eat: Because we arrived in town around noon and almost immediately left for Pikes Peak, I had pre-ordered picnic lunches from the Cliff House. We ate them partway up the peak, and enjoyed a hearty lunch with an awesome view. And continuing what was working, we had a delicious dinner on the Verandah of the Cliff House.