Colorado Springs was our next destination. From here, we would hike a trail through Red Rock Canyon, explore the wondrous red rock formations of Garden of the Gods park, stroll the sidewalks of the quaint little mountain town of Manitou Springs, chug up the side of the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains via a cog railway, watch longhorn sheep graze on the grounds of the Christian organization, Glen Eyrie, tour the Air Force Academy and head underground to tour a cave. Whew! Hard to believe we would fit all that into a week but somehow we managed!
We initially wanted to stay at Cheyenne Mountain State Park but weren’t able to snag a site in the needed timeframe. Instead, Garden of the Gods RV Resort (review coming) in Colorado Springs would be our home base for a week. Having stayed in State Parks for the past few weeks it was a bit of a shock and a tough transition to a private resort with cramped sites in a congested area surrounded by road construction. Instead of the views of snow capped mountains and grazing wildlife, our view was of heavy equipment and torn up streets and sidewalks. Jack hammers, bulldozers and dump trucks replaced the melodious chirps of birds. Guess it was good that we were so busy during our stay!
On the bright side, Garden of the Gods RV Resort was very convenient to most of the activities we wanted to do here, the location couldn’t be better. Cheyanne Mountain State Park would have been about a half hour away from everything.
Anyway, our first day of exploring, Saturday, October 14th, started off with brunch at Adams Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs just a short distance from the Garden of the Gods RV Resort. Cute restaurant! Interesting to note that many of their dishes are vegetarian or vegan. The Runner’s Special ($12) which was two of their signature whole grain pancakes with pure maple syrup, fresh seasonal fruit and their house recipe sherry cream potatoes layered with sherry cream, scallions and white cheddar cheese was Rob’s choice. At the recommendation of our server, I had the Shrimp & Grits ($12) – Gulf shrimp sauteed with Creole spices and a roux of red and green bell peppers, onions, garlic and spices served over buttery, cheesy grits. Sounded good in theory but OMG it was way too spicy for my morning taste buds so I instantly regretted that I had ordered it. Darn! My other choice was a smoked salmon omelette, wish I had ordered that. Although my dish was disappointing, Rob’s food was excellent, well prepared and nicely presented. His meal along with the lovely ambiance and attentive service overall made this restaurant a good choice!
In an attempt to avoid the busier touristy areas on the weekend and to work off a few of the calories from breakfast, it was off to the trails of the 789 acre Red Rock Canyon Open Space after brunch. According to their brochure, “Red Rock Canyon is characterized by a series of canyons and ridges sculpted by erosion of the area’s uplifted rock strata. The ridges and canyons offer beautiful views and sheltered enclaves for inspiration, varied terrain for recreation, and a 240 million year slice of sedimentary geology for education.” With trails ranging from easy to advanced, there was a trail for every level of hiker or biker irregardless of their fitness level. Although we started out on two of the easier trails (Upper Dog Loop), eventually we joined up with one of the intermediate trails (Sand Canyon Trail and Mesa Trail) which really didn’t seem all that difficult. Not sure how far we walked, it must have been at least a couple of miles. But it really didn’t matter, it was a perfect day with gorgeous scenery, not only because we were walking next to the red rock formations but also because of the distant views of Pike’s Peak and the towering rock formations of Garden of the Gods.
Speaking of walks, nestled in the foothills of Pikes Peak is the storybook town of Manitou Springs where we spent an afternoon strolling the sidewalks. At an elevation of 6500 feet and with an average of 256 days of sunshine, this very popular, somewhat quirky town has something for everyone with its numerous art galleries, creekside restaurants and many boutique shops. There’s even a Penny Arcade where there are over 400 arcade games some of which date back to the 1930’s and still cost a penny! We didn’t go there but must be a great place if you have kids.
For history buffs, historical markers placed around town provided information about the history of the town and explained how the eight naturally carbonated mineral drinking springs were created. The springs are a result of the rainwater and snow melt from Pikes Peak and surrounding mountains soaking into rock fractures where the water penetrates to great depth and becomes heated and mineralized. When the warm water naturally flows up into cavernous limestone, it then becomes carbonated. The American Indian tribes from the mountains and plains who considered the land around the springs to be sacred, believed that the bubbles or natural carbonation in the water represented the breath of the Great Spirit of “Manitou”.
In the late 1800’s the town became one of the first tourist destinations west of the Mississippi after General William Palmer and Doctor William Bell founded Manitou Springs in 1871, attracting those people seeking “the cure” to their new European style health resort. The town became known as the “Saratoga of the West”.
In 1889, the Manitou Mineral Water Company built a prominent three story bottling plant in the downtown area. This helped to put Manitou Springs on the national map, producing up to 20,000 bottles of water per day that sold through a network of national dealers and at prestigious locations such as the 1883 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Before long it was touted as the best water in the nation.
We stopped to sample the water from several of the spring fountains. From what we read, each spring has its own unique flavor and level of effervescence but to be honest, we couldn’t tell the difference from the small samples we tried. The Manitou Mineral Springs Foundation has an excellent website that provides information about the history of each spring with an analysis of the mineral content and discusses the geology of the springs. They even have a video about the “Journey of a Raindrop“. Very interesting!
Another historic landmark in the town was Miramont Castle, a Victorian-style mansion made of Manitou greenstone built by a French Catholic priest, Jean Baptisti Francolon, and featuring nine styles of architecture. It would have been nice to take a self guided tour of the building to see the “30 rooms resplendent in authentic Victorian furnishings” but during the winter it is only open Tuesday – Sunday and unfortunately we were there on a Monday. Fees and hours can be found here. There is also the Queen’s Parlour Tea Room located in the area of the Castle which was originally occupied by the greenhouse and later an open terrace, but it is also closed on Monday.s. Maybe next time….
We couldn’t help but chuckle passing by some of the more quirky shops. Outside of the Quacker Gift Shop where everything “duckie” is sold, there is a huge duckie (resembling a rubber duckie). Interesting to read this article about the owners who back in 2011 crossed the million dollar revenue mark selling all sorts of duck stuff! Imagine!
Then there was the solar light bulb. According to Roadside America, at night, the light bulb puts on a little show. Not sure what that is all about but it wasn’t something one typically sees walking on a sidewalk in the middle of a small town.
Although we didn’t eat in any restaurants here, we did indulge and pay a visit to the Pike’s Peak Chocolate and Ice Cream Shop. Yummy!
Highly recommend a visit to this very popular town but if you come be aware that although there is on street parking and several parking lots, during peak times finding a space can be difficult so it is best to arrive early in the day or better yet park outside of town and take a free shuttle. The public parking here also supports Parkmobile Pay By Phone which was great for avoiding the queue at the pay kiosk and let us add to our time remotely if needed.
In the next post we’ll talk about our other exciting adventures in the Colorado Springs area…