Sunday, June 07, 2015

[Travel] Colorado Springs

How long has it been since I did a travel post? Too damn, that's how long. So I was in Colorado Springs, for work of course, but that didn't stop me from snagging an extra weekend for some exploration.

Colorado Springs is interesting in that it is clearly someplace you go for a specific activity. Not exclusively recreation -- that activity might be attending the Air Force Academy -- but usually recreation. And outside of the recreational centers the place approximates one of the nondescript Detroit suburbs I am so familiar with -- anonymus strip malls, aging middle class neighborhoods, and office buildings peppered between the major arteries, except with mountains in the background. But the recreational centers, which are available in spades, are a delight.

First let me say that if you ever visit Colorado Springs the place to stay is The Broadmoor, a legendary resort with old school service values. The Broadmoor complex is enormous including a small lake and some nature trails. The grounds are spectacularly landscaped and maintained, and all the buildings are architectural in a style I would simply call Old World Class. It put me in mind of a place I visited years ago, the Greenbrier. The target market is wealthy folks with a strong attachment to golf (there are three courses). High-end luxury by any standard. Naturally, I did not stay here. It was where the conference I was attending was running, so I did get to spend the bulk of my day within it's confines. It would be tough to overstate the exceptionalism. If you get the chance and have the money do stay there.

Colorado Springs is all about the outdoors and the prime attraction is Pike's Peak. There are a couple of ways to get up the mountain. The obvious one is to drive -- it's 19 miles at typically 25-30 mph so if you don't stop you'll reach the top in less than an hour. But you do want to stop. There are numerous overlooks and roadside rest stops, all of which have remarkable views of the surrounding miles. The second way is to take the cog rail. This is a train/shuttle that slowly carries you up the mountain at a leisurely pace such that you get views the whole time. It stops at the top to allow for exploration and, presumably, trinket shopping. Round trip is about 3 hours. I'm guessing it' a nice relaxing way to get up Pike's Peak. Here's a good overview of the rail trip. As for me, I drove. It's a pleasant trip up with a couple of nice stopping points that you will miss on the railway. It is much less of a white knuckler than many other winding mountain roads I've driven in the southwest, especially with the low speed limits. Nothing to fear here.

The third way up would be to hike or bike. I would love to bike up but it would probably kill me, not just because of the inclination but also the near complete lack of air about 12000 feet. I exaggerate, but only slightly. Above the timberline, simply exiting the car and walking across the street labored my breathing. (Here's a potential dream trip for me. Ship my bike out for two weeks in Colorado Springs to acclimate and make multiple summit attempts.)

The other thing about Pike's Peak is that any time outside the summer months you run the risk of the weather working against you. At some point earlier in the year, the road had opened all the way to the summit, but a series of snowstorms had the road close above 12,000 feet, so I never did summit the damn thing. But I was lucky in a way. After I turned to head back down another storm hit and the subsequently closed the road down to about 10,000. Win some, lose some. Pike's Peak is recommended if you are in the area. Might even be worth the trip down from Denver (about an hour-ish).

Closer to town -- in fact, pretty much right in town -- is the Garden of the Gods. A park featuring winding paths among massive stone outcroppings. Very cool looking, and a haven for rock climbers. You can see them spidering up any number of faces. The folks here are very lucky t have such a spot within a fifteen minute drive of most of them I would think. The trails are ideal for running along. It's one of those things you would show someone to explain why you liked living here after they got an eyeful of the mid-grade suburban sprawl. Yes, the rocks here are not Utah level rocks, but they are a sight. Another one recommended.

The final event of the weekend was a 10K. It consisted of about 4 miles up the side of the mountain, then turn around and finish in a downhill sprint. I don't know what possessed me to want to do this. Since there is no air to speak of, why would I want to engage in an activity that required me to breathe more of it? But there I was as the sun was coming up lined up and ready to go. It was as bad as I thought. By mile 3 I was alternating running and walking. By mile 4 I was just walking until I got to the turnaround then, through the magic of gravity, I was flying down to the finish. The great thing about this race was that it finished at the zoo. You cross the finish line and walk through the run expo and there you are face to face with a giraffe. I was unsure why he was looking at me like that, perhaps he thought I was an idiot to be running around without any air to breathe, when a young child leaped in front of me with a clump of lettuce and fed him directly from his hand. At the Cheyenne Mountian Zoo you can feed the giraffes by hand.

But the big thing I got from this visit was a re-ignition of my desire to travel to new places. Not necessarily exotic places, just new. Travel-wise I've been running on rails the past few years. Vegas and Florida, long weekends to Chicago and Mackinac Island. As much as I love comfortable escapes, I need to go have experiences like this. Things I haven't done and seen before. Like I said, not epic, just new. Let the planning begin.