The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are on the north side of Highway 24. On the other side of the highway is Manitou Springs, a cozy. woodsy town that thrives on Pikes Peak tourism. You may recall how last summer’s nightmarish wildfires made them a household name. Thankfully the coast was clear, embers were nowhere in sight, and the evacuations were called off days before our arrival. In fact, local news reports earlier that week had interviewed the townspeople about the impact of the wildfires on their economy. I like to think we did our part to reverse a little of that damage, if nothing else.
Lunch was at a restaurant called the Keg. I thought it was a mere bar when my son chose it from among several competitors, but we were starving and no one complained about his teenage presence, so I’m proud to label it as good family dining. I’m still not sure why he chose it, of all the many options surrounding us. Perhaps their wooden mascot captured his imagination with its trustworthy sign promising superlative cuisine. Maybe later we could also find a shop selling the Best Coffee in the World. I rolled with it for the sake of adventure and not-starving, and wasn’t disappointed in the least.
The dining experience took long enough that we had to hurry to arrive on time for our ticketed ride aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. For those among you who read of the trials and tribulations of Day Five as they occurred, you’ll note this is the maintenance shack where we killed some of our time while the entire railway was brought to a standstill by one malfunctioning train somewhere along the line. More than once, this was our thrilling backdrop as our conductor and staff kept hemming and hawing over whether we could stay in our launching position or needed to move aside so the afflicted vehicle could return to the station. For want of anything photogenic around me, I commemorated where we were in the moment.
Once they realized the repairs might take forever and our collective discomfort was mounting, we were cordially asked to disembark temporarily and wait for the all-clear. A few people requested refunds and bailed out, but not us. If we non-athletic non-hikers wanted to see the top of a large mountain, this was our best option in the vicinity. The Railway trip to the top of Pikes Peak is nine miles long and takes an hour. Plan B was a long hike for sturdy hikers. Plan C was driving the Pikes Peak Highway, which I understand is a nineteen-mile ordeal of twists, turns, and much shattering of the nervous system of anyone braving it at speeds above five miles per hour. I was willing to navigate the Highway firsthand and test my stunt-driving skills, but I had the feelings and safety of my family to consider, not to mention their ability to outvote me. Thus we waited patiently while Railway officials and repairmen sorted out the situation. On the bright side, all this stalling afforded us extra opportunities to use the restroom and stock up our water supplies.
Ninety minutes after our scheduled takeoff time, we achieved literal takeoff at last, into the forest and past infrequent landmarks such as this tiny waterfall.
The higher we ascended, the more our view improved.
Far out on one side of the Railway, entire storm systems revealed themselves to us, possibly extending into other states.
Higher still we climbed, as the tree line stayed in sight nearus, even while its limits were easier to distinguish on other neighboring mountains.
I’m still a little awestruck from the cognitive dissonance between the backgrounds in the last few photos. To review: on one side, storm clouds stretched to the horizon and menaced other lands besides ours.
On another side, blues skies reigned above Windy Point, whatever that is. Odd place for a building, I know that much.
Another train with a head start scouted the path before us. If any more stalled engines had presented themselves as obstacles, I’ve no doubt that this train would’ve rammed them head-on and cleared the way just for us and our holy mission to see something we’d never seen before.
Coming soon in our next installment: the top!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]