The Springs in Fall — 2015 Photos #26: Mission in Manitou Springs

Manitou Springs!

One last time in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

The week was winding down before we knew it. Anne got off work so late on Thursday that we had time only for dinner and an all-new Sleepy Hollow before she faced one last earl bedtime and one last shift in Colorado Springs. Friday is usually a time for rejoicing in the work week’s end, but this one would prove bittersweet. We loved the mountains and the culinary forays, but we missed our home and our dog, and I’d crossed all the high-ranking attractions off my to-do list. The remaining options ranged in curiosity level from “maybe” to “meh”. Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas have a lot to see and do for a variety of interests and tourists. Not all of them were for me, but I tried to keep an open mind.

I spent the morning of Day Six as a lot of normal travelers might: I lounged around the hotel room for a few hours and did virtually nothing. I procrastinated the MCC Sleepy Hollow recap in favor of reading, relaxing, and catching reruns of Supernatural on TNT. I’d never watched a single episode before, and perhaps it was a bizarre choice to begin my viewership with the season-7 finale and the season-8 premiere, but that’s the beauty of vacation: you get to have fun and break some rules no matter what kind of looks people give you for it.

Eventually I snapped out of my lazy doldrums and came up with a plan. I checked out of the hotel, leaving behind ten of the twenty-four bottled waters that I’d picked up on my way to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and taking three with me for the road. Just as the previous guests had left us a fresh half-gallon of milk and a box of breakfast Hot Pockets that neither of us could bear to touch, so did we pay it forward to the next guests in our own way.

Then I launched myself on a side quest of sorts to cross a few items off Anne’s own to-do list. This wouldn’t just be a time-killer or selfish indulgence: it would be an act of service for someone I loved, frivolous though the targeted treasures might be.

And that’s how I wound up once again in Manitou Springs for my final close-ups of the Rocky Mountains.

Right this way for one last walkabout before heading home!

One of Several Rockies

Rocky Mountain!

Life must be easy for Colorado residents. Whenever you need money, just walk outside, take a photo, turn it into postcards, sit back and wait for tourists either onsite or faraway by internet to make your payday. I don’t see how they can get used to walking out the front door without saying “WOW” every ten minutes and getting on each other’s nerves. Then again, I live in a state where mountains are more or less against the law. To me, mountains are a such staggering part of Creation, and yet in other states live people who think of mountains the same way I think of maple trees. Your everyday context determines what’s mundane and what’s extraordinary, I guess.

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2012 Road Trip Photos #16: On the Way to Pikes Peak

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 Keg, Manitou Springs

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2012 Road Trip Photos #15: Romping Through the Manitou Cliff Dwellings

The south exit from the Garden of the Gods is five minutes away from Manitou Springs, where we spent the next several hours of Day Five. West of the Garden on Highway 24 are the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

Built ages ago by the Anasazi tribe in southwest Colorado around the Four Corners area, the Dwellings were carefully lifted by their foundations and transplanted further northeast in the 1900s under the care and coordination of a well-meaning anthropologist who rightly noted that they’d been abandoned anyway.

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2012 Road Trip Notes on the Go, Day 5: Beauty and Breakdowns

Today we bade farewell to our hotel outside Denver. Unfortunately, we departed just in time for rush hour and spent twice as long in the car as expected. We stopped for gas in the town of Castle Rock partly to let the traffic die down, partly for snacking purposes (some of us were burnt out on three straight days of the same hotel breakfast), and partly because I was amused to see a town sharing a name with a Stephen King motif, even if the town predated the setting.

When the coast was clearer, we headed south to the Colorado Springs vicinity, veered west for a return engagement with the great and powerful Rockies, and paid a visit to the Garden of the Gods, a coincidental collection of naturally occurring rock formations in unusual shapes great and large — a few monoliths, a couple shaped like animal heads, and some towering in pairs. Our favorite was Balanced Rock, a large, precariously perched roadside boulder that remains inexplicably secured. In addition to the uniquely shaped geological specimens, one other sight was new to me: Mennonite tourists using cameras much nicer than mine, tricked out with zoom lenses and tripods.

Five minutes down the road was our next attraction, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Over a century ago, a collection of Anasazi homes was uprooted and relocated in the side of a mountain near the town of Manitou Springs for preservation and education purposes. Visitors can enter any door or window and snake their way through the passages connecting each facade or dwelling, including one two-story, multi-family unit. That is, you can do so if you’re not in line behind a youth group on a field trip who’ve already filled all the ex-domiciles to full capacity. Fortunately for them, no ancient Anasazi fire marshals were anywhere in sight to cite the kids for overcrowding.

Alternatively, you can check out their multi-level museum and gift shop, which together occupy somewhere between two and eight stories. The layout was confusing, far from straightforward, separated me from my family at least once, and led me to two or three dead ends, each one filled with quality merchandise such as feather-shaped lollipops displayed like a war bonnet, the same pile of inseparable magnetites you can buy in every gift shop nationwide, and lethal weapons such as the “Deerslayer Boomerang”, a cardboard children’s tool that would cost one dollar if ordered from a comic book ad in the 1970s.

On the other side of US Highway 24 was downtown Manitou Springs, a tourist town comprised of numerous small businesses (including one comic book shop!) and one Subway. With limited time before our afternoon appointment, we fetched lunch at one of the restaurants nearest the public-parking area, a bar-‘n’-grill called the Keg. I wasn’t sure this was a family establishment that would serve my seventeen-year-old son, but no one broached the subject. It was his first opportunity to watch his lunch being cooked by a tattooed chef wearing a concert T-shirt in lieu of a garish fast-food uniform. Nevertheless, I can testify that my Mile-High Roast Beef sandwich was authentically meatier than any Arby’s product I’ve had to date. All the Slipknot logos in the world couldn’t have affected my enjoyment of that.

High above the town is the Pikes Peak Cog Railway station, which offers a handy train ride from Manitou Springs (elevation: 6,571 feet) to the top of Pikes Peak (elevation: 14,110 feet). Your alternatives to reach the top are: (1) a long hike, for which our family is ill suited; (2) a three-hour daredevil drive, which my wife refused to let me attempt; or (3) invent a flying machine, for which our family is also ill suited. The Cog Railway isn’t cheap, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for about the same price as admission to a bad amusement park.

Our departure was scheduled for 1:20. We began boarding at 1:00. We steeled for takeoff at 1:20. After sitting for another half-hour or so, we learned another train somewhere on the track was experiencing technical difficulties, At first they moved our train onto an alternate track so the impaired train could return to the station. Then they moved us back onto the main track. Then we returned to the alternate track again. Throughout the merry rearranging games, our cheerful conductor did her best to keep us entertained with situational updates, good-natured bad jokes, and individual anecdotes about the nearby apple tree, the nearby bench, and any other random objects we could see through our windows.

After an hour of waiting in a train that wasn’t getting any more air-conditioned, finally they moved us even further forward into their official train repair shop, had us disembark and walk back to the station so trains could be swapped around and tourism service could resume. This awkward transition allowed the Railway time to issue customer refunds if desired, resell those seats to new customers, and sell off any seats that had been previously unsold prior to our aborted departure. I can’t fault them for wanting to maximize service on what would prove to be a totally off-schedule day, but when we boarded our substitute train, it was discouraging to find that the additional elbow room we had claimed from those formerly empty seats was now revoked, leaving us more cramped than we had been before.

A full ninety minutes after our scheduled time, our journey to the Pikes Peak summit commenced at long last, The trip is roughly seventy minutes in each direction, and includes numerous sights beyond the mere breathtaking scenery — occasional rambunctious marmots; one waterfall; the ruins of a century-old shack; obsolete spigots that were necessary when steam engines ruled the Railway; trees murdered by pine bark beetles; storm clouds threatening other cities and states; and more, more, more. We also had the pleasure of company provided by a family from Tennessee sitting next to us, to whom my wife did most of the talking because the train engine drowned out their conversation too thoroughly for my poor hearing to catch consistently.

The top of Pikes Peak was a greater place than I could have imagined. We could see clouds drifing below us. We could view other states from afar. We could venture onto one of several outcroppings and have our photos taken by relatives terrified for our lives. We could warm up inside the Pikes Peak Summit House, a gift shop whose offerings includes hot coffee and renowned fried cake donuts that were fresh, crisp, and tender, not doughy and stale like Dolly Madison shelf-cloggers.

The top of Pikes Peak was also a more painful place than I could have imagined. In our rush to finish lunch and board the train on time (all that hurrying in vain, in retrospect), we forgot our jackets in the car, The summit is a few dozen degrees colder than the base of the mountains, and made for some discomfort among us older folks, (My son thrives in winter temps and was unfazed by his surroundings.) Despite drinking plenty of water all day and during the ride, I still found myself light-headed for the first several minutes up high in the thinner reaches of the atmosphere. (Donuts and decaf seemed to help cure that, or perhaps it was mere acclimatization.)

Despite borrowing chewing gum from our Tennessee companions (a necessary defense according to some sites), I also encountered troubles with my ears popping multiple times during our ascent, then stuffing themselves shut during the descent. I was practically deaf throughout said descent, as the noises of the world were buried under the incessant drone of train-engine combustion, muffled even further by altitude maladjustment, with occasional interruptions from the conductor’s intercom instructions and from half-conversation excerpts as spoken to others by my wife sitting next to me. I didn’t enjoy the isolation.

We returned to the station richer for the experience in general, yet not quite whole. By the time we adjourned to our hotel in Colorado Springs, the stuffiness had subsided somewhat, but whenever we weren’t in the presence of machinery or background music, everything around me sounded as though I were listening to the world through a seashell ocean-sound filter. This isn’t my first experience with a temporary hearing issue (see also: a Metallica concert I attended in 1992, one super-amped They Might Be Giants gig a few years ago), so my tentative plan is to sleep on it and see what happens. Sometimes these things fade. If it’s my hearing that fades instead, we’ll escalate the issue to the next level,

Thus endeth the adventure of the American who went up a mountain but came down a wreck. This bout of pain and suffering naturally called for an obvious dinner choice tonight: Smashburger second encore!

We rightly assumed that Colorado Springs also has a few locations, After tonight’s above-average meal I’m now officially sick of them, but I acquiesced to the majority vote with the knowledge that this may be our last Smashburger visit until either they reach Indianapolis or we conveniently schedule a future road trip in one of their present states of operation. Maybe by then I won’t be tired of their awesomeness anymore,

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