A day trip to Colorado Springs to see the Broadmoor Hotel, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a re-creation of a western ghost town and the Garden of the Gods
18.05.2013 24 °C
Just over an hour's drive south of Denver is Colorado Springs, Colorado's second largest city and the gateway to The Pikes Peak Region. On the way we passed Castle Rock, a prominent castle tower shaped butte above the I25 Freeway. Colorado Springs itself is a pretty bland city with nothing much worth seeing, it's the home of the United States Air Force Academy and the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) but the former only had the daily noon parade by its cadets to offer as a spectacle and the nuke proof headquarters deep within Cheyenne Mountain of the later understandably doesn't welcome visitors.
Our first stop was at the Broadmoor Hotel, a gigantic Italian-Renaissance style complex of 30 buildings built around its own purpose built lake. Originally completed in 1918, the Broadmoor Hotel prides itself on being the longest-running consecutive winner of the AAA Five-Diamond rating (there's only about 100 of them) and is probably the poshest hotel I have ever visited.
In addition to the central lake the hotel also has a Georgian ballroom, frescoed ceilings, 3 golf courses, 6 tennis courts and a stables. With the US Air Force Academy and NORAD Headquarters close by the Broadmoor Hotel appears a popular venue for military conferences and there were a lot of people in uniform around the day we had lunch there on the lakeside veranda.
Our next stop was the Manitou Cliff Dwellings just north of Manitou Springs. These were originally built more than 700 years ago by the Anasazi Indians in the south west corner of Colorado near the famous cliff dwellings in the Mesa Verde National Park. These particular dwellings were carefully moved 230 miles (370 kilometres) here brick by brick from Cortez in 1907 to protect them from being destroyed by treasure hunters while campaigners tried to put the National Park in place.
The cliff dwellings are preserved underneath a protective red sandstone overhang and you are able to walk through them exploring the different houses and climbing the ladders. One of the more interesting buildings was the Kiva, which was a circular pit used by tribal men as a ceremonial chamber. In its day it would have had a roof made of cribbed timber covered in cedar strips and clay with a square entrance to climb down a ladder through the sacred smoke. It had a small hole called a Sipapu behind the firepit which was a symbolic passageway through which people's spirits were said to enter and exit at birth and death.
Just below the cliff dwellings there is a three-story pueblo-style building that has been built in the style of descendants of the Anasazi Indians. The Pueblo Indians would have built their buildings with adobe which is mud mixed with straw as a binding agent and would have needed re-plastering annually. The pueblo style building at the Cliff Dwellings is primarily used as a museum explaining the life of the Anasazi and didn't have the excitement of the cliff dwellings themselves but did have the best souvenir gift shop I had seen during my stay in Colorado.
Having been inside an Indian tepee we now moved on to the Ghost Town Wild West Museum on the west side of Colorado Springs. Colorado is known to have over 1,500 ghost towns; they were abandoned when mines closed, or when new railways made stage coach stops redundant or just simply through rural depopulation. The whole area is in the shadow of Pikes Peak which at 14,110 feet (4,300 metres) is not the tallest of Colorado's mountains but is probably the most famous as it became immortalised by the slogan "Pike's Peak or Bust!" during the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush.
The concept might be corny but we had fun looking around the Ghost Town Wild West Museum and I proved to have quite a decent aim with a rifle in the shooting gallery! Founded in 1954, the museum primarily consists of a street of re-created wild west shops inside the disused workshops of the Colorado Midland Railroad. Included amongst the shops along the street was a general store, blacksmiths, newspaper printers, stage coach office, jail and sheriff's office; each filled with artefacts and small cameos of everyday life in the Wild West.
Our final stop of the day however was the most magical. The Garden of the Gods is a strata of red sandstone raised vertically by the lifting up of nearby mountains and then eroded over millions of years into the most amazing rock formations. From the Visitors Centre there is a terrific view of the North and South Gateway Rocks with the snow capped Pikes Peak in the background.
As we made our way around the park it was like driving through an alien moonscape with all the strange rock shapes each christened over the years with names such the Kissing Camels, the Siamese Twins and the Three Graces. One of the stranger rock formations for me was the Cathedral Spires with its narrow fins of rock pointing like church spires into the sky. As we got closer it was possible to spot rock climbers who had made their way to the top.
The most famous rock formation in the Garden of the Gods is the Balanced Rock, admittedly one of many so named in the Western USA but very photogenic as it appears to balance almost impossibly on a narrow stem. It did remind me of the Balanced Rock I saw on the Cars Land Ride at Disneyland California Adventure but the inspiration for this I understand was more likely to have been the Balanced Rocks in Arizona and Utah and not this one in Colorado.