colorado flag Colorado Springs colorado flag

Pike's Peak and Red Rocks
The Garden of the Gods in the foreground with Pike's Peak in the distance

        Debbie and I recently took a trip to Colorado Springs to attend the USA Hockey Congress during June of 2002. It's four days of meetings and seminars attended by people from all of the hockey districts in the country. There was time to do some sightseeing as you can see.

        Wednesday, June 5 - The flight to Colorado turned out to be an unbelievable adventure. We got to Newark Airport early. Our flight (United Airlines Flight 789) to Denver was at 4:30 and would take us around four hours. I had a bunch of exams to grade (history finals were that morning). We cleared through security quickly. No one wanted to strip-search me (can you blame them). We waited at our gate for what we thought would be an uneventful flight. We boarded the plane, a Boeing 777, at 3:30 pm. At 4:15, we pulled away from the gate. First, there were a few electronic problems that they had to fix. So we stopped and waited…and waited…and waited. Then there were reports of severe thunderstorms in the Midwest so we waited some more. By 6:00, we taxied out to a runway, waited… waited… and waited. At 8:00, they told us we would take off at 8:15. By 8:20, we were still on the ground. Then there was talk of canceling our flight. Finally, at 9:20, 5 hours and 50 minutes after boarding (sitting the entire time on the plane on the runway), we took off. Because of the storms, we had to fly south toward Washington D.C. before turning west. This added more time to our flight. We arrived in Denver International Airport at 1 am (11 pm Mountain Time) almost 5 hours late.
            Of course, we missed our connecting flight to Colorado Springs. One of the other hockey people on the flight, switched his rental car from Colorado Springs to Denver so we could drive there. First, we had to retrieve our luggage. After waiting in line to find out where it would be. The four of us set out on the shuttle train to the main building where our luggage was supposed to be. Of course, it wasn't there. Nor would it ever be. It would go to Colorado Springs on the morning flight. Therefore, after being annoyed with clueless United Airlines people, we set out for Avis. The car was there and we took off. By now, it was 1 AM Denver time (3 AM to us) when we set out on I-25 south to Colorado Springs. It took us a little over an hour to get there. We picked up some supplies (remember, no luggage) and food at the local 7-11 store. You do not want to know what type of people are in this 7-11 store at 3 in the morning. It was somewhat scary (lots of cowboy hats and not too many teeth). We checked in at the Sheraton Colorado Springs Hotel about eight hours late. Luckily it was a very good hotel and our room was ready for us. They also brought us some toothbrushes (items the people in the 7-11 were not in any need of).

        Thursday, June 6 – After breakfast, we set out to find our luggage. We called Denver Airport to find out where our luggage was. They told her that it never left Denver because we did not fill out any forms (Not like anyone told us to the night before). Somehow, I did not believe them. No one at United Airlines seems to know what was going on so why should this person be any different. I felt, before we drove all the way back to Denver, we should go to the Colorado Springs Airport first and see if they did fly the luggage there (sans forms). Do you know what, I was right. When we got to the airport and went to the carousel that the luggage should have gone to, the suitcases were there, on the floor next to the carousal. I was so happy to get my stuff back, I didn't care that they were just left there (Debbie however felt differently and was quite upset with United Airlines that they would leave the luggage just lying in the middle of the floor). We then picked up our rental car from Avis that had been waiting for us since the day before. We went back to the hotel to change into some clean clothes. What a trip!

Pike's Peak

Debbie on the summit
Here is Debbie at the summit

            We decided to take a drive to relax. The weather was great though somewhat hot (95° but not very humid). We drove to Pike's Peak. They have a 19-mile long road called "The Pike's Peak Highway" you can drive up. It cost us $10 per person. The road accends 7,000 ft. and is called the "World's Highest Toll Road". It takes about an hour to drive to the summit. The road winds up through the mountains with sometimes nothing between the car and the edge of the 2,000 foot cliffs. One wrong turn and it will be days before they retrieve the bodies. The road also accends over 7,500 feet in altitude. At the 14-mile point, you are above the treeline so the view is incredible. We made a couple of stops for pictures on the way up. The scenery was fantastic since it was such a clear day. As you near the top, the road starts to snake up the side of the mountain with a series of hairpin turns. Of course, there is nothing between you and the edge of the road, so you had better be careful when you make those turns.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike            Pike's Peak was named after Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike (born in Lamberton in Somerset County, New Jersey on January 5, 1779). He was the son of an Continental army officer in Washington's army. He was sent to explore that part of the Louisiana Purchase. Pike led an expedition into Colorado in November of 1806. Curious about the mountain, Pike set out to explore it, but was not able to get near it due to the heavy snow and freezing temperatures. Pike never set foot on the mountain and he didn't name it after himself (he named it "Grand Peak"). He claimed "no one would ever reach the summit."
          Later, during the War of 1812, Pike, now a
brigadier general, led an assault on York, the capital of Upper Canada (modern day Toronto) in 1813. Pike was killed in the assault which captured the town. His troops were so enraged by his death that they set fire to many of the buildings in the town (a year later, the British would retaliate by burning the public buildings in Washington D.C.). In 1820, another explorer named the mountain after Pike. After his death, Pike's daughter Clarrissa married the son of future president William Henry Harrison (the one who lived only a  month).

Frank & Debbie on Pike's Peak
Here we both are at the summit

            The summit of Pike's Peak is 14,110 ft above sea level (how high as this is? - it's a little less then the half the height of Mt. Everest at 29,055 feet). You can feel that the air is thinner when you start to walk around or climb anything. They have a snackbar and souvenir shop (of course) at the summit. There is a cog railroad (Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway) which goes from Manitou Springs to the summit of Pikes Peak from April until December. It is the highest cog railroad in the world. Every July 4th, Automobile and motorcycle racers from all over the world compete in the Pike's Peak International Hill Climb. Aside from the road and railroad, there is a hiking trail (Barr Trail winds 13 miles and ascends 7,500 vertical feet to the top - maybe next time). You can walk, hike, ride a bike, or pursue one of the oddball feats many have accomplished (such as dribble a soccer ball to the top or walk backwards). The trailhead is just past the cog railway depot in Manitou Springs. Another route begins at the Crags Campground, approaching the summit from the west. If you want to run to the top (and back), you can even participate in the annual marathon.  Each August, runners compete in the Pikes Peak Marathon. The 26-mile record, up and down Barr Trail, is three hours and 24 minutes.

            However you make it to the top, conditions there are not very hospitable. The thin air gives one only 50% of the oxygen available at sea level. Snow is a possibility any time of day or night 12 months a year, and in the summer, thunderstorms are common, bringing "small-pumpkin" sized hail and occasionally 100+ mph wind gusts. Lightning is especially dangerous above the treeline. Pikes Peak was once the home of a ski resort, but ironically, it closed due to a lack of snow. Pikes Peak doesn't receive the massive snowdrops that other mountains do and expensive snowmaking was required to make this resort feasible. Unfortunately, the high winds on Pikes Peak would often blow this artificial snow away ("to Kansas" as one of the former owners of the resort put it).

            It was from the summit that Katherine Lee Bates wrote " America, the Beautiful" in 1886. I took some more pictures at the summit and then we started our ride down. We stopped for a little lunch at the Glen Cove cabin (more food and souvenirs) at the 13-mile point. From there, we drove back down the mountain (in 1st gear so not to burn out the brakes). At one point on the way down (at the Glen Cove cabin), the park rangers check the temperature of your brakes. If they are over 300° , you have to pull over and let them cool off. After we left Pike's Peak, we went back to the hotel. There was a  hockey equipment exhibitors show that night back at the hotel. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals was on the big screen. The Detroit Red Wings won.

Debbie in a race carPike's Peak Road Race

Pike's Peak
International Hill Climb began in 1916 and is held around the July 4th weekend. It features drivers from around the world who have been challenging each other in this annual race for the Penrose Trophy (named after Spencer Penrose who founded the race). Racing up the mountain at speeds exceeding 120 mph, racers negotiate 12 miles and 156 corners, many of them hairpins turns, cliffs of 2,000 feet with no guardrails on loose gravel racing against the clock in a little over ten minutes. In 1916, a man named Rea Lentz won the first race with a time of 20 minutes, 55.6 seconds. Today, they have expanded to 17 types of racing categories from motorcycles to semi-trucks. At the rest area, they have a display of the vehicles that race. Here we see Debbie looking like she ready to go.

                    On average there are 150 competitors. The oldest current class is the Open Wheel division (in photo) which has been run since 1916 and has been won by such names as Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, and Robby Unser (the current class record holder, achieving 10:05.85 in 1994 - breaking the previous record by almost 40 seconds). The race record is held by Rod Millen who clocked a time of 10 min 4.06 sec in 1994 driving a Toyota Celica.  
Garden of the Gods

  Frank & Debbie in the Garden of the Gods
Here we are at the Garden of the Gods

        Friday, June 7 – After breakfast, Debbie and I attended the Youth Council meeting. One of the speakers was Mark Johnson (from the 1980 USA Olympic team). We went to the USA Hockey Awards Luncheon at the hotel. The food was very bland (the must think we all have ulcers). After lunch, we drove out to the Garden of the Gods. It's a 1,340 acre park with magnificent red sandstone rock formations that were created before the Ice Age at the base of the Rocky Mountains. The sandstone was deposited there around 250 million years ago. 10,000 years ago, erosion starting shaping the red rock landscape. Some of the rocks are over 100 feet high. There is a Visitor Center, which has a 20-minute movie on how the rocks were created called "How Did Those Red Rocks Get There?"

South Gateway Rock Here I am in front of Cathedral Rock
South Gateway Rock Here I am in front of Cathedral Rock

            The park itself is free. You can park your car and walk among the rocks. There are a number of mountain climbers scaling the rock faces with rope. I told Debbie she should ask if she could join them and unbelievably she declined. The different rock formations have names; The Tower of Babel, Pulpit Rock, Cathedral Spires, Three Graces, Steamboat Rock, Kissing Camels, Balanced Rock, Sentinel Rock and the Sleeping Giant to name some. One of the most famous rocks in the park is Balanced Rock. A layer at the base of the rock has more shale formed from mud that wore away faster and left a small support on which the huge rock (about 30 ft. high) is balanced.
Balanced Rock Frank climbing
Balanced Rock Some wacko on the Three Graces
 If you are interested in the geological history of the rocks you can click on Garden of the Gods Facts

Seven Falls

Seven Falls        Saturday, June 8 - Before lunch, Debbie and I drove to Seven Falls. This is the only waterfall in all of Colorado. It was only 10 minutes from the hotel. Located in South Cheyenne Cañon, behind the famous Broadmoor Hotel.
        Seven Falls cascades 181 feet in seven distinct steps down a solid cliff of Pikes Peak granite. Water from the southern most edges of the Pikes Peak watershed have, over the centuries, carved this unique scenic masterpiece. We were the first visitors to arrive this day (which is good because of the parking situation - we had little to walk). After paying the entrance fee at the toll both, we had to drive through the canyon to get to the falls. At places, the canyon is only 42 ft. wide with massive cliff walls on either side (called the Pillars of Hercules). We parked near the gift shop at the bottom of the falls. Next to the falls, there is a 224-step stairs that we climbed to get to the top. Going up was easier than going down. There were parts of the staircase that could be somewhat unnerving if you look down.
            From the top, we hiked along a half-mile trail to Inspiration Point. The trail starts at 6,800 ft and rises to 7,200 ft. It was a bit of a hike, but we made it (Debbie too).
Debbie was concerned about the signs warning about lightning (below), but she went anyway (of course, there were no clouds in the sky). When you arrive at Inspiration Point, there is a view of Colorado Springs and the great plains beyond. You can also see the former grave of author Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885).
           There is another trail that goes to Midnight Falls.  A hundred years ago this was a favorite and secluded spot for Colorado college students to visit late at night.  Midnight Falls is near the headwaters of South Cheyenne Creek that is formed by springs and from snowmelt on Pikes Peak. We didn't explore that trail.
           At the bottom of the falls, there is an elevator that goes up to the "Eagles Nest." Blasted through solid granite, it's a 14-story mountain elevator that takes you quickly up to the “Eagles Nest” platform, where their is a spectacular view of Seven Falls. It's where this picture at right was taken from.
          At the base of the falls, they have a Native American tee-pee set up to give the tourists an experience of Native American life. They have demonstrations with local Native Americans, who explain what life was like here a hundred years ago.

The Rocky Mountains

Lightninng Debbie hiking in the Rockies
Watch out for lightning 
Debbie hiking in the Rockies

             We did make it to Inspiration Point. Nearby is the original site of Helen Hunt Jackson's grave (she wrote the book Ramona). She was buried here after her death in 1885 because she used to come up here to get the inspiration for her books. They were afraid her grave might by vandalized so she was moved to a cemetery in Colorado Springs. After we returned to the gift shop at the base of the falls, we took the elevator up to the "Eagles Nest" lookout. We returned to the hotel for a 1:00 meeting.

 Debbie & Frank on top of the mountain
Here we are at Inspiration Point

United States Air Force Academy

            After a late lunch, we drove North to the United States Air Force Academy.
The campus of the Academy covers 18,000 acres on the east side of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Colorado Springs at an altitude of 7,258 feet above sea-level.Historically many people had been pushing for a separate air force academy for a long time. The United States Air Force did not become a seperate entity until 1947 (before this time it was the U.S. Army Air Force). In January 1950, the Service Academy Board, headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, concluded that the needs of the Air Force could not be met by the two existing U.S. service academies and that an air force academy should be established.      

        Congress authorized the construction of the Academy on April 1, 1954, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
On July 11, 1955, the first class of 306 cadets was sworn in at a temporary site at Lowry Air Force Base, Denver while construction was completed in Colorado Springs. Because there were initially no upperclass cadets to run the Cadet Wing, a cadre of "Air Training Officers" (ATOs) was selected to supervise and train the new cadets until the upper classes could be populated. On August 29, 1958, a wing of 1,145 cadets moved to the present site, and less than a year later the Academy received accreditation. The first class graduated on June 3, 1959.

        The first classes of cadets wore temporary uniforms while a distinctive Academy uniform was developed. After a number of military tailors fell short, Secretary Talbott turned to Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille for help. The resulting uniforms—most notably the distinctive cadet parade dress—are still worn by cadets today.

        I guess after being to West Point and Annapolis, we were not very impressed. The buildings are very sterile and boring. The only exception is the Chapel, which is very impressive (photo below).

Air Force Chapel

       Designed by Walter Netsch, the Chapel is meant to look like a phalanx of fighter jets shooting up into the sky. It took five years to plan and another four years to build. Completed in 1963, it was, at the time, considered very controversial. However, today, with its 17 aluminum spires soaring 150 feet into the air, the Chapel has become a symbol of the Air Force Academy and is considered a classic example of modern American architecture. The interior provides three distinct worship areas: the 1,300-seat Protestant Chapel upstairs, the 500-seat Catholic Chapel and the 300-seat Jewish Chapel downstairs. We could not go inside the main room (the Protestant Chapel) because there was a wedding going on. We visited the Catholic Chapel and the Jewish Chapel below.

        We walked around the academy a little bit. Most of the buildings are named after famous air force personal like Vandenberg Hall (Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg), the cadet dining facility Mitchell Hall (airpower pioneer Brigadier General William "Billy" Mitchell) and Arnold Hall (General of the Air Force Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the United States Army Air ForcesWorld War II). We saw a movie in the Barry Goldwater Visitor Center. We also visited the B-52 display (an actual B-52 is on permanent display at the Academy). We also visited the Academy cemetery (you knew I had to see one). Since the Academy was founded in the mid-1950's, not many famous people are buried here. There is General Curtis LeMay, the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Carl "Tooey" Spaatz (commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe during WWII and the first Chief of Staff of the new United States Air Force). On the way out, we passed the football stadium and airfield.

Eating in Colorado Springs

              One of the places the hockey people from our district like to go to eat is Buca di Beppo on North Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs. They have large family style Italian meals that are meant to be shared. the rooms are filled with pictures and other items (usually with an Italian theme). They even have a room dedicated to the last Italian pope. The mens bathrooms are a hightlight to all newcomers.

            Debbie and I decided to go to dinner by ourselves on the last night. I was in the mood for steaks so we went to Steaksmith Restaurant on the corner of Academy Boulevard and Maizeland Road in Colorado Springs. We both had the Prime Rib (I had horseradish with mine, of course) along with a bottle of Colorado wine. Dessert was good too.

            On our second trip in 2005, we went to the Stuart Anderson's Black Angus Restaurant also on on North Academy Boulevard in Colorado Springs. I wasn't as impressed with this place as i was with the Steaksmith Restaurant. My prime rib was covered in a peppery spice that I didn't enjoy. Debbie and I also discovered a new place for dinner in nearby Manitou Springs called The Stagecoach Inn. They have buffalo steaks here, but I haven't tried them yet. Instead I had the prime rib. I returned here in 2006 also.

          Manitou Springs is about four miles west of Colorado Springs beneath Pike's Peak. Debbie and I came here to take the Cog Railway to the top of Pike's Peak (instead of driving like we did last time). The town derives its name from two dozen mineral springs situated throughout the area, many of which have spigots that locals and tourists alike may drink from. The minerals present at each location change the flavor of the local water. The town itself is great to walk around. there are many craft and art shops along with places to buy cowboy hats and, what I consider, a large amount of fortune telling shops.

Sunday, June 9 – We had an 8:40 am flight to Denver. It was a small plane, a Boeing 737-300. The flight took only 20 minutes. As we flew into Denver, you could see a brown smog hanging over the city from all of the forest fires. The flight to Newark went quickly too. Nothing like Wednesday night. All in all, a good time.

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