Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Garden of the Gods takes its place front of Pikes Peak and
the Rocky Mountains.
Colorado Springs is a very inspirational and patriotic town.  There is something about being at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains that is quintessential American.  Factor in the majestic Pikes Peak the mountain that spurred the song “America the Beautiful,” the spired metal chapel of the U.S. Air Force Academy where young men and women learn to soar, the U.S. Olympic Complex and Training Center where American athletes push their mental and physical limits for the chance to represent their country, and the Garden of the Gods - a remarkable rock formation created from the first Rocky Mountains that has been thrust upward over thousands of years.  And what could be more patriotic than the American cowboy and rodeo.

Our motorhome sits beautifully perched on the side
of the mountain.  The park is loaded with hiking/biking
trails and a great visitor center.  The only problem - dogs
are not allowed on hiking trails.
We arrived at Cheyenne Mountain State Park on a beautiful, warm, sunny day.  The park is a true gem!  It sits above the city on the side of the mountain and offers spectacular views – our hearts soared.  In the evening, the sun sets on the mountain and earthen colors reign.  Just as the sun starts to fade behind the mountains, the lights of Colorado Springs illuminate the valley.  While eating dinner outside at our picnic table one night we could not help but think that was the best restaurant view ever.  And that was not the wine talking.  There is not a bad site in the whole park.  We never wanted to leave the campsite but there was too much to see in the bustling town of Colorado Springs so we forced ourselves to get in the car and venture out.

Rock formation known as "Three Graces"
Garden of the Gods was our first stop in Colorado Springs.  I wondered, what is a Garden of the Gods?  When I think of gardens, I think of colorful flowers; instead, I saw huge red rock formations protruding from the earth.  The gardens were stunning and dominated the landscape with beauty and might.  This rock formation of sedimentary sandstone beds was conceived during the first (or ancestral) Rocky Mountains over 300 million years ago.  (Yes, according to geologists there have been two Rocky Mountains).  As the tectonic plates shifted and underground layers were thrust upward, these remnant sandstone layers were pushed upward.  Over time, softer material eroded and the harder material was left behind and that is what you now see.  Ironically, the name “Garden of the Gods” came from a previous landowners desire to build a beer garden in the area.  He proclaimed the beer garden in this setting was an area fit for Gods.  And I thought it was because there were going to be pretty flowers! 

"Cathedral Valley"
People enjoy walking around the gardens, especially climbing on "Balanced Rock" and "Steamboat Rock"
The Protestant Chapel with its 99-foot
high pinnacled ceiling.

I really like military history and had my sights set on visiting the Air Force Academy.  So we headed to the visitor center where we saw a short film, a few exhibits, and browsed the gift shop. From there we took the short walk to the Cadet Chapel – the most stunning and recognizable feature of the academy.  The campus is very impersonal, buildings are steel and shaped in right angles.  But the chapel and the mountain background give a bold personality to this military institution.  The chapel was built in the 1960’s and reflects the “modern movement” architectural style.  Seventeen steel spires rise towards the heavens. Twenty-four thousand pieces of stained glass light the inside with bands of color.  Italian marble adorns the alter.   Advocates of the chapels design and the use of aluminum and glass said that if cadets were going to fight and die in aluminum they could worship in it too.  We were not able to drive the tour route because part of it was temporarily closed (we think it was because secret service was preparing for President Obama’s visit for commencement - but that was not the story we were given.)

The ends of the pews were sculpted to
resemble WWI airplane propellers and the
back of pews are capped with a strip of
aluminum simulating the trailing wing of
a fighter jet.

The first class entered the academy in 1955.  Cadets live by the
honor code "we will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us
anyone who does"

The architects originally planned 21 spires to lead cadets into the 21st century; however, funding
cuts dictated there would only be 17 spires.  The chapel cost $3.5 million to build.  The furnishings, pipe
organs, liturgical fittings and adornments were gifts.
The Catholic Chapel is dominated by the reredos behind the alter - an abstract glass mosaic mural depicting the Annunciation and flanked by two 10-foot marble angels.  
The Chapel soars 150 feet into the Colorado sky.  The Chapel provides worship for all faiths with specific chapels for the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhists faiths.
Visitors are greeted by a statue of athletes holding a globe
to symbolize the international competition.
One of my favorite attractions was the Olympic Complex and Training Center.  With only a couple of months until the summer Olympics and team try-outs still going on, this place is buzzing with dedicated athletes.  The tour starts off with a movie highlighting the U.S. effort in past winter Olympics and the excitement surrounding the upcoming London summer games.  After the movie, you are led on a tour of the grounds and get to peek into some of the training area scattered throughout the complex.  Athletes live and train here year round so you always have the opportunity to see athletes training.  Our tour guide was a young weightlifter who was not selected to go to London but has already set her sights on the 2016 games and competes year-round in other international competitions.  Her input made our tour so personal.

The grounds are adorned with flags from all countries participating in the Olympics and Paralympics and cut-outs displaying all the sports of the game.

American gymnasts in action.  The gymnastics team has not been selected so training is very intense.
 The center is the home to USA Swimming and Shooting teams, but features many other sports as well. The shooting center is the largest indoor facility in the Western Hemisphere and third largest in the world.
The 45,000 square foot aquatic center has cameras underwater for training purposes.  For synchronized swimming, music plays underwater as well as above water.
The top 10-15% of athletes are selected to live year-round in the housing provided at the training center. The facilities
can accommodate more than 500 athletes and coaches.
Weighlifters preparing for the summer games.  Weights are color-coded so it is easy to determine how much weight is on the bar.
We could not leave Colorado Springs without visiting the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and learning about the men and women who ride some of the meanest bulls, hang on to bucking broncos, rope steers, and speed past barrels….all for buckle bragging rights (and some pretty good payouts).  Talk about a truly American sport. The orientation video enlightens rodeo virgins about each of the seven official rodeo events and how they are judged.  It was good for us to polish up on our rodeo since we are going to the Cheyenne Frontier Days (the country’s largest rodeo) at the end of July. I love going to rodeos and have great childhood memories of going to the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There is nothing like walking about dusty fair grounds, smelling horses, and eating cotton candy.  We used to love to cheer on my Uncle Johnny when he competed in the rodeo’s wild cow milking event.  By the way, that is not an official rodeo event!  Rodeo started in the in late 1800’s as a friendly competition of cowboys showing off their skills.  Many towns claim to be the birthplace of rodeo – Deer Trail, Colorado; Pecos, Texas; and Prescott, Arizona – but some say rodeo was not born, it just grew.  A trip out west and you will see that rodeo is definitely not a thing of the past.

The bull on the left is "Skoal Pacific Bull."  In four years and 150 rides, only five riders stayed on him to hear the 8-second bell.
The museum recognizes rodeo clowns which are some of the most important and entertaining participants in the rodeo.
The outdoor area is decorated with bronze statues displaying various rodeo events, including a favorite steer wrestling.
A statue of Casey Tibbs is featured outside of the museum.  Tibbs was crowned the "World All-Around Rodeo Champion" twice and was a 6-time Saddle Bronc rider.  He rode his first rodeo at 14 and became the youngest man ever to win the saddle bronc championship.  He suffered 44 broken bones throughout his long career and was the on the cover of "Life" magazine in 1951.
Exhibits feature a plaque of each inductee and memorabilia from their career.
Even the Rodeo Queens have a place in the Hall of Fame.  How do I get one of those hats?
I almost forgot to mention...we went to one of the top 10 dog parks in the country and Spirit played her heart out.  We loved Colorado Springs!

I think one of those dogs is Spirit.

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