Thursday, September 29, Mr. Wonderful’s (MW’s) first question was “Did you hear the owl?” I did not, but apparently there had been one in the wee hours in the tree right by Petunia. It hooted there for a bit, then hopped onto our roof and continued the serenade. I must have been sleeping pretty hard at that point! I was awakened before dawn by the coyotes again, though. We got our act on the road about 8:15 AM for the last leg of our westbound journey, taking a dirt road out. At WaKeeney, we hit I-70 west. We took the Oakley exit onto US-40 passing through Monument and Winona, then stopped in Sharon Springs, Kansas, at the Farmhouse Restaurant for lunch. Back on the road, we crossed into Colorado and stopped in Cheyenne Wells to gas up. Then we passed through Kit Carson and Wild Horse before turning onto CO-94, which took us all the way to Colorado Springs. The drive had turned cloudy as we approached the mountains, and it was actually raining on us a little as we neared the RV park. Thankfully, it took a break while we set up. Some of our US Naval Academy RV Chapter alumni group had already arrived, and others straggled in as the afternoon went on. Once everyone was settled, we headed over to happy hour and dinner at the firstie’s (organizer’s) site. It had been a good day, but I was pretty tired as we hit the sack.
Friday we headed out early to catch the first train on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that we like a good train ride, and this one fits the bill. It has been hauling folks up the big mountain since 1891 and took more than 10,000 tourists to the top in its first season! On a cog railway, there are three rails; two that look like regular tracks on the outside and one in the center that has teeth. The train has a giant gear with teeth that match the rail, and the gear is turned by a diesel electric system, moving the train forward or backwards, as the case may be. Compared to other trains, it is a really smooth ride. The weather at the bottom was already warm enough for just a long sleeve shirt, but at the top, 14,115 feet, it was a whole other story…31 degrees with a wind chill of 24! Plus, the train’s windows were open for the trip up!! Brrrrrrr!!! The ride up took a little less than an hour, and the scenery and views were amazing. We also caught sight of a fairly large mule deer buck standing by the tracks. He looked like he was waiting for us to pass so he could cross. The first order of business upon arrival was warming up. We headed into the Summit Visitor Center to find something warm to drink. It was a pleasant surprise to find breakfast options and a variety of drinks available. (The hot chocolate and grilled cheese were excellent!) While there, I spoke to a young man who hiked up the mountain with his father. He said it took 4 hours and 15 minutes…in the cold, plus they left at 4:30 AM!! That’s a little too long and strenuous for me!! We had the better part of an hour to check things out before the descent. Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, who led the first non-native expedition to make a record of the giant peak. Of course, native tribes had known about it for generations. Pike unsuccessfully attempted to climb the mountain on his initial visit and never made it to the top of the peak that bears his name. As we headed back down the mountain, a mama and baby bighorn sheep crossed the track in front of us, and we also saw several marmots. We really enjoyed the ride, but if trains aren’t your thing, you can drive up on the Pikes Peak Highway. It has been used for more than 100 years, too.
Back at a lower elevation, we ran by Petunia to change out of the warmer clothes, then headed out for a little Costco shopping. Then we hit Cavender’s and Boot Barn trying to find boots for my BFF’s upcoming nuptials. No luck. (Let’s just say that some people have legs made for tights and some people don’t. I’m in the latter category, so finding boots to fit is tough.) The final stop was at Safeway for groceries. After relaxing for the afternoon and sneaking in a little nap, we headed out with fellow Alumni Bill and his lovely wife Cindy for dinner at Amanda’s Fonda. The food was really good, but as we sat and talked afterward, Cindy and I saw a couple of small bugs crawling on the wall beside our table. Yuck!!
Saturday morning our entire crew headed out early to your US Air Force Academy (USAFA) for a morning tailgate sponsored by the US Naval Academy Parent’s Club of Colorado/Wyoming. Then it was time for the reason for our USNA alumni gathering…watching Navy whup up on Air Force. It was a perfect day, and the rain that had been predicted for early afternoon held off for the entire game. Our seats were next to the USNA band. I thought it would be loud, but it was really great, and I really enjoyed watching those kids dance and play. Sadly, however, the planned whup up didn’t happen. Navy made it a close game, though, with a final score of Navy 10, Air Force 13. Afterwards, we sat in Bill’s truck in the parking lot for quite a while just waiting to get out. (The car wranglers didn’t seem to have too much method to their madness. As the Queen would say…we were NOT amused!) Back at the campground, we all dispersed, and I got a little work done. The rain held off until we all gathered for happy hour, including Tom’s margaritas, and our
celebration dinner errr I mean lick-our-wounds supper. Ten of us gathered in the firsties’ coach and enjoyed two kinds of chili and lots of other stuff. College football was on, so two couples just came and went at half time. The meal was a rousing success. My favorites were Rose’s white chili and Susan’s cornbread. Yum!
Early Sunday morning I headed out to catch up on some walking. Colorado Avenue has nice sidewalks, so I managed to get about 3.6 miles in safely. Then MW and I headed over to check out the Colorado Cowboys for Jesus church. It was awesome! I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church service where everyone laughed so much! The music was western-style with guitars, banjo, mandolin, keyboards, and washboard. Yes, you read that last one right. There was a much older lady sitting on a stool playing a washboard. There were also two women singing, and all of the men joined in, too. The regular pastor was out of town, so they were without their fiddle, but it was absolutely wonderful, nonetheless. After the great music, you’d think the sermon would be a let down, but far from it. Pastor Joe delivered a good lesson on the definition of a Godly life. We thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely go back if we are in Colorado Springs again.
After taking a nap and getting a little work done, we were off to meet our USNA crowd at the second highlight for the day. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire completely destroyed what had become an institution in the Colorado Springs area…the Flying W Ranch. In 1953, this working cattle ranch began entertaining visitors with a Chuckwagon dinner and show performed by the Flying W Wranglers, the second longest running western performance band in the world. Crowds grew from an original 11 guests to over 1,400 a NIGHT! That all melted away in the ashes of that terrible fire, but like a mighty phoenix, they have risen again. Despite the death of the family patriarch and the challenges of the Covid 19 mess, they opened again in July 2020 and have been going full bore for the summer seasons since. Our timing was great..Sunday, October 2 was their final performance of the 2022 season. (You guys know I usually show up the day after that, right?!) Supper was smoked meat options, their famous beans and lots of other fixin’s, all excellent and much more than you could possibly eat. I think they got all of us served, and there were hundreds there, in about 30 minutes…an impressive feat. The best part, though, was the show…all western music sung in harmony and accompanied by guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, and banjo. One of the guys from the church we went to that morning was in the band, too! It was awesome! In addition to supper and the show, the facility has lots of other things to see and do. We had not done our homework and were not aware of that little tidbit, so if you go, arrive early to enjoy it all! On the ride home I was still tapping my toe to the replay in my head. Don and Susan were heading out early in the morning, so we said our goodbyes before turning in back at the campground. We didn’t, however, remember that Cindy was flying out early in the morning, and totally forgot the goodbyes there. Ugh!
SIDE NOTE: Friday as we were coming back from Pikes Peak, we stopped for gas at a station in Manitou Springs. Next door there was a large canopy set up and lots of folks in line for something, with someone making notes on a clipboard. Not wanting to miss out on what was apparently something good, I checked it out. They were all lined up to buy RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA! Really? Then on my walk on Sunday I passed a different recreational pot store in Manitou Springs. It was well before 8 AM, and the parking lot was empty, but I noticed a car pull in just after I passed. A little later on my way back by, the parking lot was full and there was a line of about 10 people waiting to be allowed into the now open store. Wow! Who has such a Mary Jane emergency that they have to queue up first thing in the morning to get into the pot store?!
Monday morning started with a drive through Garden of the Gods. This truly remarkable, 480-acre park was donated to the City of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of Charles Perkins. There were a few requirements, not the least of which was that their father’s favorite place had to be shared with the public for free. The Visitor Center wasn’t open that early, but we drove through the park enjoying the views. Along the way we saw several mule deer including an 8-point buck that just watched us ride by.
Back at the RV, we loaded up with Hoot and Janet to head back over to the USAFA for a tour. After some initial confusion about where we should meet and our whole crew driving around “behind the black gates”, we parked at the observatory. As we were walking up the steps to meet our guide, a large buck mule deer stuck his head up from behind a small hill to let us know we were disturbing him. He was walking around the end of the wall when a SECOND large buck stuck his head up. He, too, decided to relocate, and when the two met on the lawn, they treated us to a little sparring practice. After a few minutes, they parted and walked on down the hill together. Beautiful!
Our guide showed us the campus including classroom and relaxation areas, library, and dining hall. The Polaris Building was interesting. One of its functions is trials in Honor Court. The architect built the huge, slanted, steel structure so that the North Star would shine straight down the shaft. That is a lot of pressure if you are in there being judged! Unfortunately, the Chapel, which is very unique, is currently covered in a giant white box. (An extensive, 4-year renovation project expanded to include asbestos remediation. The iconic building is not projected to be uncovered again until 2027, so there will be a couple of cadet classes that graduate without ever seeing it during their stay. I don’t think that is quite as traumatic as graduating from the USNA without ever beating Army, but it may be close.) We finished up our tour watching the Cadets line up for noon meal formation. They all eat at the same time, and three times a week they enter the dining hall for lunch in their squadrons. It was pretty impressive to see 4,000 kids marching in! (Don’t know what the rules are now, but the alumni in our group formed up for all three meals, five days a week at the USNA. They said it gets old after the first day, so these kids were getting off too easy.) This was a special week at the Academy which, in addition to the Navy game included a visit from Richard Petty and other activities. Because of that, this particular formation was treated to an F-35 fly-over…awesome! Like the US Naval Academy Plebes, the Doolies (freshmen) have a long list of rules that only apply to them, such as only being able to use some of the granite strips on the quad, not taking any shortcuts, and having to run everywhere. I noticed that the upper classmen walked just a little further to get away from that granite, too. Either they wanted everyone watching to know they were beyond that, or the feel of granite under their feet brings nightmarish flashbacks. Who knows?
After the formal tour, we rode over to Doolittle Hall to check out the gift shop. They had a display for the WWII Doolittle Raid and a wall of fame for USAFA grads. I recognized a face or two, one particularly well. Next we rode over to ogle at the B-52 (of course) and the adjacent Air Warrior Combat Memorial. They had a statue of Brigadier General Robin Olds, a fighter pilot, triple ace, and one time USAFA Commandant of Cadets. There was a list of his quotes, and my favorite was: “When outnumbered by the enemy the first thing you should do is praise the Lord for a target rich environment.” Finally after searching a bit for it, we took the short walk to the Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion. This was a pretty cool memorial to those who served in the Vietnam war. It included a pavilion with a really nice relief map of Southeast Asia, several information kiosks, and seating for events with a terrific view of the mountains. Outside there was information about USAFA graduates who received the highest honors for their service in Vietnam, including a statue of Captain Lance P. Sijan (’65) who won the Medal of Honor. You can read the citation here, but suffice to say this guy had grit.
SIDE NOTE: There was one thing our guide mentioned that threw me and MW for a bit of a loop. The service academies are the training ground for our future military leaders…the men and women who will run, fly, or sail headlong into the belly of the beast leading their troops. These schools are supposed to take young men and women and mold them into the right stuff, so to speak. In describing one of the buildings, she said something about hugging puppies and doing crafts to alleviate stress. What??!! Surely she was joking, although there was no indication of it. Is that the coping mechanisms they are teaching them? I don’t think there will be puppies or crafts up in that fighter jet or deep in enemy territory. **sigh** How can they make steel out of pillow stuffing? I asked around…none of the guys in our alumni group were ever sent to cuddle with any animal when they were stressed. Someone might have suggested wrestling with a tiger or something, though.
After having some lunch back at Petunia, I headed out at Bill’s suggestion to Burlap Bag Boots just down the road from the campground. I had been looking for boots for my BFF Tina’s wedding with no luck. The young lady who helped me, though, was great, and we found a pair of Ariat’s that are awesome. I started breaking them in at our final group dinner at Miguel’s 8th Street later that night. It was a fun evening with Bill, Tom and Rose, Jim and Wendy, Hoot and Janet, and us. Jim and Wendy shared this dish called Molcajete Guadalajara that was honestly one of the prettiest Mexican dishes I’ve ever seen. They said it was as good as it looked, too, so we’ll be giving that a try when we see it again for sure. This was a great come around, and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with the terrific people and seeing some of what Colorado Springs has to offer.
Unfortunately I was so busy having fun that I didn’t get ANY pics of Garden of the Gods RV Resort. Don’t let that be a reason for not checking it out. On West Colorado Avenue just outside of the Manitou Springs city limit, this park offers two pools, playground, bark park, arcade, pavilion/event center, and two laundry facilities. The office has souvenirs and convenience items, and they sell propane onsite. They also offer overnight bike lockup, and there is a little garden area with a food truck for breakfast on some days. Lodging options include: 29 air-conditioned cabins/cottages/suites in a variety of sizes; 19 gravel tent sites ranging from primitive to water and electric with picnic tables and fire rings, and some have grills; and 153 full-hookup RV sites with concrete patios and picnic tables. There are back-in and pull-through options, and some are larger than others. Verizon and AT&T were full-strength, and there were way too many over-the-air tv stations. It is right in town and on a busy road, so you definitely hear the traffic, but I was impressed with how quickly that many people quieted down for the night. Just 10 minutes from the Pike’s Peak Cog Railroad and the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center and no more than 25 minutes or so to anything in the Colorado Springs/Manitou Springs area, this is a winner for sight-seeing. For this stay in October 2022, we paid $505.16 for 5 nights in a premium, pull-through site.
That’s it for now. Next up…heading east. See you on the path!
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