Monday, August 28, 2006

Purple Mountains Majesty

Well, after waking up at a deliciously early 3:15 Mountain time this morning I am a bit worn out from the lightning-quick trip Nikki and I took to Colorado Springs this weekend. We flew out of Houston Friday night after work and returned via the 6:!5 out of Colorado Springs.

The first order of business on Saturday was wait for a break in the weather. During the previous week I had been watching the forecasts with growing dismay as they went from sunny skies with a 10% chance of rain at the nine days out mark to thunderstorms with a 40% chance of rain on Thursday. Fortunately we caught a break in the storms from about 9:30 or 10:00 until after 3:00 on Saturday so we made our escape from the hotel and hit the Garden of the Gods. We wandered, hiked, and drove through the park for the better part of five hours while admiring the red sandstone formations. I think it goes without saying that I took a TON of pictures, however this one, of the formation known as “Kissing Camels” is one of my favorites.

After the Garden of the Gods we spent some time in the trading post (read souvenir shop) in the park where I fulfilled my need for a shot glass and purchased the base for a project which I hope to be launching sometime in the near future. After that it was time to find some lunch, which ended up being Ruby Tuesday, and then back to the hotel room as the weather was taking a turn for the worse and we were both in need of some chillaxin’.

Since the weather was still overcast and kind of rainy after our nap, we decided to head to the Cave of the Winds before dinner. On the way out to Cave of the Winds we saw a bit of a rainbow peeking through the clouds and I don’t care what anyone says, rainbows are cool regardless of what they symbolize. Cave of the Winds was okay for a cave. I suppose I am spoiled in that the one cave I have been to that sticks out in my mind is Carlsbad Caverns, which seems to be the granddaddy of all the caves in the southwest. My adventures in cave photography did not turn out as well as I had hoped, however one or two came out pretty good, including this one, which is a nursery for baby stalactites. I have one which has better color to it, as well as some cave bacon, however there is an annoying wire mesh in the foreground that kind of ruins it. I really learned two things about cave photography on this tour. The first is that you shouldn’t really try it on a commercial tour as they tend to move too fast and you’re having to share a rather cramped space with a bunch of people who are always in the way. Second is that to get some of the spectacular results I have seen on some websites (here, here, and here) I am going to need a bit more practice, and perhaps a slightly better lighting rig. Sadly we made it through the cave without any manbearpig or Al Gore sightings, however they have a lantern tour which I will have to go on should I ever return to the area. Just you, your tourmates, and lanterns. That should be good for my claustrophobia.

And after a visit to the souvenir shop so I could sate my lust for a shot glass, Nikki and I went to Billy’s Pizza Buffet, which was pretty tasty. After that it was back to the hotel and to bed for the two of us. We were some worn out tourtistas.

Speaking of the hotel, we stayed at the Antlers Hilton, which is located in downtown Colorado Springs and has AWESOME vistas available through your window, should you get a room on the correct side of the hotel, which, as you can see from the photo below, we did.

Unlike Saturday’s mess of rain and general nast, Sunday morning was incredibly beautiful and Sunday we had a schedule to keep. We had reservations on the 9:20 Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway train to the top of Pike’s Peak and we still had to figure out where the depot actually was AND find some breakfast along the way. Fortunately we were able to do both, eating at Uncle Sam’s Pancake House in Manitou Springs and making it to the depot in plenty of time to wait in line. The ride up was very beautiful and although we did not see any big-horn sheep or deer or mountain lions, we did see a couple of yellow-bellied marmots, which filled our rodent quota for the day. On the train trip up and back we sat across from and chatted with an elderly couple from Florida who were some, as Nikki might say, travellin’ fools. Sadly not too many of my pictures from the train ride came out as I forgot to pan. ARGH! Fortunately several from the peak, which is 14,110 feet up in the air, came out just fine, including this one of Nikki throwing a snowball at me. It is easy to see how the view from the top of this mountain would have inspired the lyrics for “America the Beautiful.”

After the adventure to the top of the mountain, during which I would like to point out I did not once have a panic attack due to my fear of heights and nor was I affected by the altitude except for when I tried to stand up to fast and almost took a header in the train, we headed into Manitou Springs for a bite to eat and some more shopping. Lunch was at A Common Ground Café, which had the stench of hippie all over it coupled with the distinct aroma of rennie. The sandwich we had, called the Deli Rose I believe, was an interesting take on a turkey sandwich, consisting of turkey, mozzarella, tomato, and a mixture of catsup and hot sauce. The jury is still out on whether the sandwich was actually good or just edible. Manitou Springs itself had that conflicted feel of a sleepy community of artists which has been overrun by tourists and thus caters to them. I think it goes without saying that it was VERY pretty and I would move there in an instant. In a odd coincidence we parked across the street from the James House. The original proprietor was a Welshman named James James whose fiancée, in a very odd twist of serendipity, was named Catherine Wood. Erie stuff and we weren’t even in Pennsylvania.

Sunday afternoon was then dedicated to completing the final stop on our journey, a visit to Seven Falls. Seven Falls touts itself as being the “grandest mile of scenery in Colorado,” and while I have not seen too much of the state, after having been to Seven Falls I imagine this might be a bit of hyperbole. Of course this is where my fear of heights and general exhaustion took over, so I may not have seen some of the “grandest” scenery to be had at the falls; the 224 steps to the top of the falls? That was a bit too much for me at this point in the day. The falls themselves were pretty enough, although I do not like how close to the base of the falls the proprietors have chosen to develop. The trip to Seven Falls did give me an opportunity to spend a lot of time photographing a chipmunk or two. There was a chubby one and a skinny one who moved WAY too fast. The next time I go to Seven Falls I am going to go there first so I am not already tired from other activities and I am going to go in the morning so the sun will be in a better position for photography. And maybe I’ll get a sherpa to carry my stuff for me, too, while I am at it.

That was pretty much it for the trip. Since we had to be at the airport by 4:15 in the morning we had dinner, went back to the hotel, and packed it in for the night.

All in all I had a great time in Colorado Springs and would like to go back for some more exploring. I completely forgot about the Florissant Fossil Beds park, Cripple Creek, and of course the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo! I think there is plenty more to do in the area, so who knows, another trip may be in order.

All of my photos from the trip can be viewed here once I get them uploaded.


Connie and Rob said...

Very nice pictures. Looks like you had a good time. That girl Nikki that went along with you is pretty darn cute!!

Take care,

nikki said...

:) did i even hit you with any of the snowballs?

ps - thought the name of the hippie/rennie lunch place was something "mate". am i confused again?