Besides spending three days in Denver and the Rockies, we also went on a road trip to explore more of central Colorado.
Cañon City is approximately a three hour drive from Denver. The main attraction is the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. At 956 feet, it’s one of the highest suspension bridges in the world.
Also included in the admission price are the aerial tram and the incline railway, respectively one of the longest and one of the steepest in the world.
A walk across the bridge offers incredible views of the canyon below (carved out by the Arkansas River) and of the surrounding mountain ranges.
We walked to the other side of the gorge, took the aerial tram back and then went down to the bottom with the incline railway (at a 45° angle). While it was quite sunny and warm at the top, at the bottom it was absolutely freezing.
In the end, we spent a whole afternoon there. There’s lots more to do as well: there’s a skycoaster, zip lines, horse riding, a wildlife park, a great souvenir shop… Keep in mind that some of those activities may require an extra fee. It’s a really great place to spend a day/afternoon!
In the morning we had been warned about an approaching snowstorm. We were hit by a sandstorm on our way north towards Colorado Springs, which soon turned into a proper snowstorm. So windy!
(Tumbleweeds are funny.)
The roads were pretty bad and we needed to find a place to spend the night. After quickly checking Lonely Planet, we made the spontaneous decision to stay at the Broadmoor. Let me just say this: “the Broadmoor is the longest-running consecutive winner of both the AAA Five-Diamond and Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star awards”. It was ridiculously fancy…
…And a lot of fun! We spent the evening in the indoor pool and outdoor whirlpool and eating dinner in one of the many restaurants. Breakfast the next morning was one of the best I’ve ever had. Honestly.
The hotel lies at the foot of Pikes Peak. The brochure, that you get when you pay the fee to drive to the summit, says it’s the most visited mountain in North America. Apparently Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” while gazing at the panoramic scenery from the summit. Thanks to her lyrics, the mountain is now known as ‘America’s Mountain’.
Normally it’s a 19-mile drive to the summit, but because of the snow the road was now closed off after 13 miles. It still was a spectacular drive though!
When driving back down I saw one of the greatest views I’ve ever seen in my life: Ute Pass. What an awesome lookout that was…
By the way, it’s best to save your stops at the lookouts for your way down; your car will be grateful!
Oh, and there’s a cog railway all the way to the summit too!
Our next stop arguably was the most interesting of the entire vacation. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are cliff dwellings built more than 700 years ago by a mysterious culture that lived in the Four Corners area from 1200 BC to 1300 AD.
It’s undoubtly fascinating and you’re allowed to enter the ‘caves’ (they’re way more than just caves…), touch and climb through.
There’s also a great little museum that offers more insight into the ancient civilization and culture that once thrived here.
A short five-minute drive took us to another attraction in the Colorado Springs area.
This was my favorite place, for reasons I can’t really describe. I just loved it a lot.
The Garden of the Gods is a breathtaking park. I can’t put it differently. It’s extraordinary, a 1,350-acre park full of towering rock formations. Most of those are 300 million (!) years old. You can go for a short or longer hike, or a scenic drive.
What’s really great here, is that it’s free. We didn’t visit the Visitor and Nature Center, which has over 30 exhibits, but it’s supposed to be really wonderful as well.
Those two days were pretty well-filled, as you can imagine. On the way back we stopped in Old Colorado City, one of the oldest settlements in Colorado. But that honestly was disappointing. It seemed like just an old(er) street. And the people were weird.
Then again, maybe there’s an entirely different atmosphere in summer – it is full of shops, restaurants and bars – but I guess we’ll never know.
It was a truly great road trip and I think I’m not lying when I say that we saw a lot of great stuff in only two days: canyons, a high class resort, old cave dwellings, a snowy mountain peak and 300-million-year-old rocks… And of course the obvious big ranches, cowboys, horses, indians and several old mountain/mining towns.
One could do worse!
A closing thought: As great as Colorado was, I’m left with the feeling that I have seen almost nothing. When looking at a map, I still find it really hard to wrap my head around the sheer size of the USA. Coming from Belgium (which is about as big as Vermont, mind you), I just can’t get used to the vast distances in the country. At home, when I drive, say, an hour and a half I’m in a place where people speak a different language. In America you can drive two weeks and still be in the same country. It’s so big and diverse, and that’s why I love it! I’m falling more and more in love with the country and its people…
I wanted to take a moment to thank Caroline’s aunt and uncle for being incredibly welcoming and letting us stay at their house in Westminster, a suburb of Denver. A big and genuine ‘thank you’ for your hospitality!