To more fully appreciate my DELIGHT with Colorado Springs, you may first want to read my last blog “Heat and Fire”.
Colorado Springs has been a wonderful, first “base camp” for my long dreamed-of lifestyle that would include “summers NOT in Texas”. This trip represents the rick-man’s and my first plunge into retirement living where “trip” is not defined by one, two or three week vacations from work. Travel IS the lifestyle.
Although past vacations have focused on state and national park visits, this summer-long trip will include visits to "must see" cities and towns, which usually means camping in commercial RV parks. We have stayed these last four nights in a commercial RV park that is a five minute drive to Garden of the Gods, five minutes to Manitou Springs historic area, and 10 minutes to downtown Colorado Springs. The park is at the beginning of a bike trail that goes to Manitou Springs (or on to Pikes Peak for the biking phenom—and there are many in this area, young and old).
Commercial RV parks are never as lovely as state and national parks, but we were thankful for this one’s shady site and great location:
Much of this stay we’ve spent exploring the free, city-owned park, “Garden of the Gods”. It has a fascinating history in becoming a city park, and is another great example of human’s capacity to both recklessly misuse, and then passionately preserve, the natural wonders of this world. The reddish limestone formations that make up “the central garden” and the wondrous backdrop of Pike’s Peak and the Rockies are not aptly caught by any photo, including this one at the Garden of the God’s Visitor Center:
But this view does emphasize the great hiking trails, as we hiked from the Visitor’s Center to the central garden and beyond. It took the rick-man and me a good twenty-four hours to adjust to the altitude before attempting half-day and longer hikes. And it took me a couple of days to fully recover from the “Heat and Fire” experience. But even a first day spent on the main tourist trail within “the central garden” offered beautiful looks at rock formations that would delight geologists, and challenge enthusiastic rock climbers:
And even though we hiked many of the forested and more rugged trails, it was walking through the central gardens that brought me two new birding lifers: the Prairie Falcon and the Black-capped Chickadee. I got long looks at both. The Prairie Falcons were nesting in the park and we watched parents and offspring from both flight and perched positions. This beautiful falcon looks like a large, husky, grey version of an American Kestrel, common to Gulf Coast winter birders. You’ll find the two species of falcon side-by-side in books such as Sibley’s. But the only chance of spotting a Prairie Falcon in Texas would be far west Texas, and only during winter. Falco mexicanus is a western U.S. and Mexican year-round resident, venturing into far west Texas in the winter months. Most range maps for Avians are “north” and “south” oriented, with a bird’s range further south in winter, and more north during the summer. But interestingly enough, the Prairie Falcon’s range moves further east during the winter. An ornithologist could tell me why. I just wonder about it.
The Black-capped Chickadee was a sought-after miss from our Arizona and Wyoming trips of past years. Our first day in the Garden of the Gods (GotGs) brought us the Mountain Chickadee, also seen on our former Arizona and Wyoming trips. It was great to see the Mountain Chickadee again, with its white supercilium (eyebrow) giving it a “tude” quite different from the Carolina Chickadees common to Texas. After a wonderful hike on the forested, loop trail of (GotGs) we headed back to the central garden to relax and ponder the beauty of the rock formations, and a chickadee flew past, right in front of me. I could assume it was a Mountain, but my birding mentor (E.M.) taught me to take nothing for granted, no matter how tired from a hike. So I gave chase, and to my delight, was rewarded with long looks at the Black-capped. The Black-capped Chickadee is not a Texas resident, nor migrant, any time of the year.
My favorite hike was the multi-mile, wooded loop-trail around the park:
But the tourist sites such as "Balanced Rock" were great fun:
When not hiking and birding The Garden of the Gods, we enjoyed playing tourist about town. This visit held too little time to truly explore this fascinating city. But we did get out and about enough to enjoy our folding bikes (see my blog “Folding Does Matter”) and to tour the Manitou Springs area. We also got out and about enough to clearly note one common theme of Colorado Springs residents—they are fit! And I don’t just mean the young college students or Academy cadets. I saw multiple women and men in their 60’s and beyond that looked ready for the next Olympics. This town is filled with hiking, biking and other types of recreational endeavors. And the residents enthusiastically use them.
This hike and bike trail connected our RV park to the shops and historic area of Manitou:
Walking around the shopping district reminded me of Fredericksburg, Texas, with some serious mountains for backdrop:
These last few days have given me great appreciation for this unique city. Now I am excited to head out to one of Colorado’s state parks for a multi-day visit, removed from city hustle and bustle. The state park will preclude internet access and blog posting, but I do plan to write when not hiking and birding. I’ll hopefully publish a next post (probably Friday) that captures our visit.
For now, I’m just out wandering…