Colorado Springs…Oh, if I could only catch my breath…

“…and known to one and all for the way she sang a good song, oh, if she could only catch her breath.”
Tis, Frank McCourt.

For reasons that aren’t clear to me, my travel schedule tends to go in waves. By that I mean, I’ll go nowhere for a long time, then I’ll hit a flurry where it seems I go to the same city again and again. One of these places that I found myself going to for months at a time was Denver Colorado.

It’s not a bad place, per se. Although I was sent to what suffices for a ‘hood’ there for a few weeks. It’s just that it’s known as the “mile high city”, because of it’s altitude. And that means, at least to me, that oxygen is in short supply. Or rather, in shorter supply than my fat arse needs it.

So it was with some trepidation that we planned a ski vacation to Colorado Springs around Christmas. True, we were to visit family, which is always fun. But, breathing would be tough. And we’d ski. Something I’ve done exactly once, and when I was in way better shape.

Let’s start with the travel stuff. We flew out on Frontier. Turns out they had the best prices, best flight times. With American being in bankruptcy I wasn’t about to step one toe on one of their planes. Besides, the prices they wanted were confiscatory. Since all our family is now adults, or nearly so, boarding passes are easier. We don’t really need to be together. This turned out to be a huge benefit.

In a case of serendipity, while we were waiting at the gate, the gate agent asked if anyone with a few seats together want to trade up for an exit aisle so a family could sit together. With reflexes of a cheetah running down a gazelle I was at the desk to score three seats in the coveted exit aisle.

Avis did me right with upgrades and cut loose a spanking new Taurus for us. It was a pleasant surprise. The Taurus has come a long way since the early 90’s models I used to drive. Not only was it well built and comfortable, it held us and all our crap. When we went skiing, all the gear fit in the trunk. About the only thing I didn’t care for was the video game style control center. Honestly, this is where most American cars fail. Too much gimmickry. It shouldn’t take a computer science degree to turn on the defroster. What’s the thing cost? 30-40 grand, and I’m wiping the windshield with a glove like I’m driving a beater.

Colorado Springs, it turns out, is kind of a cool place. Unlike Denver, which is more urban, industrialized, and mostly flat,  Colorado Springs is basically in the mountains. Matter of fact, it’s more famous mountain is Cheyenne Mountain – of NORAD, and thus ground zero for the end of the movie “War Games”. Not much to see from the outside. A mountain. With some antennas on the top.

We spent some time sizing up the local touristy attractions. None of them worth the trip, in and of themselves. They are cool to visit because you are there.

Apropos of nothing, the CS Zoo has a lift

A couple are worth the trip. Starting with Monarch Mountain. If you are into skiing, this is the place. At roughly 12,000 feet, it’s tough on the lungs, especially at 10 degrees. However, it snowed each day, dumping a foot of fresh powder on the trails. The place doesn’t have snow making machines. It has Snow. And the ski facility is really top notch. One thing we were told when planning this is to score your skiing gear on the way, or before you get to the mountain. Turns out this was genius, as it was far cheaper to pick it up at a rental place down the street than onsite. And, in the morning the rental area at the resort was a nightmare. Expensive, and very very crowded. Bring your gear, you don’t even have to go inside. Get a lift ticket, and head up the trails.

Sounds all way cool, if you forget the fact I can’t ski. I did once in my twenties when trying to impress my new wife. I’m now fifty. Skiing at Monarch, for me, was 3-4 trips up a cool lift in godawful cold, followed by a half dozen unglamorous, bone jarring wipe-outs, in-between bouts of sitting on the deck sucking air. Not once did my skis come off, which even I know is bad. By mid afternoon my ligaments and joints, had enough. And if Denver and Colorado springs were tough on the lungs, Monarch was misery. Definitely, do not get off the plane and go straight there. Spend a day getting acclimated.

Worst part of Monarch, by far, was the Monarch Mountain Lodge. In Yelp, Google, Song, and story it is the worst hotel ever, it’s a dump that you wouldn’t go into unless you wanted to hit the slopes early. On the outside it looks like a Tudor style lodge. That’s a veneer. It’s more akin to the crappy cheap motels you see on any road trip. The restaurant is right out of a Gordon Ramsey show. Before he fixes it. Food sucks, Service sucks, the only reason to stay there is for cheap digs close to the mountain. If you go, bring provisions. There’s nowhere else nearby to eat.

The welcoming halls of the Monarch Lodge

The other cool place to see while in Colorado Springs is Manitou Springs. On this blog there’s a piece on Wimberly Texas. Kind of a cool small town, a collection of a dozen or so buildings really, where they have all sorts of hippy and yuppy arts and crafts. Manitou Springs is a hundred times the size. Lots of cool shops to see as well as a couple decent restaurants. We went into Cripple Creek Dulcimers, and actually bought one. I’m still figuring out what to do with it. Dulcimers – not of the hammer variety, are a pretty primitive instrument. Far as I can tell from watching youtube, you bang away in a single key and holler. Maybe more study is needed on my part. They had a few custom guitars, some quite nice. But for the price, you are looking at a near top of the line Taylor or Martin. It’s a niche I guess. I was so surprised my wife wanted to get a cool instrument, I didn’t want to push my luck and lobby for a new ax.

Manitou Springs

They also had stores with some quite cool, and well made, clothes and whatnot. My daughters ended up with some pretty righteous handwoven (or at least looking that way) pullovers.

We rounded off the trip by hitting the zoo, sizing up the animals, most of which were inside due to the frigid temps, and hitting the Will Rogers memorial.

The Will Rogers memorial is way up on a mountain, which is accessible in December by a pucker-factor-five drive up a snowy switchback road. However, it sports an amazing view of everything in the valley below.

I’ve been to more than a few cities in Colorade – Denver, Litteton, Cortez, now Colorado Springs. As I read this, maybe it is worth the trip in and of itself.

Will Rogers Memorial, from 1/2way up


At the memorial
The valley. And the road up.