We started the trip with a 2pm EST flight from Manchester, NH to Denver. When we got on the plane in Manchester they informed us that the flight normally takes about 4 hours, but it would take 4 1/2 that day because of a 150 knot headwind. They were wrong. We ended up circling Denver for over an hour because of severe thunderstorms in every quadrant of the city. By the time we got on the ground, we'd been in the air for 5 1/2 hours and we were DONE. Too bad we still had to drive to CO Springs. We got our luggage (quite the cluster, since when the hold was lifted they started dropping planes out of the sky left and right), ate, and headed for Dollar. Despite the complaints I've read on TA, we had a very positive, low pressure experience. But I think the guy was more concerned with the possibility of a tornado than with trying to upsell us. He wanted to get out of work early. I was concerned about the possibility of a tornado too. That's one CO thing this East Coaster didn't care to see.
The drive to CO Springs was harrowing, as the torrential rains started the second we made it into the rental car. I thought about staying put, but with water rising around us, my instinct was to get to higher ground. Thankfully, the rain settled down a bit by Aurora, but the storm chased us to CO Springs. The drive ended up taking almost 2 1/2 hours between weather and accident related traffic, which seemed like an eternity, being that we were on East Coast time, and had already spent so long traveling.
Since we knew what the storm held, and we knew it was right on our heels, we decided to park the car before checking into the Wyndham Grand Mining Exchange, in Colorado Springs. We had decided before the trip not to pay for valet ($18/day), and had mapped out where to park the car. We found a spot in the Kiowa Street Parking Garage, and hauled our luggage the block to the hotel. We were greeted by friendly doormen, and a smiling girl at the front desk. She was quick to inform us that we had received a complimentary upgrade to a junior suite. We were excited, as we had a 30% discount on a regular room to begin with, so we couldn't believe the deal we were getting, but we had trouble showing it. We really were exhausted. It was closing in on midnight to our bodies. Thankfully, we were the only ones checking in, and the process was very quick. It was raining before we left the front desk. Pretty soon we were in our room, 322. At that point, we woke up a bit. We just couldn't get over how beautiful the room was, or how little we were paying for it. Remember, we're in our 20s. Vacations are a priority, and I travel more than the average 26 year old, but we go budget. Eventually we settled down to rest up for a busy day of sight-seeing.
We were awake EARLY, between hunger (airport food just didn't hold us), and being early risers on the East Coast. That wait for restaurants to open for breakfast was a challenge, though we were thrilled to see the sun was shining after the previous night's deluge. But they did eventually open, and we were at Open Easy, about a block from The Mining Exchange, within minutes of opening. We were quite pleased with the variety, the service, and the food at Open Easy. Once we had sufficiently filled up on pancakes, we headed to 7-11 for some bottles of water, and then found the car and we were off to Garden of the Gods. Wow! is about all I can say. Neither one of us had ever seen red rock formations before, so this was just incredible, and we both walked around saying "Wow" and "Incredible" throughout the park. We walked a bit on the trails near the main parking area, and we also did the Siamese Twins Trail. By then it was getting quite hot, and us East Coasters were hungry, so we decided to move on to our next stop.
The next stop was the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Our first stop when we got there was food. Based on comments on TA, we tried Overlook, and we were very pleased. Our pizzas were fantastic, and reasonably priced for zoo food. After eating, we checked out the different animal exhibits. We were VERY impressed with this zoo. Beautiful setting and very well done exhibits. We would be happy to return.
By mid-afternoon it was clouding over, so we decided it might be time for an indoor attraction. We had already learned not to underestimate CO weather! So we headed for the Ghost Town Museum. The woman taking money for admission was very friendly. We were definitely surprised by the quantity of stuff in this museum, none of the exhibits seemed like things we hadn't seen in places outside of CO. Interesting, but not a must-do.
By this point, it was late afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel to rest, and figure out where we were going for dinner. About the time we figured out where we would be eating, the fire alarm started blaring in the hotel. We broke every rule I tell the kids I work with in a school and grabbed our jackets, camera bags, etc, and headed outside. We waited around for a few minutes, and then decided it was time to find dinner. Since it was raining, and we were thinking about going back to Garden of the Gods that evening, we went to the garage to get the car, and drove to Phantom Brewing Company. Service was good, food was good, and my better half loved the beer selection. After dinner, it was still raining, so we decided to call it a night. We returned to the hotel, where everyone had just been cleared to return to the rooms. We never did find out what happened, but there was no smoke smell, and no water damage in our room, so we didn't really care. We were exhausted.
We were up EARLY this morning. Well, early by CO standards;) We had tickets for the 8am train up Pike's Peak, so breakfast was cereal bars in the room, and we were on the road about 6:30. The drive to the train station was quick, with few cars on the road at that hour. It was easy to find parking at that hour, and I would go early for just that reason. We picked up our tickets and explored the gift shop a bit before the train arrived. The train departed at 8, and it was an awesome experience. HIGHLY recommend it. We returned to the Manitou Springs station about 11:30 am and hit the gift store before driving into town in search of lunch. Seeing the parking nightmare that the area around the station had become made us very happy to have taken the early train.
Lunch was at the Stagecoach Inn, which had a neat atmosphere, but average food. The better half needs to learn to read TA reviews! After lunch, we headed for Cave of the Winds, which we loved. Again, this was a very different experience for us, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The clouds started building again at the end of the tour, so we called it a day. Dinner tonight was at Jack Quinns Irish Pub, again about a block from the hotel, and again, an enjoyable meal. My boyfriend loved the late happy hours in CO. They seemed to last until 6 everywhere, which is quite a bit later than most places at home. Jack Quinns was one of those places.
Our last full day in the Springs started with another pancake breakfast at Over Easy. Again, excellent food and service. We were sad that we wouldn't have time to eat there again. After breakfast, we made the drive out to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. This was not crowded at all. They were out of trail maps, but the girl in the visitor center went over a map with us, pointing us in the direction of the Petrified trail, which was perfect. Seeing the petrified redwoods was what brought us all the way to Florissant. We loved walking around the national monument. So beautiful, and for a couple New Englanders, it was VERY cool to see the Petrified Redwoods. We were glad we got there by mid-morning though, as it got quite hot. We could have spent a lot of time there, exploring other trails, but we had lots more we wanted to do that day, so we decided to move along after the Petrified trail.
From Florissant, we headed for the Manitou Cliff Dwelling Museum. We enjoyed this. It was neat to be able to walk through the dwelling, and the indoor museum was huge! It's not a place I need to return to, but we were both very happy to have gone once.
After lunch we returned to Garden of the Gods, to see what we had missed on Sunday: Balanced Rock. I know a lot of people complain that there is cement holding it together, but being from NH, where various cables held the Old Man of the Mountain in place for years, we understood (and seeing the behavior of visitors, appreciated) the need. We were just impressed that a formation like that had ever formed.
From Garden of the Gods, we moved on to the Olympic Training Center, where we arrived about 5 minutes before the movie to begin the 3pm tour started. Great movie intro and great tour. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and a wealth of information. It was quite inspirational to visit this attraction.
After the tour it was back to downtown, where we dumped off belongings at the hotel, and then walked a few blocks for dinner at Rasta Pasta. Again, great meal. The rest of the evening was spent preparing to leave early the next morning for the final leg of the trip: RMNP!