The drive from Chalk Creek over to Colorado Springs takes place almost completely on Highway 24. Even the drive over was beautiful. The initial portion on the west end goes through a portion of the San Isabel National Forest, and is pretty curvy. Then the land flattens out into a valley before heading into the Pike National Forest. As we headed back up the mountains in the Pike National Forest, we stopped at the Visitor Center perched on the Wilkerson Pass. From here we had a great view back over the plains to the Collegiate Peaks we had left behind ( Chalk Creek, where we are staying, is in a region known as either "the fourteeners", for the multitude of mountain peaks over 14000 feet, or "the Collegiate Peaks", for the many mountain peaks named after universities).
Here I learned that this view west from the Wilkerson Pass is known as the Bayou Salado. This is a combination of French and Spanish terms that refer to the large salt deposits on the southwestern margin of South Park, a major attraction for grazing animals (yes folks, there really is a South Park Colorado!). This is one of four high altitude parks in Colorado. Park is not used in the traditional sense of the word, as much of it is privately owned land, many ranchers. Park was derived from the french "parc", meaning a hunting preserve.
While there we encountered this little fellow, a golden mantled ground squirrel. There's a short walking path around the visitor center, and as we stopped at an overlook, there was a pair of these guys hanging out on the rocks below. I snapped a few shots, and then one of them scooted away. All of a sudden he was right here in front of us! Even with the dogs here. I gathered from this that they are accustomed to being fed :-). Sorry kids, no seed from me!
We then continued east to Colorado Springs, heading through smaller towns that are gone in a blink of the eye, then eventually larger towns like Divide (where we've seen the cheapest diesel prices in months at $3.83/gallon...guess where we filled up on the way back!) and then Woodland Park, a suburb of Colorado Springs. Very touristy, with all the major shopping areas, lodging, dining. The Walmart there is even built to look like a huge log cabin...funny! We soon encountered the signs leading us to Garden of the Gods, which were in conflict of how Samantha (GPS) was taking us in, so once again, she was getting upset with us and we had to turn her off :-). We eventually figured out that she was taking us to the main entrance where the visitor's center is, but the signs on the highway bring you in the balanced rock entrance.
Garden of the Gods is a city of Colorado Springs park. The land was donated to the city by the family of Charles Elliott Perkins in 1909. It has been designated in 2011 as a Great American Public Place by the American Planning Association. It attracts over two million visitors a year, and is the city's most frequently visited park. Entrance to the park is also free :-). There are more than 15 miles of hiking trails in the park, with a mile and a half paved trail that is ADA accessible running through the heart of the park, enabling anyone to enjoy the scenic rock formations. The park has many recreational facilities available, from hiking, road and mountain biking, horseback riding, and, with a permit, technical rock climbing.
Our entrance was spectacular. Our first view of the park was its most famous attraction, the balanced rock:
The outstanding geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of red, blue, purple, and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but have now been tilted vertically and faulted by the immense mountain building forces caused by the uplift of the Pikes Peak massif. Evidence of past ages; ancient seas, eroded remains of ancestral mountain ranges, alluvial fans, sandy beaches and great sand dune fields can be read in the rocks (wikipedia)
Headed up for a photo op
Once again, the pups in a beautiful scenic photo :-)
We continued around the park, following the signs to the Visitor Center. It was time for a restroom break, and we figured a map would be useful to have. The center is very nice, many exhibits, a short movie (for a fee), a restaurant. It looked nice, but with the dogs, we needed a picnic spot rather than a restaurant.
Found one! Scotsman Picnic Area. The roads within the park are mostly one way, so throughout the day we did a lot of "looping" to get to different areas.
New bird alert! The Black-billed Magpie..beautiful in flight.
After lunch, we looped around to the parking area for the Perkins Trail, the paved trail running right through the most formations in the park. I took so many pictures, its hard to chose a few, but you can view the entire album here at Flickr if you wish.
View of the central gardens from an off-road pullover just north of the parking area
Can you see the kissing camels?
We spent quite a bit of time exploring this area, and taking many photographs. We then decided to take a walk up a trail to the formation known as the Siamese twins. As you can probably see from the photos, the clouds were beginning to gather, so we headed to the trail to get in this last walk before any rains came.
The top of the trail to the twins
Spectacular view of the Siamese Twins formation with Pike's Peak framed in between them
Back down to the parking area, it was after 4PM. The clouds were thick, it was cooling down, and with a two hour drive home, we decided to call it a day. It was a really nice spot to spend an afternoon. Its funny, we had people tell us to allocate about an hour to visit the park, and we spent several hours! We always seem to spend so much longer in places than expected :-).
Thursday we deemed a "lazy day". Chelsea especially seemed to be a bit stiff after two days of walking and climbing rocks. Casey wasn't affected at all :-)! I did my laundry, we did some grocery shopping, and spent a lot of time going through the pictures :-). Friday we had our staff meeting, and I think we're really going to enjoy working here.The other couples are nice, and Tamara and Lars, the new owners, are really interested in hearing our thoughts and ideas. I spent some time that afternoon looking over her shoulder as she was taking and modifying reservations in the campground manager program. It doesn't look too difficult to learn, its quite intuitive as you work through the screens. I think I'll figure it out just fine.
Saturday we took a scenic ride north towards Leadville and Frisco, along the Top of the Rockies . And that will be the subject of the next blog, so stay tuned :-)!