For our third anniversary, we decided to take a trip we'd been dying to take for years.
For years we'd heard of the breathtaking beauty of Colorado, but we'd never seen it for ourselves. We hadn't been on a real vacation since getting married, and at the time we were even considering a westward move, so we decided to make the 16 hour drive across the country to see what everyone was so excited about.
The drive was very straight and fairly uneventful. I did discover that I'm made of sterner stuff than I had imagined, completing eight straight hours of the drive (my husband is an expert napper) with the help of this stunning performance by Richard Armitage of the audio novel version of Hamlet. The highlight of the drive was when we finally found something awesome in Kansas other than windmills - wild elderberry wine, produced locally from Wyldewood Cellars.
The air got thinner the further west we went - you can read about our experience with altitude sickness here. Eventually on the distant horizon we began to see snowy peaks. Finally we arrived in Colorado Springs, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed.
We had brunch at Over Easy two days in a row. It was that good. They call themselves a "daytime eatery" (how cute?) and have the YUMMIEST fresh mixed juices I've ever tasted! Justin also discovered that, unlike Tennesseans, when mid-westerners say "very hot salsa" they mean it. And of course, we found an amazing mural at West Side Tattoo and had to get a picture.
But first, coffee.
The day after we arrived, we headed up Pikes Peak. There is so much you can do all along the way up the mountain. Next time we definitely want to ride the train, but this time we drove. Trails are available on the way, and there are pit stops and gift shops in a couple places too.
The beauty of Pikes Peak looming majestically over the town was otherworldly. We had only ever seen pictures of landscapes like this, and suddenly it was right before us.
Oh, and we saw gobs of signs warning us to be on the lookout out for Bigfoot.
There's a 20 degree difference between the bottom of the mountain and the peak, so by the time we got up to the little mountain lodge/shop, the snow was up to our knees. Being Tennesseans, Justin and I have rarely seen snow like this, if ever.
As we neared the summit, the wind became absolutely volatile. Between the fear of being blown off the mountain (since there were no guardrails in sight) and the lack of oxygen in our blood, well, let's just say we didn't stay long. But it was literally and figuratively breathtaking, and something we definitely want to do again.
We spent the majority of the next day in the Garden of the Gods.
I'll admit, at first I was a bit blasé about it. I mean, it's just a pile of rocks, right?
I was so wrong. Walking through these ancient, massive rock structures was breathtaking. And the contrast between the knee-deep snow the day before to this desert-y landscape (there were even tiny cacti!) was pretty incredible. I do recommend you visit the park's excellent Visitor's Center, which has loads of information about how the formations came to be there, the history of humankind encountering the Garden, and the wildlife that enjoy life there. They even have a 3D interactive map, which was very helpful because of how huge the park is.
At first the rocks are impressive because of their shape and size, But as you walk among them, their shapes morph and change with your perspective and the shifting of the light. When I first saw the formation above, I thought it was only one large ridge. It wasn't until the sun lit up the bit in front that I realized they weren't even connected. Incredible.
And it's not just rocks - there's plenty of plant life in the Garden, which the mule deer really enjoy hiding in (and eating). What amazed me was how little it took for life to flourish, even on land that seems so dry and lifeless.
The park is open in many places for visitors to actually climb around on them, which we loved. We were so impressed with this park and this town, and every second was different than anything we'd done before.
And then it was over!
Thank you, Colorado Springs, for knocking our socks off. Your people are warm and welcoming, your air is crisp and clean, and you have a unique culture and landscape that takes our breath away. We'll be back.