For our third anniversary, we decided to take a trip we'd been dying to take 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 as the distant horizon began to reveal snowy peaks. Finally we arrived in Colorado Springs, and our long drive was proven completely worthwhile. We stayed in an old Victorian house via AirBNB, and it was a wonderful experience!
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.
A few tips…
I’ll take a moment here to offer a few words of advice to anyone who might want to visit a high-altitude environment: we were quite ill for a day or two from altitude sickness, which we had no idea existed until we had it. It is dangerous in extreme cases, and we should have avoided the peak on our first day in Colorado. A few pointers we picked up on how to deal with the nausea, dizziness, and fatigue caused by milder cases (like ours):
1. Dramamine can be very effective for nausea of this kind, and everyone we encountered in beautiful Colorado was kind and helpful in getting us to a pharmacy for some keep-your-lunch meds.
2. A gift shop employee suggested that sucking on hard candies like Jolly Ranchers can keep the mind and stomach occupied and help ward away further nausea.
3. Taking things slow and steady is the best way to avoid altitude sickness in the first place. Had we stayed in town and waited three or four days before attempting any summits, we would have fared much better. And kept more lunches.
4. Any worse symptoms like migraines, loss of consciousness, or heart palpitations (I had all of these while in the mountains themselves) are relieved by simply going back down to lower altitudes - and should be done immediately. People die from this. Don’t do stupid things and do listen to your body.
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.
After three days in Colorado Springs, we went on to the Rocky Mountain National Park, where we encountered altitudes we had never imagined in our dizziest daydreams (pun intended). We also met an actual mob of chipmunks, who had no fear of humans and every hope of snacks (which we did not provide).
Our five days spent, we headed back home to sea level and humidity. Our lungs seemed to expand when we hit Kansas’ eastern border, but we’ll never forget the tremble that runs through the bones at the bottom of a vast and looming peak. Thank you, Colorado, 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.