Tag Archives: Colorado Springs

Cycling from Colorado Springs to Denver

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It started with a two hour bus ride, from Denver to Colorado Springs, on something called the Bustang. Bustang is a pretty good service for cyclists in Colorado, as each bus has bike racks on the front. It would be a great service with more schedule options. For anyone thinking of making this journey, the only real option is the 7:35 A.M. departure from Denver, which arrived in downtown Colorado Springs just after 9:30.

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Colorado Springs is an interesting town. People who think about Colorado Springs often think about one of two things; its affiliation with Christian conservative causes, as it is where Focus on the Family is headquartered, and Pike’s Peak, the mountain that towers over the city to the west.

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Pike’s Peak is actually only the 20th tallest peak in the State. Yet, it is often amongst the most visited and talked about because, compared to many of Colorado’s other mountains, it is relatively isolated.

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Perhaps most importantly, Colorado Springs is among the most active and fittest cities in America.

This was apparent as I began to pedal north from downtown Colorado Springs. The Pike’s Peak Greenway, was quite crowded for much of the journey, with joggers, packs of runners, and other cyclists.

At the northern border of Colorado Springs, the Pike’s Peak Greenway connects to the New Santa Fe Trail. Both of these trails are part of a long term plan to create what is being called the Front Range Trail, a network of trails that will eventually cross the entire state from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border, through many of Colorado’s most populated cities. Sings for the Front Range Trail have already been put in place here.

For some riders, the New Santa Fe Trail has the potential to be the roughest part of the ride. Much of it is both uphill, and unpaved. It also runs right through the property of the United States Air Force Academy.

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Many sections of it are quite rough, probably more suitable for mountain bikes than road or touring bikes. Along this stretch, there were about half a dozen instances where I had to dismount and walk my bike for a short distance.

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It was still a beautiful place to bike. The trail cuts through fields of Piñon Pines, and Monument Creek creates some picturesque mini-cliffs in front of the mountains.

However, although the journey up the hill is actually quite subtle, with no switchbacks or steep climbs, it did take more time and energy than anticipated to get to Palmer Lake, the high point of the trip, at an elevation of about 7,300 feet (2225 m).

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The next part of the ride was my favorite, north along Perry Park Road. This section is mostly downhill, but with some rolling hills. It was a wonderful 25 mile per hour ride on a smooth road, with bright blue skies, wide open spaces, rock formations popping out on both sides around every turn, and a light cooling breeze.

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There are a few route options at this point, and following Perry Park Road as long as I did, a little over 10 miles to Tomah Road, does bypass the town of Larkspur. I found it worthwhile, as I was enjoying the ride, but it does mean a total of about 20 miles between towns.

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Turning East, Tomah Road was actually the most challenging climb on the entire ride. The total climb is pretty small, from about 6200 feet to just over 6800. However, that climb occurred in less than two miles, and can be unexpected, as Castle Rock is at 6200 feet and this climb came from one of the subtle terrain features east of the Rocky Mountains.

After climbing and descending Tomah Road, the route was follows the Frontage Road along I-25 for about four miles into Castle Rock. Despite it being right next to the interstate, the road was quite crowded, and with no shoulder. It was probably the least enjoyable part of the ride.

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This was also where I struggled the most. It was the hottest part of the day, and after the unanticipated challenges, I began to doubt whether or not I could complete the ride. In these situations, it is usually good to stop and take a rest. The additional time it took on the unpaved trail up Monument Hill had set me back at least half an hour, but I definitely needed a rest, a snack, and, most importantly, I had a coke.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the sugar, but the coke re-energized me, and I was back on my way.

Crawfoot Valley Road, the road that connects Castle Rock and Parker was surprisingly crowded. It is a good thing there is a wide enough shoulder for bikes. This area is growing quite rapidly, and seems to get busier every time I ride this segment.

My next burst of energy was actually mental, which is usually the battle we are actually facing when we decide to undertake physical challenges like this. In Parker, the route connects to the Cherry Creek Trail, an amazing trail that is fun, well kept, and mostly flat.

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From here, it is 30 miles to downtown Denver. This sign (the Cherry Creek Trail has one every 1/2 a mile, but this is the first one I saw when I joined the trail) felt like a welcoming of sorts, to the home stretch. The final 30 miles of the trip would feel like a victory lap.

I knew there was only one real climb remaining, the part where the trail goes around the Cherry Creek Reservoir.

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It reminded me of this weird place we often find ourselves in life, where we know some sort of “victory” is coming. We can sense it on the horizon. We are anticipating it. However, it is not there yet. There is still some amount of work that needs to be done, and there is still some things that can go wrong.

Is it too soon to start feeling good about ourselves? Can we start celebrating something that is “about” to happen? Or, do we remain cautious and diligent, understanding that although we feel we deserve this victory, it has not yet happened, and it is still not yet time to celebrate?

That was how the final 30 miles felt for me. The first half went by fast. However, as I got closer and closer, anticipation increased, and this “homestretch” seemed to drag on.

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At that point, there really is no choice but to pound out that final ten miles, with those mixed emotions. I knew I had persevered, ended up having to take on more than expected, and would arrive at home triumphant that I had ridden my bike from Colorado Springs to Denver. However, I would have to keep pedaling those last few miles before I could check that box off my internally kept bucket list.

Mud Season

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“Mud Season” is a term used to describe a time of year when a combination of melting snow and frequent rain can cause the ground to become muddy for an extended period of time.  The term originated in Northern New England to describe the first part of Spring in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, when rural dirt roads are significantly tougher to pass through.  It is now used quite extensively in the Rocky Mountains as well.  Here, “mud season” refers to the time period between ski season and the onset of summer activities; basically most of April and May.  With a drier climate, Rocky Mountain “mud season” is not nearly as muddy as its New England counterpart.  But, the lull in activity produces similar results.

“Mud season”, no matter where you are physically located, is the outdoor recreation equivalent of a matinee movie showing, a red-eye flight, or well liquor.  Those who chose to travel during this time of year are rewarded with significantly cheaper hotel rates, much less traffic to contend with, and campgrounds that are significantly emptier.  However, as is the case with any other off-peak event, there is reduced demand for a reason.  And, there are tradeoffs.  Matinee moviegoers are giving up greater opportunities than those who pay more to see a movie at night, a red-eye flight can mess up sleep schedules, and well liquor can produce significantly worse hangovers.

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The main reason camp sites are easier to come by here in the Central Rocky Mountains in late April/ early May is that, at 10,000 feet in elevation, conditions are still not optimal.  This past weekend, both Friday and Saturday nights saw temperatures drop below the freezing mark.  Camping in these conditions is far less comfortable.  It necessitates chopping more firewood, packing more layers, and sometimes even breaking camp with frost on top of your tent!

In my case, there were plenty of people around to handle campfire preparation.  This particular camping excursion was actually a multi-day birthday party.  And, at some point Saturday evening, there was around 20 people at the campfire.  It was a strange mix, being in a remote, secluded area away from civilization, but also being at a major social gathering.  We were out of cell phone range, miles from any town, and a significant distance from the nearest other campers, but also using battery powered speakers to play music at a significant volume.  It was a truly amazing experience!  I got to both be around a large group of people, but also wander into the woods and collect my thoughts in perfect silence, all in the same day!

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Social gatherings of these kinds are always somewhat of a balancing act.  At any social gathering like this, you will find people that will fit into the following three categories:

First, there are the people you are solidly friends with.  You have seen them sometime recently.  You have your shared experiences, your silly jokes and the like.  Most likely you have some kind of plan to see them again.  Maybe you coordinated rides with them, or even lost a silly bet on a basketball game several weeks ago.  That is what happened to me, and why I had to wear this silly sombrero for most of the weekend!

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In the second category are people who you know, but not terribly well yet.  These are the people you would typically describe as “friends of friends”.  You’ve definitely had some experience with them.  They showed up at the bar last weekend, or the last house party you attended.  You’ve hung out with them, conversed, danced, played games at various intoxication levels.  And, maybe someday in the future someone in this category will eventually be a good friend.  But, with people in this category, the next time you will see them will be at another event coordinated by your mutual friends.

And, finally, there are the people you are meeting for the first time ever.

A balance needs to be had.  I find it important to engage with people that would fit into all three of these categories over the course of the evening.  You need to enjoy your time with your friends, but also be open to letting more people into your life.  It’s about sharing in the activities you know, reliving the experiences you have had, and continuing the ongoing jokes you already share, but also trying new activities, exploring new ideas, and creating new jokes in your circle.

I dabbled in the old, as well as the new.  I even tried, once again, and failed, once again, at mastering the art of wood chopping.  That silly sombrero I had to wear did not help.

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Let’s be honest, my form here, it looks terrible, and look at all of those silly little chunks of wood that ended up splattered all over the place.  At least the activity kept me warm.

As is the case with any off-peak activity, there are some cases to take either side of tradeoff.  Someone who works a non traditional schedule may financially benefit from seeing a cheaper matinee movie.  A red-eye flight may be a more efficient use of time for someone capable of dozing off on an airplane.  And, well liquor could be a good cheaper alternative for someone whose plan for the following day does not necessitate being alert.  During “mud season” in the Rockies, hotels are cheaper and camp sites are far easier to come by.  It is also way easier to find both privacy and seclusion.  To get to a place that is truly peaceful, one must travel less distance, and often spend less time in traffic to get there.  Therefore, for those not looking to mountain bike, climb a tall mountain, or use muddy trails, it may be worth the trade-off to come up to the Rocky Mountains during “mud season”.  And, like the person who is capable of falling asleep on an airplane, or those who work non-traditional schedules, some are more adept at handling the cold nights of “mud season”.

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Like this Siberian Husky, who, if anything, feels at home in chillier conditions, there are off-peak opportunities out there for nearly any activity one engages in.  And, those who figure out the ones that are right for them, can save money, time and hassle.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Two miles south of Garden of the Gods, a place called Red Rock Canyon Open Space offers some of the same natural features.  Red Rock Canyon Open Space is a city park, belonging  to the city of Colorado Springs, but it is actually kind of halfway between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.

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There are two main differences between the Red Rock Canyon Open Space and the Garden of the Gods.  The most important difference is the density of the rock features.  The rock features at Red Rock Canyon do look similar to those at Garden of the Gods, but, these features are much farther apart than the features at Garden of the Gods.  This is most likely the reason that Garden of the Gods is more popular than Red Rock Canyon.

The other main difference is the hiking (and mountain biking).  Although Red Rock Canyon Open Space does not offer hard core hiking, there is more terrain here to climb than there is at Garden of the Gods.  Garden of the Gods can be thought of as more of a scenic walk than a hike, Red Rock Canyon does offer “strenuous” trails, that do have a little bit of grade.

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Based on a previous understanding that the ratings assigned to hiking trails were relative, we decided to find the most strenuous set of trails possible in the park.  This actually took us on a mix of trails that were open to mountain bikers and trails that were labelled hiking only.  The trails we took wandered through some of the rock formations in the park, which, up close looked a lot like they did from up close at Garden of the Gods.  Oddly enough, one of the trails we ended up on was actually labelled the “Contemplative Trail”, which is odd because my previous post about Garden of the Gods was actually titled “Garden of the Gods, A Place to Collect Thoughts”.

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We actually hiked far enough to leave the technical boundaries of the park, which took us a bit higher in elevation than those who remained within the park’s boundaries.  This is something I would definitely recommend to anyone else that is planning on hiking at Red Rock Canyon, as it provided us with some of the best views of the day.  From here, we could once again see the effects of last year’s major wildfires, which charred up all of the trees over a large segment of the mountainside.

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At this location, the trail actually meets up with something called the “Section 16 Trail”, which appears to be a hike through the forest/ foothills with more elevation gain.  I still wonder what it is section 16 of, but my initial research, which primarily involves searching on Google, has not provided me with an answer as of yet.

The second half of this day will eventually feature thunderstorms over the higher terrain, west of both Denver and Colorado Springs.  This is actually a common occurrence, as air is compressed by the mountains.  On days like these, thunderstorms form in the mountainous part of the state, but not in the plains.  Occasionally, the thunderstorms do track eastward, affecting places like Denver and Colorado Springs, but not always, and it always takes quite a bit of time.  Although these storms did not form until afternoon, we could sense these storms were going to form because the wind was blowing up the mountain and already starting to form cumulus clouds.  Pictured below are the cloud formations at 10:30 this morning, and the RADAR image from 3:30 P.M.  Notice how the storms are only present in the mountainous part of the state.

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Pike’s Peak, the defining feature of the region, was only visible for part of the hike.  In other parts of the hike, it was hidden behind other terrain features near Red Rock Canyon itself.  Of course, almost anywhere within Colorado Springs, Pike’s Peak can be seen towering over the city.  However, Pike’s Peak had a significantly different look this time up than last time.  Last time, in mid-May, Pike’s Peak was snow covered above basically the tree line.  Since then, all that snow has melted and the mountain is pretty much bare, making for a completely different look.

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My May 16th photograph of Pike’s Peak, compared to the one taken today, July 4th.

Finally, as we finished up our hike, we encountered an unexpected feature.  It was one of those terrain park areas for mountain bikes.  I had never really seen any of those before, and I actually saw a few people riding their bikes around, up and down the railway and sea-saw features.  It seems like a neat thing to do, albeit somewhat scary.  I think I am personally going to stick to long-distance road biking.

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Today’s hike had a surprisingly southwestern feel to it.  And, the whole time it made me wonder, where does the southwest really begin?  The south-westernmost part of Colorado, Durango and the Four Corners region, I can imagine, definitely is part of the southwest the way we know it.  Northeastern Colorado is definitely the plains, but North Central, like Fort Collins and even Denver do not particularly feel southwestern.  They feel basically central Rockies.  Maybe all red-ish features just make me think of all things southwestern, and I am getting it all wrong.  But, still, I wonder if I am entering an entirely new region every time I drive south on I-25 over Monument Pass.

The Garden of the Gods: A Place to Collect Thoughts

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I was not expecting to make any posts this week, as I have kind of been focusing on some other projects that do not involve traveling.  But, for reasons I do not need to get into, I felt the need to take a drive today.  There are several places I have wanted to see ever since moving to Colorado (that I have not seen before), and this place, the Garden of the Gods, is the one that was certainly not going involve me encountering snow (unlike the source of the Colorado River and Mount Evans).  I guess I really would prefer not to encounter snow at this point in time.  There will be a great time for me to encounter a ton of snow, in November, and during ski season.  At that point- bring it on.

The Garden of the Gods is neither a National, nor a State park.  It is technically a city park, in the city of Colorado Springs.  Colorado Springs is about an hour south of Denver, and is the second largest city in the State of Colorado.  The most common reason people visit Colorado Springs is to go to Pike’s Peak.  Pike’s Peak is dubbed “America’s Mountain”, and attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.  However, ever since moving to Colorado, I’ve kind of wondered why.  Pike’s Peak is only like the 31st or 32nd (or something like that) highest peak in the state, and it is not even the tallest mountain that one can drive to the top of.  Mount Evans is taller, and seemingly just as close to Denver International Airport.

However, as I approach Castle Rock, it somewhat dawns on me what makes Pike’s Peak unique.  And, well, it is actually something I should have figured out a long time ago, as I do frequently stare at maps.

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You see, when it comes to proximity to other tall mountains, Pike’s Peak is actually quite isolated.  Most other mountains in Colorado, including Mount Evans and Mount Elbert, the state’s tallest peak, are a part of a mountain range and are pretty close to other peaks.  People in Colorado talk about climbing to the top of two or three 14ers in succession quite frequently.  Most peaks are at least near others exceeding 12,000 feet, but not Pike’s Peak.  Pike’s Peak’s isolation makes it easy to spot as far away as Castle Rock (40 miles away).  This had to have contributed to it’s popularity.

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Upon entering Colorado Springs, it is actually quite easy to notice the remnants of last year’s wildfires.  In the foothills outside of town, all the trees are still charred up.  It is also easy to spot Pike’s Peak, especially from the Garden of the Gods.  Pike’s Peak towers over the town much the same way the Empire State Building towers over New York city.

However, there is a major difference between the two.  The structures that tower over cities in Colorado, the mountains, are all natural features.  Whereas, in both New York and Chicago, the structures that tower over the town are man-made buildings.  I seriously start to ponder what kind of sociological effect this has on each city’s inhabitants.  Can this difference actually explain some of the attitude differences we observe between people from Colorado and New York?  Is there some kind of subtle subconscious message being sent into everyone’s mind every time they see the most obvious feature in their area and they know whether or not mankind was responsible?  I mean, Coloradans see nature predominating over man when they look at their skylines, but New Yorkers and Chicagoans see the opposite in theirs.  Maybe my thoughts are just running away with me, but, heck, that is why I came, to collect some thoughts.

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It turns out that the Garden of the Gods is not a major place for outdoor activity, at least not for Colorado standards.  There is some hiking, mountain biking, and climbing, but they are all quite basic.  Mostly in the park, there are sidewalks that people walk on and observe the structures in the Garden.  These structures are fairly unique rock formations and they vary in color as they vary in age.

In one of the few places where I am able to do some off sidewalk hiking, I hike up some rock and get a unique view of the garden, as well as of Pike’s Peak.  I found this small little area carved out of the edge of one of the rocks.  Being in the shade I found it a great place to gather thoughts.  I started to gather thoughts of Pike’s Peak being some kind of watchman, watching over the city, and the garden’s rock structures being it’s associates.  However, before I could get to a productive thought, my thought gathering was interrupted by a teenage girl who saw where I was sitting and was intrigued.  She climbed over to me and started talking to me about what she was doing, and how she loved to climb the rocks and all.  When she asked me if this one guy standing about 150 feet away from me was my brother, it suddenly occurred to me that she was most likely under the impression that I was a lot closer to her age than I really am.  The guy she asked about was a teenager on a trip with his parents (as was she).

On the way back I began to wonder if I look young, act immaturely, or if there is anything about me that would make someone believe I could be barely 21.  But, then I realized that this most likely had more to do with where I was than anything else- Colorado Springs.  In Colorado Springs it is far more common to have already married and had kids by the age of 30 (or even 25).  This is quite different than the places I have inhabited over almost my entire life.  In Denver, as in Chicago, it is quite common to see people in their 30s that are still single, and not single for obvious reasons (essentially a repulsive personality).  I have read this is not the case everywhere, and it is possible that in Colorado Springs this is the case, and that as much as I would like to be flattered by this exchange, she probably just assumed I had to be under 25 because I was there without kids.

On the way home, I decide to get Culvers, as I had seen a Culvers sign on the way there and realized I had not been there in about a year.  Getting there, though, was a challenge.  I have not spent too much time in Colorado Springs, and do not know the road system too well.  Unfortunately, the road system is not to intuitive.

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What is all this about!  Every road I was on was constantly curving one way or another.  There is only one possible explanation about how this road network came to be.  One hundred years ago or so, some city official was charged with developing a road system.  He did not know what to do, so he had his five year old daughter throw spaghetti noodles at their wall.  He then used the layout of these noodles to make a road system for the city.  Really, I can’t think of any other reason for this.