Day Trips in Colorado Springs…Where Time Stands Still

A mist settles over Colorado Springs…

Healthy Bubbles Delight the French in Manitou Springs

French missionaries were writing about Manitou Springs long before Major Pike discovered his famous peak. And before the French, Native Americans made pilgrimages to the land they named after the Great Spirit.

History’s travelers came by horseback or by foot to enjoy the healthy benefits of pure waters. For them, entering Manitou Springs was like entering an enchanted valley where the earth delivered healing waters that hissed and bubbled with life-building mineral gases.

“I had provided myself with a tin cup holding about a pint; but before dipping it in, I divested myself of my pouch and belt and sat down in order to enjoy the draught at my leisure. I was half dead with thirst and tucking up the sleeves of my hunting shirt, I dipped the cup into the midst of the bubbles and raised it hissing and sparkling to my lips. Such a draught! Three times, without drawing a breath, it was replenished and emptied, almost blowing up the roof of my mouth with its effervescence. It was equal to the very best soda water, but possesses that fresh, natural flavor which manufactured water cannot impart.”

You can say that even though the people who settled the area have long since passed, the beauty and grandeur of the land remain. Art has set up her kingdom, and the springs still bubble up with sparkling beauty thanks to the efforts of the Mineral Springs Foundation which restored much of the late 19th century health resort of Manitou Springs. Currently, there are 8 mineral springs open to the public.

Manitou Springs: Where Time Pauses and a Leisurely Stroll Leads to Treasure

Take a peek at Pike’s Peak…

The draw to Manitou Springs is as much about pausing to admire nature’s beauty as it is about enjoying creature comforts. It’s where time never hangs heavy. Even though some of the grand hotels of the past have transformed into apartments (Barker Hotel), others like the Cliff House remain as an elegant destination…or a large indoor teepee celebrating local celebrity Buffalo Bill. Your choice!

Imagine walking the same path as turn of the century wealthy visitors to Colorado. Like them, do you feel there is always something interesting to do and plenty of time to do it in? After all, there is no need to rush around from place to place, trying to check off as many boxes as you can on your mental bucket list.

Instead, a leisurely stroll is preferred.

Why? Because the scenery is so varied, so grand, and so impressive you will be inspired to pause, contemplate, and adjust your eyes to all the details. Look at life through the lens of nature, take it in season by season, all in its own time.

Venture up the road into the canyon passes which can extend for miles into the gorge. At first the canyon walls are widely separated and then, in a blink of an eye, you can be completely shut in by precipitous cliffs which rise higher and higher. Still, you press on until you reach the climax where a great amphitheater of towering rocks bursts into view.

The canyon walls are composed of a distinct strata of sandstone, forming bands in a variety of dazzling colors: pink, gray, white, maroon, and vermillion, the color of life.

The Cave of the Winds: Then and Now

Rocks standing in artistic formation…

The adventures experienced by turn of the century travelers to the Cave of the Winds didn’t include packaged offerings to ensure a good mix of cave tours and above-ground adventure. And, there were no weight and height restrictions.

Instead, summer visitors to Manitou Springs often explored nature in much the same way some of us may have experienced the great outdoors while camping when we were young, in tents instead of RV’s of course. Although, since it was often wealthy travelers heading out to these railroad hotels, they were probably dressed a little fancier then hand-me-down toughskin jeans!

Just sayin’.

Our vintage traveling soul sisters (and brothers) may have reached the Cave of the Winds natural landmark after an afternoon “sauntering” for a mile or two in order to reach a cap-rock of limestone several hundred feet high.

The entrance was in the west wall of the canyon just below the earth’s naturally formed amphitheater. It was reached by a winding path which clambered high up the rock wall and then through an imposing archway.

Why walk so far?

The earliest legends believed this is where the Great Spirit of the Wind lived. And, I suppose if it was possible to walk to a God-like spirit, you go.

Even then people were awe-struck once they passed the cavern entrance. Halls, corridors, and tunnels abound. Chambers cross and encroach upon each other in confusion. As if to create order out of the chaos of caves, they were given names like “Praire-Dog Town,” “Alabaster Hall,” “Dante’s Inferno,” “the Hall of Beauty,” and “the Great Cathedral.”

Some of the curious formations received names taken right out of the familiar life and nature of preceding generations such as “The Bed of Cauliflowers,” “The Bunch of Grapes,” “The Chickens,” “the Icy Curtains,” “The Coral Bouquet” and “The Whales Head.”

When you visit the caves today, see if you can find the same shapes – it’s sort of like seeing the outline of Lincoln’s head in a potato chip!

What we enjoy today at the Cave of the Winds began in the late 1880’s when Ohio stonecutter, George Washington Synder (keeping with our president theme), stumbled upon the caves and began to offer guided tours. This makes the caves one of Colorado’s oldest attractions.

Beyond Rainbow Falls, the Manitou Grand Caverns were called the most extensive and wonderful cave to be found anywhere in the West. Once tours were available, the promise was that travelers would enter a comfortable reception room and be furnished with a “polite and intelligent guide”…and lights, for their subterranean journey.

What could they expect to see on this journey to the center of the earth?

How Mother Nature changed the landscape over thousands of years…

Rich displays of stalactites and stalagmites, wreaths of alabaster, beds of coral, graceful flowers, arched bridges, flocks of sheep, bevies of birds, and drooping lilies.

Cave chambers were given names like the “Opera House”, described as a vast apartment 500-feet long with ceilings soaring over fifty feet in height. The fact they referred to this section of the cave as an opera house gives us a clue as to what class of people were taking the tour.

Tour goers were challenged to use their imaginations to see floors carpeted with an arabesque of flowers, walls hung with gracefully draped curtains, and frescoed ceilings. All decorated through the power of nature…and the caves.

As grand as the Opera House was, the crown jewel of the tour was the “Grand Organ.” The keys were formed with stalactites which, it was said, when struck by the player gave out distinct and perfect musical sounds. At the time, the keys were reported to play two octaves with all the intervals plainly marked. An accomplished musician was employed to perform upon the cavern organ. Visitors were charmed and delighted by the sound and acoustics of the great natural theater.

The “Bridal Chamber” was the gem of the cavern. A perfect museum of wonders. Again, visitors were encouraged to use their imaginations to see tiny flowers of crystal interlaced into garlands and wreaths in a graceful display fit for a kingdom.

Since then, a lot has been added.

Cave tours include an educational walking tour; a lantern-illuminated folksy, ghostly, history tour; and climb and crawls through undeveloped sections of the Manitou Grand Caverns.

Heading above-ground there are challenge courses, cliff hanger climbing walls, virtual reality experiences, a ride on the Terror-dactyl, and Via Ferrata – a two-hour guided tour as you climb with the aid of cables and ladders around limestone cliffs and mountain paths above the canyon floor. Looking down, optional.

The Garden of the Gods: Nature’s Sandbox


Garden of the Gods, Manitou Springs, Colorado…

Travelers of all ages, and from many ages in time, have marveled at the rock formations found in the Garden of the Gods.

It looks nothing like a garden. And yet, the name seems to have stuck.

The entrance to the Garden is past “Balanced Rock”, a boulder the height of about seven grown men, perched precariously on a narrow base. To see it, you’ll wonder what kind of glue is holding it in place…and how can you patent it and bottle it up!

On the right is a steep wall of stratified stone, which was once draped with clinging vine and overgrown with evergreens. Mountains rise to the west; plains to the east. Pause here to look down into the valley below where the Garden lies.

Nature is the architect and artist here, carving sandstone into still-life forms with brilliant colors which your imagination brings to life. A liberty statue leans on her shield, a gigantic frog is poised to leap, and a prophet contemplates with staff in hand. As you travel the road toward the Garden’s entrance, a Noah’s Ark collection of birds, beasts, and reptiles surrounds you in rock form. All you need are an adventurer’s eyes to see it.

The Great Gateway welcomes you into the Garden. Two red-brown sandstone tablets rise from the earth 50 feet apart and tower 330 feet into the sky. It’s as if a giant, perhaps a god, once hung a door between the rock walls.

The Cathedral Spires strike an impressive pose with their sharply splintered pinnacles. If you’ve ever created a sand castle by dripping a mixture of sand and water into a pile, you have an idea of how these rock formations look.

Did the gods play in the sand too?

While visiting the Garden, you will certainly feel a sense of awe, beauty, and humbleness as you experience the energy of a place created with power and chaos, shifting and settling, with an unexplainable, profound sense of mystery and grace.

Kind of like life, right?

It makes you wonder. If Mother Nature, irregardless of our best laid plans, can change the landscape this drastically, how will the world as we know it now look in another million years?

Today, there is more to do in the Garden than marvel at rocks.

The nature center, a testament to how one person with a vision for positive change can help a community and preserve the natural beauty and history that surrounds us, (see the PBS Video link for the 27 minute presentation…it’s worth your time investment!) provides interactive education and Segways, trolleys, horses, jeeps and electric bikes to give you a different way to explore the park. Of course, there is still plenty of walking, hiking and rock climbing (with free registration and proper climbing equipment) to enjoy.

What’s Next?

There is even more to enjoy in Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas and now is always a good time to get out and see places that have stood the test of time. When you go, please tell us about your trip and what you enjoyed the most!

When You Go…

The Cliff House
306 Canon Avenue
Manitou Springs, CO 80829
Phone: 719.785.1000

Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center
*Handicap Accessible
1805 N. 30th St.
Colorado Springs, CO, 80904
Summer Hours: 8am-7pm
Winter Hours: 9am-5pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day

Cave of the Winds
100 Cave of the Winds Rd,
Manitou Springs, CO 80829