Colorado Springs, CO
In 1893, on a summer break from her professorship at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Katharine Lee Bates picked up her pen and traveled west to Colorado Springs. From atop purple Pikes Peak, a Front Range mountain six miles west of town, the writer looked east to the rolling plains. Thrilled by the panorama, Bates returned to her hotel room in Colorado Springs and wrote the legendary song, “America the Beautiful.”
Since the 19th century, “The Springs” has inspired poets, lured gold prospectors and welcomed vacationers to its luxurious resorts and local mineral pools. Today, gold mining is but a memory, but the city continues to draw nature lovers who seek inspiration and rejuvenation near the Rockies. Attractions in Colorado Springs abound: visitors admire the ancient red sandstone formations at the Garden of the Gods public park, explore the trails of Pikes Peak or unwind over Sunday brunch at the luxurious Broadmoor Resort, a coral-pink Italianate estate complex at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.
Nestled between the Rockies to the west and the plains to the east, and just an hour south of the Denver capital, the second-largest city in Colorado enjoys year-round sunshine and a mild climate. In Downtown, a cultural art scene thrives at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and, just minutes north, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, with its sweeping views of Pikes Peak. Exhibits present works by the renowned glassmaker Dale Chihuly, as well as regional artists.
Founded in 1859, historic Old Colorado City is situated west of downtown, between Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Eighth Streets. In the 1880s, prosperous railroaders and gold miners roistered about in the local saloons and red-light district. Today, shoppers peruse the galleries, kitschy souvenir shops and restaurants.
One of the top Colorado Springs attractions lies about 12 miles north of the city at the U.S. Air Force Academy, established in 1954 on 18,000 verdant acres. The highlight of the tour, which includes B-52 exhibits and a replica of a cadet’s room, is the futuristic non-denominational Air Force chapel, a structure that features 17 spires shaped like razor-sharp pinnacles. The Barry Goldwater Air Force Academy Visitor Center offers films and exhibits on the academy’s history and maps for self-guided tours.
Outdoor enthusiasts who head minutes west to the Garden of the Gods can explore 1,300 acres of spectacular red sandstone formations, molded by wind and rain for more than 300 million years. Twisted columns and abstract monoliths are framed by Pikes Peak, and hiking, biking and horseback riding trails weave past 1,000-year-old juniper trees.
One of the most spectacular views in Colorado also lies six miles west of the city, atop the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak. By private vehicle, cog railway or plain-old hiking boots, visitors can ascend to the top and take in the 360-degree view that so moved Katharine Lee Bates. A three-hour round-trip by car leads above the timberline, past wildlife such as mountain sheep and deer. At the very top of Pikes Peak, Summit House cafe and trading post sells refreshments and meals.