Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been a popular resort town since the 1870s. It is the second largest city in Colorado and is the seat of El Paso County. Located only an hour south of Denver near the base of Pikes Peak—a soaring mountain whose summit is famous for inspiring Katharine Lee Bates to write "America the Beautiful" in 1893—Colorado Springs is much more than a mere mountain escape.
Colorado Springs is important to the U.S. military. The U.S. Air Force and Army have nearby bases, as does the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, located somewhere inside Cheyenne Mountain. The area is also an important base for Christian conservatism and several major evangelical megachurches.
Tourism, however, is the reason Colorado Springs was established, and it continues to be a prime part of the economy. There are so many things to do and see in Colorado Springs and the nearby mountains that you can spend weeks there without getting bored. From jaw-dropping natural attractions such as Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds to a plethora of man-made attractions that include ancient Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a host of eclectic museums, and The Broadmoor historic hotel and Glen Eyrie Castle—you'd be hard pressed to find another area with so many family-friendly things to do.
In Colorado Springs, Old West history lurks around every corner, and many visitors focus on visiting ghost towns, old gold mines, cowboy camps and dude ranches. Of course, this is also a modern city and there are fine arts, performing arts, competitive sports, and a wonderful bike and trail system. Colorado Springs is also the site of one of three U.S. Olympic Training Centers, open to complimentary tours year-round. A broad range of accommodations and restaurants serve your basic needs between adventures.
At 6,035 ft/1,840 m above sea level, Colorado Springs resides at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains just as they meet the plains, at the base of 14,115-ft/4,302-m Pikes Peak—one of 54 mountains in the state higher than 14,000 ft/4,267 m. The weather is generally dry, sunny and mild. The mountains to the west often absorb storms and moisture before they reach the Front Range, and the plains to the east sometimes generate warming winds in the winter.
The city spans 194 sq mi/504 sq km, most of it fairly flat but also including a few rises and rock formations; Colorado Springs spreads east from the Fountain Creek canyon mouth, where the snow melt and mountain rains run into the plains.
The north-south range of foothill mountains, which eventually ascend west into snow-capped peaks, contain the first line of interesting geographical features—including the Garden of the Gods, a cluster of fascinating red-rock formations just outside the city.
Interstate 25 cleaves north-south through Colorado Springs, roughly following Monument Creek, which merges with Fountain Creek at Confluence Park then continues flowing southward as Fountain Creek.
The first human visitors to the Pikes Peak region were hunter-gatherer nomads on the trail of buffalo and wooly mammoths. The first farming-based cultures to settle the area were the Ute, Comanche and Arapaho. The Native Americans' way of life ended in the mid-19th century when the white man discovered gold in the mountains and began settling in large numbers.
Fortune-seeking gold miners set up a base camp, which developed into a downtown area called Colorado City, to help service their expeditions into the nearby high country. In fact, modern Colorado Springs was created in part to distance the city's new elite from the rough-and-tumble saloon and brothel scene in Colorado City, which existed from 1859 to 1917. (Today "Old Colorado City" is a National Historic District filled with shops and restaurants.) When the gold rush gave way, sanatoriums began springing up in the latter part of the 19th century and early-20th century. These attracted the first wave of health tourists, many of whom were tuberculosis patients seeking a clean, dry, sunny climate.
Colorado Springs' founding father was Civil War Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who arrived in the area from Pennsylvania in 1870 and proceeded to establish the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Palmer helped plan the city grid, donated money for churches and schools, and treated himself to a 76-room castle he called Glen Eyrie.
The first military base in Colorado Springs, Camp Carson, was created in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That began the area's military boom, which included Peterson Air Force Base and Training Academy, NORAD and Air Force Space Command, all located within a few miles/kilometers of downtown Colorado Springs. In recent years, a small high-tech and communications boom has added to the economy, with companies such as Verizon, Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies maintaining large campuses.
Colorado Springs has many varied attractions. They include vast, natural must-sees such as Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, and gritty historical sights where you can pan for gold and eat supper from a cowboy chuck wagon.
Sports fans will appreciate Colorado Springs's U.S. Olympic Training Center and its many state-of-the-art sports complexes. There are niche museums such as the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and the World Figure Skating Museum Hall of Fame, and thoughtful visitor centers and museums at natural attractions such as Garden of the Gods and Manitou Cliff Dwellings.
Plan a visit to the The Broadmoor, even if you aren't staying at the historic hotel or playing golf on its championship courses; the scenery and grounds are quite attractive. Also enjoy a short drive up the nearby, winding Russell Tutt Scenic Highway to see the Shrine of the Sun, a memorial dedicated to Will Rogers, perhaps with a stop by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Although Colorado Springs is not necessarily known for its raging nightlife (serious clubbers travel to Denver for a good time), there are enough university students and martini sippers in town to suit your late-night needs. From brewpubs to cowboy bars to froufrou lounge scenes, you'll definitely be able to find a drink and a greasy snack after most restaurants have closed their kitchens. Most bars close by 2 am.
Restaurants in Colorado Springs are mostly casual affairs, many specializing in the comfort-food trend that has swept through Denver and Boulder in recent years. But if you're in town to celebrate a special occasion, there are certainly some upscale fine-dining restaurants to fit that need, as well.
The main dining hub is right downtown, especially Tejon Street between Boulder Street and Colorado Avenue, just south of the Colorado College campus, where there are many restaurants and bars. There are also a number of recommended establishments extending west up Colorado Avenue in Old Colorado City and continuing on the same road in Manitou Springs.
And don't forget about the 20 or so restaurants, bars, grills and cocktail lounges scattered throughout The Broadmoor resort.
Many restaurants expand their hours late May-early September and offer limited hours in the nonsummer seasons. If you are visiting in the off-season, call ahead to ensure the restaurant is open when you want to visit.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, excluding drinks, tax and tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$30; $$$$ = more than US$30.
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