Friday, April 25, 2008

Cruisin' Colorado

After leaving Palo Duro Canyon and Texas, our route took us northwest for an overnight stop at Las Vegas, NM and then on to Colorado Springs for a reunion with our good friends Joe & Susan. A real treat for us was that our friends from Dayton, Kirk and Sue also were able to join us; Joe, Kirk, and I all worked together in our former lives, so it was a special time for us to be able to get together again. We found an RV spot at the Air Force Academy FamCamp, only minutes from where Joe and Susan have their beautiful home . It's a great campground located in the tall pines, but at an elevation of 6700' it can be a bit cool in April, and the temperature dropped well below freezing at night for the week that we stayed. Still, it was a great location at a fair price. The Air Force Academy is a huge facility in a beautiful area; long drives through pines with mountains rising to the west take you to the BX & Commissary area and cadet area. The cadet area is tucked away in a small valley and is a completely self-contained university. There's a large visitor center to explore, but the centerpiece of the Academy has to be the chapel. Open for tours during the day, it's an amazingly beautiful building, designed in a way to reflect the concept of flight and soaring aircraft in side and out. The interior, with its stained-glass panels and soaring ceiling, is simply incredible. It's hard to believe that it was built in the early 60's; the modern styling makes it look like it was finished just recently. Truly one of the most beautiful buildings we've ever seen. All of the buildings in the cadet area were impressive; during my 38 years of dealing with Academy graduates, I now understand why most of them were arrogant.....four years at a place like this will certainly make you feel like you're special.
Besides the wonderful meals and great company, Joe and Susan had a full slate of tourist activities prepared for us. We spent an afternoon exploring the Garden of the Gods, an interesting area of rock formations and parks. Although it was chilly and the ladies preferred staying in the car, we managed to get everyone together for this group picture. From the visitor center, Pike's Peak filled the horizon, begging to be climbed. So off we went, but although we men were perfectly willing to don cold weather gear and hike the mountain to the top, we deferred to our wives and took the Pikes' Peak Cog Railway instead. At least, that's how I remember it......Boarding the train cars, we began an hour and 1/2 journey up the mountain past frozen streams, frozen trees, frozen....well, you get the picture. The train is pretty amazing; at times the grade is as much as 25%, but the train kept chugging along, finally reaching the top where everyone ran into the visitor center before frostbite could set in. After a quick warm-up, I decided to venter outside for some pictures. At first, I thought, "hmmm, not too bad" not realizing that the 40 MPH wind was BEHIND me. It wasn't until I turned around to hike the 1/4 mile back that the cold (20 degrees w/40 kt wind = 22 degrees below zero wind chill) hit me. I can't describe how long that hike back to the visitor center was or how frozen I was when I got there (I had no gloves or hat). If it hadn't been for the large hot chocolate and 1/2 dozen donuts I probably wouldn't have recovered. But we all had a good time and enjoyed the view through our frost-encrusted eyeballs.
A slightly less rigorous trip was to the Coors Brewery in Golden, where we had a great time learning how all of the various Coors beers are made. The tour was interesting and took us through the different areas of the brewery, showing how all of the ingredients come together, and ended at the holy grail of all beer tours - the tasting room! Unlike those stingy Budweiser tours, Coors allows each person to sample FOUR 12-ounce glasses of beer, and you can stay as long as you like. With plenty of non-drinkers on the tour to beg beers from, it can be a long and enjoyable day! On a serious note, it was an enjoyable afternoon and all of us were struck by how much better the beer tasted since it was made so recently....or maybe because it was free.
Our visit was over too soon - hanging around with old friends, reminiscing and sharing stories of our new interests (Joe's become a fly fishing maniac, Kirk's earned his pilot's license), and making new memories together. It was time for us to continue north to our summer volunteer job, but before we left, I caught this picture of Joe and Susan's resident fox, who visits their back yard daily. We'll update our journey and arrival back in Montana soon; stop back and visit!

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