Travel Journal – Colorado Springs

This is a recap of my trip last week to Colorado Springs. Logistics prevented me from keeping a daily journal (my pen broke), so I’m doing this from memory, helped by the pictures I took along the way.

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Don’t climb the Manitou Incline on your first day. The Incline is 2,744 railroad ties going up the side of a mountain like a giant staircase. There are exposed pipes crisscrossing the trail. Locals and tourists alike test their mettle by climbing up the steps.

I’m not telling you to avoid the Incline. I’m just trying to save you from making the same mistake I did by not giving yourself time to acclimate to the Colorado altitude. I went up on my first full day, and about 100 steps in I felt like I was going to die of asphyxiation. And that was before I even got to the steepest part.

At that point, I strongly considered giving up and turning around. Two things kept me going. One was pride. The other was more practical: going down the Incline looked more difficult than going up.

I set new expectations. I allowed myself to stop and catch my breath as often as needed, for as long as it took. Eventually, I made it to the top. All told, including the hike down along the winding Barr trail, I spent 3 hours on the Incline, which felt like an eternity. And I would absolutely do it again.

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Colorado has more breweries than schools. That’s one of those obviously false statements that you’re still going to check on Google later. The Colorado Springs craft beer scene isn’t as well-known as, for example, Fort Collins, but there is a ton of great beer on tap. Phantom Canyon Brewing Company served as sort of a second home during my trip. In addition to delicious beer, Phantom Canyon has better food than the typical bar fare. I also enjoyed the Iron Bird Brewery and Brewer’s Republic tap room–both downtown. I heard the name Bristol Brewing on the radio, but never made it there.

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This was my office for the week. No, I wasn’t fixing up old cars. An old gas station has been converted into office space. This is just one of the many classic cars parked on the lot. The owner has a particular affinity for Jeeps. It might seem weird to some, but I found it oddly comforting.

Outsiders are moving to Colorado in droves. Or, at least that’s what I’ve heard. I couldn’t tell from exploring the area around downtown Colorado Springs. There are no modern apartments with their urban industrial feel. No shiny skyscrapers housing multinational corporations. No evidence of condos looking to attract the yuppies. Just old neighborhoods and worn roads. I saw more senior living communities and seedy motels than apartment complexes like the ones I’ve lived in. Maybe if I had ventured further into the suburbs, I might have discovered where all these people went.

To the west is Manitou Springs. I was not surprised to learn that Manitou Springs is considered one of the country’s top destinations for hippies. The main drag is filled with Mediterranean cafes, spas advertising natural mineral springs, and yerba mate. It’s the kind of place where people go to “find themselves” and “embrace spirituality”. I loved it, except for the lack of parking.

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Pike’s Peak looms over the city. I tried to imagine it like the ancient Greeks imagined Mount Olympus–this otherworldly gathering place for the gods to look down upon the puny mortals. Of course, I know that’s not true since I’ve been to the top. There is a winding road that takes visitors up the mountain. An Uber driver told me how much he enjoyed watching the annual auto race to the top of Pike’s Peak. I’ve seen videos of rally cars sliding into crowds; I’d rather not think about how that might play out at 12,000 feet.

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Speaking of gods, Garden of the Gods is like nature’s sculpture garden–giant rock formations shaped by wind and time. If you’re going to Colorado Springs, you’re going to spend a lot of time outdooors. There are more parks, hiking trails, and natural areas than I care to count. I only wish I could have brought my mountain bike with me.

During the week, I found myself comparing Colorado Springs to San Antonio. It makes sense; I’m familiar with San Antonio, and seeing similiarities allowed me to make my new environment feel more comfortable. The cities do have at least one thing in common. Both are about an hour’s drive from a much more prominent city–Denver is to Colorado Springs what Austin is to San Antonio. I didn’t detect any sort of “little brother” complex in Colorado Springs. It might be that everyone is too laid back to care.

I feel like Colorado Springs is where San Antonio was a few years ago. Colorado Springs has potential to attract people who like Denver but can’t quite afford it. However, there are enough rough edges to keep those people at a distance. I can see a world where Colorado Springs modernizes in hopes of attracting a new crowd. I’m just not sure I would enjoy it as much.

 

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