There’s a lot to see and do in Colorado Springs and we only had two days, so we had to prioritise. Having already done Denver Zoo, we were in two minds about whether to go to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, just on the outskirts of the city, but luckily we did.
The setting alone is worth the trip. America’s only mountain zoo, Cheyenne is 6,800 feet above sea level. It was founded in 1926 by philanthropist Spencer Penrose to house his growing collection of exotic animals and in 1938 was handed over as a non-profit public trust for the people of Colorado Springs. As the advertisements along the highway say, you get so close up to the animals here they think you’re one of them.
We fed lettuce to giraffes at eye level, feeling the roughness of their long grey tongues, and came face to face with a swimming grizzly. There was glass between us, of course, but those big furry paws were literally inches away. Unlike other zoos, this one is cleverly designed so that even little ones can see the animals, and when Freddie saw the size of that grizzly he hung on to my leg for dear life!
We thought the views from the zoo were amazing, until we got to our next Colorado Springs attraction. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is the highest cog railway in America and since 1891 has been taking tourists to the 14,110 feet summit of majestic Pikes Peak. It’s a 1 hr 30 min ride up and slightly quicker down, but it passed remarkably quickly thanks to the guide’s fun but informative commentary. She told us about the surrounding rock formations and forests of pine and aspen, and stories of climbers who had tragically and fatally lost their way.
As you reach the top, you’re above timberline and the views widen out to the Great Plains beyond the border of Colorado and Kansas. From the summit, you can see four states and the snow-covered peaks of the Continental Divide, the cities of Denver, Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs and the historic gold camps of Cripple Creek and Victor.
Unfortunately, all of this was wasted on me because, like many other visitors, I was suffering the effects of altitude again and my head felt like it was going to explode. I had been advised to go inside the café at the top and buy one of the peak’s famous doughnuts, but all I could do is walk very slowly and concentrate very hard on not falling over. When I did compose myself and reach the viewing deck, I caught a brief glimpse of the views and could completely appreciate why Katherine Lee Bates, who came to this part of the US in the late 1800s, was afterwards inspired to write the words to ‘America the Beautiful’. Beautiful it certainly was, but I was glad to get back down again.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011