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I find it impossible to describe the beauty of Colorado in words.

The vast American state captured our dreams for three weeks in 1997 thanks to its beauty and stunning scenery.

The landscapes truly turned it into God's land, ranging from the imposing and awesome mountains to the gently rolling hills... and we only had time to see a small part of this large state.

But that small part left an indelible mark on us and the wish to see more, more, more.

For our stay we swapped homes with Bob and Deena Stuart in Colorado Springs - a delightful City with a small town feel about it despite its obvious urban sprawl.

We flew from London Gatwick to Houston and then on to Colorado Springs. Our first experience of the wonderful Rocky Mountains came in the form of turbulance experienced on the two hour flight from Houston.

For most of that flight we saw only flat landscapes and nothing could prepare us for our first taste of the Rockies.

Our holiday was a mixture of making new friends, sightseeing and what we enjoy doing best - living like Americans. We ate at locally recommended restaurants and did American type things such as attending baseball games and the annual Pike's Peak or Bust Rodeo.

There was so much to do that by the end of our stay we were left lamenting all those things we "just hadn't got round to." We have promised that we will do them next time around.

We spent a considerable amount of time at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. It is the equivalent of the most stylish British Hotels but without the stuffiness.

Visitors who are not staying at the hotel are encouraged to walk the wonderful grounds and also to use the bars and restaurants. The backdrop is the Rocky Mountains and there is a lake around the hotel. It's about as romantic as it's possible to get.

Whilst there we went to see a veterans' tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Yannick Noah. Connors was in rare high spirits, chatting and joking and signing autographs. Matthew had his photograph taken with him. I just itched to have a game on the perfect tennis surface - after all I am the same age as Jimbo.

Elsewhere highlights of Colorado Springs included visits to the stunning rock formations at the Garden of the Gods and excellent tours of the National Air Force Academy and the high tech Headquarters of the American Olympic Association - both provided rampant American propaganda of the highest calibre but still remained interesting to the outsider.

The Airforce Academy is largely regarded as the number one tourist attraction in Colorado Springs. The Olympic Village claims to be number two but then so do at least four other places we visited.

We spent a few days on the road visiting Aspen, Boulder, Denver and the spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park. One of our favourite areas was the 40 mile or so drive across Independence Pass to Aspen. I stopped so many times to gawp and marvel at the scenery that there were dangers we would not reach our destination before the snowy season started. At times we were driving 12,000 feet above sea level. It genuinely felt like another world.

Add to that trips up the 14,000 feet high Pike's Peak by cog railway, visits to numerous falls, laser shows, canyons and you have only a sneaky flavour of a wonderful land just a few thousand miles away.

Holiday Diary

Sunday July 27th, 1997

Today turned into a very long one which started in London and finished in Colorado Springs almost a day later.

The 10 hour journey from Gatwick to Houston went reasonably quickly thanks to two moview, two meals, a sleep and books and magazines. At Houston we had to go through immigration which always poses a problem for me.

I would like to know why these people, who are a foreigner's first contact with the USA have to be so downright rude and aggressive.

They could do with public relations courses. American people are by and large extremely hospitable but these immigration officers may as well have come from Planet Zog.

The internal flight to Colorado Springs was interesting to say the least. We swapped 96 degrees of heat in Houston for mist and rain and a massively bumpy ride as we approached landing. Apparently this is the norm for Colorado flights.

We were whisked away to a local house for the evening where a number of youngsters had congregated and the boys had a wonderful time playing American football and other energetic games whilst we gave a reasonable impression of senility brought about by being up for 21 hours and suffering jet lag.

Monday July 28th, 1997

At 4 a.m our bodies thought it was 11 a.m and time for lunch. By 7 a.m we felt as though it should be tea time. So the day was rather disorientating to say the least. Bagels for breakfast from a fast food place. Slowly the day got hot and a certain breathlessness which is all down to the altitude.

At lunchtime we were picked up and driven to our home for the next few weeks. Watched amazing American Television where the adverts take up more time than the programmes. Mid evening the thunder storms returned.

Tuesday July 29th, 1997

Still waking up at 3 a.m. Trying desperately to re-adjust to the time and that meant getting up early. Our first drive out took us to the Garden of the Gods. I couldn't help but think of the words from a song by Matthews Southern Comfort called "Colorado Springs Eternal" which includes the following word.

Colorado Springs
There rooted in the Rockies, where the red stone glows
In the Garden of the Gods.
Colorado Springs Eternal in my mind.

Garden of the Gods was like so many places we were to visit - vast and awesome. It is an impressive collection of redstone rocks, some of which literally hang over the road. It was our first stunning introduction to the area.

We then travelled on to Manitou Springs which left us in no doubt that we were deep in cowboy country. We stopped for a burger (a burger, what in America I hear you cry) and then decided to drive the 40 miles or so to Cripple Creek.

We took the direct major route as opposed to the one track mountain road where we were told people have been known to drop off the edge and kill themselves. We didn't fancy dying at least until after we had got over jet lag.

I never have found out whether this Cripple Creek was the one featured in the Neil Young song Cripple Creek Ferry from the album After the Goldrush, but I believe it could well be.

The Guide book told us that Cripple Creek was an old mining town of historic interest but rather disappointing. How right it was. Apparently the town is named after a crippled calf which broke its leg trying to jump a stream. Originally poor cattle raising ground, gold was discovered there in 1891. The cowhand who discoved the gold sold his share for $500 and spent the lot on whisky (well it probably seemed a good idea at the time).

Anyway subsequently $500million of gold was extracted and by the turn of the century, 25,000 people lived in the town. It boosted eight newspapers, numerous banks and splendid hotels, department stores, elegant homes and a stock exchange. But as they say that was then and this is now. Today it is the home for non stop cheap and nasty slot machine emporiums. We had tremendous problems trying to find an ice cream and a cup of cofee was right out of the question. Not to put too fine a point on it, the town of Cripple Creek was one of the most disappointing we have been to in America.

We rode the narrow guage railway which passed abandoned mines. Returning to that Neil Young song I note that it lasts for less than one and a half minutes which is probably time to say just about everything about the place.

Supermarket prices are much cheaper than in the UK as we found today with Coke at 9p a can and 12 corn on the cob for about 60p.

Wednesday July 30th, 1997

Mall City USA today. Shopping Malls seem to have killed off businesses in City centres. Whether that's a good or bad thing I'm not quite certain. The problem is they all eventually look and feel the same. It was probably a good idea once upon a time but not necessarily now as the character has been squashed out of shopping.

In the afternoon we found some free tennis courts under a mile from our home and managed to survive the altitude and heat to have a game. It was wonderful playing tennis on good quality courts with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop.

We then went to the Broadmoor Centre for our first visit. It was simply amazing. I cannot speak too highly about this paradise. Later in the week there is a veterans' tennis tournament scheduled and we managed to buy tickets to see Jimmy Connors and Yannick Noah. We tried for Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe but they were sold out. I tried the old "You cannot be serious" line when informed of this fact but it seemed lost on the ticket seller.

Now the Broadmoor is a luxury hotel and I mean luxury. But it had none of the stuffiness of English equivalents and we were able to wander around. Apparently this is where the stars stay when in Colorado. I heard one man ask his wife for the camera. "But John you're going to the rest room (American for loo)," said his perplexed wife. "I know honey but you never know who you are going to see in there," was his reply. Now whether taking photos in a toilet is a good thing or not I don't know. Anyway on this day there weren't any famous people there.

The lake at the back of the hotel is wonderful. The signs point out that for those unaccustomed to altitude a walk round the lake could be rather tiring. The stunning views make a little tiredness worth while.

From there we drove to Old Colorado Village and had an evening meal at a Mexican restaurant famed for its Margaritas. Couldn't help thinking of the old Status Quo hit "Margarita Time." Must I always reduce everything to song titles (yes is the answer).

Thursday July 31st, 1997

At last a good night's sleep - hallelujah. Trying to book things today reminded me of being back home and filling a diary up with events. During the morning we drove to the Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs. It all started with a film (a tubthumping all American dream sort of achievement film). Then there was a tour of the facilities - and it was all free. We bought bags of souvenirs, however. It once again illustrated how far ahead America is when it comes to sports facilities. We have virtually nothing comparable in Britain. The athletes stay and train there free of charge. In our country they would be charged out of existence.

From something described as the second biggest tourist attraction in the area we drove to the first - the Air Force Academy. It was all spit, polish and Top Gun. Again my rock music memory may be playing tricks but I think my all time number one favourite human being Harry Chapin attended this academy and dropped out. There are horrendous tales of youngsters not being able to stand the discipline and commiting suicide. It was another slice of middle class Americana.

The chapel was an amazing piece of modern architecture, both arresting to the eye and symbolic. All the while you are so aware of the grandiose muntains in the background. Last night we saw a T-shirt with the logo "Work sucks - I'm off to the Rockies" which I think is an admirable sentiment. The whole academy had a feel of discipline and order out of chaos about it.

On the way back we filled up with petrol. It was another reminder that we are in America as I didn't have to re-mortgage my house to pay for it.

There was only time for a cup of tea before making the rather long journey to watch the Colorado Springs Sky Sox play. Colorado Springs were beaten 5-1 by Tacoma. We weren't too depressed at the result because we've been to Tacoma as well! This is minor league stuff and most of the entertainment came from the crowd - no foul language, no fights just good honest fun.

Friday August 1st, 1997

Managed to stay up last night until after midnight. Again the adverts on television were appalling. I do not believe that baking powder can change my life for ever or that a new golf club will turn me into a scratch player. The news fails to acknowledge that anywhere else in the world exists.

Today was the veterans' tennis. We watched Jimmy Connors practice and the boys got his autograph. One woman was just opening her car door as he walked past and almost fainted when she saw who it was. Suddenly the weather turned from extreme heat to even more extreme rain. The start of the match was delayed and at 5-5 in the first set the rain started again and there was a torrential storm until 4 p.m in the afternoon. It never rains in Colorado in the summer we had been told. Eventually the tennis went on until past 7 p.m. Connors won in three sets and then John Fitzgerald and a rather portly Roscoe Tanner beat Dennis Ralston (who is the tennis coach at the Broadmoor) and Mel Purcell.

At the end of the tennis we returned home for a shower and then went to a pretty ordinary Italian restaurant for an evening meal.

Saturday August 2nd, 1997

Today once again went from 90 degree heat to torrential rain and flash floods. Drove out to the Royal Gorge at Carson City. We took lift cages down 1,500 feet to the bottom of the gorge and then walked across what is purported to be the hgihest suspension bridge in the world. Up to that point it had been hot and steamy. The boys went whitewater rafting in the afternoon, we sat in the car and watched the rain torrent down. We kept hoping it would stop but then that well known duo thunder and lightning started as well. At least the boys ended up wet and happy.

On the way back we found Canon City virtually awash with floods and quite difficult to get through. Tea was from Dominos Pizza place.

Sunday August 3rd, 1997

It didn't rain today (that's didn't as a negative meaning it didn't!). The telephone rang at 1.30 a.m. I thought it was work and then realised I was 4,000 miles from home. Even Norfolk Constabulary wouldn't expect me to go that far on a call out. There was nobody on the other end anyhow. The boys played tennis while I went with Anne to the Broadmoor. She wickedly pretended she was staying there in order to have a swim. I'm not sure what would have happened if the real occupants of room D24 had turned up. We assuaged our guilt by telling ourselves that one day we would stay at the hotel.

We had been told to go to an English restaurant for lunch during our stay and today was the day for that. Of course people in America doing anything "English" think that we are still living in the Victorian age. The food was certainly not typical English and the decor just featured photographs of the royal family. We were finding it all rather tacky when we found that the owner genuinely came from Sheffield.

From there we had a look round the centre of Colorado Springs which is mainly administrative. In a furniture shop we met a sales assistant who came from Reading.

Once again the family split up for the evening. The boys went to the Rantals house (that's where we starting this holiday) and we went to Seven Falls which again was absolutely stunning and I mean stunning. We walked up 250 steps to the top of the rocks.

Monday August 4th, 1997

The Steward family on the top of Pike's Peak.

Today started dull, then went bright and ended with the usual storm. Today was one of up up and away to the top of Pike's Peak. It was accessed via a fascinating cog railway to the top which is something like 14,000 ft above sea level. Apparently they used to allow people to stay at the top for as long as they wanted until some started keeling over with altitude sickness and so now they limit your time at the top and you have to return on the same train.

The air was certainly very thin and made breathing easy (or maybe it was just that the views were so breath-taking). We stayed on top for just 40 minutes before making the return journey which is very slow and takes well over an hour.

We then drove along the I25 to some factory outlets (another name for a village of Malls). It was rather tedious after going up the mountain.

Tuesday August 5th, 1997

The first of three days on the road and scenery that was even more stunning. Every turn today brought another wonder. Our destination was Aspen, home of the stars (and us for one night). I didn't know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised.

We stopped at an unremarkable place called Buena Vista for coffee and then found a delightful reservoir to eat a picnic lunch beside. The road then climbed... and climbed... and climbed until we were well over 10,000 feet above sea level. I could never put in words the feeling of looking down from that height. The closest I could get were in the words of American folk singer Phil Ochs in his wonderful depiction of America in the song "Power and the Glory."

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh the power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all.

At Aspen it was raining (surprise, surprise). First impressions of Aspen are of an enchanting town. The tourist information people were very helpful and directed us to a motel with rooms available. Apparently in the height of the summer rooms are reasonably cheap and easy to come across. That's because Aspen is a ski town that benefits from tourism mainly in the winter.

We had tea at an up market burger place called Little Annies which seemed pretty appropriate. Myself and Anne had an evening wander round art galleries. I had an invigorating discussion with one gallery owner on native American art and I'm sure he knew what he was talking about. One shop had an autographed tennis ball from Jimmy Connors for the equivalent of 40. We almost tried to sell them ours for 20!

Wednesday August 6th, 1997

Back down the pas today with plenty more stops to take in the views. Stooped at the old mining town of Leadbury for a breakfast where the maple syrup pancakes floated into the eggs and bacon. I'm sure there's a name for this kind of self indulgence. I call it heart attack pie! Then it rained and that spoilt a visit to Breckenridge which had been highly recommended but which we had to virtually run round in the rain.

Drove back up into the mountains and stopped for the night at Winter Park. Again being summer we had no problem getting a room. Winter Park sprawls along the main highway and we ate in another Italian style restaurant. One of the problems we find in America is the fast food ideal which means that even in decent restaurants the service is fast and there is no time to linger.

Thursday August 7th, 1997

Now Grand Lakes is my kind of town. Picturesque, simple and the kind of place where you expect a cowboy showdown at any moment. The breakfast at the delightfully named Chuck Hole Cafe was scrumptiously good. There were wooden walkways on either side of the street and there were shooting galleries and crazy golf. Then there was the Rocky Mountain Park. What more can you say about the scenery of this place. It's the best of England, Scotland and Wales together and then some more.

Every corner brought more wonders. We ended up taking a bus to Bear Lake and walking around it simply because it was there and there was little else to do other than walk round it. Our next stop was Boulder where we parked outside and got the shuttle bus in.

Boulder is different. It is a university town and has a very European, very French feel with sidewalk restaurants and cafes. It is the third largest town in Colorado after Denver and Colorado Springs. It was the kind of place we would have liked to spend more time exploring, but our schedule didn't allow it and so it was back to Colorado Springs after a meal.

Friday August 8th, 1997

Old Colorado City is kind of fun, plenty of interesting shops and a very nice ice cream parlour. Then it was more shopping Malls (yawn), but at least a few good book shops. Love the American idea of spending a while browsing while drinking coffee. It's all very civilised. Good job it doesn't happen in the UK or I would be there all the time.

Saturday August 9th, 1997

The problem with house swapping is you have to do supermarket shopping to stock up on provisions and that took much of the morning. Now today was a unique experience. We went to the rodeo and spent some hours wondering what it was all about. Not daunted, however, we joined in the cheering and wolf whistling. You jus have to join in to enjoy it all. It was a weird ritual kind of thing - a greatly macho pursuit. We certainly felt rather out of it all as it was so alien to us. Still it was another piece of Americana that we wouldn't have wanted to have missed.

I think the problem with the rodeo is it can't quite make up its mind whether to be a sport or entertainment.

In the evening we hosted a barbecue which seems a strange thing to do in somebody else's home.

Sunday August 10th, 1997

Most of today featured rain of some kind or another. So it was a day of indoor pursuits which included attending a church service at the Cheyanne Mountain High School where Bob Stuart is pastor. We received a warm welcome and enjoyed a modern service. One of my complaints about English services is the sheer boring nature of the content. Bob spoke for about 40 minutes but it seemed to have a relevance. I think he has the idea that England is a rather Godless society and perhaps he is right there.

Lunch was taken at a restaurant in the centre of Colorado Springs called the Olive Branch. Mega portions as usual and afterwards we went to the movies. Anne and Chris saw Airforce One and myslef and Matt Men in Black. It took us a short while to realise that M in B is a spoof movie. Apparently in the other side there was clapping and cheers everytime the president killed someone (they are big on patriotism even when realism seems to have been suspended)

The evening brought a walk round the Broadmoor (it's difficult to keep away from the place for too long). Myself and Anne went to a restored English pub called the Bee. I thought it was a con as no English pub looked like this one. I had to eat my words, however, when I found it had been shipped out lock stock and barrel from London in the 1920s.

We had to sit at the bar and there was a very good Mexican honky tonk pianist. When he broke into America the Beautiful the whole room stood up. Thankfully he didn't break into God Save the Queen although he did find out we were from England and asked me for a request from his songbook. He seemed rather taken back when I requested an early Billy Joel song ahead of a host of second world war classics!

Monday August 11th, 1997

We had another drive round the Garden of the Gods today - its amazing from whatever angle you approach it. Now here's a bit of one-upmanship. We entertained Bob and Deena to lunch in their own home! I rather hammed it up by offering to show them round the house. Found that Deena is one of the few people I have ever encountered who knows who Dan Fogelberg is.

The afternoon was spent at a bowling alley near home - again half the cost of bowling in the UK.

In the evening we went to the Canyon of the Winds. We were too late to go down the caves but in time for the excellent and informative laser show where images were thrown against the rock faces.

Tuesday August 12th, 1997

Today we visited the state capital - Denver and had mixed feelings about it. Parked at Chapel Creek Mall and caught the shuttle bus to the capitol building where we walked to the top to get a view of the city from the dome. Plenty of art galleries later we then had a look round a shopping area. At the end we felt that a day in Denver was just about enough.

I have been stuck in traffic in some of Americas biggest cities including Boston and Washinton DC, but it always amazes me how so many vehicles can clog up such a large highway. Tonight we had to fight our way through traffic going round the Dencer loop and it seemed hours before we circled the city and found open countryside. On the way back we stopped at a pizza store and then had to sit in the car during a torrential hail storm which turned the car park into a flood.

Wednesday August 13th, 1997

There is a long story about us never having caught a major baseball game in the States despite desperately trying (I will write about it elsewhere). Today we succeeded, however, in going with a host of church people to see the Colorado Rockies play Philadelphia. Coors Field is a plush stadium smack bang in the middle of Denver. The Phillies won 12-8 which seemed pretty irrelevant. Most people seemed to spend their time eating, drinking and wandering around the concourse. I suppose familiarity breeds contempt with so many matches each season. Apparently the stadium is virtually full for every match.

It's a sad place for pitchers due to the altitude which tends to carry the ball for home runs with greater frequency than at seas level. It may sound a limp excuse for the Rockies' bad season, but it's apparently true. We heard Jimmy Connors say that it took him a day's practice to get used to playing in altitude because every shot goes a foot further. Can't say I noticed when I played tennis.

We picked up a very annoying habit from this game. Every so often there would be an organ chord struck and the crowd broke into a song entitled Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Now everytime we go to a soccer match in England we sing this awful song. During a baseball match there are so many things going on that I asked John Rantal why we were subjected to organ chords, songs and goodness knows what else. "It's simply that the attention span of an American is about 20 seconds, so they continually have to have something happening," was his answer.

Thursday August 14th, 1997

Colorado Springs to Houston, Houston to Gatwick.

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