COLORADO: USA 1997
GARDEN OF THE GODS, COLORADO SPRINGS
I find it impossible to describe the beauty of Colorado in
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Return to holiday index page