Colorado Springs, Colorado

I drove down to Colorado Springs from Breckenridge on Sunday morning.  My nephew, Sam, attends Colorado College here.  My brother Stephen and his wife Jen had flown out Saturday morning to help Sam get his apartment set up for his senior year and buy stuff for him (dishes & kitchen supplies, a bed, some used furniture, etc).  I met them on campus around 1015am.  Sam arrived from upstate soon after that.  I spent the bulk of the day with them, tagging along while they shopped, helping carry stuff upstairs from the car to his second floor apartment, and had lunch with all three of them.  Sam had to leave to head back to Grand Lake, where he has been working all summer, and meet his sister Ali who was to arrive there Sunday evening.  She and a friend are driving cross-country from upstate New York on their way to Portland, Oregon where Ali attends Lewis & Clark College.

After Sam took off, Stephen and Jen were going to go back to their hotel to wash the kitchen and bedroom linens they had bought for Sam.  I went down to the south side of town to check in to my Airbnb.  The three of us met at 800pm to have dinner together.  They were heading to Durango on Monday and will be making a big loop around southern Colorado before flying back to New York next weekend.


I will be in Colorado Springs for 4 nights.  I have a very busy schedule of places I want to go and things I want to see.

This is the view I have of Cheyenne Mountain from the cul de sac where my Airbnb is located.


This is a less obstructed view from a nearby intersection.  I am too close to the mountain to get it all in one photo (it’s a VERY big mountain).



Cheyenne Mountain is probably best known for being the original home of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.  They keep track of things in space (satellites, space junk, incoming missiles from North Korea, etc).  The Cheyenne Mountain Complex also has a ginormous underground bunker which is designed to withstand a direct hit with a nuclear device.  There are actually many different things located at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, many of which aren’t talked about.  It is a super-secret facility and is not open to the public.  Guards there have shoot-to-kill authority.  They don’t screw around.  I didn’t even bother to go up and try to get a picture of the entrance.

Most of the NORAD operations have actually been moved to Peterson Air Force Base east of town.  I’ll be going there tomorrow (I had to submit a visitation request 24 hours in advance.  I’ve already been advised that I’ve been approved so long as I show up with the proper documentation).  There are still some NORAD operations housed in the mountain to serve as backup.

Colorado Springs has a huge military presence.  There are multiple army and air force bases here, as will as the Air Force Academy.  I am staying right across the highway from Fort Carson, a US Army Base which is home to the 4th Infantry Division as well as the 10th Special Forces Group.  The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is home to the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.


Florissant Fossil Beds

Many of the places I planned to visit in Colorado Springs are closed on Mondays so I decided to knock out the two scenic roads west and south of town.  I headed west on Route 24, which was how I came in to town from Breckenridge on Sunday.

I turned south on Route 1 when I got to the town of Florissant.  First stop was the Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum, located just off the highway.  They had displays of many types of things but what I found most interesting were the gems and fossils found in the area.


This is a 4 foot long, 439 pound piece of Smoky Quartz Crystal.  It is the largest such specimen unearthed in North America.  It was found near a hill which I could see by looking out the window next to where it was on display.


This is another piece of Smoky Quartz Crystal found by the same man.  It is just over 4 feet long and weighs 345 pounds.  Both specimens are thought to be over a billion years old!

Next were the fossil samples:



Two bird feathers:



Some redwood foliage:


And finally, two teeth from a Columbia Mammoth



They were each a little bit smaller than a football.


Further on down the road I stopped at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.  This is where I was when the eclipse reached it’s peak at 1147am local time.

I borrowed a pair of safety glasses from someone and took a picture with my cell phone (in selfie mode) with the glasses covering the lens.  This was taken in the parking lot at 1113am.


They had some telescopes set up behind the Visitor Center and one projected the image of what it was looking at on a white sheet.  It wasn’t quite centered on the sun, but still shows what was happening.  This was taken at 1139am, 8 minutes before peak.  We were in an area which was to experience 91% totality.


Cripple Creek, Colorado

This is why I travel scenic back roads.  I would have never found this little town unless I had gotten off the beaten path.  Cripple Creek and nearby Victor were gold mining towns.  The restored buildings here are simply gorgeous.  Most are now quaint little casinos.  I’ll keep you in suspense and post photos of many of the buildings in a future entry.

These are some of the other things I spotted around town.



Get it?  Gimme two tickets to parrot dice…..



Doesn’t every town in America claim to have invented the root beer float?


It’s two, two…. two mints in one.  A Hotel AND Motel.



This one really cracked me up.  Be sure to read all the lines on the sign.


Atlas Powder Company.  For all your explosives needs….






After taking pictures of both sides of this sidewalk “sandwich board” I went inside to tell them I’d be posting it on my blog.  I met Kim, the young lady working there.  She and I had a delightful conversation.  She gave me some important guidance about some of the scenic roads I was planning to take after I left Cripple Creek, and told me about a place I’d find down the road which wasn’t on my radar.


Finding this little town and spending part of my day here was a pleasant, unexpected surprise.


Narrow Gauge Railroad

I didn’t have time to ride this train today but there will be others in my near future which I have budgeted time for.  These old-style railroads are often a great way to see parts of an area you won’t experience from the road.






Penrose, Colorado

At the southern end of my scenic drive I found the little town of Penrose.  I saw this sign next to Highway 50 as I was getting in to town.


OK.  Hey Steve?  You’re Cool……

When you get a chance, call Steve and tell him he’s cool.  I’m sure you’ll be the first person to do so.


I’ve wanted to come to Penrose ever since I was in junior high school in Pennsylvania.  Why, you ask?  It is the home of Estes Industries, the leading manufacturer of model rockets, and is still the “Model Rocket Capital of the World”.  Yes, I was a model rocket geek.  I know, I know, you’re shocked and amazed.  I started the Rocket Club at Stroudsburg High School (science teacher Larry B. Kiick was our faculty advisor).  When I get back to Durham I need to find the newspaper article which ran in our local newspaper in Stroudsburg documenting the time I became stranded up in a tree attempting to rescue an “Errant Aerobee,” as they called it, which had landed high up in the tree as it parachuted back to earth.

This was the Estes Industries logo, even back in the late 1960’s.


Pretty sleek, eh?

The company moved to Penrose from Denver in 1961.  This is the main building I found in Penrose.


It may have been cutting edge trendy in the 60’s but I felt like I was in an episode of Mad Men.  Technically the office was closed, but there was a car in the parking lot and I could see a woman, perhaps the office manager, working inside.  I persisted in ringing the doorbell and she finally came to the door and graciously admitted me so I could take come quick pictures.



Most of this facility is now closed.  Manufacturing of the kits themselves have been sold and moved elsewhere.


She said they still produce the model rocket engines here and there was a heavily fenced area behind the main building where they do that.



I was so happy she let me in after I had come all this way.   In my mind I was honestly expecting a sleek, modern building but after I arrived I did the math and realized I ordered my first model rocket kits shortly after our family moved to Pennsylvania in 1966 and that is over 50 years ago.  Yikes!


After visiting Estes I backtracked a few miles to drive down the road to “The Well”.  The young lady at the bakery in Cripple Creek told me about this place when she learned which roads I was planning to drive this afternoon.



The Well is a hot springs-fed swimming pool.  Every day butt, oops… I mean every day but Tuesday is “clothing optional day” (Tuesday is “Family Day” so patrons must dress up).  Well, thunderboomies had developed in the area and there were only 3 cars in the parking lot so I decided to save my $10 for dinner and headed back to Colorado Springs.

Not sure I was quite prepared for what I might have found there anyway….