Charmaine and Burgess Shucker

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We boarded the cog at 9:20 in morning and were pleasantly surprised by our front row seat in the first cog with the best view for the upcoming incline view into the Pike National Forrest. About 80 to 100 other excited passengers would continue a tradition that dates back to the 1800’s. For the next 3 hours we would find out what it took to place this railroad here.

 

Pikes Peak Cog rail is one of three other Cog Railroads in the USA. The others are in Michigan and on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. This railroad was built in 1889 and cost about $1,500,000. Construction only took three years. The average construction worker was only paid a mere 25 cents to bore and dig through stone and mountains that have been there for millions of years. A passenger ticket was $5 in 1889, today that would equate to $125! The railroad is 8.9 miles long, the highest in the Northern Hemisphere. The cog travels about nine miles per hour, which is just slow enough to spot a deer or mountain lions in the forest!
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As we commenced up the mountain, a narrator, shared her knowledge about the surroundings and some history that made this railroad what it is today. At a 25% grade steeps, all you can imagine was how these workers managed to drag their equipment up the mountain and be in such a desolate area through rain, snow and shine. Through an average season, the mountain can accumulate about 200 inches of snow!!! You will be amazed how high and almost vertical you are. Looking at our photos we could not believe that we were at so slanted.an angle. We past Windy Point near the summit where a family actually lived in the early 1900’s. Sixteen people lived in the VERY tiny building. This is also where the other cogs on an earlier trip, the 8am trip, passed us going down the Peak. Once we reached the summit, we were allowed to disembark and tour the little curio shops and met some hikers who had just climbed the mountain in only five hours! It was so very windy up there even in summer. It was a good thing that they sell their world famous doughnuts and some hot chocolate to gulp down! And if you have a problem with the over 14,000 foot elevation, there is oxygen available for visitors to inhale.
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It was a very pleasant train trip up Pikes Peak. Burgess is crazy about trains, and this was like giving a child candy for him. We definitely recommend this trip for a family outing!

 

 

Miramont Castle

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The Castle is a mere eight minutes from the Cog Railroad station and is a perfect stop for a quick cup of English tea and scone on your way down. They also serve sandwiches, salads, a children’s menu and ice cream sundaes. A perfect stop for nourishment and a bit of history! When we approached the Castle, we were immediately transformed back to the 1800’s with the beautiful and unique architecture. The castle was erected in 1895 as a private home for a Priest and his mum, but was later transformed into a nunnery where they also treated the ill. The house has changed hands several times but was dedicated to the Manitou Springs and Pike Peaks region to protect the Victorian Heritage of the area.
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We were pleasantly greeted by volunteers from the Historic Society and given a self- guided tour brochure to go through the house. The tour started with a showing of the Miniature Museum downstairs. Intricate little figurines stand tall in their miniature mansions while depicting a typical day in the Victorian life. A great find for any doll lover!
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Throughout the rest of the house were antique furniture displayed from England, France and even Ireland. Beautiful furnishings that were saved and restored were placed in arrangements as if the people still lived there today. The Priest’s quarters looked like it was just tidied from a good nights rest.
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The volunteers there were very helpful and friendly and such a pleasure to talk to. They were very knowledgeable about the museum and the area. And if you wanted a wedding at the museum, these would be the people to speak with! Also, we found it that it actually might be haunted! So don’t be surprised when an orb shows up on your photos!

 

We would recommend this museum for a 2 hour visit!

 

 

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

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This was my absolute favorite attraction in the area!! It was as if I was right back at home in South Africa with my African animals! The Zoo was nicely tucked into the mountainside, and we were excited as we journeyed up the mountainous road. The gates close right at four for the new visitors and the Zoo closes at six for the evening. We arrived at 4:05 and were welcomed by a closed gate and no gate keepers. We called Customer Service and asked VERY nicely if we could POSSIBLY be admitted since we were writing for a magazine and had traveled so far to write about this breathtaking place! They graciously welcomed us with no problem, and we are still very thankful for their hospitality! Thank you!
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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is fantastic! It is set up in different “continents,” but in summer the African animals reigned! We were told that their next set of animals on display in the zoo will be from the surrounding area in the fall. The first animals that caught our attention were the Giraffes! What gracious animals! There is a platform where visitors can stand and look the giraffes squarely in the eye and feed them crackers. It was amazing to see an animal so close and to interact with it! There were between 8 and 10 giraffes mingling around and a 17 day old baby giraffe was also making its rounds! She was lighter in color and too cute for words. Becky, the pregnant one, is due in a couple of days as well. I still smile when I think of that experience!
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We also came across Red River Hogs, Lesser Kudus, one anxious Zebra and East African Cranes. The next pen that intrigued us was the Meerkats’. They are the cutest little creatures; you just want to take home with you! Burgess photographed one sitting high and proud on a stump, just wondering why all these humans were making such a fuss over them!
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The Columbus monkeys were busy picking food off of each other, while the elephants, two doors down, heard the dinner bell and were awaiting their food!
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When we stepped into “Australia”, we were able to walk alongside a path with wallabies scattered among the grass. They were just minding their own business while we walked through their “land!” Burgess finally showed me that there is really such a thing as an Emu. I had no idea that it is related to the Ostriches weonce had on our African farm.

 

 

The Amur Leopard and Amur Tiger were awesome. The leopard kept on pacing next to the one inch think glass barrier, watching us while we peeked at him. The zoo also has a variety of reptiles and birds on display which we weren’t able to see, since we were on a time crunch!
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The Asiatic Black Bear and Spectacled Bear from South America seemed used to the peeking and didn’t really do much of anything except for watching us! But next to the giraffe experience was the great pleasure of meeting the Zoo’s newest addition, a Low Land Gorilla. She was born in January and is as cute as a button. She has her oversized parents right wrapped around her little bitty finger! It was amazing to see a precious little thing like that.
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These are only a few of the many animals we came across, but they were all fantastic! We recommend the ZOO 100 percent to anyone, with or without kids, to see these amazing animals!
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Seven Falls

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You have a choice to go either in the day time to see this magnificent waterfall in its full glory, or at night when this 700 foot waterfall is lit up by different color lights in cascading fashion. If you love waterfalls and want something to see after other attractions are closed, this is a good choice. You can reach the waterfall by 300 steps vertical incline stairwell to be about 20 feet away from the top of the waterfall or you can ride the “in-mountain” elevator for a perfect photo opportunity from 200-300 yards away.

 

There had an “Indian-like” dance show that attracted some tourists, but we did not stay for the full free show. There were two different curio shops and we purchased locally made souvenirs. Although these are naturally beautiful waterfalls, we found this to be too commercialized.

 

 

 

Cave of the Winds

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Cave of the winds is located right up the road from the Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. It’s great that all these attractions are so close to each other. We had to wait about 20 minutes in line for tickets and then another 45 minutes to start the tour. They have a steady flow of visitors and it seems that have a great system for controlling the crowds. While waiting, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Manitou Springs area, and since the caves are located in a mountain, we could see for miles.
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The Discovery Tour took about 40 minute, but we wished for more time and we recommend the detailed and longer tour if there is a choice when you are there, as you’ll want lots of time down under. The Caves offer a variety of tours for kids and grown-ups like the lantern tour that is about and hour and a half long.Two boys discovered the caves by accident in the early 1900’s.
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We saw a formation that was believed to have been one piece, but an earthquake had broken it apart. They are called Romeo and Juliet, one a stalagmite and the other a stalactite, now forever separated. Another formation caused by water seeping in formed a perfect number 7. We thought that that was quite eerie since it was 07-07-2007 that day we visited.

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This is where our Colorado vacation began: a train trip in the awesome surrounding of the Royal Gorge. A two hour train trip following alongside the Arkansas River where we can see deer, elk, blue beer and even mountain lions. The train left at 9:30 sharp, and we had to board at 9. We were actually surprised by how many people from the local area hopped on the train to enjoy a day out. This train route has been in operation as early as 1942 carrying passengers to their varying destinations.

We were fortunate that it was an absolutely gorgeous day for this trip.The Rocky Mountains were awesome. Geologists call these mountains the “Mixing Bowl” with all the different types of rock and colors caused by five tectonic plates coming together. There is such a variance in terrain, and the different colors are caused by the mineral content and give it its geological diversity. It was really neat to see it so close because the train travels in a pretty much carved out pathway between these giant rocks, so close you could really touch it, but of course you are not allowed to! The train offers an open air cart for all the passengers, and that is exactly where we were most of the trip. The train also offers four seating cars for coach class tickets, an open-dome car and a lunch car. There are different options depending on how you want to spend your day. They do serve snack-type food on the coach class car, like pretzels, hot dogs and chips.
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As we were traveling, we saw rafters maneuvering down the Arkansas River right next to us. The scenery was breathtaking! At some point it felt like we were in a “Cowboys and Indians” movie with the mountainous terrain and perfect hiding spots for animals or Indians! We were just ready to duck at the sound of gunshots! The train takes you right underneath the highest suspension bridge in the world, built in 1929. We will take a trip to the bridge and park later in the week. Thank you Sara, Kerry and Varner for your hospitality and answering our questions on the train! I would love to have your job to see this spectacular terrain on a daily basis!
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Royal Gorge Bridge and Park

 

 

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What a delightful place to come and spend the day! Lovely scenery, food and a little excitement all at one location; what more can you ask for!

About a two hours’ drive outside Denver is where you will find the highest suspension bridge in the world spanning the Arkansas River. It was built in 1929 and cost a mere $350,000 to build! You can walk or drive over or take the cable car to the other side. We chose the daring ride aboard the fire engine red cable car.

As we and fourteen other people climbed into this car, we could feel the wind starting to move this vehicle up and down in the sky. And as the weight started to increase, so did the tension in the air! There was one woman who would not open her eyes for the whole five minutes it took to cross the river which seemed to be a mile high below us! I must say, that was a bit on the scary side! But the cable car is operational everyday with an excellent safety record and stops running if there is a threat of strong winds.
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Once we finally reached the other side, we had a choice of taking the scenic route through their wild life exhibition onto the bridge, or to pretend to swing over the river on their Skycoaster and hope for the best!! No, you won’t actually go across, but you will need some help walking after being on their newest thrill ride that can reach speeds of 50 + mp/h after you freefall for 37 feet over the river beneath you!
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This ride is like bungee jumping horizontally and falling into this “Grand Canyon” like gorge. Up to three people are strapped into a harness and lie flat on their stomachs while being hoisted up a 100 foot tower. At this point you are about 1200 foot above the river and all that is between you and the plunge is a rip cord that you have the honor of releasing! We, or maybe just I, screamed our ears off once we released that cord! What a rush! We felt like superheroes flying over the river and VERY sharp mountain rocks and formations! Great Fun, if you’re brave!

John O’Dell and Jeff Madden, the site controllers, said that they flew about 14,000 visitors from their site last year alone! They opened their Skycoaster on June 24th, 2003 and it is flying strong! The Skycoaster operators are very safety conscious and check and double check their gear and harnesses while preparing their visitors to fly. So all you have to worry about is having a clean pair of underwear when you come back down!

We would like to thank the crew: John, Jeff, Anthony, Coco, Andrew, Amber, Tina and Caitlin for their hospitality and a great time we had while flying! Thank you!
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The Bridge was amazing. The wind was picking up a little and we could see a storm approaching. We could feel the gusts of wind bouncing off this enormous steel structure, and all we were hoping for was that we could walk a bit faster!!!! Through the large wooden planks lining the bridge you can see the river beneath, and all I saw that it was a really long way down. It was amazing to think that people in 1923 built this structure. Like I said, you can drive over it as well, so we came back with our little compact rental and drove about 6mph across the river on this bridge. It was really fun to see how high you are and amazing to realize how far you can see.

There was also a little village type outdoor restaurant area where we ate some delicious barbeque and looked at the crazy people who were flying from the Skycoaster! It was a real fun day to start our weeklong vacation!
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Thank you Ms. Peggy Gair and the wonderful employees of Royal Gorge Park for the great adventure you provide for so many! We had a great day!
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