I'm not in Kansas anymore, friends......but I was!! I left NYC sometime Wednesday morning on a 3 day planned drive to visit my family in Colorado Springs. It's my first time in Colorado, a state that I've always wanted to visit (among others) and see the Rockies, enjoy the immense differences of life in the Northeast and a HUGE city. My sister took a job out here as a physicist two years ago, got married and had a baby so I have a 3 month old niece I had to meet!! Skype is great but not the same as holding her.
I'll write about the drive in another post - I don't want to think about it right now as it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done in my "travel life" or in general in terms of endurance.....I drove here solo! Nor do I wish to even contemplate the fact that I will have to drive back - unthinkable at the moment. But in short I drove from NYC to NJ, Penn, WV (short pass thru) Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and finally reached CO except I never knew I was in Colorado until quite awhile after I'd crossed the state line. By then, I was essentially on the big push to just get to my destination so those were the only signs I was looking at!
Yesterday - Saturday - we went into charming Manitou Springs for awhile; it's very pretty, friendly, has great shops and food and it's at the base of Pikes Peak. Amazing scenery. (Actually my sister's place has a view of Pikes Peak) However, as many of you might have heard, fires have been burning in the west and until yesterday, only in the Northern part of Colorado but that changed......Manitou Springs was evacuated today because a wildfire broke out while we were in Manitou Springs and has been blazing out of control since then. We had driven into the Garden of the Gods for a "preview" to me, and it is breathtakingly beautiful but as we were driving through, they were beginning to close the park so we did not get to stay long. Our day was cut short but things were getting serious. The fire grew overnight and today, the air is thick with smoke, mountains barely visible. We stayed in today obviously, pushing aside any "outings" they wanted to take me on but well, things happen and we must cope We just made it out tonight for a quick trip for this cool yogurt shop; good enough.
I do hope to make it up to Denver this week but obviously the fire is controlling everything for now. Nor am I that eager yet to drive! However, the vibe out here is great - the city is wonderful and I am happy to be here. I've not set a return date and so I am sure there will be plenty to do/see as the fire gets under control. So that gives me time to enjoy the family portion of this visit.
Various things can and do happen very often when we travel and all we can do is cope and make the best of it...in a way one actually becomes very immersed in where one is when something happens - I'm an instant local! Homestays also are always nice and one does NOT need to have family in order to do that. As I've posted here many times before, there is an organization called Servas.org that consists of hosts/travelers (you can be one or both) worldwide. This organization's purpose is to get people together, share culture, ideas, make friends and...feel at home! What's better than a free homestay?
Anyway, for now that's all but I'll be back updating on my Rocky Mountain Adventure! As Pikes Peak is right here, I am hoping to get up there via the cog wheel rail but that will depend upon getting the fire out and the smoke clearing though I have time. Just hoping everyone will be alright and get through this - folks have been evacuated from their mountain homes and some homes (not many) have been lost. They are working hard to get the fire out and keep people safe. What complicates things is the unusual heat wave here and the dryness with no rain in the forecast. Being from NYC, I'm no stranger to tough times, albeit not of this type. Plus, I still VIVID memories of a horrific train trip from Bologna to Rome that was unexpectedly disastrous due to a weekend strike we'd known nothing about and so my Monday morning pleasant rail trip was indeed a nightmare.
Anyway, one thing was obvious from the start and that is that this is a very family friendly city/state with countless options and things to do. Camping is big out here, but there is so much more. As I'm here, I will update and pump my sister for things they do as well as their friends with kids!! But just being in Manitou Springs yesterday I saw families a-plenty - well we were, stroller and all!! My niece was quite the fashionista with her flower petal hat....toooooo cute but I saw lots of happy little faces yesterday
But I have a secret....even though I am thrilled to be in Colorado, I have serious Europe on the brain and a friend with possible plans to visit Catania, Sicily that were emailed to me sooooo..............we'll see! Even on a trip, I think of other trips
In 1995, after a stint in the Navy and then college in Florida, I packed whatever fit in my car and drove to Denver because I thought it would be a nice place to live. I didn't have a place to live, a place to work and I didn't know a single person. I just wanted to live in Denver. Seventeen years later I still love it and can't imagine living anywhere else.
The cog railway is fantastic. If you can do it, do it! Garden of the Gods is spectacular as well. It's too bad they were closing it. You could always head west to Breckenridge or south to Pueblo. There's always something to do. Enjoy your stay!
I can't imagine I would ever have the courage to just pick up and leave, but it sounds like that bold move has given you the life you desire Travel Time. I am happy to hear that your instincts paid off. Being from California, I have never the desire to move, but the desire to travel the world is in my heart.
Host Colleen, I am also thinking of the next trip while on the current one. It's traveler's disease, once you catch the bug you can't get rid of it. I hope you are enjoying your time and be careful on the road on your own.
I actually wrote almost all of this post Monday or Tuesday, then inadvertently tapped a key and lost it all. I didn't get to re-write it till now because by now everyone knows, Cecilia may have known first, the fire has impacted all of us and my visit but now, as things are starting to get under control I am finally back. It's been a tough week! Definitely not a vacation, but that's OK......had the entire week with my 3 month old niece, we went out the last two nights and can probably do a few things this weekend. I'll not be getting up to Pikes Peak but again, it's OK. But we did get to Manitou Springs last Saturday, the day it started and were in the Garden of the Gods park the same day but not for long before we were directed out of the park. It IS beautiful, and I liked Manitou.
We have a board on our sister site IndependentTraveler.com called "Vacation Disasters" and I don't know that mine was; I just happened to arrive into a natural disaster but was able to be with my sister and her family (rest of the family is eastern US) during this crisis and help with my niece who was sick with a cough. It always was meant to be a "family" visit, but I thought I'd see more - it doesn't matter. Everything happens for a reason. I can see that it's nice here, BIG difference from the city - actually a lot of the states I've been through just feel sooo different, but it's all part of the experience! I have to write about the road trip and all the RV's I saw separately! Lots and lots of RV's!!
@ Lisa....I can't believe I did the drive either! It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done on so many levels AND....I have to do it again to get back!! I don't know that I'd ever do it alone again, but I wouldn't say don't do it - there are many "great American roadtrips" taken, solo or group and it's all about the route, timing, stops, etc.
@ Cecilia...two very brave and courageous things to have done, been in the Navy and then just heading to Denver to make a life! I honestly wish I'd NOT felt more confident to have made similar choices when I had the chance. We are probably going up to Denver Sunday - there is a cousin we are hoping to connect with - and go to the Outer Circle shopping place - I think that's what my sister said and I recall reading about when I was doing research to write her "Wedding Travel Guide" last year for her wedding guests. Just being near these amazing mountains, despite the tragic fire, is a sight to behold, more so now that smoke is clearing and we can breathe outside.
@ YG Mom, the "bug" is most definitely impossible to drop....I'm just always thinking of where I want to go, and hope to get to see along with returning to favorite places. The thoughts literally never stop and sometimes, just for fun, I look at my Atlas and go over maps....among many other at home "travel" dalliances. Indeed I will be careful - thanks for the good wishes - as I'm not sure I was as careful as I should have been coming out here but I surely wasn't reckless or dangerous....but drove tired, blurry eyed and crying. The crying was because I was stuck in 1 hour of traffic to go THREE miles and was well into the day's driving. I'm a Taurus - stubborn - and determined.
Just a few more days and I'll be heading back, my sister and I were just talking about my drive back, hotels, route etc. I'm not ready to look at it just yet....never expected to have so much stress while being here w/the fire but this happens all the time, anywhere in the world. It's just a variation on the experience!
Colorado Springs truly looks and feels "western" (as it should) and indeed, very family friendly - as it seems, it most of the state. I never had a doubt it would be otherwise
Nice to hear from you Host Colleen. Sorry the trip couldn't be more fruitful but am happy you are all ok and that you are still able to spend time with your family. Enjoy the end of your trip and have a safe journey home.
Thanks Lisa, for the kind words. It wasn't easy but things have gone wrong on trips before and well, I don't always have family around me so if it had to happen, we were together but we were majorly stressed out for about a week. When I left, the fire was not yet out but it was 100% contained, meaning it could not spread any further than the 18,000 plus acres it had become. I have a picture from when it just was a tiny plume of white smoke we saw when we got to Manitou Springs...after that, it all changed.
BUT, I did finally get out to see some things and Colorado is very much a family friendly destination (so are many of the countless States I drove through!!) as I saw families together everywhere I went. We couldn't see much together as a family but the time together was priceless, including Thursday night trivia at Old Chicago in downtown Colorado Springs and we brought the baby with us, though she didn't contribute to much to the effort (just kidding, she did because she was so good!) and we had third place locked up till the last round the first time we went; we'd have won free dessert. The following week, we didn't get up that high in the standings but this stuff is wicked hard!
Anyway, I did get up to Pikes Peak - I drove up, not sure what the altitude would do to me but I'd been acclimated to over 6,000 for more than a week and the drive up is 19 miles so you ascend gradually and I did fine. I was worried because when I was in the car heading up Arthur's pass in New Zealand and crossing the Alps, I did get a headache and nausea but I think that was a more steep, direct route whereas Pikes Peak was not. NOTE: It is not recommended for anyone with respiratory or heart conditions to go to the summit, nor is it recommended for any children 6 months old or younger to reach the summit at 14, 115 feet. The air is thin up there and after I'd been up there awhile, I did begin to feel kind of "loopy" and the drive down is a bit more challenging because of the incline, switchbacks and doing all that while not overheating the car's brakes because they are checked by park rangers as you descend...I passed, others had to pull over to cool their brakes. Using lower gears to slow the car helps but one must still apply brakes! They advise stopping to take pics on the way down instead of when ascending which is what I did. Driving the switchbacks was WAY fun! I took all but one of them slow; when I saw I was all clear, I decided to take one with no brakes (ill advised) because there's some sort of nutty race car driver trapped inside of me though I was probably still at 30mph, a hairpin turn has a g-force as does plain gravity! People up top told me that it was usually clearer, that the massive smoke from the fire had affected the view but after seeing some of my pics, I was surprised how clear they did look. The cost to drive up depends upon how many adults/children are in your vehicle but I think overall it costs less than taking the cog railyway up (3 hours round trip) and with the cog railway, I think you are limited as to how long you can remain at the summit whereas with your own vehicle, you stay as long as you wish. It cost me $12 to drive up, the cog would have been $35. There was almost NO snow on the mountains but I did see two small patches which I'm guessing were ice. Colorado has 54 "14'ers" which means that there are 54 mountains over 14,000 feet and a majority of them can be summited, but some are only for technical climbers. Oh I almost forgot - it is possible to cycle the mountain but we're pretty sure that how it works is a van takes you and your bike up, and then a lead rider takes you down, with a van following along behind - also timely a la the Tour de France now underway! That looked rather tough. www.visitpikespeak.com
I was also there during a massive heatwave and so half of what I packed was never used! But that's nothing new as I chronically overpack, as does the very sister I was visiting in Colorado; our father thinks we're both nuts but we both think, "well, ya never know!" and bring it all anyway. Funny bit: During the drive out and when I got to CO, I thought I'd left the bag with my shoes in it at home and was frustrated; I looked in my trunk so many times and not until I left, did I actually SEE that the bag was right there. It didn't really matter much as Colorado is VERY casual, and that's a good thing.
It was great to visit the Olympic training center, there was a movie that got me emotional, a hall of fame and great exhibits and I held an actual torch that had been carried in the Atlanta games - no fire as the torch is, I believe now pretty much near England though I saw on the news the flame got put out by water because they thought it might be a good idea to put it on a raft in rough water....no worries, they keep a backup lit at all times. Then we toured the facility and had a great tour guide named Jeff who also works with some of the athletes. He asked fairly easy trivia questions and gave out bookmarks to whomever gave the correct answer but no worries, there were plenty of bookmarks available at the info desk so this way, everyone can have one!! I think it was especially exciting being there now because the games are nearly upon us. Back at home, we watched the swimming trials taking place right there in the Springs but not at the pool they showed us.
There were lots of families in Manitou Springs, a lovely western yet slightly Victorian feeling historic town with lots of great shops, restaurant/food stops and parks throughout. We went there all together, did a little shopping, had some awesome ice cream at the Chocolate Store but by then we'd noticed the fire, just didn't know what was going on yet when we decided to drive on into the spectacular Garden of the Gods - my sister had her wedding pics taken here - which is a wonder of nature. I never realized it but I was so mesmerized, I forgot to take pictures! However, the fire was another factor because as we were driving through the park, cones were being placed on the roads, and before long, the park was closed and we had to leave. Anyway, they call Manitou "bohemian" and I'm not sure what that means to locals, I suppose in a way it is, but to me it was just very charming and quaint with unique food, shops, historical architecture, lovely parks. My sister's best friend has just gotten to where I was and plans on living in Manitou and I can see the appeal! It is closer to the higher mountains and although I'm a city girl (aching to get out) a part of me wouldn't mind living in a little cottage in that area!
Old Colorado City, another historic area, was also quite lovely to stroll around and again, great for families. It is in Cascade, west of the Springs but also with mountain views. Don't miss the Rocky Mountain Chocolate factory (yes, chocolate is a recurring theme in every trip!) as they have done things with chocolate that are very interesting and fun. There is a marionette theater there and they are doing a Dickens festival through September 1. The shows rotate between Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, check out www.simpich.com for info. It wasn't a show day when I was there or I'd have gone in.
On the 4th, we had a BBQ and ironically, I watched the Macy's fireworks display in NYC on TV because there were no fireworks allowed in the Springs though I think there may have been a show further south in Pueblo, CO.
It was definitely part of my plan to get to Denver which unfortunately never happened based on circumstances beyond our control. I was looking forward to that as there is much to do and see but alas, not this time.
We did have family time with other families that my sister knows, played games & had fun. Everyone out there is soooo nice. Plus, the Rockies are just so breathtaking to have as a backdrop. We also went outlet shopping - as did other families, because well, although perhaps ordinary, not everyone lives near big outlet centers and can shop at amazingly reduced prices although be careful; these stores have sale items placed right next to non-sale items and so one must know their prices of favorite retailers before buying. We all scored big time but it can easily get pricey if you don't verify the price of your items but overall, all our purchases came out to much less than we ever expected so win-win! Stay hydrated and wear sun screen as this is mostly outdoors (though there are overhangs outside stores) and it's a lot of walking. We came across vending machines that didn't vend and that was frustrating!! We were at the Castle Rock outlets, just off Route 25 headed north towards Denver. Food court is OK - clean - just not that many choices but it'll do.
My sister works at Peterson AFB, which is what brought her to the Springs. One day, we all met for lunch at the McD's on base and then she brought me over to where the museum is on base. It was amazing, but I love this stuff. There were young kids there on a field trip from summer academy and I don't know that it was the right place for them as most were about 5-6, with a few slightly older. I can't imagine they could grasp as much as older kids would but then, seeing all the planes was probably fun too so I would say it would be a great time for teens. I was able to get on base with my sister on the same day. Anyone can visit though, but plans must be made 24 hours in advance and social security numbers must be provided; then you simply drive in via the west gate, proceed to the visitors center and get your passes. Security is a must because Peterson is now home to NORAD and many other strategic operations. In my sister's building, on her floor, there are NO windows! I did get lost when I left the museum but was able to drive around the base and see a lot and luckily did not wander into areas I should not have. I will locate my info on visiting Petersons and post back. Two veteran volunteers working in the museum were simply wonderful, Mr Brown and Mr Burns helped make it very interesting oh and that field trip - well they all got little free souvenirs at the end I have collected many brochures from Colorado and other states; I will post more info as I sort through it all. I only got home the other night and have been recovering from my five day drive back home. It was so worth it to be with my family but driving to/from Colorado was one of the toughest things I've ever done. Thank goodness for cruise control and GPS turn by turn although much of it is a straight run. Going out I took I 70W and coming back I took I 40E. Taking 40 was not as direct a run as 70 but it was more scenic and just better...fewer trucks but more re-tread on the road which didn't make sense! On the way home, I drove through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and NJ. Saw many RV'ers along the way. Gas prices were best in Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia - I got home with the indicator light on briefly.
I'd planned to check in while I was out there, as I frequently do when I travel but things did not go as expected and so I thought I could not only still help out here on the boards, post in real time etc. I regret that I could not, but then as I said, all bets were off the day after I arrived.
The good news is that although 346 homes were lost and two passed away in their home, it could have been so much worse and we were all thankful that so many people came from everywhere to help get this fire under control.
One last bit - when driving out and in western Kansas (not flat, hilly!) I had NO idea when I crossed from Kansas into CO. Most States have big signs stating entering or exiting the state. Not so much between these two; I just knew at some point my ears were popping and somehow I'd reached 6,000 feet! My last gas stop was in Kansas at an actual OLD manual pump not seen in oh, 20-25 years? It worked and I have the picture to prove it. Just a surly proprietor running the place with a sign on the window that read "Premises guarded by loaded shotgun three nights a week; you guess which three!"
There's more about the hotels, food and all (plus, getting a flat in Amarillo, TX, calling roadside assistance and getting a new tire the next morning ) that I'll either try to fit in someplace on the boards or I'll put it on our sister site IndependentTraveler.com and post a link. How to get hotel discounts, and more....rest stops etc. But know this: at the western border of PA, there's a station that says "Last Gas for 122 miles" and it's a LIE!! Unless you're on fumes, don't fall for it....there is gas in neighboring West Virginia and Ohio (WV goes by quickly) MUCH closer!!
Lastly, although I knew I was going, I probably could have planned a bit better but I did get a new smart phone that was invaluable for the trip. But yes, I did also have an iPad and my laptop, just not always wi-fi and the phone works as long as there is service. I found an App called Gas Buddy (free) and recommend it!!
There's still a lot of summer left and hopefully many of you out there exploring our country on the roads via car, RV (or both as I noticed) and I wish everyone safety and lots of fun. When I got into Tennessee and past Memphis, I saw an amazing water park that I sooo wanted to go to! It was just off the interstate, but looked busy and fun nonetheless! Loads of places to camp too!!
I have a large family spread across many states, many nieces and nephews (#9 on the way) and so a lot of places I go to are because they will be family vacations and I grew up doing them; this time I just did 4,000 miles by car to enjoy my family in Colorado! However, I don't know that I'll be doing it again anytime soon, not alone! Right now, what a coincidence...there is a show on the Travel Channel called "Extreme RV'ing" and wowee, what they are doing! I saw so many RVs on the road or trailers, all sizes, shapes etc and you should see what these folks are building right now, none of which I saw on the road!! But at $2 million, I wouldn't expect to many are for celebs but I'm thinking, whatever happened to private jets? Then again, in one of these behemoths, it'd be one heck of a better road trip than in my Honda Civic!!