Colorado Springs {2016 Roadtrip #2}

Gwen and I ended up getting the National Parks Annual Pass when we took our big road trip last fall. We were hitting up multiple parks and monuments, so it just made sense, and it would be a good excuse to get us out traveling for some more parks. Back in February I started thinking about that, and decided to do some Googling. It turns out that Yellowstone is only a day's drive from us (about 8 hours) and the Grand Tetons are only 40 minutes from there! That was absolutely worth a long weekend visit! [As an aside: Mt. Rushmore and the Badlands are even closer, so look forward to that trip in June!]

But this post isn't about Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  ::sigh::  Remember that post about you plan, God laughs? Yeah, Yellowstone will come later. So will Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, which were my next choices (but was not happening after the insanity we encountered in the mountains on the way home from California).  ::sigh again::

In the meantime, all was not lost. We wanted to take a trip in April when 1) Gwen was on school break, so the long weekend was open to us, and 2) there would be no crowds, while 3) not being so freezing that camping was impossible. So after some last minute searching, last Friday we headed out in the morning for the quick drive down to Colorado Springs.

The drive was so easy! I've forgotten what a 1-hour road trip feel like.  ;-)  We found Cheyenne Mountain State Park (where we'd be camping) no problem. We got our camp all set up, met our "neighbors," and then headed out for our first activity... a visit to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. It was the farthest away, and a good first day activity.

Gwen and I both loved it. Such beautiful, important creatures. This place is a wonderful sanctuary for those that can't be returned to the wild, as well as an amazing group of advocates for these keystone predators.

We headed back to camp and cooked up some soup on the fire for dinner.

It was cold at night, but we had brought extra sleeping bags and a comforter, so we were nice and toasty!

Saturday we were up early thanks to the sun, the birds, and.... the damn trumpeting from Fort Carson! Ha. That was unexpected.

We headed out to spend a few hours hiking around checking out some of the trails that Cheyenne Mountain State Park had to offer. They are different then what I'm used to hiking (tall grasses, short trees, scrub and rocks vs. the forests I favor), but beautiful in their own way.

In the afternoon, we decided to pick up some lunch from Manitou Springs, then drive Pike's Peak Highway. Manitou Springs is the cutest town, and Gwen begged to go back after our Pike's Peak adventure. We were warned at the gate to the highway that they'd just had a snow storm come through so the last few miles of road were currently closed. They were trying to clear the roads, but there were no guarantees. We decided to give it a shot anyway. So up we climbed.

When we got to mile 13, the road was still closed, but 10 minutes later, after a bathroom break in the gift shop, we lucked out and they opened it back up!

The drive up is dizzying! The views are absolutely awe inspiring though! Its just crazy to know that you are at the very top point of this huge fourteener (mountain above 14000'). We didn't get to spend too much time at the top since the snow was starting again, but I'm so happy we made it!

We took the drive down a lot slower, and stopped more frequently.

It is a beautiful place.

On our way back to our campsite we stopped again in Manitou Springs, as promised, and let Gwen loose on the playground.

It turned out to be a great idea, since Gwen made some friends, who's parents I talked to, and we got a great hiking recommendation for the next day!

Sunday... more trumpets.  ::sigh::  The early rising time did help us to have a relaxed morning (breakfast while we played cards), and still get the the trails of North Cheyenne Canyon plenty early. First up was the Helen Hunt Falls Trail.

Its a steeper hike, but not a long one, so it was a great warm-up.

That was the only particular trail that was recommended to us, but after that we decided to just explore a bit and randomly pick another.

It was a truly beautiful place!

Gwen is a great hiking buddy! I love that she loves camping and hiking and all these outdoor things that mean so much to me. Before this trip was over, she was already asking when we'd be going on another!

We also had really wonderful talks about what it means to care about the environment, and how it's everyone's responsibility! Little environmentalist in the making.

As we were finishing our walk, the weather started to get a little dreary, rainy, and cold. Outdoor time for the day seemed to be coming to an end, leaning towards something a little more covered. I had another activity on my list that seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so we headed off to check out the Cave of the Winds.

A cave tour fit the bill perfectly, was fun and interesting, and bridged the gap between the end of our hiking and dinner time. After dinner there was time for some cards in the tent before getting ready for bed.

That night the dreary light rain turned into a heavy storm with 10-20 mph winds! Gwen slept through it all while I shot up quick prayers to the heavens that our wind ties would hold and the tent would stay upright and whole!

It did, and we made it to Monday morning no worse for wear.... though we were in for a bit of a surprise when we stepped out of the tent in the morning!

Apparently at some point that rain turned into snow! Check snow camping off my list of things I never really intended to do! It was still a very chilly, damp day; though at least it wasn't raining or snowing when we got up in the morning.

We headed out for a breakfast treat of pancakes to warm us up, then on to Garden of the Gods, our last stop of the trip.

It is an impressive place!

We definitely want to check it out again sometime when it isn't so dreary!

After that it was back to the campsite to break everything down, pack it away, and get on the road home. We were back in time for me to make us a late lunch, get all showered, and get Gwen to her swim lesson.

While this trip might not have been what I originally thought, it was wonderful, and I'm so glad that we can have these amazing adventures out here! There are a hundred different places that I want to see out West (and every where!), and while the draw to check new states off my list is strong, its great to also see all the awesome things in our own backyard. I'm already looking forward to the next trip!

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