|By: Paul S. Cilwa
|Page Views: 1021
|Topics: #GardenoftheGods #ColoradoSprings #Colorado #Zachary
|Zach and I explore the Rocky Mountains and the Garden of the Gods.
Today was the last day of Zach's and my trip to Colorado. We had spent our second night at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet, in which the thin air had not lessened the wind that buffeted our tent all night. But we awoke around 8am, and broke camp before descending to the bath house at the bottom of the hill for hot showers and a change into traveling clothes.
Before leaving, I asked the lady who ran Arrowhead Point Camping Resort to keep an eye out for Zach's cellphone, lost the night before in the windstorm that came up while he was watching the Fourth of July fireworks.
I then put our destination—the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs—into the GPS and, since it directed us through nearby Buena Vista anyway, we decided to have breakfast there. Zach helped select Jan's Family Restaurant, mostly on my guess they would probably have French toast. As for me, Zach had thus far shown an uncanny ability to spot good restaurants even when they weren't part of the Subway chain; so we went in and, once again it was a "good call" as he put it. The only downside was a lengthy wait to be seated, another to be waited on, and even longer to be served. But I figured it had to do with this being the day after July 4th, and probably the biggest tourist day of the year in these parts.
But the food was outstanding and very inexpensive—I had the special, 2 scrambled eggs, 2 slices of thick-cut bacon, and 2 slices of French toast, for only $4.95! And we actually had a nice conversation. It is so cool when a kid you've known from infancy grows mature enough to actually talk with.
After breakfast, we then got onto US 24/285 just south of town and found ourselves passing Wilderness Aware, the place from which we'd started yesterday's rafting adventure, so I went inside briefly to purchase our souvenir rafting photo, taken by a professional photographer who was no better than I, but had the advantage of being outside our raft while we were in it. The photo had been on display the day before; but what with meeting and saying goodbye to old and new rafting friends actually purchasing the photo had slipped my mind.
Then we were off, Pike's Peak or bust.
To say the passing scenery was exquisite would not be putting too fine a point on it.
This was the land of crystal blue skies and white-capped peaks that Dan Fogelberg fell in love with and John Denver wrote hit songs about. Colorado has something like 57 distinct peaks of over 14,000 feet, and it seemed like they were all arrayed around us.
After a half hour or so of climbing, we reached the summit of Wilkerson Pass and stopped at the visitor center there for a bathroom break and to take some photos.
The views both west and east of us were amazing. To the west were the multitude of Collegiate Peaks, 14,000 footers, all.
And to the east, standing alone, was equally tall Pike's Peak.
As we descended the eastern slope of Wilkerson Pass, I had to stop suddenly—Zachary spotted a herd of deer were grazing on the hillside. These weren't little Bambi-type deer; they were so powerful and sturdy I thought they must be elk. (They weren't, though; and Zach was, once again, correct.)
About an hour-and-a-half after starting out, we pulled into Colorado Springs and made our way quickly, despite a patch of heavy traffic, to the Garden of the Gods.
This place is a public park, land that was donated to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of one Charles Elliott Perkins, with the stipulation that admission to the park remain forever free of charge, in accordance with the father's wishes. The outstanding geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of red, blue, purple, and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but have now been tilted vertically and faulted by the immense mountain building forces caused by the uplift of the Pike's Peak massif.
Most of the visits I've made here, including one with my Mom and Michael when we were first moving out to Arizona, have been free of crowds. However, and again probably because so many people had today off since the Fourth was on a Sunday, the place was mobbed. Failing to find a space in the main parking lot, even after driving around for several minutes, we continued on the park's beltway until we finally found a place in Parking Lot #10, way over on the southeastern side.
We immediately set off on the Ridge Trail Loop, which looked to be heading into some of the more interesting formations.
Of course, Zach's entire interest in the place was the opportunity to climb interesting rocks. Zach has been climbing trees since he was 3, and boulders since he was 4; he has always shown surprisingly mature judgment regarding what he can climb and how to climb it. So I worked hard to not visibly freak out when he scuttled up steep pillars and sheer walls, barefoot. Look carefully below: Zach is in the almost exact center of the picture.
Zach spent a couple of hours climbing; I just followed along and let him choose, and of course, took photos. Once or twice he touched base with me, saying, "Thank you so much for taking me, Papa! I'm having such a good time…so far!" I'm not sure what the qualification meant; he'd been saying it this way since we left Phoenix. But I didn't want to jinx it and I don't like to tell kids how to express themselves; so I just gave him a hug in return and assured him I was also having a terrific time.
In addition to being beautiful in its own right, the brightly-colored formations in the Garden of the Gods also set off the cooler hues of the distant Pike's Peak massif, making for a fabulous photo op.
According to my pre-planned schedule we had to leave the park by 3 PM; and that's exactly what we did, stopping to pick up lunch-to-go at Wendy's and heading up I-25 from Colorado Springs to Denver.
"Behind us, south," I told Zach as we rode along, "you would eventually come to New Mexico and the town of Santa Fe, where Papa Michael went to school for a time. Keep going, and you get to Albuquerque. In Albuquerque, you can get on I-40 and head west to Flagstaff; then south on I-17 and you'll go right to Phoenix."
Zach was impressed. "You're like a human map!" he enthused.
"Kind of," I admitted. "I'm a former truck driver. And I've been along this road, now, many, many times."
We filled up at the last possible place before driving into the Alamo car rental return place, grabbed our stuff out of the car—I had to run back for my cell phone, of all things!—and took the shuttle to the airport. Everything was timing out perfectly, according to plan. I checked our camping gear into baggage handling, and Zach and I were almost to Security when Zach suddenly asked, "Where's my iPod?"
"Well, I don't know," I replied. "Where did you have it last?"
"It was on the floor of the front seat of the car," he told me.
"I didn't see it there," I said, but this is a several-hundred-dollar device and we couldn't just leave it. Fortunately, my planning had including extra time for emergencies such as this. So Zach and I returned to the shuttle, rode it to the Alamo facility, and ran to where we'd left the car.
It was gone. But one of the people there adopted us, located the car we'd rented (it was being gassed up—I don't know why; I had brought it in full), and had several guys go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Sure enough, one found the iPod stuck in the crack between the passenger seat and the seat back. Personally, I don't think anything that costs that much should be allowed to be so small. But no one checked with me when they were designing it; and, in any case, Zach had the iPod back.
So we returned to the airport, went through Security, and found our gate. We were now only a little pressed for time. With six minutes left before boarding was scheduled to start, I left Zach with our carry-ons and try to find some food to take with us for dinner, as one can no longer rely on the airlines to feed us in the air.
I got a personal pepperoni pizza for Zach, and a Philly cheese steak sandwich for me, from two different places. By the time I got back, Zach was starting to worry. Boarding had started, though not yet in our "zone". I instructed Zach to follow me closely, and began worming our way through the crowd. By the time they called Zone 3, we were at the turnstile and handed our boarding passes to the gate agent and boarded the plane.
Our flight was uneventful, other than our sharing our row with a young man who enjoyed hearing about our adventures. So the flight time passed quickly, and before we knew it, we were back in Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport, with our baggage intact, and with Papa Michael picking us up.
In the car, Zachary reached over from the back seat and put his arms around my neck. "Thank you, Papa, for taking me," he said with that incredible sincerity only an 11-year-old can pull off. "I had a wonderful time."
"And so did I," I assured him. And neither of us added, "So far!" The trip was over.