Come join us as we head out for a week in Colorado in search of Rocky Mountains, delicious cuisine, a ghost or two, and some of those famous handcrafted brews!

Day 1 - Off to Colorado

We started out the trip with a flight from Dallas-Ft.Worth to the Colorado Spring Airport. Actually, we spent the night before at the La Quinta North, where they have a very reasonable pay-and-park program. A shuttle took us to curbside checkin the next morning, and with no trouble at all we were on the way to our 2013 Colorado vacation. The plan was to fly into Colorado Springs, rent a car, and drive up to Estes Park. A few days later we'd drive down to Manitou Springs (a small town adjacent to Colorado Springs), and when we were done, fly back out of the same airport. On the trip up to Estes Park, we found that there was a lot of traffic, construction, and general congestion on I-25... so we decided to check our other options for the way back down.

Acquiring "The Tank"
We'd booked a mid-sized car through the rental company that gave us the best deal, something like a Nissan Altima. When we landed at Colorado Springs Airport, retrieved our luggage, and walked over to the rent-a-car counter, the agent there gave us a hard-sell to upgrade to a Ford Escape. We held solid, though, and asked for the car that we'd booked. He finally told us that he didn't have one in stock, and that we'd have to take a Toyota Mini-Van. We were disappointed, bummed out, and maybe the slightest bit angry about it. As it turned out, though, the mini-van had tons of room, and windows all the way around like a touring car... we couldn't have hand-picked a better vehicle for driving through the mountains if we'd tried. We came to love "The Tank," as we called it, and felt very fortunate to have it on the trip.

Lunch at the Buckhorn Exchange
It was lunch time as we were passing through Denver, and Frommer's recommended a place called the Buckhorn Exchange, a restaurant founded in 1893 (in the photos below, you can see liquor permit #1 in Denver). It has a varied menu that includes not only regular beef and chicken, but also buffalo, elk, quail, duck, alligator, and occasionally rattlesnake. They also have Rocky Mountain Oysters - and if you have to ask what that is, seriously, don't order it. The meal was delicious, and the atmosphere unique - it's the kind of place where you take a lot of photos to show friends when you get back home. I had the Double Cheese Buffalo Burger, and Tami had the Pot Roast Sandwich, and we loved the food. They also had several microbrewed beers, so I had a Yeti Imperial Stout with the meal.

On the Road to Estes Park
After our lunch at the Buckhorn Exchange, we got back on I-25 and kept heading north. As I mentioned, there was a lot of construction and a lot of traffic, and when we went through Bolder, it was a slow red-light after red-light crawl. The scenery was beautiful, though, and all along the drive we were drinking in the beauty of Colorado. Even with our stop for lunch in Denver, we reached Estes Park from Colorado Springs in just a few hours.

Destination: Appenzell Inn
The Appenzell Inn is a Rocky Mountain hotel in Estes Park that has a special Alpine flair. Located right in the heart of town, it's only a few blocks from the specialty shopping district, a block from a shopping center with a grocery and all the modern conveniences, and a minute at the most from the Stanley Hotel. We booked a suite called the "SuiteHeart Loft." Their website describes it perfectly: "A large open room with peaked ceiling and a window wall facing the snow-capped mountains highlights this very romantic offering. A king bed, fireplace, two-person heart-shaped in-room jetted tub, kitchenette with intimate booth for two are all arranged to optimize the outstanding view. Off the entry hall are a private bath with separate shower and large vanity across from an ample closet. A couple’s favorite on the top floor of the Berghaus."

Exploring the Stanley Hotel
While Rocky Mountain National Park is clearly the #1 attraction in Estes Park, the Stanley Hotel is arguably a close second thanks to Stephen King and his book The Shining. According to King, he and his wife were in Colorado while he was working on his third book, and they arrived at the Stanley as the hotel was closing down for the winter. He was given room 217 and permission to wander the hallways of the near-empty hotel, and by morning he had the basic outline of the story complete. We had a few different tours booked over the next couple of days, so we thought that it might be good just to go over to the hotel and scope things out. While the place looks like a massive campus, it's actually a simple place. We were able to locate the tour office in short order, then walked through the lobby, the bar, and the gift shop.

Dinner at Estes Park Brewery
We ended the day with dinner at the Estes Park Brewery. It's a working brewery, as you can see in the photo, but also has a large restaurant. You enter through the gift shop that is complete with its own bar where - after showing a photo ID - you're treated to four free samples from their beer menu. I tasted the Redrum ESB, Estes Park Porter, Sampson Oatmeal Stout, and a special Milk Stout that they had. It would be hard to pick a favorite out of that list - they were all great! For dinner I had the 1/2 pound Brewery Burger, and Tami had the Grilled Chicken Salad. To accompany my burger I started with the oatmeal stout, and finished with the milk stout. While we were here, a family came over to our table; they'd recognized us as the owners of The Grove, so we talked ghosts with them for a while before finishing our meal and heading back to the room.

Day 2 - Upward, into the Rockies

Rocky Mountain National Park
It's hard to prepare yourself for the beauty that you'll experience in Rocky Mountain National Park. The proposed area for the park was demarked in 1914, and after some debate here and there, a bill establishing the national park passed Congress and was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915. A formal dedication ceremony was held on September 4, 1915 in Horseshoe Park. The park has expanded over the years, with the largest parcel — the Never Summer Range — added in 1929. We started our tour at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center just outside of Estes Park. The rangers gave us info and maps to prepare us for the day; this was very important, because the park is huge and on a limited schedule, we needed some help in planning our day.

We took the gravel road across the top of the park that's known as "Old Fall River Road." It's one-way, has lots of twists and turns, and some incredible scenery. That route ends at the Alpine Visitor Center on the top of a mountain where you can grab a bite to eat at the "Cafe in the Clouds" and stretch your legs before continuing on. From there, we took the Trail Ridge Road back to Estes Park. The views were so breath-taking and we took so many pictures that we could do an entire page on just this one day. There is a lot more to see in the park, of course, and we feel like we just scratched the surface... but what a day!

Fire Engine Tour of Estes Park
My mother told me that if I couldn't say anything nice, not to say anything at all. Sorry, Mother. The Stanley Hotel website describes this as follows: "Experience the thrill of riding on one of our Antique Fire Engines! Our energetic and knowledgeable guides will take you on an interactive tour of beautiful Estes Park. Tours are 50-60 minutes in length." I think that we may have caught the wrong fire engine, because it was basically a 40-minute, brutally bumpy ride in the back of a fire truck down a couple of country roads. The first stop was in the road in front of the MacGregor Ranch, where a few words were spoken about that family. Next we rode out to a museum that houses the one-time power plant that F.O. Stanley built... but it was closed, so we left. A pond where ice for the hotel was once harvested was pointed out on the way back, and, well... that was pretty much it. The other Stanley tours that we took would
prove to be INCREDIBLY interesting and entertaining, which made this "tour of beautiful Estes Park" even more disappointing. In my humble opinion, this tour should be re-vamped or discontinued - I hate to say it, especially as much as we loved the Stanley Hotel, but until it is, don't waste the $15/person that it costs. Your mileage may vary.

Searching for Grady...
There was no way that we were going to visit the Stanley Hotel without stopping by one of the landmark places from the book The Shining - the bar. I can close my eyes and imagine the bartender Grady lecturing Jack Torrance about his son and wife... "I feel you will have to deal with this matter in the harshest possible way, Mr. Torrance." Jack responds, "There's nothing I look forward to with greater pleasure, Mr. Grady." In the real world, the Cascades Bar has a very friendly staff and a great selection of high-end bourbons and handcrafted micro-brews. It's a comfortable, welcoming place where the staff is well-versed in the lore of the hotel; unlike in the world of The Shining, the bartender didn't encourage us to kill anyone!

The Stanley Hotel Ghost Walk
We'd been looking forward to the next adventure with great anticipation, and when it was time, we went to the tour office for the Stanley Hotel Ghost Walk - and it turned out to be one of the high points for our entire week in Colorado. Our tour guide was Maria, and she was incredible... funny, knowledgeable, and when it was time, very serious about the paranormal. She led us through the hotel, weaving the stories of the supernatural, in a mix that was a great combination of her own experiences and those things that had been reported by visitors to the Stanley. PLEASE NOTE: The ghost tours can book up months in advance, so book and purchase your spot using the internet long before your vacation, and download your tickets at that time. Don't be disappointed by waiting until you arrive in town to call!

Day 3 - Havin' fun in Estes Park

Stanley Hotel Historic Tour
We'd already done the disappointing Fire Engine Tour, then taken the fascinating Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour, so the only one remaining for us was the Historic Tour... and that's how we started the morning. As it turns out, there was a little supernatural overlap, which was just fine with us. You do get to hear about F.O. Stanley who built the hotel, along with the story of many of the buildings surrounding the hotel. One of the most interesting things was the "Pet Cemetery" just off the hotel grounds. Some say that it inspired Stephen King for his book of that name. The history tour is a perfect combination of ghost stories from today, and tales of the hotel's past. Well worth your time when visiting Estes Park.

Drinks at Cascades Bar
We'd been there the previous day, but went back again because of the part that the bar played in the book The Shining. While it was a different staff this time, they were friendly and were happy to visit with us. The gentleman who was serving us had never had a supernatural experience at the Stanley, but knew people who had. As the bartender spent shift after shift behind the bar, much like The Shining's Grady, he had heard many of the guests' stories about the ghosts at the hotel.

Lunch at the Grubsteak
For lunch, we saw an interesting place downtown called the "Grubsteak." Looking for a little more info, we found that it has been a long-time tradition in the Rocky Mountains for locals and visitors alike. The menu features hand-cut steaks, wild game, BBQ Ribs, and fantastic burgers. They also have one of the largest selections of local beer and microbrews in Estes Park. The building that houses the Grubsteak was built in 1908 and served as Estes Park's first bowling alley, then Estes Park's first hospital, and finally was Mame's Beauty Parlor for more than 20 years. Various gift shops and restaurants later ensued including Granny's Grubsteak, Isabella Bird's, and The Grubsteak which opened its doors in May of 1990. Current owner Allie Jones acquired the restaurant in 1994. On our visit, Tami had a Guacamole/Jack Burger, and I had a Jalapeno/Jack Burger. The beverage of choice was a Tommy Knocker Maple Ale, rounding out the perfect lunch.

Shopping in Estes Park
The specialty shopping area of Estes Park is only a few blocks long, but it is packed with shops of every kind that you can imagine. Souvenir shops, t-shirt shops, candy shops, and anything else that you can think of. It's alive with people; there are also those who are entertaining the visitors like guitar players and such. Strolling down the sidewalks in Estes Park was a wonderfully entertaining experience - one that we'd repeat several times while staying in town.

Dinner at Baldpate Inn
One of the things that brought us to the Baldpate Inn was their key museum - thousands of keys in every shape and size, from everywhere that you can imagine. You could spend hours examining all of the keys that they have. But why keys? It comes from the a book named Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers, who upon visiting the property stated that the inn was so similar to the heretofore “imaginary” Baldpate Inn, that the Mace’s hotel would become the “real” Baldpate Inn. In the novel, each of seven visitors traveled to the closed-in-wintertime hotel, and thinks that he or she has the only key to the Inn. In keeping with the story line of the novel, the owners gave each visitor to the Inn their very own key. This tradition continued until the outbreak of World War I, when the price of metal became so expensive that the Owners were no longer able to give keys away. The loyal guests who
returned yearly were so disappointed that they began their own tradition of bringing a key back to the inn with them each year. It is said that the competition between guests became so fierce to bring the best and most exotic each year that the Maces decided to begin a display of all the keys. Today there are over twenty thousand of them, and it's a fascinating collection to browse. We were a bit hungry when we finished, though, so we stopped by their dining room. They had a soup and salad buffet, with handmade breads, a full salad bar, and it was a perfect ending to the day. We even took a piece of their homemade apple pie back to the room for a late-night snack. The Baldpate Inn is well worth a visit!

Day 4 - Moving Along to Manito Springs
On the Road Again
As I said before, we saw a lot of construction on the way up on I-25 and some slow-downs in Boulder, so to get down to Manitou Springs we asked some of the locals about an alternate route. We ended up taking south State Highway 7 out of Estes Park down to south State Highway 72, which we took to the city of Nederland where we picked up Highway 119. We followed 119 until it took us to I-70, then headed east until we picked up I-25 south. This definitely wasn't a shortcut - in fact, it took longer than the first route that we tried - but it just came down to taking a leisurely drive through the mountains instead of sitting in traffic. The scenery was beautiful, and we greatly enjoyed the trip.

A Very Nice Brewing Company
We somehow got turned around in Nederland, CO, so we pulled over into a shopping center to consult the map. We looked up to find an interesting brewpub named the Very Nice Brewing Company. I tried their Monk's Phunk, which is their flagship brew; it's a Trappist-style Ale, which was magnificent. Lightly hopped, it had a caramel taste, with a clove aftertaste reminiscent of a weissbier. Delicious! If we hadn't been on the road I would have ordered a second and maybe a third to try their other selections, but alas, we had miles to go so I ended with the one Trappist Ale. I was so impressed that I went to their website, and I loved the quote that the brewmaster started the page with; it summed up his thoughts on starting a small brewery: "I'd rather have a life of 'Oh wells' than a life of 'What if's." A great philosophy, and some great beer.

The Carousel of Dreams
In the same area we found the Carousel of Dreams. Scott Harrison served as a U.S. Marine in 1967-78, and he would try to keep himself calm between firefights by holding a small music box up to his ear and listening to Chopin's Tristesse. He would imagine that he was in a mountain meadow watching a carousel turn to the music - the ultimate peaceful scene, and the opposite of the violence of war that he found himself caught up in. When he returned, he set out to create the carousel that had comforted him during the war. He started with the remains of a 1910 carousel that had been built by Danish immigrant Charles Looff. Just as Scott Harrison was a survivor, so was the carousel. It survived three devastating fires, a windstorm that collapsed a roller coaster onto it, and even a lightning strike. Harrison found it in 1986, stripped of its animals, deserted, and being readied for the scrap heap. After carving the animals, it is now a delight for children to ride... and what better dream fulfillment is that!

The Cliff House
Our home for four nights in Manitou Springs was the Cliff House, which was built in the winter of 1873 - it has literally been open to guests longer than Colorado has been a state. The place simply dripped elegance - but why not, it is a AAA Four-Diamond rated hotel. There are doormen to greet you as you enter or leave, a valet service so that you don't have to fight with the parking meters on the street, and even a turn-down service where they place mats on the floor top prepare you to step into the bed. Literally everyone at the hotel had a smile and a pleasantry for us, and they went out of their way to make sure that we were having a wonderful stay. The Cliff House was a first-class, top-notch accommodation for the stay. And, as it turned out, even had a ghost story!

Appetizers at The Keg
We were hungry from the trip down, but it wasn't time for dinner. We found a little pub named "The Keg" that looked inviting, so we went in for a snack. After looking at their appetizer menu, we ordered the Cheesy Killer Bread, which turned out to be the perfect solution to our hunger pains. I had a couple of micro-brews to go with it - an Alaskan Amber and a Buffalo Gold Pale Ale. Colorado is definitely the land of hand-crafted beer. The Keg was a nice little stopover for a while, and was clearly a place for locals to hang out, visit, and enjoy some refreshments.

Shopping Manitou Springs
Once we'd had something to eat, we went out to explore Manitou Springs. It's an interesting little town that is more or less joined to Colorado Springs by Manitou Avenue and Hwy 24. The town has a very intimate feeling, with a main street (Manitou Ave) that goes through town and has most (but not all) of the shops along the way. We started walking up one side, from The Keg, and then came back down the other, stopping in shops all along the way. There was everything that you could imagine - goodies for pets, souvenir t-shirts, beautiful glass blowing, culinary delights, arts, crafts, and too many things to name. We kept exploring the shops until it was getting to be dinner time, and we started looking for a place to eat.

Dinner at Spice of Life
While we were walking around shopping, we ran across a deli called the Spice of Life. It looked like a place that was frequented by the locals, which would mean that the food was good. We therefore decided that it would be a great evening meal - I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and Tami ordered a turkey sandwich. Everything was fresh and delightful, so we had a delicious, light meal to round out the day... and after the drive down from Estes Park, it had been a long one. We retired back to our room at the Cliff House to find that our bed had been turned down, there were mints on the pillows, and white mats had been placed on either side of the bed to stand on before slipping under the covers. We were impressed - tired, but still impressed.

Day 5 - Exploring Manitou Springs

The Cliff House Breakfast
Breakfast was included with our room at the Cliff House, and it was something that we looked forward to every morning. It was a buffet-style spread with everything from cereals to pastries, scrambled eggs, quiche, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, biscuits & gravy... well, you get the idea. They had sides to dress up the eggs including bacon bits, tomatoes, salsa, and ham. This was one of those situations where, if you walked away hungry, it was your own fault; they certainly presented a delicious variety of breakfast items.

Cave of the Winds Lantern Tour
Cave of the Winds was discovered in 1881, and gets its name from the fact that openings to the surface at one time allowed the wind to blow through the cave and make eerie, howling noises. Tours there have been in continuous operation since February, 1881 – making it one of Colorado’s oldest visitor attractions. Electrical lights were switched on in the caves on July 4, 1907, and people have been flocking there ever since. It's not only one of the premiere show caves in the U.S., but at 7,000 feet, it's also one of the highest. There are two tours of the cave: a Discovery Tour, and a Lantern Tour. The Discovery Tour, while interesting, is a standard cave tour. The Lantern Tour explores a remote area of the cave that is not lit (hens the name of the tour), and where ghost stories abound. It is more physically challenging than the other tour, and you do carry a lit lantern, but all that adds to the mystique. We had a great time and highly recommend it!

Lunch at the Balanced Rock Café
The Garden of the Gods is just minute from downtown Manitou Springs, and since the forecast had been threatening rain, we thought that it would be best to head straight over there. There was the little matter of lunch, since the Cliff House breakfast, as delicious as it had been, was long gone. We stopped at the entrance to the park at the Garden of the Gods Trading Post. Inside we found the Balanced Rock Café. While you might not expect the lunch bar at a gift shop to have good food, the place was not a standard gift shop, and the Café was no lunch bar - there was a wide selection of items, so Tami had the Cheeseburger and I had the Extreme burger (although it wasn't that extreme - basically sauteed mushrooms on a cheeseburger). Still, we enjoyed the quick meal. The Trading Post was huge, by the way, and had everything that you could possibly imagine from arts and crafts to tourist trinkets. It was fun taking a look around there.

Garden of the Gods
After leaving the Trading Post, we drove out into the Garden of the Gods park. There we found some of the most incredible rock formations that we'd ever seen. These gigantic red rocks are jutting up out of the ground in a manner that seems to be surreal and beautiful. In looking into the history of the park, we found that it was August of 1859 when two surveyors started out from Denver City to begin a townsite, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who related this incident, suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden" when the country grew up. His companion, Rufus Cable, a "young and poetic man," exclaimed, "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods." It has been so called ever since. And the name certainly fits, because it is truly a wonder of nature.

A Tour of Miramont Castle
One of the things that we wanted to see while in town was Miramont Castle. In looking back into its history, construction began in the fall of 1895. The Manitou Springs Journal reported progress on the construction in its issues through the spring and summer of 1896, in November proclaiming it to be "one of the handsomest and most artistic buildings in Colorado." The east section began in 1897. Miramont, which means "look at the mountain," had indoor plumbing and electricity when it was built, as electricity had become available in the late 1880's when Angus Gillis built El Paso County's first electric generator in Manitou for Dr. Isaac Bell. Today the house is a museum, with rooms restored to reflect different periods of the history. It was an interesting, self-guided tour, and in fact the Manitou Springs Gazette named it the best "Family Outing" in the Gazette Best Of The Springs 2013. There is also a tea room if you get hungry during your tour.

Shopping Manitou Springs (Again)
We'd been out hitting the shops the day before, but hadn't covered half of them. Here are just a few of the places that we visited: Calamity Kites & Collectibles, Black Cat Books, The Dulcimer Shop, The Eagle Dancer, Christmas in Manitou, Gigi’s – The Animal Lovers’ Gift Shop (yes, we spent a bit there), Glassblowers of Manitou, Kinfolks Mountain Shop, and the list goes on and on. The experience wasn't just browsing the merchandise, but also visiting with the shopowners who were pleasant and friendly, and loved to strike up a conversation with their visitors. I'm still not sure that we made every shop there, because the shopping selection is so varied. It may warrant a return trip one of these days.

Dinner at Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant
This was probably the most memorable meal of the trip. Know going into it that it's a high-end experience, and although it was the most expensive meal that he had in Colorado, it's the one that we've been talking about to all of our friends. We saw the Mona Lisa Fondue on Manitou Avenue, and thought that it might be an interesting experience. There are four courses - salad starts things off, followed by a cheese fondue with veggies and fruit, then a meat tray with everything from steak to shrimp that you grill right at your table, ending with a chocolate fondue with items to dip ranging from marshmallows to fudge cake to fruits. The meal was fun, extravagant, but most of all, incredibly delicious. It was a culinary delight - and like I said before, the most memorable meal of the trip. How can we give it higher praise than that?

Day 6 - Day Trip to Canon City

Museum of Colorado Prisons
We made a drive down to Canon City, about forty-five minutes from Manitou Springs, to pay a visit to the Museum of Colorado Prisons. It's a very interesting museum from Colorado's penal system past. Their collection includes the hangman's noose used for the last execution by hanging in Colorado, confiscated inmate weapons and contraband, the last gas chamber where seven men were executed, displays of disciplinary paraphernalia used from 1871 to the present, inmate arts and crafts, and much more. The audio tour lasts about an hour, and you can pause and restart it as you like to inspect all of the displays.

Lunch at the Gold Mine
After the Prison Museum, we drove up to Cripple Creek on the way back to Manitou Springs. Just north of the city is an actual gold mine, once owned by a businesswoman long before her time named Mollie Kathleen. You can tour the mine today, and we arrived in time to buy our tickets with a forty minute wait. Fortunately, we hadn't had lunch yet, so with tickets in hand we walked over to the diner window and ordered something to eat. It's a basic menu of burgers and such, but we both went for the grilled cheese sandwich, which was actually quite good, and something that neither one of us had enjoyed in a long time. Just as we were finishing up, it started to rain - not that it was a problem, because we were about to descent 1,000 feet below the surface where the rain wouldn't be an issue at all.

Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine
In 1891 Mollie Kathleen was watching a herd of elk, when she saw an interesting rock that seemed to "wink back at her." It was an outcropping of pure gold laced in quartz. Mollie Kathleen Gortner became the first woman in the area to discover gold and strike a claim in her own name. Today, you can travel down into the mine by skip (a small elevator), where a guide gives a fascinating, hour-long tour. It is an actual gold mine, not a tourist mock-up, which makes it all the more interesting. There is still gold down there, but it's cost-prohibitive to mine anymore. For example, if there's a million dollars worth of gold in the mine, it might cost someone five million dollars to mine and refine it... so now, you have the opportunity to look at it and enjoy the history of the place. This was one of the highlights of the trip - we loved it!

Bierwerks Brewery
On the way back to Manitou Springs, we were driving through Woodland Park and spotted the Bierwerks Brewery. There was a smoker out beside the building, and when we got out of the car whatever they were cooking smelled great. We discovered that they were making fire-roasted pizzas, so I ordered a small pepperoni and Tami ordered a small veggie. While we were waiting, I tried their Dunkle Lager which was excellent. When they brought out our pizza, it was simply incredible - we'd never had it prepared that way. After finishing up the meal, we headed back out for Manitou Springs, tired after a day of driving and touring.

Day 7 - Ascending Pike's Peak

Pike's Peak Tram
There were several things on the tour that we booked our reservations for early - months in advance, in fact - which turned out to be the right thing to do. So many people vacation in Colorado that it's crucial to reserve a place on things that you want to do. For us, one of those things was the Pike's Peak tram; we'd booked our spots, and they had our reservations when we arrived. There are two ways up Pike's Peak - you can drive up, or take the tram. We chose the later, and had a great time. The ride up is an hour, as is the ride down, and you spend about thirty minutes at the summit. The ride had a lot of beautiful scenery to see and photograph, and the photos below are just a sampling of the wonderful things that we saw.

The Summit of Pike's Peak
When we got to the top of the mountain, it was in the clouds - we couldn't see a thing. We had been witness to incredible scenery on the way up, but at the top of the mountain it was completely fogged in. We'd heard legends about the Pike's Peak donuts - apparently they are done at some kind of high-altitude formula. Some say that if you take them down off the mountain, they aren't nearly as good, but that wasn't a problem for us. We each got two donuts and ate them before re-boarding the tram. They were good - maybe not the best donuts that we've ever had in our lives, but not bad at all. After the tram departed, it was another hour back down the mountain, but the scenery was still as beautiful as it was on the way up.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings To round out the day, we visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Modern scientists aren't sure why the Anasazi Indians abandoned their cliff dwellings and stone pueblos; some think that they were either starved out, or forced to leave. The Anasazi left little writing except for the symbolic pictographs and petroglyphs on rock walls. Today, their cliff dwellings are open to the public, and you can visit the cultural center and museum that has been set up to honor their lives. We explored the cliff dwellings, and went through the pueblo museum. It was a very interesting time, and had a great deal of Native American history to offer.

Dinner at Stagecoach Inn
This was once a stagecoach shop, which later became an inn for travelers in Colorado. The log structure of the restaurant entrance, parlor and lounge was reportedly built in 1881, and was later added to over the years. Patrons include President Eisenhower, and a trio of actors best known as Pa, Little Joe, and Hoss Cartwright. We ate out on a side porch beside the creek, which was very peaceful with the water flowing beneath us as we dined. I had the 10oz NY Strip, and Tami had their 6oz Sirloin, and both were cooked to perfection. To accompany the meal, I had a Nitro Milk Stout from the Lefthand Brewing Company, a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, and then finished out the dinner with a Wooly Booger Nut Brown Ale.

Day 8 - Heading Back to Texas

Glen Eyrie
This was our final day, a travel day back home, but we had a few hours to kill so we checked out of the Cliff House and drove over to Glen Eyrie. This is a majestic 67-room English Tudor-style castle built by General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. This house was his dream home, and is very near Garden of the Gods. It's a beautiful place, and you can book a room there, have tea in their tearoom, take a tour of the castle, and during the Christmas season, attend a Madrigal Banquet. It can also be booked for meetings and retreats. The grounds are beautiful, and we enjoyed our brief visit there.

If you've read some of our other travel logs, you may know that we're into letterboxing. Wherever you travel around the country, you can can get clues to hundreds - if not thousands - of letterboxes that have been hidden for you amusement from one coast to the other. If you follow the clues correctly you can locate a small box that contains a rubber stamp and a log book. You stamp the book with your personal stamp, and use the letterbox stamp to mark your personal book. It's always a lot of fun, and since we had some time, we followed the clues to a Garden of the Gods letterbox - this is the view from the spot where the box was hidden.

Lunch at the Airplane Restaurant
As our last order of business, we needed to grab some lunch before heading to the airport. We'd been seeing advertisements everywhere for the "Airplane Restaurant," and it turned out to be at the Radisson Hotel conveniently located near the airport. We arrived and were seated in the fuselage of a Boeing KC-97. It had been re-fitted with booths instead of airplane seats, of course, and the cockpit was pretty much intact so you could see what it looked like in its flying days. Hats off to pilots... it looked an order of magnitude more complicated than "The Tank" that we'd been driving on the trip! The food was good - I had a cheeseburger and Tami had the spaghetti. When the meal was over, we boarded "The Tank" for the last time, turned it in at the airport, and got on a working airplane bound for Texas. We had a great time on our Colorado vacation - thanks for re-living it with us!