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We went tent camping for 10 days and then stayed in hotels for the next week. This is a list of places we went and what we thought of them. I have put a * in front of all the places that are only if you are camping.
A FEW THINGS ABOUT COLORADO
1) CO has the greatest summer temperature differences between day and night than any other state-summer temps in some areas can be mid-90's (F) during the day and mid-50's at night. Also, sudden thunderstorms, lightning, and hail are not at all unusual on what you were tinking was a sunny hot day!
2) When acclimating to the elevation what matters is where you sleep/spend the night not so much where you spend the day.
3) When they say, "drink plenty of water," they mean it, BUT try to drink small amounts frequently rather than chug-a-lug a huge amount. The latter only makes you need a bathroom when there aren't any available! I suggest a Camelback or any backpack that has a bladder for water-you can ice it up and have cold water for the entire day.
4) Leave enough time to do nothing or to visit places for longer than you planned
Although we were looking forward to visiting Colorado Springs we were disappointed. We could have been in any city in the US that has every hotel, fast food ad tourist "attraction" tha is known. The old part of town was nice but nothing really special but the rest of town was urban sprawl with a nice view. The people we dealt with were all very nice-but that is true all over Colorado. We only went to Colorado Springs because our rental car was cheaper there than in Denver and this is the only reason I can see for returning.
Though advertised as near the airport this hotel took over 1/2 hour to get to at 9pm. The entrance is poorly marked (you need to turn left into a small road and then work your way around and behind the building on the corner.) Our room was clean but the toilet did not flush. The free breakfast was convenient and OK and it was nice to have the choice of eating in the dining room or taking the food back upstairs. This is a good budget place if you simply need a place to sleep.
We chose this campground off the internet and were fairly happy with it. Pluses: the owners and everyone who works there are very friendly and helpful; the pool is nice and open with an "adults only" period in the morning;, the bathrooms/showers are adequate, clean and conveniently open all the time; the washing up facilities (for dishes, etc.) are also convenient; there is a nice but small playground that is good for small children; campsites next to the stream have a nice feel to them and the sound of the water (mostly) drowns out the road noise; it's very convenient to Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs attractions. Minuses: The road noise-even with our site next to the stream, we could hear it all night long. In an RV or a trailer where one is sleeping inside, the noise may be less.
We all (my husband, 10 year old son and I) enjoyed this place. The caves are interesting and if our guide was any indication, the guides are VERY well trained. Our guide was charming and funny while really giving us a lot of information about caves. There is a gift shop up top that you can browse while waiting for your group to go (when you get your ticket you are given a number and time that you will be called-our wait was 20 minutes) I can get a bit claustrophobic but had no trouble down here as the paths are well lit and seem spacious. There is one time that they turn off all the lights (with plenty of warning) so if you have small children who are really afraid of the dark you need to consider that. You can take plenty of pictures so take a camera, as well as a raincoat if it's July or August. When we entered the caves it was a bright sunny and warm day. When we came back out 30 minutes later there was a huge rainstorm and we got drenched running back to the car.
What an incredibly gorgeous place!!! Although we enjoyed some of the places we wnet in Colorad Springs, no-one in my family was impressed with the city and we decided to leave for other pklaces earlier than we'd planned. However, the one place we all wanted to revisit (and did) was this great park. The frst tme we visted was at sunset after a rainstorm ad we only had enough time to drive through . The lighting was great as were all the wonderful red rock formations. The next day we went back so we could send more time and walked around Balanced Rock as well as taking the time to view the film and the visitor's center which is very informative. The last time we went was midday and the place was still fantastic. We hiked around, taking our time to watch a father teach his young son technical climbing (with equipment) on one of the formations. We were also able to watch birds-some with nests up on the high ledges- flying in and around. The parking places are large so there was plenty of parking anywhere we stopped and the paths are well maintained with garbage cans along the way. This place was someplace that you could spend a day exploring or simply visit for a few hours. Even a drive trough is worth it but you that may lead to your wanting to get out and see more. Also, make sure you visit the Garden of the Gods Trading Post wich hasbeen voted one of the best gift shops and it is. They have the usual trinkets but also LOTS of nice stuff from pottery to clothes to art work to rugs and jewelry.
OK, so it was my birthday and I wanted to go to a nice restaurant but we'd just been in a rainstorm and we were still a bit wet. We also were not dressed up but in day clothes. No Problem. When we arrived and asked if we would be admitted, not only were we very cordially welcomed (it was just 6 pm) but we had an incredible waiter and the dinner was not to be believed. Rather than go on at great length about this restaurant suffice it to say that if you are up for a dinner of wild game, or just really good food, you could not find a better place. The review at their site is far more comprehensive than I could ever write. (You can get to it from the link above.)Craftwood Inn has a long history and used to be visited by all sorts of well known people. It may still be, but you are treated as well as anyone else could be. First, our waiter recognized that our son was not thrilled with a menu of unusual items (more below) and right away offered that the chef could cook him a cheeseburger. I opted for the caribou after he told me it tasted like mild lamb and I was blown away. Not only was the flavor terrific but it had the consistency of a brie. I have NEVER tasted a meat so tender. Of course, if you decide you want fish, as did my husband, you will also be glad you did. Though it is a bit expensive, I think each bite of our meals and each sip of the wine (recommended by the chef) was well worth every penny.
Wear a hat, take water and a camera and prepare yourself for either a short (45 minute) or a long (several hours) hike. Florissant Fossil Beds Nationa Monument is part of the National Parks system and very interesting. (It was a definitely suitable substitute for Petrified Forest in AZ which I had to miss when our travel plans changed.) Did you know that there was once a volcano in Colorado, how about a sea ? Florissant was created by a volcano that erupted millenia ago and covered-thus preserving and petrifying- the trees in the area. Later there was a lake and when that drained hundreds of fossils were created. Even a perfect one of a butterfly that even has the colors preserved. There is a very good book store at the entrance but be sure to catch the ranger's talk. The ranger we had was enthusiastic, helpful and very well informed. Because it was the height of the day and getting very hot we decided just to do the small loop to see the petrified trees. The trail was well marked but take a guidebook from the ranger station (entrance) so you have more information about each site. For the more energetic -and not in the heat of the day-the bigger loop with the homestead looked very interesting.
I am not a big one for places like this but it wasn't bad. If you have kids and just want them to have a bit of fun it is worth it. If you want to see what a frontier/mining town looked like-South Park City in Fairplay is far better. We got the combination ticket which entitled us to a tour of the town and its entertainment, a horse drawn wagon ride and a trip on the narrow gauge railway out to Royal Gorge. (Because it was mid-July-when rainstorms in the afternoon are pretty much a given-we spent part of the time running through the rain and were not able to have our wagon ride.) However, we all enjoyed the "gunfights" and the magic shows. Each summer, theater students, from all over the country, work at Buckskin Joe as gunfighters and hotel workers and do a good job at it. The first gunfight we saw was a recreation of a real story and pretty well acted. The second one was a comedy and we all laughed until our sides hurt. After each "fight" there is a magic show in the theater on the street. Our son attended both and had a wonderful time. (One was enough for his parents though it was very good.) We had drinks in the saloon (draught beer and sarsparilla) and spent some time talking to some of the kids who work there. The town is OK. Some of the places are stores with quasi-authentic items but mostly tourist junk, but it was interesting to see some of the memorabilia from the many westerns that have been filmed there. However, so many of the displays were dusty and not well kept that I was a bit disappointed. Then again, this is a place that is just for fun. The last part of our trip was spent in the narrow gauge railway that took us to the edge of Royal Gorge. We had opted not to see more of Royal Gorge than this and we were pleased with our decision. You get a good view of the gorge and the bridge in the distance as well as the river below and it seemed that most of the people on the train with us felt the same way. One note-the gift shop at the train station was tacky and overpriced!
WOW. While researching our trip I came upon this site in the National Parks guide. Then I read some excellent reviews at Trip Advisor and we decided to make this our campsite. (see below for campsite info) First of all, you start to see the dunes from 50-75 miles away. They look like a beige stripe at the base of the Sangre de Christo mountains as you drive along the valley in any direction. We came in from Rte 17 having followed 24 out of Colorado Springs-which is a great drive in itself. When we arrived it was midday and we decided to set up camp before going to the dunes. We got there around 2 pm and went to the visitor's center first. Here is another excellent NPS (National Park Service) bookstore and gift shop as well as educational and fun interactive displays. Our son did everything before he was ready to go out to the dunes. I have seen warnings that things look closer than they are and PLEASE take them seriously. When you leave the visitor's center or any other entrance to the dunes you will have a significant hike across a flat expanse of sand. THEN you get to the dunes. Since our son is 10 he spent much of his time rolling and trying to slide down the dunes. He tried a plastic raincoat and piece of cardboard for sliding but neither worked very well and we were sorry we had not stopped to buy a plastic sled that we heard are sold at the gas station near the entrance. Be careful, when a wind blows the sand can sting and it WILL get into everything. Your shoes should be full before you even get to the dunes but any cameras or other equipment that does not work well with sand in it should be kept covered (ziploc bags work well). We only got about 1/3 of the way up the tallest dune before that afternoon's thunderstorm rode in so, we made our way back to the entrance but had we started earlier, we would have been able to hike all the way. Take water and pace yourself. In any case, the views are great from anywhere and there is something very cool about standing on 750' high SAND dunes where there never was a beach! (The sand was created by the breakdown of the San Juan mountains, to the west, blowing across the valley floor) Oh,if you do not enter from the visitor's center but from the parking lot, the walk to the dunes is not as long and there are showers for getting the kids clean.
See the link above or go the the NPS.org site for Great Sand Dunes Nationa Monument camping for more information.
This was the 2nd campground that we stayed at in CO and it could not have been more different from the first! It was quiet, our view was glorious-the Dunes; we had a nice area with Pinyon Pines providing shade as well as a place to tie our clothesline and a "bear box"-a metal. locking box that we stored all our food and cooking items in. We had ample space for the tent and to put chairs and a table for card games as well as a picnic table. When you enter any of the NPS campgrounds there is a place to stop and get a envelope for payment. After you choose a campsite you tear off the stub and clip it to the post at the site and then put the money in the envelope and return it to deposit it where you first came in. We had a site that not only overlooked the dunes but was a short walk from the toilets and sink. The campground has quite time after 10pm and we slept very well that night.
NOTE: The address above calls this Alamosa but you are actually right outside the small town of Mosca. Alamosa is a good 1/2 hour away. If you need basic supplies the store near the entrance to the park has them but for more stuff or to stock up (as we did, for the next several days) go to Alamosa where you will find supermarkets. You'll also have cell phone reception in Alamosa which is not present in most of the area.
Just by happenstance I picked up a book about scenic drives in CO while we were at Garden of the Gods. When we left Great Sand Dunes, on our way to Pagosa Springs, we saw a line about La Garita (Natural) Arch and decided to visit. It's near Del Norte. I do not have the book any longer and do not have the exact directions but we headed northeast out of Del Norte and then took a county road that was unpaved for several miles through phenomenal rock formations until we saw the turn off for La Garita. (It is National Forest land and it is marked. The GPS coordinates are: N 37 48.833' W 106 22.639' at about 8900 feet ) The hike to the arch is about 300' and easy-moderate. If you like to take the time to see the not so common this is worth the time. You do not need a 4 wheel drive car-we were in a minivan. This would also be a good day trip on bikes.
A nice town with a very helpful visitor's center. We wished we had planned our trip to allow more time here. For lunch the Rose Cafe was very good. There is a candy factory that makes REALLY good fudge-can't remember the name but they are located below street level near the Rose Cafe. We opted for the budget approach to mineral baths and went to the Spa Hotel rather than the more expensive place across the street-it's all the same water. We got towels, shampoo and soap for about $1 in addition to the entrance and spent over an hour there. There is a pool that is warm 84F); a hot tub that is hot (104F) and gender-segregated really hot pools (108F) that are very good for any aches and pains you have-just take off any jewelry you have on-silver turns black. See below for the special places in Pagosa Springs.
The link above does not lead to a website for RMWP because they don't have one yet. It does have their contact info though and this place is well worth a visit if you are anywhere near Pagosa Springs. First of all, they have horseback riding trips. Secondly, they have a sanctuary for wild animals from all sorts of backgrounds. Grizzly and brown bears, timber and grey wolves, bobcats and mountian lions, an elk with the most majestic antlers you have ever seen and Pokey the porcupine, whose favorite food is peanut butter sandwiches, all live here. Get there for feeding time at 4pm and you'll have a good laugh and learn about the animals from one of the caretakers. The people who work here are the nicest and so caring. The grizzly bear is a bag of laughs and a bit of a cut-up, Tomasina, a mountian lion, is 16 years old and lives there with her old mate and son. There are two very chatty geese who will demand your attention when you go near their pond-and any other reason they can think of-and you can see some movie stars as well-3 of the animals have been in movies. The gift store is good as well.
If you are up for beautiful scenery and have a tent, trailer or RV, Teal should be on the list of places to see. When you first leave Pagosa Springs on Piedra River Rd you have no idea what you are in for. After a brief time on paved road passing developments you leave the pavement onto well maintained road (speed limit 20-40 MPH) and past a few more newer developments. Then you start to see Piedra River Canyon (see below) then you drive more (the first time it feels like forever but it's about 15 miles) and then you drive down a short road into some of the most beautiful scenery and one of the best campsites you can find. Stop at the board and get your deposit envelope (if there aren't any, Fred ,the carretaker, lives in site #8-to the left-and will give you one.) Then head to the right where there are 4 sites-the best ones. There you will find sites surrounded by pines, each with a good sized pad-#1 is big enough for 4 tents- and views of Williams Lake Reservoir. You are a short (2 minute) walk from the vault toilets (that are kept scrupulously clean) and the water pump (hand operated-fun for the kids). Fred, and his dog Ginger will come by at some point on his scooter and see if you need anything, give you information and answer questions, should you have any. If you happen to have a hummingbird feeder hang it up and in the morning you will see literally doxens of hummingbirds at it. From your tent you'll be able to see the lake and the mountains-look for the one that looks like the head of an Indian lying down. A short walk will take you to the lake which is a reservoir and which you can walk all the way around. In late July when we were there the raspberries (near the dam) were just getting ripe and there are numerous wildflowers in bloom. If you fish you can do so from the shore or a boat/canoe. If you are there in summer, early morning is the best time to walk as the afternoon usually has a thunderstorm and we even had hail during our stay. There is a fire pit and picnic table at each site as well and you are free to gather your own firewood and kindling-in fact Fred encourages it. You won't have electricity or cell phone reception but you will have peaceful, cool-cold nights and awaken to amazing beauty.
Take Piedra River Road out of Pagosa Springs until you get to the Peidra River Trailhead for an easy-moderate hike with awesome scenery and a perfect picnic spot. The information we read sad the hike is about 3.5 miles long but I have no idea whether that is how far we hiked or not. All I know is that I had to stop to take another picture about every 50 feet because each turn yielded scenery more beautiful than the last as we descended from road side to the river. Beware of the poison ivy along the path although as long as you know it is there ,it is easy to avoid. When you get to te rive at the bottom you can continue along the path that leads several more miles or hike back up. There are nice spots to picnic or have a snack before you return-just remember to take a bag for the trash and hike it back out with you. The hike back up is easy-moderate and will only be strenuous for the most out of shape. Remember water. We saw several families with young children (3-7) who were taking their time but apparently having a good time. Our 10 year old was yads ahead of us all the way in both directions.
We did not actually get to see Chimney Rock itself-other than from the distance-because the day we went there were Native Amercian dancers. If you have the chance to get there for one of their performances DO NOT MISS it. The day we were there we were able to watch Jicarilla Apaches and Aztecs for 2 hours. Because we were en route to Durango and it was late we had to miss the last hour but I will never forget watching people whose ancestors had danced on this same land performing for us. We saw the afternoon performance and the last half hour was with the sun very low in the sky. The sound of the drums, the shells (on the ankles of the Aztec dancers) and the calls stayed with us all the rest of that night.