Belatedly, this is the last post in my Colorado series. After exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and eating our way around Denver earlier this summer, Mike & I finished our time in Colorado by staying with my Uncle Greg and Aunt Christi at their Log Cabin in Divide, Colorado, just a short drive from Colorado Springs.
I’d only been to their cabin once before – 19 years ago! Since I grew up on the opposite side of the country (Florida), I’d only seen my Aunt & Uncle a few times in my life, and Mike had never had the chance to meet them before, but they immediately made us feel right at home.
Their fur-babies also gave us a very warm welcome, as fur-babies always do.
And Greg & Christi took great care of our taste-buds too, including several delicious, veggie-filled meals from the barbie.
Even better, some of those delicious veggies came from the trip we took to the Woodland Park Farmer’s Market. Look closely – can you see Pike’s peak in the distance?
While at the market, I also picked up some delicious Veggie Tamales that I later enjoyed for a picnic lunch.
Not only did Uncle Greg & Aunt Christi feed us well, they also showed us a great time – including all the key sites in the area along with quite a few off-the-beaten-path places.
Of course we had to stop at Garden of the Gods. It was beautiful, but it felt somewhat congested and touristy. We had fun climbing up the boulders as high as the park would allow us to without ropes, but we felt a lot less rugged when an entire troop of 7-year-olds climbed up behind us for their photo-op (look closely in the upper left of the photo below).
On the flip-side, it’s a wonderful thing that it’s such a people-friendly & people-filled park. The Plaque on the rock below (upper-right) notes that Garden of the Gods was given to the City of Colorado Springs on the stipulation that it be forever free to the public. I especially enjoyed seeing the dozens of artists with their easels working to capture the beauty of the rocks. There were also quite a few technical rock-climbers (the park offers free climbing permits), and it was impressive to see them scaling the towering walls of rock.
Pike’s Peak was also a must-see. Unfortunately, the weather only held out long enough for us to drive up to the top and look around for a few minutes. We then saw huge storm clouds rolling in and everyone was asked to head indoors or back to their cars as a Lightning Warning was announced and rain began to fall. Due to the weather, we missed out on Pike’s Peak’s hiking opportunities, but we did get a few cool pictures.
While the road to the peak was so steep that there was a mandatory brake-check half-way down, the elevation and windy roads were nothing compared to the scary driving we previously did on Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail-ridge Road. That being said, I don’t think I would have been fit to be behind the steering wheel at either location.
One of the trip highlights for me was our afternoon in Manitou Springs, a historic town with plenty of wonderful shops and restaurants. Skeeball happened. And even though I normally hate shopping, Mike and I wound up with several large bags of artisanal gifts including locally made Etched Metal trees.
We also had a fantastic lunch at Adam’s Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs. I would absolutely recommend this restaurant for any person and any occasion – the menu was incredibly diverse including a great selection of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous entrees. All of us enjoyed our very different meals. I also loved the ambiance of the restaurant – bright and airy, with a patio by the river.
Christi and I each ordered their signature Orange Spice Tea, which was refreshing, but intensely cinnamon-y. I enjoyed it more once some of my ice had melted and watered it down. Much to my surprise, after trying a taste of Mike’s beer, I had wished that I had ordered beer instead of tea. And I am not a beer drinker! But this Acai Berry Wheat Ale was so light and refreshing, it was more like a light berry-lemonade, yet beer-lover Mike really enjoyed it too.
For our meals, there were so many delicious Vegetarian options that Mike and Greg even decided to skip the meat. Mike had the Harvest Crepes (bottom right, below) with Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onions, White Cheddar and Corn. Uncle Greg had their Senegalese Vegetables of Stir-fried veggies in Ginger-Peanut Sauce over Udon Noodles.
I nearly ordered the Senegalese Vegetables myself but in an effort to try more of the menu I instead chose the Thai Noodle Salad and added Sesame Crusted Tofu to my bowl. It was absolutely delicious and I was happy to find that the bowl was half Organic Mixed Greens and half Udon Noodles – I finished the whole dish and wasn’t stuffed or hungry – it was juuust right!
And that’s where our conventional sight-seeing ends. Greg and Christi put a couple hundred miles on their car’s odometer driving us through Big Sky Country to see several unforgettable places.
Along the way we saw the quintessential Colorado, including the comforting signs of High Fire Danger and reminders to become a technical rock-climber in the event of a Flash Flood.
One sight that will forever remind me of Colorado? Seeing Cactus and Pine Cones together. This was a surprise to me, but then again, I have a lot to learn about nature.
Victor is a TINY town. There is not a single Chain Store or Restaurant. And in the few hours we spent there, I could probably count the number of people we saw on two hands.
But what Victor lacked in size, it made up for in Magic. Almost all of the buildings in town were inscribed with 1899 as the year of construction, which makes sense since this old mining town boomed during the Gold Rush. Today, it feels very much like a ghost town, with mines visible up in the hills in every direction surrounding the town center.
So imagine my surprise when I saw Wheat Grass growing in the window of one of the buildings downtown. I had stumbled upon an Organic Natural Foods Cooperative and Coffee Shop. I drank my Wheat Grass out of a Jack Daniels Shot glass and got a giant cookie and loaf of homemade banana bread to go. If I lived near Victor, I’d want to spend plenty of Sunday mornings drinking coffee in that sunny cafe, with the beautiful mountain murals.
Another gem in Victor is the Lowell Thomas Museum. Housed in the boyhood home of Lowell Thomas, a famous journalist, author, and radio-host during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, the first floor of this museum is full of relics and information about Mining during the Gold Rush. The upper floor of the museum has exhibits on Lowell Thomas’s life and every-day life during the Gold Rush.
An excerpt from one of the museum displays:
“The Miner was an industrial employee, working a ten-hour shift in an underground “factory”… Dropping down the hoist shaft in an ore bucket or “skip”, the miner then gathered up broken rock from the last shift, and moved it out by ore car. He spent the rest of his shift drilling holes in the rock and placing explosive charges in the holes. Last, he lit the charges and left the mine. Two hours later, once poisonous gases from the blast cleared, the next crew repeated the same cycle.“
It was a really interesting museum, and I felt like it portrayed the human experience of the times as well as it did the science, technology, fashion, etc. The museum was fun too. On the way in, we snickered at the thought of us participating in the “Panning for Gold” activity, but we couldn’t resist trying it on the way out and found it to be strangely addicting and very soothing. I think we spent at least 20 minutes trying to see who could find the prettiest stones and the biggest rocks of Gold Ore.
Sadly, in stark contrast to the beauty of Victor, as we left the town, we came across this huge Modern-Day Chemical Mining operation just around the corner. A solution of water and sodium cyanide is used to dissolve the gold and pump it out of the mine. The gold is then separated from the solution and melted back into a solid. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry states that this type of mining does not pose a threat to human health, but I find it really hard to believe that this won’t impact us negatively in the long run.
On a lighter note, our next stop was at the even tinier town of Guffey, Colorado. The first thing I noticed upon driving in was a bunch of teeny tiny cabins and a sign for a Honeymoon Suite. I actually didn’t believe the sign, assuming it was placed there by someone with a good sense of humor.
After reading more about the town of Guffey, I now understand that many of the cabins are actual historic structures from the 1800s, some of which can be rented for a very (very, very) rustic vacation (or, yes, an even more rustic honeymoon).
And as I’ve come to expect from exploring off-the-beaten-path Colorado, Guffey has a gem of it’s own in Rita’s Place, a cafe with a menu that looked like food my mother might make – from scratch, comforting, and full of veggies. I was eyeing a tray of Spanikopita that was fresh out of the oven, but we were there too close to dinner, so instead we sipped on coffee and tea.
Greg & Christi also made sure to stop at several scenic places, giving us great views of The Continental Divide.
Last but not least, they also took us to South Park, yes, the namesake of the famous animated series. Interestingly, South Park isn’t a town like we had expected. Instead, it’s the entire southern region of Park County and there isn’t much more there than a beautiful grassland basin. Christi said it best – after seeing the wide open spaces of South Park, it’s easy to understand why the kids in the cartoon are so bored and such trouble-makers.
Personally, I loved South Park, Colorado. We saw American Buffalo (which are actually Bison). Blue and Green as far as our eyes could see…
…And the sky was so big, we were able to see a storm coming, and watch it blow away.
Thank you Uncle Greg & Aunt Christi for such a memorable visit!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever visited or lived in a very small town?
What off-the-beaten path places are your favorites to visit?
UPDATE: The night after I posted this, the town of Manitou Springs (including the restaurant, Adam’s Mountain Cafe) was ravaged by Flash Flooding. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Manitou Springs as the work to recover from this tragedy.