Central Colorado bicycle tour, page 5

Page 1: Colorado Springs to Gunnison
Page 2: Gunnison to Buena Vista
Page 3: Buena Vista to Breckenridge
Page 4: Breckenridge to Manitou Springs
Page 5: Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Distance: 10.3 miles
Riding time: 1 hour, 19 minutes
Average speed: 7.7 mph
Maximum speed: 32.5 mph

Our family has been looking forward to this day all week. We took a full day to visit Manitou Springs, one of the most popular summer tourism spots in Colorado. We started by biking up to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, stone buildings built by the Ancestral Puebloan people between 1100 and 1200 A.D. Since Manitou Springs is in a deep canyon, visiting almost anything requires a tough bike ride up a steep hill, but the ride to the cliff dwellings was worth it.

Kathy and I saw much more extensive cliff dwellings years ago during a bike tour through Mesa Verde National Park, but the kids weren't born then. Daniel loves reading stories about Indians, and the Manitou cliff dwellings help him understand the southwest Indians. These cliff dwellings weren't originally built here - they were relocated here from a canyon near Mesa Verde in 1906 to be a tourist attraction. However, the relocation was done well, and the interpretive signs plus a neighboring museum with artifacts teach a lot about the Ancestral Puebloans (also called Anasazi.)

Touring the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

Our kids grind corn into cornmeal like little Indians.

More cliff structures. The wooden railing on the right is not original - it's there to keep tourists like me from falling off the balcony.

Ancestral Puebloan pottery in the museum.

From the cliff dwellings we zoomed down into town and then biked up another huge hill to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the most popular attraction in Manitou Springs. The railway has been hauling passengers to the top of Pikes Peak (14,115 feet) since 1891 on a track with grades up to 25%. I wanted my whole family to see the view from a mountain peak. We were lucky to have a clear day for our afternoon train ride, since thunderstorms are frequent in the mountains on summer afternoons.

When our ride was over at 5 p.m. we all felt drowsy from the rocking train, but I still wanted to visit Cave of the Winds, which has been a tourist attraction for 130 years. Daniel was excited to visit a cave and promised to behave well. Of all the hills we biked up today, the road to the cave was by far the hardest. When we got to the top a woman who had seen us climbing congratulated us and offered to buy us drinks, but we couldn't accept - a cave tour was starting just as we arrived, so we hurried to join it. The tour was fun and our kids behaved perfectly, which is rare at the end of a long day. Daniel thought exploring the cave was fun, which is much different than two years ago when we took the kids into Wind Cave in South Dakota. Back then he felt claustrophobic and panicked, forcing our guide to rush us through the tour. Today he had no fear at all.

By the time we left the cave it was almost bedtime for Daniel and Maggie, so we rolled down to town (with heavy use of our brakes) and cooked dinner at our hotel room. We did a lot with just one day.

A train leaves the station of the Pike's Peak Cog Railway.

Watching scenery from our train.

The rocking train put Maggie to sleep for a while.

Looking out the window towards Colorado Springs.

The view from Pike's Peak.

Throwing rocks downhill for entertainment.

Even the return trip from Pike's Peak was exciting for Maggie.

Kathy looks across at the Cave of the Winds visitor center after a long uphill ride.

Hiking a cave passage; Kathy looks at the rope ladder that leads to the cave's historic entrance (no longer used.)

Mineral formations in Cave of the Winds.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Distance: 5.3 miles
Riding time: 28 minutes
Average speed: 11.2 mph
Maximum speed: 21.2 mph

Maggie crawled onto our bed this morning to hug me and say, "Daddy, I'm glad it's your birthday." I'm 39 today, and I had a relaxing birthday because this was the easiest travel day of our bike trip. The final leg was just five miles from Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs, and most of that was downhill. I knew it would be easy, so we spent the morning in Manitou taking care of unfinished business.

First, I wanted to taste water from the town's naturally carbonated mineral springs. Those springs are what first got Manitou established - the spring water was thought to have healing properties, and in the days before multivitamin pills that may have been true. Lots of important minerals are in the water, like calcium, potassium and zinc. Several health resorts were built here in the 1800's and the springs were piped to public drinking fountains. Bottling plants sold the water for decades, but that business largely ended in the 1940's. Today there are 9 mineral water drinking fountains in town, and we tasted the water at two fountains. I liked it. The water was lightly carbonated, sweet, and cool on a hot day. Ice would have made it even better. Daniel and Maggie were excited to try it, so they each took a sip and then said something like, "Ewww, I don't want any more." Kathy suspected she wouldn't like it, but she drank some and then made a terrible face as though she had drunk vinegar. Fine - not everyone likes the taste of carbonated water that has been underground for 20,000 years, but I do. I would have drunk a lot more, but the mineral content gave me pause. I don't know what quantities of chromium, copper and magnesium are healthy to consume.

So we stopped consuming mineral water and went for something tastier, if not healthier - ice cream. Kathy and I had promised the children ice cream cones several times during our trip as a reward for good behavior, but we hadn't had a chance to make good on our promise. We had bought ice cream sandwiches at a grocery store in Leadville, but they turned out to be a melted/refrozen mess due a power outage in Leadville earlier that day. In Breckenridge I saw only one ice cream store, and we forgot to shop there as we walked by. In contrast, Manitou Springs has multiple ice cream vendors on every block, so we bought four cones and ate them in the shade. No one complained.

Tasting mineral water at Cheyenne Spring and Shoshone Spring.

An Indian-themed park bench near Cheyenne Spring.

Playing on the downtown playground after lunch.

Daniel uses an early stereoscopic vision device at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center. This was a popular tourist souvenir in the Pike's Peak region in the early 1900's.

We rode back to Ryan's house in Colorado Springs early in the afternoon, and I spent a couple hours repacking our gear and bicycle inside and on top of our car. This time Ryan was on his way out of town but Elisha and her kids were home, as was another bike touring couple that had just arrived and was planning to stay the night. Elisha invited all of us to eat dinner with her, which was great fun. The other couple, Kyle and Arianna, had biked all the way from New Jersey and was planning to finish in San Diego with many diversions along the way. They planted a tree in Elisha's front yard while she cooked, since Ryan hadn't found time to plant it before leaving. We adults ate a great dinner and talked about bike touring while the kids ate separately and ran out to play in the backyard. After dinner we had an easy drive back to our home in Fort Collins.

The children eat dinner at Ryan and Elisha's house.

Elisha, Arianna, Kyle and Kathy give a toast to bicycle touring.

Jade shows Daniel and Maggie her pet chicken, Copper.


This was a smooth bike tour for us - nothing went terribly wrong, and nothing was unexpectedly difficult. I guess that's because we expected great difficulty. We rode 450 miles and crossed 6 mountain passes, and 4 of those passes were more than 11,000 feet above sea level, so that was difficult. On the other hand, we had tailwinds almost every day and on only one day did we ride in significant rain (and the rain wasn't bad.) When it was time to sleep we spent 5 nights camping, 6 nights in host homes, and 3 nights in hotels. Most of the hotel cost was covered by hotel credit, so our lodging costs were low.

Our nights at host homes were a special part of the trip. After a long day or multiple days of biking steep roads and camping in a small tent, it is a great relief to be welcomed inside by other bicyclists. Somehow our hosts always feel like natural friends, and when we ride on to our next destination Kathy and I think to ourselves, "I hope they visit us in Fort Collins someday."

A week after we finished our trip, Daniel and Maggie were playing with neighborhood friends when Daniel told his buddy Noah, "Let's go on a bicycle tour!" After describing to Noah how bike tours work, the boys ran into the house to grab a couple essentials: a Fort Collins bike map, and popsicles for food. Then Daniel, Noah, Maggie and Paige (Maggie's friend) all biked to Grandma and Grandpa's house three blocks away (my parents moved to Fort Collins this summer.) That's farther than Daniel and Maggie had ever biked without an adult before. Later in the afternoon Daniel and Noah biked to their school, a half-mile away, and the next day they biked to some far-off place that Daniel couldn't describe well (he doesn't really know how to follow a map.) Whether I'm ready for it or not, our family trip has given the kids a new confidence to go exploring on their own. I remember the excitement of exploring by bicycle when I was small. I'm still exploring by bike as an adult, and I like seeing the same passion in our children.


Page 1: Colorado Springs to Gunnison
Page 2: Gunnison to Buena Vista
Page 3: Buena Vista to Breckenridge
Page 4: Breckenridge to Manitou Springs
Page 5: Manitou Springs to Colorado Springs