Discover: Getaways are bountiful in the Colorado Springs area

By: The Gazette
September 20, 2015 Updated: September 20, 2015 at 3:49 pm
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photo - Macy Collins, 14, from Meeker, Colo. kisses her sheep, Kilowatt, as she prepares them for showing on the opening day of the State Fair Friday, August 22, 2014 in Pueblo. The fair runs everyday until Sunday, August 31. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Macy Collins, 14, from Meeker, Colo. kisses her sheep, Kilowatt, as she prepares them for showing on the opening day of the State Fair Friday, August 22, 2014 in Pueblo. The fair runs everyday until Sunday, August 31. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO

It's easy to see why the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was recently ranked No. 6 in the Top 25 Zoos in the United States by TripAdvisor - a lot of work has been put into the zoo on the side of a mountain. New in 2015 is the Australia Walkabout, which includes indoor and outdoor budgie viewing and feeding, newly renovated emu habitat, wallaby walkabout, indoor/outdoor alligator exhibit and even a tree kangaroo. In lieu of an expensive safari to Africa, check out the zoo's 10-acre "Encounter Africa" exhibit with elephants, a lion pride, male eastern black rhinoceros and meerkats. It's the biggest addition in the zoo's history, ringing in at $13.5 million. From the skyway, visitors can watch the elephants play in the mud, shower under the 20-foot waterfall and swim in a pool deep enough for the zoo's largest resident, 10,000-pound, 9-foot-5-inch Kimba, an elephant, to submerge. You can watch Jumbe, the rhino, in his training area or the four-member lion pride (including three cubs born June 25) in their own enclosure. Details: 633-9925, cmzoo.org

NATURE IN THE CITY, DENVER

Skyscrapers loom, cars zoom and pedestrians bustle, but that doesn't mean you can't find a quiet spot of nature in the big city of Denver. Denver Botanic Gardens (1007 York St., 1-720-865-3501, botanicgardens.org) is home to an exhibit of cattle-scattered panorama paintings by Theodore Waddell through Nov. 8. Works by the Montana native abstract expressionist artist were influenced by time he spend in New York in the 1960s. From Nov. 22 to Feb. 14, there will be a juried botanical illustration exhibit highlighting species from Plant Select, a nonprofit cultivator, distributor and educator of plants designed to thrive in the high plains and intermountain region. The exhibit is free and open to the public but requires an RSVP to exhibits@botanicgardens.org. Even if you miss the exhibits, the gardens are a good place to breathe in some chlorophyll. Fear not, there are plenty of other nature activities to partake in, such as The Wildlife Experience, with its more than 100 wildlife paintings and sculptures by acclaimed nature artists shown together in a 7,000-square-foot exhibit space (10035 Peoria St., 1-720-488-3300, thewildlifeexperience.com), or The Butterfly Pavilion, where 1,600 butterflies fly free in a tropical rain forest environment. Toward the end of the year, the pavilion also does Living Lights, a holiday lighting event (6252 W. 104th Ave., Westminster, 1-303-469-5441, butterflies.org). Details: 1-800-233-6837, visitdenver.com

GLENWOOD SPRINGS

If you haven't heard, this tiny town in the mountains was voted "Most Fun Town in America" by Rand McNally and USA Today's 2011 Best of the Road Rally. Maybe it was the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, the world's largest mineral hot springs. It opened in 1888, but the Ute Indians made annual pilgrimages to what they considered sacred waters for years before that. Nowadays, the pool is the length of a football field with two water slides and a kiddie pool. After you've splashed around there, check out the Yampah Vapor Caves, one of only a few known natural vapor caves in the country. You'll descend into the caves and have your choice of three rooms lined with marble benches where you can relax and inhale the healing vapors. Temperatures range from 110 to 112 degrees. Details: 1-888-445-3696, visitglenwood.com

GRAND LAKE

Ever wonder what's on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park? The home of the 265-foot deep Grand Lake, the deepest natural lake in Colorado. Grand Lake was founded in 1881 and now has more than 60 shops, restaurants, galleries and bars on the boardwalk. Don't miss Adams Falls, a waterfall on the lake's east side, less than a mile from the middle of the village. There's also the Kauffman House Museum, where you'll see the only remaining log hotel built in Grand Lake. It functioned as a hotel from 1892 to 1973 and is open for tours on special occasions throughout the year. Details: 1-800-531-1019, grandlake chamber.com

BISHOP CASTLE, RYE

You've got to see it to believe it. Jim Bishop's 160-foot-tall stone and iron castle, in the middle of the San Isabel National Forest in southern Colorado, is a labor of love. What he started building in 1969 has turned into three stories of rooms, including a grand ballroom, towers, bridges and its own fire-breathing dragon. Admission is free, but Bishop continues to add to his legacy based on the amount of money people gift him through donations. If you visit (42705 Colorado 165, Rye), you'll often see him bustling around, driving equipment and chatting up visitors. Details: 1-719-564-4366, bishopcastle.org

LEADVILLE

It's a town Men's Journal named one of the nation's "Best Adventure Meccas" in 2008. You'll see why as soon as you visit the frontier mining town, which is the highest elevation city in North America at 10,152 feet, with its 70 square blocks of Victorian architecture, 20 miles of mining district and more history than you'll ever be able to remember. One must-see stop is the Tabor Opera House, built in 1879 by Horace A. W. Tabor, one of Colorado's most well-known mining magnates. Entertainment includes musicians, bands, theater performances and stand-up comedians (308 Harrison Ave., coloradopreservation.org). If you'd rather get out and about, check out the Mineral Belt Trail, an 11.6-mile paved, ADA-accessible trail that offers views of the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. Wrap it up with a stroll as you wander through shops and galleries of local and regional artists. Details: 1-855-488-1222, visitleadvilleco.com

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE

Near Alamosa, there exists a sandbox so large, you could make sand castles for days. The entire dune field is 30 square miles, with the tallest dune towering 750 feet high. Not only can you literally surf the dunes, but there's hiking and camping, a four-wheel drive on Medano Pass, horseback riding, ranger-led nature walks and some peaks to climb, including Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Cleveland Peak and Mount Herard. Details: nps.gov/grsa BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK

About four hours and 20 minutes from Colorado Springs is a canyon that drops 2,700 feet to the Gunnison River. Stand at the edge and stare, hike the nearby trails or strap on climbing gear and scale its walls - the natural playground has an experience for everybody. This is the home of the Painted Wall. At 2,250 feet, it's the highest sheer cliff in Colorado and 1,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building. Details: nps.gov/blca

COLORADO WINE COUNTRY

Forget California, France and Italy. We've got our own wineries in Colorado. The Grand Valley (grandvalleywine.com) is home to dozens. Try Colorado Cellars, Colorado's oldest winery, founded in 1978 (3553 E. Road, Palisade, 1-970-464-7921, coloradocellars.com), or Plum Creek Cellars, the state's most award-winning winery (3708 G Road, Palisade, 1-970-464-7586, plumcreekwinery.com). Meadery of the Rockies, Colorado's first meadery, has made honey wine (mead), fruit-blended honey wine and dessert wines since 1995 (3701 G Road, Palisade, 1-970-464-7899, meaderyoftherockies.com). Details: visit grandjunction.com

PUEBLO

One of the warmest and sunniest locales in the state is about 40 minutes south of Colorado Springs. It's the home of the Colorado State Fair & Rodeo, held August through early September (1001 Beulah Ave., 1-800-876-4567, coloradostatefair.com), and the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival, a celebration of the Pueblo area's best-loved crops: green chilies‚ particularly Pueblo chili‚ and frijoles or pinto beans. It's held in mid-September (1-719-542-1704, pueblochilefestivalinfo.com). You'll also find the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo, a 32-acre urban waterfront open daily (101 S. Union, 1-719-595-0242, puebloriverwalk.org), the Union Avenue Historic District, the original city center with brick and sandstone buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places, and boutiques, art galleries and sidewalk cafés. If you're looking for culture, escape into the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center for art exhibits, performances and the award-winning children's museum (210 N. Santa Fe. Ave., 1-719-295-7200, sdc-arts.org). Details: 1-719-553-2489, pueblo.us

ESTES PARK

About 90 minutes northwest of Denver is the picturesque and popular village of Estes Park. It's home to The Stanley Hotel, the looming inspiration for Stephen King's 1977 horror novel "The Shining." Take The Stanley Tour, a Night Ghost Tour or sign up for a paranormal investigation (333 Wonderview Ave., 1-800-577-4000, stanley hotel.com). If ghosts don't float your boat, there's always Rocky Mountain National Park, just outside of town. More than 350 miles of trails wait for you, with flat easy hikes around a mountain lake or challenging backpack trips and climbs (1000 U.S. 36, 1-970-586-1206, rocky mountainnationalpark.com). After your outdoor excursion, meander through downtown Estes Park and its dozens of shops, galleries and eateries. Details: 1-800-443-7837, visitestespark.com

SHAMBHALA MOUNTAIN CENTER, RED FEATHER LAKES

About two hours northwest of Denver is a 600-acre mountain valley retreat offering tranquility, sure, but beautiful views as well. The center hosts more than a hundred group retreats, weekend programs and private rentals throughout the year, but visitors can also go for just a few hours or an overnight stay in one of the comfortable, clean dormitories and eat in the communal dining area on campus. The must-see excursion is a short walk to The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which sits in a meadow at the upper end of the center's main valley. It's 108 feet tall and one of the most significant examples of sacred Buddhist architecture in the country. Details: shambhalamountain.org, 1-970-881-2184

DURANGO AND SILVERTON NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD & MUSEUM, DURANGO

If you've felt like you missed out on living in the Old West, where cowboys and settlers roamed free, take a ride on the train voted "One of the World's Top Ten Most Exciting Train Rides" by the Society of American Travel Writers in 2009. The coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive train winds through the canyons in the wilderness of the San Juan National Forest, and a variety of themed rides are offered through the year, including Blues Train, Wine and Rails, Brew Train, Fall Photographers Trains and Cowboy Poet Train. Still operated out of the original 1882 depot at 479 Main Ave. Details: 1-877-872-4607, durangotrain.com

OURAY

The scenery doesn't get much more beautiful than this tiny mountain town that's surrounded on three sides by 13,000-foot peaks in the San Juan Mountains. It might also have something to do with much of the original Victorian structures, which have been restored and are still occupied. During the winter months, the Ouray Ice Park (CR 361, 1-970-325-4288, ourayicepark.com) becomes the go-to spot for learning ice-climbing skills, with more than 200 ice and mixed climbs, most within a 15- to 30-minute walk from downtown. Afterward, you can warm your bones in several hot springs, including the Ouray Hot Springs pool, with its different soaking sections at temperatures ranging from 88 to 106 degrees. There's a lap swimming section, diving area and large slide (1220 Main St., 1-970-325-7073, ouray hotsprings.com). Details: 1-800-228-1876, ouraycolorado.com

BLACK HAWK, CENTRAL CITY

If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, head to these gambling-friendly towns. Black Hawk, about 40 miles from downtown Denver, is the largest gambling town in the state and home to 18 casinos. But it's not all just about the dollar bills: There's plenty of gold mining history to be had. Less than a mile away is Central City, and shuttle buses can help out with the trip back and forth. Much of Central City is filled with historic buildings, making for an educational stroll between games of blackjack. The town is also home to Central City Opera, which produces one of the state's critically acclaimed summer music festivals, including classic opera favorites, new and rarely performed pieces and American works (124 Eureka St., 1-303-292-6700, centralcityopera.org). Details: blackhawkcolorado.com, central citycolorado.us

JEN MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM

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