According to the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, Sondermann Park is an “oasis of wilderness within the city limits.” That’s a description for many local gems that get a lot more attention than this 97-acre preserve, hiding behind a neighborhood right off Interstate 25.
If one must compare wildness, then sure, other quick escapes are packed with more natural features. No big rocks here, as at Palmer Park. No humble summits of the sorts reached at North Cheyenne Cañon Park. Not the level of mountain biking fun treasured at Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Ute Valley Park. But for those who seek it, Sondermann promises solitude.
The parking lot is home to the Catamount Institute, the environmental nonprofit that has plenty to display out the back door, inspiring the next generation of stewards. Across the wooden bridge over the creek, a short nature trail starts to the right. Signs encourage visitors to engage the five senses, starting with smell — the namesake plant, the pine, the wet soil. On our recent visit, we listened to the trickle of water and varied birdsongs. Watchers delight here, catching glimpses of hummingbirds, magpies, juncos, ravens and grosbeaks. Indeed, the winged creatures drowned out the sound of the highway behind us.
Through the tall cottonwoods lining the stream, one meets the north-south Mesa Valley Trail, a 2-mile urban path. We walked ahead, closer to the view of Pikes Peak and Cameron’s Cone, reaching the sun-splashed bowl that is the park, formed by grassy knolls and the dry gully that runs between.
Some want to feel the ruggedness low in the gully. Others prefer the views from the high points, as we did, continuing straight on the Western Loop Trail. Farther into the foothills, don’t expect the convenient trail markers to continue. But the thin paths are well-formed, and the park is easily navigated.
Pick the way as you please. At a point unmarked but for a tree stump, we veered right, seeing the trail rise uphill. At a crest, the trail came to a three-way, and we went left, again seeking the high ground. We were rewarded with a splendid view, if a bit obstructed by the houses splayed on panoramic hilltops.
From here, we beheld the hulking Cheyenne Mountain and the pointy Mount Rosa to the south, Pikes Peak in the center with the slopes rolling north out to Mount Herman. The city was small in the other direction. We could see the whole park, and we realized on this perfect weekend morning that no one else was here.
Getting there: At 740 W. Caramillo St. Off Interstate 25, take exit 144 for Fontanero Street and go west to the four-way stop. Go left, south, on Chestnut Street and then right onto Caramillo Street. If gate is closed to the parking lot, park on the curb.
FYI: Hiking and biking. Don’t have car in the parking lot after 4:30 p.m. when gate closes. Dogs on leash.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE