Story and Photos by Deborah Grossman.
At 9,200’ with a view of Pikes Peak, the inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” I got chills on a warm summer evening. From the patio atop Cheyenne Mountain, everything looked majestic and far away, even nearby Colorado Springs. “I can almost see California” joked my husband, Mr. G., referring to our home near San Francisco. With a possible local break in the Covid-19 pandemic, (despite calls for avoiding indoor crowds, social distancing, wearing masks and staying close to home), we chose to risk a safe Western outdoor adventure at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs.
Our friends and family expressed great surprise at this turn of events. They know my penchant for safety and provenance, (being from geographically flat Delaware), as well as, my proclivity for exploring big cities. But after indoor quarantine, experiencing non-extreme, clear crisp outdoor air and activities along the trails and forests of Colorado sounded inviting.
We flew to Denver , carefully. Masked, gloved and armed with face shields, we entered the San Francisco Airport. Having read United’s cleaning protocols and high-quality HEPA filters, we found a clean plane and universally masked passengers (including kids). With no beverage carts rolling down the aisle, we received a bag of pretzels, Stroopwafel cookie and water. We experienced a smooth safe ride until we landed and discovered we had to encounter a crowded train for the ride to baggage claim. Anticipating, we were grateful for our preparation and double-layer face protection. As for the gloves, we liberally applied hand sanitizer at the airport and during flight, replacing them periodically. We rented at National, a contact-free rental car facility. After picking up our car rental, we drove in isolated safety 75 miles south to Colorado Springs.
We ventured first to The Broadmoor’s “Wilderness Experience” at Cloud Camp, 3,000’ up Cheyenne Mountain from the main resort. We then relocated to the main resort for two more fun-filled days that included a falconry lesson and a Wild West Experience comprising tomahawk throwing, shooting and archery. We also enjoyed family-oriented outdoor activities among the many options in Colorado Springs.
With proximity to downtown Colorado Springs and many local destinations, The Broadmoor Resort features a plethora of activities at several locales on 5,000 acres plus 2,000 more on Cheyenne Mountain. In the past, pre-Covid, we waved at a wedding party, but not this visit. However, we saw many golfers playing the courses and families paddling on the lake or swimming in the infinity pool.
Mr. G. and I had visited The Broadmoor before. We listened to melodious music during an annual Earl Klugh Jazz Fest and noshed our way through an Escoffier Culinary Weekend. On those trips we sampled several of the resort’s 10 restaurants, stopped by some shops and enjoyed the spa. This time we looked forward to the western lodge ambiance at the Cloud Camp, one of the three newer, all-inclusive “Wilderness Experiences” which also comprise The Ranch at Emerald Valley and the Fishing Camp.
Before our departure, we studied the resort’s online Health and Hygiene Practices. The staff received extensive training and were medically checked before work. They wore masks whenever near others. The hospital-grade cleaning agents were E.P.A. approved and rooms were electrostatically sprayed between stays with high touch areas cleaned daily. The cleaning staff changed their gloves after working each room and turn-down and chocolate treats were eliminated. At the reception desk, I smiled back at the staff who wore thick, clear face shields that showcased their warm welcome. Hand sanitizers, (and clean pens), were prominent at the desk and throughout the resort by elevators and common areas.
For the ride up to Cloud Camp, our masked driver greeted us by opening the doors to a Cadillac Escalade. The driver informed us he performs a strict cleaning protocol between guests—one family or couple per ride. We settled in for the seven-mile drive to Cloud Camp which took 40 adventurous minutes. A major surprise hit us early on—as we drove straight through the entrance of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The zoo is a popular destination with locals and tourists and it began our climb to Cloud Camp. I admit, we did strain our necks to peek at the long-necked giraffes. When the Broadmoor was founded in 1918 by the Colorado mining baron Spenser Penrose, he owned many acres at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. Penrose opened the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to house his collection of wild animals in 1926. At 6, 714 feet elevation, Cheyenne Mountain is the highest zoo in America and home to 750 animals. (Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, advanced reservations are now required and attendance is limited.) Giraffes are by far the most popular zoo animal. We asked our driver if buying crackers and feeding them to the tall-necked, graceful animals is still allowed. Our driver informed us that guests can feed them only lettuce. Hippos and penguins are also guest favorites at the new Water’s Edge and The Mountaineer Sky Ride in the zoo is an open-air ski lift-type ride that soars above grizzle bears and tigers. There are also several kid-friendly programs that can be reserved including Animal Art—turtles, snakes, and birds “paint” “masterpieces” to take home.
As our driver negotiated the multiple switchbacks, he provided a running commentary on the area’s history and key sites. We stopped at a turnout to view the resort and city of Colorado Springs in the distance. Later, he stopped to give us a new appreciation of the Garden of the Gods red rocks park.
Several years ago we hiked around Garden of the Gods, a National Landmark. It is an outcroppings of red rocks with very special vistas that has, in the past and now, greatly reinforced our love of nature. Once the home of Native Americans, the property was bequeathed to Colorado Springs in 1909 with the stipulation that access would be free to the public. The red rocks especially attract hikers, bikers and nature explorers. (It is open from 5:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.)
The park is famous for its celebrity concerts. Before our trip, we enjoyed watching a Neil Young concert entitled “Live at Red Rocks” on YouTube. Park activities, (for additional cost), include Segway and Jeep tours, e-bikes and climbing options. Kids also enjoy the twenty-minute new Geo-Trekker theater experience at the Visitor & Nature Center. The Jr. Ranger activity book illuminates the geology, floral and fauna for children-centered tours of the park.
Upon final arrival at Cloud Camp, we experienced a warm welcome. Masked camp staff handed us a cool glass of strawberry lemonade and walked us to our cabin, complete with a loft. On the desk in our room was a letter with the Covid-19 guidelines. We wore masks outdoors and indoors unless we were eating or distanced from others. Though we signed up for the “Wilderness Experience,” we appreciated non-Wilderness amenities such as high-speed Internet and good cell phone reception. The Native American artifacts and porch rocking chairs provided all the need ambiance.
The adobe lodge at Cloud Camp was built in 1926 by Penrose as a venue to host his friends for hunting and dining at the top of Cheyenne Mountain. He also started a now acclaimed collection of Native American art. Artist renditions of the early West are replete at the lodge. The grandeur of the lofty Great Hall at Cloud Camp reminded us of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.
Penrose liked to personally cook gourmet dinners for the guests. He often held demonstrations for his guests that he called the “Cooking Club.” His tradition continues today at 4:30 daily. We watched the demo preparation of a popular lunch which included a hiker’s salad with quinoa, spiced nuts and arugula accompanied by a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio. For safety, flatware was served covered in cloth napkins. The wait staff wore masks and those serving at breakfast wore gloves. In addition, all condiments were served in individual packets or containers.
The founder’s high culinary standards continue today. Though breakfast and lunch are casual, dinner is served continental style with an appetizer, main course, followed by the salad course and then dessert. We enjoyed our meals which included fresh lake trout and lean tender bison. Though Penrose may have served classic surf and turf in the 1930s, Peruvian Chef Rocio Neyra Prado added modern touches to the dinners: Thai-inflected lemongrass lobster bisque and Peruvian rice and chicken, a favorite from her homeland, was the extra “share dish” for the table.
Hummingbirds serenaded us at breakfast with chirping from the feeders. Each morning, we stared, mesmerized by the ocean of clouds covering the territory below. We felt we were camping in the clouds. This snow-like, thick cloud layer only occurs a few times during the summer season.
Pulling ourselves from the patio view. we joined Liz Connell, our guide for a refreshing morning hike. With a father who is a long-standing Forest Ranger, she added her special knowledge of nature to our experience. “Hear that unusual bird call? That’s a grouse. They hide. Have never found one,” Ever hopeful, she fruitlessly dashed into the forest to catch a glimpse. Early on the forest path, Connelly highlighted a living history spot, a pit of rocks that did not look too fascinating. But she was eager to tell us about the discovery found when the current owners rebuilt the Cloud Camp trails, lodge and cabins in 2014. “Here early climbers searched in vain for quartz with ribbons of gold. They discarded the rocks you see here. But, on the far side of Cheyenne Mountain is the famous Cripple Creek mining area where some lucky prospectors launched a brief mining rush in the 1890s” added Connelly.
Hiking on to the Boulder Field, we viewed a fascinating assemblage of boulders left from geological activities millennia ago. In the distance, clouds lay heavily between Cheyenne Mountain and the ridge of mountains bordering Pike’s Pike.
On the way to back to the lodge we spied the archery field and then saw the mule station where rides begin. For our afternoon “wilderness” activity, we chose branding placemats—another new activity for us. With hot pokers, we branded leather mats and small wood ornaments with the Cloud Camp “Double C.”
Before dinner each night, a magical ceremony happens on the lodge’s back patio. The flag on the small overlook is lowered to a beautiful musical rendition of “America the Beautiful.” The song has special meaning at the camp because author and activist Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write the words after ascending Pikes Peak. Our most relaxing time at Cloud Camp was sitting around the fire pit, making s’mores and hanging out with other guests of all ages from around the world under the star-lit mountain sky.
The Broadmoor Wild West Experience
The next morning we relocated to the main resort and our own gorgeous lakeside suite with a view of Cheyenne Lake. The Broadmoor has a long tradition of hospitality which has yielded an impressive list of Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond awards. At our door, the bellman paused to see if we were comfortable with him entering the room with the bags. Our stunning lakeside suite with a view of Cheyenne Lake epitomized luxury with the spacious parlor, soaking tub and gas fireplace. We headed to the window to smile at the ducks paddling past us. We learned that the pool near our room required reservations and followed social distancing rules including children, but only on the big slide. We witnessed many other Covid-19 changes, subtle and otherwise. For instance, the big book with in-room dining menus and the nightly turn-down with chocolates were both gone. TVs had custom fit, replaceable plastic covers.
On our first day at the main resort, we hustled off for a two-block walk to meet our ride to the Broadmoor Outfitters for our first “Wild West Experience.” The Outfitters is an independent company offering recreational services. Our drive up the winding Old Stage Road was just for a party of two and we wore masks. (On arrival, since we were the only guests and in the outside air, we didn’t keep our masks on the entire time.) Our guide, Cosette Turvold, talked us through three Old West activities. I expected to start with archery which was familiar from umpteen movies. No, we launched into tomahawk throwing—an activity I barely knew existed but had heard was growing in popularity.
Native Americans used a rounded stone or deer antler on a stick for a tomahawk. With the arrival of the White man, the tomahawk evolved into a metal-edged ax. Our guide gave us succinct instruction. “Tomahawk throwing depends on a single, strong sweep of the arm.” We observed how the wind up enabled the tomahawk to rotate properly to “cut the cookie,” a.k.a. cut into the tree trunk target. The throwing of the pre-sanitized tomahawk was easier said than done. I mostly missed the cookie except for my one hit—unfortunately, with the wrong end of the tomahawk.
After a short stroll in the woods where young chipmunks frolicked, we practiced shooting pellet guns (sanitized before our use). I tried in vain to aim at the orange plate-like targets. Mr. G moved from the heavy gun to the lighter one but also had no hits. After my initial blunders, I looked forward to the three archery (with a fresh batch of arrows and sanitized bow). Mr. G. scored a hit on the first target, but unfortunately, neither of us hit the “turkey” target. Unlike native Americans, we would have starved. But when we got to the larger “deer” target, having practiced the stance, aim and pull of the bow, we both managed a “hit”.
The next day we returned to the Broadmoor Outfitters for a falconry experience. In 2014 Broadmoor President and CEO, Jack Damioli, partnered with a company to offer falconry. The company supported a Falconry and Raptor Education Foundation that was launched to teach the natural history of birds of prey and promote raptor conservation. We read beforehand that no fur or faux fur was allowed during our two-hour raptor adventure. Our guide, Master Falconer Deanne Curtis, quickly explained why. “Hawks naturally hunt furry animals; falcons hunt for feathers.”
We learned about the ancient tradition of hunting with trained birds. The specific anatomy of the hawks, falcons and owls enabled their survival. We didn’t know—and soon learned—that the term “hoodwinked” is derived from keeping the animals hooded until a hunt begins. Curtis has displayed her considerable skills on Andrew Zimmer’s “Bizarre Food” TV show. In the enclosed mews, we watched Curtis train a young female owl to follow commands by luring her with raw meat. In the beginner’s class, we were able to hold “Maverick”, a Harris hawk. We held him on a glove, but with a tether to Curtis. My husband and I then stood, distanced, but facing each other to experience the “hawk walk”—as Maverick flew between us to get his food reward.
We enjoyed every meal at the resort. From fresh salads at The Grille alongside the golf course to the Italian-themed Ristorante del Largo on the lake with freshly made plates of pasta, the plates included fresh produce collected daily from The Broadmoor Greenhouse. My favorite meal was at the Golden Bee Gastropub. Its décor is an attempted recreation of a 19th century British pub. The atmosphere is as much fun as the dining. On the patio, I sampled several dishes. As a self-professed pretzel maven, I devoured a loop of an over-sized pretzel and savored a wild Alaskan cod with chips.
Colorado Springs Attractions
While at the Broadmoor, other members of our family joined us and we took the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor fun in Colorado Springs. In addition, the Broadmoor offered children and adult attractions such as the Broadmoor Soaring Adventure, a zip-line course that sails over the Cheyenne’s Mountain’s Seven Falls park. We decided to explore Seven Falls on our next visit; hopefully the 1858 Restaurant will be open on the banks of the falls. Another option noted for later is the Pikes Peak Cog Railway currently under renovation.
Pikes Peak, aka America’s Mountain, is well worth a visit. We drove up on a previous trip, wisely taking an extra jacket—at the top it can be 40 degrees cooler than below. Located in downtown Colorado Springs, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum has an interesting digital interface for a customized “Visitor Credential,” but the activities are all indoors.
With family in tow, we headed for the North Pole about 25 minutes north of the city. Well, the amusement park’s official name is Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole in Colorado. Our family’s children were in heaven because they could run to the rides and see Santa while wearing their flip-flops. They pleaded with the friendly and socially distant Santa for Christmas presents including phone and toys. Santa then told them as he signed the words, “There will be good days and bad days. I love you always,” and the kids giggled back at him. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions, only four of the 25 rides were open. But those rides, especially the zip line with reindeer leading the way into the forest at the foothills of Pikes Peak, warranted two rounds.
As we drove up to the North Pole, we had passed a huge outcropping of red rocks. On the way back, we returned to visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, a reconstruction of homes built into Southwest Colorado cliff walls and on mesa tops 800 to 1,000 years ago by the Anasazi, also known as Ancestral Puebloans. The author and activist Virginia McClurg recognized the value of preserving the dwellings and artifacts so she founded an organization to relocated threatened dwellings to the cliffs north of Colorado Springs. Thanks to her, they have been protected there since 1907. The kids enjoyed dashing from room to room and peeking through the adobe “windows.” The staff took our cell numbers before entering the museum in case contact tracing was required. The museum offers excellent dioramas on Native American life.
From the top of Cheyenne Mountain to the ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings, we discovered many new fresh-outdoor-air destinations. The bird’s eye view of Colorado Springs from Cloud Camp and the unique opportunity to go face-to-face with a hawk perched on our heavily gloved hand – both were a wonderful change of pace from our quarantine routine of close-to-home travel. The Broadmoor was an easy one-airport trip for us. We decided the fresh open-air “Wild West” was a terrific respite for us, especially since outdoor open air is now our preferred place to be.
IF YOU GO: During the Covid-19 pandemic, check opening times and reservation requirements. Be prepared for possible local restrictions and mask requirements.