Monthly Archives: June 2015

June 24, 2015 Sundance, Wyoming

After twelve days we left South Dakota and headed to Wyoming. We enjoyed our time in South Dakota but sure experienced some scary weather there. On our next to the last night in South Dakota we were hit with another frightening thunderstorm with winds over 45 mph, lightning, heavy rain and even more hail than we had in the Badlands.

IMG_0249We arrived in Sundance and checked into a nice campground. Wyoming is the least populous state in the country with approximately 544,270 residents spread out over more than 97,000 square miles. It is nicknamed “The Cowboy State” because of the estimated 11,000 farms and ranches. The Black Hills are 90% in South Dakota but this small area of northeast Wyoming, including Sundance, in part of The Black Hills. Our main reason for stopping in Sundance was to visit Devils Tower National Monument. This granite formation rises 1,267 feet from the prairie and has hundreds of parallel cracks making it one of the finest traditional rock climbing areas in North America. The site is sacred to the Lakota and other tribes. Legend has it that the rock rose up just in time to save seven young Indian girls from a bear and the rock rose higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The marks on the tower were caused by the bear’s claws. The girls were pushed up into the sky where they became seven stars (the Pleiades constellation).IMG_0250IMG_0248

The Devils Tower was proclaimed the first national monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is best remembered as the one of the sites in the 1978 Spielberg movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. I had never seen the movie and as luck would have it the campground office had it for rent so we watched it before going to see Devils Tower.IMG_0252IMG_0253

We walked the Tower Trail that circles the tower where you can see rockfalls of gigantic columns that have fallen. Devils Tower is 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top.  It was formed 40 million years ago when a column of molten lava pushed through the limestone.  As the rock cooled, it fractured into vertical columns.  The limestone eventually eroded away revealing the towering formation seen today.  It is a wonderful example of erosion.

After leaving Devils Tower we drove to Aladdin, population 15. Yes, you read that right. Population 15. The town is currently for sale if you want a town.IMG_0256

IMG_20150625_151142Sundance, population 1,182 is the largest town in the area. In 1879, Albert Hoge, a Prussian born immigrant staked his claim and named the town Sundance in honor of the “sun dance” performed by the Native Americans.  Perhaps what Sundance is best known for is the Sundance Kid, friend of Butch Cassity. The Sundance Kid, born Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, got his start as an outlaw when he stole a horse, gun and saddle. He spent the next eighteen months in the Sundance jail, earning him his name.  Outside the former jail is a statue of the Sundance Kid lounging in his cell. Not many towns have a statue of a horse thief and notorious bandit as the focal point of their town!

IMG_0261We drove to Belle Fourche (pronounced “Bell Foosh”) which is located in southwest South Dakota and therefore a closer drive from Sundance than from the Badlands. We came here because there is a Center of the Nation Monument in the shape of a compass rose carved out of South Dakota granite.  We were the only ones there at this 21 foot in diameter monument surrounded by the flags of all 50 states.  We love geographical places like this even though the real geographic center is located twenty miles north of Belle Fourche on private property.  IMG_0257This is the geographic center of the United States if you include Alaska and Hawaii.  It was interesting to read that when Alaska was admitted to the union the geographic center shifted 439 miles northwest and when Hawaii was added it shifted 6 miles west-southwest.  Along with the monument was a nice visitors center and an original 1876 log cabin from the gold rush days.  The cabin was hosted by an elderly gentleman, a Korean War Veteran, and since we were the only ones there he had plenty of time for us.  We certainly enjoyed spending time talking with him about the area and we found a geocache behind the cabin.IMG_0259IMG_0260

IMG_20150627_122423While we were in Sundance the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) was having their annual Field Day.  For 24 hours amateur radio operators contact as many other amateur radio operators around the world.  It is a popular contest and challenge among amateur radio enthusiasts.  An AARL group was getting together in the small town of Upton about thirty miles from Sundance so Bill drove over and spent some time with them.  He had a great time talking with fellow amateur radio enthusiasts!

On our last day in Sundance we drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway which took us briefly back into South Dakota.  We stopped at two waterfalls, the only waterfalls we saw in South Dakota.  The Spearhead Falls was especially beautiful and had a cool refreshing mist blowing on us from the falls.  The sign said Spearhead Canyon was older than the Grand Canyon.IMG_0273IMG_0277IMG_0271

IMG_0280We drove through Deadwood, a western town much like Tombstone, Virginia City or any other tourist attraction with fake gunfights and plenty of places to spend money.  Wild Bill Hickok was killed here in Saloon #10 and is buried in a cemetery nearby.

IMG_0286Before heading back over the border into Wyoming we drove through Sturgis, famous for one of the largest annual motorcycle events held in the world.  Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world come here in August.  This year will be the 75th anniversary.  We heard the tiny town makes 90% of their income for the year during that one week in August!  The streets were relatively quiet and we could only imagine what the town is like during that week in August!

June 20, 2015 Badlands NP, South Dakota

IMG_20150620_130336We left the Mount Rushmore Black Hills area and traveled to Badlands National Park for two nights of dry camping in the park. What a beautiful view of the grasslands we had from our front door with a buffalo as our camp host. He was there the entire time, grazing and paying no attention to everyone camping. Badlands National Park is made up of 244,000 acres with the largest expanse of protected prairie ecosystem in the National Park system.IMG_0239

The Lakota Indians called the area “land bad” and French fur trappers referred to the area as “bad land to cross.”. While It is an area of peaks and valleys, wide prairies and wide extremes of weather and appears formidable, much of the land is level, fertile and covered with grasses. The land was homesteaded years ago with many ranchers’ descendants still living on the land with ranches of cattle and sheep. The livestock feed on the native grasses and wheat is often grown.IMG_20150620_130902IMG_20150620_131532IMG_20150620_131536IMG_20150620_131555

This area was once sea level and volcanic activity pushed up the ocean floor leaving marshy plains.  For approximately 30 million years layers of mud, sand and gravel were deposited. Prehistoric animals roaming the area died and were buried beneath the river sediments. The area is known today as being a rich source of fossils. About one to four million years ago erosion began to outpace the deposits, leaving colorful spires and formations. The movie at the visitors center said the formations are eroding at the rate of an inch a year!IMG_20150620_132551IMG_20150620_132641IMG_20150620_132905IMG_20150620_153726

The earliest people were mammoth hunters who came to the area over 11,000 years ago followed by nomadic tribes. By the mid 18th century the Lakota (Sioux) were present and used horses from the Spaniards. French fur trappers were the first Europeans followed by soldiers, miners, farmers and homesteaders. After 40 years of struggle culminating in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 the Lakota were confined to reservations.

Our first night a storm came up. We first noticed the lightning while taking an evening walk. As the night went on the lightning increased to an explosion of light, a constant light show we had never seen the likes of. Our weather system clocked wind gusts of 50 mph followed by rain and hail and we were really rocked in the RV. The most frightening thing was we were in the middle of nowhere with no place to go for shelter. We could not follow the storm’s progress on TV or radio like we did in Denver. We both have weather alerts on our phones and both phones were going crazy.  We watched the intense center of the storm pass fifteen miles north of our campground by using a radar weather app.IMG_20150620_154533IMG_20150620_155007IMG_20150620_155554IMG_20150620_163037

There is nothing quite like having your phone saying you are in a life threatening situation and should seek shelter and having no place to go! The next day a worker at the visitors center told us it was one of the worst storms he had seen and there had been tornado clouds above us. Some other tourists told us two hours to our south there were several semi trucks turned on their sides by the wind.


The view out our front door with our Buffalo host far right

The next day we drove the Badlands Loop Road, marveling at the scenery before us. The area reminded us somewhat of the Painted Desert in Arizona but not as colorful. The views and rock formations were magnificent. We saw bison, mule deer, a coyote and many prairie dogs. There is a very nice visitors center with a movie and exhibits about the area.

We were relieved not to have another bad storm during the evening but we were awakened during the night by a thunderstorm with heavy rain. Thankfully it did not include wind and hail.IMG_20150621_110804IMG_20150621_111104IMG_20150620_171331

We left the campground early the next morning since we had a couple places to visit near the small town of Wall.IMG_20150621_120347

IMG_20150620_115121The first was the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. During the Cold War the Ellsworth Air Force Base located nearby was one of the key facilities whose mission was to install the launch facilities in the 1960s, maintain and launch the Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Two of the ICBM sites have been preserved. Launch Control Facility “Delta One” has a guided tour which requires a free ticket and “Delta Nine” missile silo has a self guided tour. The guided tour can only accommodate 72 people a day and the tickets are usually all given out before 8:00 AM each morning. We toured the excellent visitors center with very informative displays and then drove to the site of the self guided tour. Under the STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. began to reduce their stockpiles of nuclear arms. Both countries agreed to preserved one missile to preserve the history and significance of the Cold War. The missile is there without the warhead and the door is welded half open. There are no longer any missile silos in South Dakota.IMG_20150621_141537IMG_20150621_141559

We stopped for lunch at Wall Drug, a huge tourist trap located in Wall, SD where everything under the sun with a western theme is sold. I did get some cute pictures of Bill!IMG_20150621_133458IMG_20150621_133524

IMG_20150621_150714We ended the day with a stop at the “Wounded Knee: The Museum”. This Museum documented in detail through exhibits and photos  the events leading to the massacre, the capture by the 7th Calvary,  the massacre of 300 Lakota men, women and children on December 29, 1890, and its aftereffects. It was heartbreaking.  The actual site of the massacre is located several hours away near the Nebraska and South Dakota border.

After leaving Wall we drove an hour to Black Hawk outside of Rapid City for a two night stay so we could get the oil changed and tires rotated on the RV.

June 16, 2015 Rapid City and Custer S.P. South Dakota

While staying at Mount Rushmore we drove to Rapid City, population 70,000, the second largest city in South Dakota.  The town was founded in 1876 by a group of prospectors who had come to the Black Hills in search of gold and named the town after a spring fed creek which passes through it. We took a 90 minute trolley ride tour which included a visit to Dinosaur Park on a hill overlooking the city.  The park has seven life size concrete dinosaur replicas as well as a spectacular view of Rapid City.IMG_0187

Rapid City is known as the “City of Presidents” because of its proximity to Mount Rushmore but also because of a public art project that resulted in 43 life size bronze presidential statues of all past presidents which are located on street corners downtown.  Using a map to guide us we enjoyed finding the statues.  The figures are displayed in different poses and tries to emphasize a unique part of their personality such as Ronald Reagan wearing a cowboy hat. Rapid City was another small western town we have enjoyed on our travels this year.IMG_0199IMG_0200IMG_0194IMG_0196IMG_0189IMG_0190IMG_0201

Another day we wanted to drive back to Custer State Park to continue exploring the rest of the park. At 71,000 acres, it is one of the nation’s largest state parks. We drove towards the park on the Needles Highway through pine and spruce forests with meadows surrounded by rugged IMG_0206IMG_0203IMG_0210IMG_0207granite mountains. The road gets its name from the many needle like granite formations along the highway. The roadway was planned by former South Dakota governor Peter Norbeck who marked the entire course on foot and horseback. With the aid of 150,000 pounds of dynamite, construction was completed in 1922. We passed through three very narrow tunnels.

The State Game Lodge in Custer State Park was the summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge and was visited by Dwight Eisenhower. A really neat time to visit the park would be the last Friday in September when they do the bison roundup. Some of these bison are auctioned off in November with the money going towards operating costs of the park.

Next we drove to Wind Cave National Park. We had driven through a small section of the park on our way to Mount Rushmore and we wanted to continue to explore more of the park and stop by the Visitors Center.

Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903 and is the eighth national park created. It was the first national park set aside to protect a cave. Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves. Currently there are over 143 miles of twisting passageways under only 1.2 square miles of surface area. Close your eyes and visualize what a maze of tunnels that creates deep below the surface of the land! Portions of Wind Cave are believed to be over 300 million years old, making it one of the oldest caves in the world. Barometric wind studies estimate that only five percent of the total cave has been discovered.

Wind Cave is considered sacred and culturally significant to Native Americans who roamed the area for centuries. You could say it was rediscovered in 1881 by Tom and Jesse Bingham when they heard whistling noises coming from the small entrance to the cave.

We enjoyed touring the Visitors Center where they had a movie and many interesting exhibits about the cave.

As we drove around the park we continued to see buffalo and a lot of prairie dogs. We stopped to watch them and take pictures as they played a game with us of now you see us, now you don’t.  The prairie dogs live in large social groups called towns.  The round mound of dirt that surrounds the prairie dog hole keeps rain water from running into the burrow and serves as an observation post to watch for danger.IMG_0216IMG_0219IMG_0222IMG_0228IMG_0225IMG_0229IMG_0233IMG_0237

Tomorrow we leave Mount Rushmore for the Badlands of South Dakota.

June 12, 2015 Mount Rushmore NP, South Dakota

Bill and I had both waited a long time to see Mount Rushmore so the next morning we eagerly made the drive to Mount Rushmore National Park.  While there is no charge to get in, you have to pay $11 to park with the money going to pay for the large parking garage built to accommodate all the tourists. No federal money was used to pay for the garage. The parking pass is good for a year. We were told that the garage will be paid off in 2016 and the trustees will give the garage to the park service.IMG_0153

Mount Rushmore is an amazing place with an Information Center, Visitors Center, three bookstores, a gift shop, sculptor’s studio, two theaters with movies, nature trails and an amphitheater. A Grand View Terrace to view Mount Rushmore is at the end of the Avenue of Flags where flags from all fifty states are displayed. IMG_0142IMG_0147We enjoyed the exhibits and movie and spent time just looking at the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. We had lunch at the cafe there and Bill tried the buffalo chili which he said was good.IMG_0136IMG_0140

Between 1927 and 1941, sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved the memorial with the help of over 400 workers. When Borglum died his son Lincoln Borglum supervised the completion. Work stopped in October, 1941 near the beginning of World War II. It was interesting to read that Gutzon Borglum wanted to build a special place to share important pieces of American history so he planned to build a large room which would be carved into the vertical wall of the canyon behind the faces. This room would be called the Hall of Records and would store important documents like the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Work on the Hall of Records began in 1938 but the U.S. government would not approve funding for the addition and workers were only able to carve a doorway and small hallway before Congress stopped the Hall of Records project.IMG_0149IMG_0150

IMG_0154After leaving Mount Rushmore we drove through part of Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park along the Iron Mountain Road and the Wildlife Loop Road where we encountered “pigtail curves”. Back in Denver we were excited to see buffalo in the distance behind a fence. Little did we know we would see herds of buffalo here. We saw a lot of buffalo and calves.IMG_0157 The buffalo were right by the side of the road and a couple times we had to stop and wait while they crossed the road. The buffalo were shedding their winter coats so they looked especially scruffy.IMG_0169IMG_0163

Today the park is home to as many as 1,450 head of North American bison, also known as buffalo. There were once millions of bison, but by 1900 fewer than 1,000 bison remained on the entire continent. Peter Norbeck, known as the “Father of Custer State Park”, decided to take action to preserve the bison.  In 1914 the park purchased thirty-six bison which grew to 2,500 by the 1940’s. The bison numbers are great enough today to have a roundup each year and some of the bison are auctioned off.IMG_0159IMG_0161IMG_0162IMG_0164IMG_0166IMG_0171IMG_0175IMG_0176

We came across prairie dogs chattering as they popped up from their holes in the ground, deer and a lazy burro.IMG_0180IMG_0178

Later that evening we returned to the Mount Rushmore Amphitheater for the Evening Lighting Ceremony. IMG_0181IMG_0184IMG_20150612_213230After watching a patriotic movie the faces on Mount Rushmore were lighted, we sang the National Anthem and the flag was then lowered. They invited all past and current members of the military service to come down to the stage. The stage was full and each person was asked to give their name and rank. Several of them participated in the folding of the flag.

Some facts about Mount Rushmore:

  • Each face is 60 feet tall. Each eye is 11 feet wide.
  • Washington’s nose is 21 feet long. All the other noses are 20 feet long.
  • Washington’s mouth is 18 feet wide.
  • Washington’s head is as tall as a six story building.
  • Total cost was $989,992.32
  • Main tool was dynamite and the drill was the jackhammer.
  • The rock is Harney Peak Granite.

June 10, 2015 Cheyenne, Wyoming & Wind Cave NP, South Dakota

We left Denver and continued to head toward South Dakota.  Cheyenne, Wyoming was a convenient place for a stopover on the way.  We stayed two nights which gave us a full day to explore Wyoming’s state capitol.IMG_20150610_150743

IMG_20150610_155151Having just been to Denver, Colorado’s state capitol, we were really struck by the difference.  Downtown Cheyenne was quiet with little traffic and few people milling around.  Finding a parking place or slowing down to take pictures was not a problem.  It looked like any small western city.  We noticed several statues of eight foot tall boots located around the city. Our favorite boot was one with the capitol painted on it.  The boots were created for a fundraiser for the Cheyenne Depot Museum in 2004.  Nineteen boots were painted and decorated by local artists and auctioned off.  We enjoyed finding them as we toured the town.IMG_20150610_152901IMG_20150610_151001

IMG_0097We had planned on taking the route through Lusk, Wyoming to cross over into South Dakota. All the rain and flooding changed our plans. The major bridge in Lusk had been washed out and roads were closed with flash flood warnings still in effect so we took a route across the plains of Nebraska. We crossed mile after mile of farmland and open plains. As we neared the South Dakota line we began to see some interesting rock formations in Nebraska and the weather deteriorated with rain and fog quickly moving in making visibility poor. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the South Dakota welcome sign because of the rain and fog. Rats!! It was a nice one with a picture of Mount Rushmore.IMG_0099IMG_20150611_111712IMG_0103

Once in South Dakota we traveled through a part of Wind Cave National Park. IMG_0108We stopped along the side of the road to look at some buffalo right by the car.  Some were busy drinking from a small mud puddle. With the windows open we could hear them slurping and snorting as they drank.IMG_0127IMG_0118IMG_0121IMG_0122IMG_0132IMG_0135

After a long seven and a half hour drive we arrived at a campground in Hill City, about fifteen  minutes from Mount Rushmore. We stayed at a nice private campground and enjoyed watching the birds who often gathered at the bird feeder outside our door.

Some facts about Cheyenne:

  • With a population of 62,400, it is still the most populous city in Wyoming.
  • It is named for the Cheyenne nation, one of the Great Plains Tribes.
  • It began in 1867 during the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and as a headquarters for cavalry troops protecting pioneers and railroad workers. Originally called Fort Russell and later renamed F. E. Warren Air Force Base, it is one of the nation’s oldest continually active installations.
  • Back in the mid 19th century it was overrun with gamblers, cowboys and speculators, earning it the name “Hell on Wheels”. By 1869 it had been cleaned up and became the capitol in 1890 when Wyoming became the 44th state.
  • Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman governor in the country is from Cheyenne.
  • Wild Bill Hickok and sportscaster Curt Gowdy are from Cheyenne. We were unable to get a reservation at Curt Gowdy State Park because it was full.

June 5, 2015 Denver, Colorado

Bill and I calculated that since we were at the Grand Canyon the beginning of May we have had rain everyday. What a crazy spring this has been weather wise and the crazy weather continued to follow us through Colorado.IMG_20150607_120939
We drove from Colorado Springs north to a state park campground just outside of Denver. We have been very happy with the Colorado state parks, and this campground, Cherry Creek State Park, was another winner. We had a large pull through site with full hookup and a lot of green space between each site. Everyday we had rabbits playing around the RV.
The first day the weather service was calling for severe weather so we decided to stay home. The day was spent listening to tornado sirens and the sound of heavy rain and thunder. The tornado siren would sound and after the storm passed the all clear siren would sound. In a matter of minutes another storm would roll in and the tornado siren would sound again. This cycle was repeated several times throughout the day. We listened to continuous coverage on the local TV station and Bill listened to ham radio operators helping the sheriff departments on his ham radio. We never had to evacuate the RV, but we were ready just in case.IMG_20150607_114039IMG_20150606_134014
The next day brought sunny blue skies in the morning but the forecast called for severe storms during the afternoon. We made a quick drive on the Lariat Loop Scenic and Historic Byway. Due to the weather forecast we did not drive the entire loop but we saw some beautiful views of snow capped mountains and stopped by to visit the gravesite of William F. Cody, known as Buffalo Bill. The museum and gravesite is located in Lookout Mountain Park. The area has great views of the plains and Rockies, however our view was limited due to the clouds quickly rolling in. As we made the short walk to the gravesite, thunder rumbled in the distance. Buffalo Bill earned his nickname because of his skill as a buffalo hunter and he traveled the world with his Buffalo Bill Wild West shows.
On the way home we passed through some charming little western towns with tall tree covered rock cliff walls and streams with rushing water from recent rains along the roadway. We noticed a Buffalo Overlook area on the map and were surprised when the overlook was nothing more than a pull over on busy Interstate 70. It seemed like a pretty dangerous area to encourage people to stop, but we pulled over and got out and were rewarded with a herd of buffalo (American Bison), including some babies nuzzling their mothers.IMG_20150606_143327IMG_20150606_143312IMG_20150606_143113IMG_20150606_143055IMG_20150606_142821
The next day we took advantage of it being a Sunday with less traffic and drove into downtown Denver. We had originally planned to go on Monday so we could tour the U.S. Mint in Denver. When we went online Friday to reserve a tour, we found out all tours were full for at least the next 30 days. Since they give six tours a day Monday thru Thursday, that is pretty amazing. We put the Mint tour on our list to do on our next visit to Denver.IMG_20150607_114745IMG_20150607_115923
While downtown we drove by the Mint and the capitol building. We spent some time driving around just getting a feel for the city. IMG_20150607_120405IMG_20150607_120422IMG_20150607_120432IMG_20150607_122119We ended with a stop at the Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos. We made it home before the first of two thunderstorms rolled through the area.IMG_20150607_123026IMG_20150607_123108
We saved Rocky Mountain National Park for Monday, our last day in the area, when the weather forecast called for the best weather. The day turned out to be beautiful with no afternoon thunderstorms, the first day without rain in a long time! IMG_20150608_105457This park was created in 1915, the nation’s 10th national park, and they are celebrating their centennial this year. The park is so large there are several visitors centers and we stopped by three of them. We drove the Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitors Center, at one point the road took us atop the alpine tundra to an elevation of 12,183 feet. The road is the highest continuous paved highway in the U.S. Because the IMG_20150608_131527IMG_20150608_130927deepest, wettest snow occurs in the spring, snow plow operators work hard to have the road open each year by Memorial Day. Tall poles along the side of the road is the only way the snow plow operators know where the edges of IMG_20150608_121728the road are. Even in June the road can occasionally be closed due to snow or ice. The views of the Rocky Mountains along the Trail Ridge Road were breathtaking!IMG_20150608_113301IMG_20150608_114830IMG_20150608_115721IMG_20150608_115818IMG_20150608_120234IMG_20150608_134908
We really enjoyed our time in Denver. The area is prettier than Colorado Springs due to more beautiful views of snow capped mountains. Huge pot holes continued to be a problem. Colorado definitely has more pot holes than any other state! Denver traffic can be challenging. They do not have HOV lanes so the morning and afternoon commuter traffic is pretty bad! Regardless of the traffic and bad roads, we will add Denver to our list of places we would like to visit again.

June 1, 2015 Colorado Springs, Colorado

We continued our time in Colorado with a four night stop in Colorado Springs.  At first the weather continued to be cool with gusty winds and afternoon thunderstorms.  After a couple days we had temperatures in the 90’s and the mosquitoes came out in force at dusk. We had very gusty winds in New Mexico and the winds followed us to Colorado.  We camped at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado’s newest state park.  It is a very nice park with terraced campsites and full hookups.  Our campsite had a view of Colorado Springs which was especially pretty at night with the twinkling lights of the city shining below us.  Nearby is Fort Carson and in the evenings we could hear the sound of bugles as the flag was lowered.IMG_20150603_085748

We camped at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, a very foreboding looking mountain.  Perhaps the history of the mountain makes it more mysterious.  The underground operations center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was built in the early 1960’s during the Cold War to monitor the North American airspace for missile launches and Soviet military aircraft.  The command center is buried 2,000 feet underground in the granite mountain on five acres and was designed with a bunker to withstand bombing and fallout from a nuclear bomb.  Today it is still off limits but many of its functions were transfered in 2006 to Peterson Air Force Base nearby.  On top of Cheyenne Mountain is an antennae farm visible for miles around with transmitters for cell phones, radio, television and law enforcement.

We wanted to tour the Peterson Air and Space Museum located on the Peterson Air Force Base.  We read that for security reasons you had to go onto their website at least 24 hours in advance to request a visitor pass.  When we went online it said they were not accepting visitors at this time due to security precautions.

On our last day we rode the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the longest and highest cog railway inIMG_20150603_100843 the world.  The trip began in Manitou Springs (elevation 6,320) for an 8.9 mile, hour and a half ride through high plains with aspen groves and dense pine forests to an alpine tundra.  As we neared the top the snow was piled high along the tracks, higher than the windows.  When we reached the summit of Pike’s Peak we were at an elevation of 14,110 ft.  The snow was ten feet high and the temperature was 36 degrees with a wind chill of 28 degrees.  We had read that at 14,000 feet you may experience breathing problems and nausea.  The air at Pike’s Peak has 50% of the oxygen pressure compared to sea level.  Since we had both been suffering quite a bit with allergy problems this spring we invested in a little spray bottle of oxygen at the gift shop before getting on the train.  Bill used it a few times.  I didn’t have any problems until we reached the summit.  When I stood and walked off the train I suddenly felt very lightheaded and dizzy.  After several sprays of oxygen I felt better.  They do have Medic services at the summit for people who experience serious problems.

Bill had to climb over some slippery snow drifts to get some pictures, including a memorial to Katharine Lee Bates.  Her visit to Pike’s Peak in 1893 inspired her to write a poem which later became the lyrics of “America the Beautiful”.  Pike’s Peak is nicknamed ” America’s Mountain”.IMG_20150603_102106IMG_20150603_113616IMG_20150603_114543IMG_20150603_115558IMG_20150603_130357IMG_20150603_120518IMG_20150603_120506IMG_20150603_121444IMG_20150603_120617IMG_20150603_120633IMG_20150603_121515

We lucked out on the right time to visit Pike’s Peak.  Less than a week earlier the train had not yet been able to reach the summit of the mountain due to ice and snow on the tracks.   Besides taking the train you can reach the summit by car and hiking.  The driving road has still not yet opened for the season.  Pike’s Peak has the possibility of snow any day of the year!IMG_20150602_155304

Pike’s Peak is named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, an American explorer who was sent to the southwest in 1806 to explore the source of the Arkansas River.  He attempted, but never reached the summit, but they named the mountain after him anyway.

After grabbing a late lunch we drove to the nearby Garden of the God’s Park, a National Natural Landmark.  This beautiful city park was once owned by railroad magnate Charles Eliot Perkins.  In 1909 he bequeathed the land to the city of Colorado Springs with the stipulation that it remain open and free to the public.  It is obvious people love this park.  One of the nicest and most elaborate Visitors Centers we have visited is in the park, staffed by volunteers.  It has a first class nature center as well as over 30 interactive exhibits on the geology, ecology and history of the area.  It has the world’s only Theiophytalia kerri dinosaur fossil replica.  The dinosaur skull was discovered in the park in 1886.  The park has nature talks, guided walks and guided rock climbing opportunities.  There are beautiful views of Pike’s Peak from the observation deck of the visitors center.   There is a nice loop drive around the park which we decided to do since it was late in the day.  The red sandstone formations were beautiful.IMG_20150603_153624IMG_20150603_150409IMG_20150603_151511IMG_20150603_151602IMG_20150603_154403IMG_20150603_160624IMG_20150603_160904

We had mixed feelings about Colorado Springs.  I expected more breathtaking views of snow capped mountains and a funky, quirky little town with boutiques and an active downtown area with restaurants.  Instead the town came across as old and tired.  The roads were terrible with constant potholes which made driving around town feel like driving an obstacle course.  On the positive side I saw my first revolving McDonald’s sign!