After going to bed so late (for me anyway) I slept right through to 7a.m to make sure I got onto US time. We had an early start as we had booked tickets for the Pikes Peak Cog Rail and had to be there for 8a.m. Carolyn’s parents were fantastic and helped us with breakfast getting us juice and muffins so we could get off on time. It was a 20 minute drive from Carolyn’s house in Colorado Springs to the town of Manitou where the cog rail is situated. When we were around 5 minutes away we received a call from the railway to tell us due to ice and high winds the cog train would only be going two thirds of the way up and did we want to reschedule? Unfortunately our packed schedule didn’t allow for that and we decided to take the discounted tickets and head up anyway. We arrived to a quaint old fashioned train station with a gift shop and food place selling hotdogs for breakfast! We collected out tickets from the collection window and lucked out getting 4 seats to spread out on the 2 seat side of the train. However, for anyone looking to go I would say the 3 seat side A, B, C does have better views on the way up, especially if you are looking to take photos.
The conductor was very traditional and welcomed us all to the highest cog railway in the world no less. As we headed off on the 1 hour trip up he pointed out interesting features – such as an elf workshop which had been up and running for Christmas. Apparently Santa and his elves had headed back to the North Pole since Christmas was over. The forest gradually vanished away into rock and with the snow the views were really spectacular. As we reached the Saddle – the highest point we got to and just below the main peak we could see flat plains stretching all the way to Kansas on one side and the Continental Divide on the other. The really interesting thing about Colorado is how flat the landscape is generally and then bam, a huge mountain range sticks out of the landscape. After stopping for pictures we headed back down to Four Mile at an elevation of almost 10,000ft for a walk around. Carolyn and I went off exploring in the snowy woods where I managed to sink through the snow into an ice-cold river. It was definitely a shock to the system and woke me from any altitude drowsiness. It was nice to get out and explore the park for some time before heading back down to Manitou.
I had really liked the look of Manitou when we were driving through to the cog rail so we decided to stop by there to check it out. There is a huge Mexican influence in Colorado so there were some really interesting shops with Mexican themed tiles and sculptures – interesting considering I am heading there in a week. The architecture of the town is also really nice with a pretty old bank building (old for American standards) and some pretty houses. There was even a castle which they have turned into a hotel and restaurant. We were starting to get peckish so after picking up some souvenirs we asked the lady working there where was good to eat and she recommended The Loop. We decided to head straight there and walked past a group of teens describing it as the only place to eat in town! As we walked past the car we realised we had to pay for parking and had not done so – woops! After purchasing a ticket we realised we had in fact already got a parking ticket and so paid twice. Woops! We finally go to the Loop and I ordered a pork tamale and a chicken relleno (stuffed pepper) which came literally drenched in tomato sauce with white liquid refried beans and some bright yellow rice. It was ok but the standout had to be the free salsa and chips.
After consuming all the food we were in need of some exercise and so headed over to Garden of the Gods for a short hike. The park is made up of a bunch of massive red rock formations rising from the land and there are a lot of different trails to head round. We ended up parking at the only free space we could find which led us on a loop around the ridge trail and then through the centre of the rock formations. It had some absolutely gorgeous views and was definitely a nice way to work off some of the Mexican food we had eaten earlier. After heading back to the car we drove a little further around the main loop of the park to balancing rock which we climbed up for some really fun pictures. It was a gorgeous sunny day with bright blue skies and an awesome way to spend a few hours at low altitude. This is really important as a lot of people who arrive into Colorado head straight to the mountains and end up with bad altitude sickness so spending at least a day at a lower altitude (Colorado Springs is 6,000ft above sea level) really helps the body to adjust and stops you getting sick.
We headed back to Carolyn’s parent’s house to pack up our stuff and get ready for the mountains! They were great and brought us a tonne of food to take up with us and some wine which was really nice. After we were ready to go we headed for dinner first to spend some time with her parents. They chose Carraba’s Italian Grill which was just a 10 minute drive from their house and was super tasty! I was still feeling full from lunch so had grilled Tuscan chicken with broccoli which came with an Italian side salad and a side of bread and herb oil for everyone to share. It was really good was really lovely to hang out with her parents for a while before we headed off to the mountains. Luckily for us, they own a condo at Keystone ski resort and so we drove out there for the next few days. It was an hour and a half drive for which after stopping at a 7/11 for a bathroom stop I pretty much slept the whole way – I blame the jetlag combined with altitude. Their place was absolutely gorgeous – kind of like a hotel room walking distance to the slopes. We got set up for the night and googled the best ski pass and rental options for me. I had previously looked into these but unfortunately, hadn’t realised that the price increases the nearer you get to the day of use so it ended up being quite a lot more than I had planned for – heads up! After working out the logistics we settled in for the night ready for an active day of skiing the next day!