Colorado Springs, The Beautiful

At the foot of Pikes Peak sits a city bursting with stories to tell, one step at a time. Explore Colorado Springs through a Texan’s perspective.

he morning mist betrays Colorado Springs true nature. It’s early, and a drive across the grassland leads to the meeting place of the Great Plains and the Rockies. The sun burns the fog away, pulling back the curtain to reveal the snowy summit of Pikes Peak—America’s Mountain.

Tucked against it, Colorado Springs offers what you’d expect from a pleasant Colorado town: friendly people, good food, and good beer. Over the course of a visit, the city can also reveal a culture of limit-pushing and of reinvention. Like a stony pinnacle emerging from the mist, this attitude reveals itself with time.

At the end of a day here—mountains to one side, waves of grain to another, spacious skies above—one thought is apparent. Someone should write a song about this place.

orey Kubatzky was raised in Georgetown, where despite the Texas heat, he took to cross country running. He’s thin but not scrawny. He has a narrow face with bright eyes that give his casual demeanor a friendly undertone. As he sits down at the Bristol Brewing Company, a brewery set in a repurposed elementary school called the Ivywild School (now an eco-friendly development with local crafts, coffee, and pastries) he isn’t carded, but he easily could be by a stern server.

Kubatzky is the Head of Women’s Cross Country for the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs, a position he took four years ago. He feels settled here, a part of the town owing to its Texan-like approachability. Moving here did require some adjustment. The 6,035-foot elevation makes training harder.

“For runners, it’s tough,” he says. “I kinda got my butt kicked when I moved here.” That butt-kicking is why the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center is here, a former military base transformed into a state-of-the-art athletic think tank. Kubatzky sees pentathletes on morning runs. “You can grind it out daily,” he says.

The tour of the center emphasizes this, and it’s worth it for those curious about what training for an Olympiad is like. The technology applied to every facet of athletes’ lives is staggering. The hour-long tour (longer private tours, athlete-led tours and VIP tours are available) displays a few gewgaws that would make Ivan Drago jealous. Pressure plates in the track can tell if an athlete is favoring a foot. A special room can replicate the temperature, humidity and atmosphere of any place on Earth. A teaching kitchen helps the hundred-plus competitors invited here learn to cook their own carefully calculated meals.

It’s enough to make one want to burn some calories.

he story of Colorado Springs begins a billion years ago, as the earth belched up scads of lava, which cooled and became what geologists dubbed the Pikes Peak Granite. The land shrank, lifted and settled into the Front Range. The southernmost tip of the Rockies, it is the most densely populated region of Colorado. Dotted on the edge of the mountain west are Pueblo, Denver and Fort Collins. At its heart lies Colorado Springs.

The city, then, is a kind of living museum. It boasts 9,000 acres of parks and another 500 acres of trails in addition to the swathes of protected land outside the city. Going outdoors and seeing something worthy is easy. In 1859, two surveyors explored the rust-red crags that jut from beneath Pikes Peak. Legend says one called it a capital spot for a beer garden—a proto-Coloradan if ever there was one—while the other replied that it was a garden fit for the gods. Today, the Garden of the Gods boasts paved trails around the lofty rock faces and a high-tech visitors center. Here, even looking at rocks is done to the utmost. Past the garden sits Manitou Springs, a basecamp for those visiting Pikes Peak. An indoor-outdoor penny arcade is worth the short drive, but beware: It only opens when the temperature is above 50 degrees.

The 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway offers visitors majestic views all the way to the summit of the mountain. The most adventurous souls can cycle this paved road or summit on foot by hiking the Barr Trail. For another scenic tour, Kubatzky recommends a drive up from Colorado Springs on Gold Camp Road. Around the switchbacks is the trailhead at Section 16, a new addition to the 1,474-acre Red Rock Canyon Open Space, a public area engraved with trails. There is something in the granite reminiscent of Enchanted Rock, but with less heat and more trees.

Moderate hikes offer multifarious views of plains and mountains, old rock and new, red rock and evergreen pine. If you don’t want to drive (or hoof it) to the frigid point of the peak, this is your best option.

hat is most charming about the area is the thin line between rugged and refined. At a leisurely pace, you can hike before dinner. A note of warning, however, if you’re dining downtown after a jaunt outdoors: Reservations may be necessary.

“It’s really changed in the last 10 years,” Kubatzky says. The restaurant and bar scene is expanding. “My wife and I will go to a restaurant and say ‘This is just like Austin.’” Almost, anyway. He still yearns for Whataburger and a true kolache now and then.

For Colorado’s local flavor, there are some standout spots. On the sidewalk of Tejon Street, there is what looks like a Parisian Metro entrance. Follow the stairs to The Rabbit Hole, a dim, multi-layered bar and restaurant in a space that was once the city morgue. Below the street are funky little booths against stone walls. The cocktails are clever and wines well-chosen. The food is familiar but inventive, and yes, there’s rabbit on offer. Like everyone else here, the servers don’t rush you.

During the day, Over Easy offers a wide variety of juices, hearty local breakfast and brunch fare, and an impressive selection of variations on Eggs Benedict. Across the street from Over Easy’s downtown location sits Red Gravy, a buzzy Italian joint with classics as well as hard-to-find dishes like veal saltimbocca. Don’t sleep on the wine list here, either.

Nearby, the Antlers Hotel anchors downtown from its third embodiment, a postmodern building with a spa, bar, and Neapolitan pizzeria. Out from the hotel runs a warren of streets studded with enough public art to warrant its own trip. Those streets are lined with rows of importers and multi-use buildings like Poor Richard’s, a historic building bundled with a cafe, restaurant, toy store, and the original anchor, a deep and linger-worthy book store.

Back on the street, drifting between Nepali and Mexican art, you might look to the mountains or across the plains and be struck anew. If you’re still thinking someone should write this town a song, you’re in luck. In 1893, Katharine Lee Bates, penned a poem inspired Colorado Springs, “Pikes Peak.” Once renamed and set to music, it became a favorite for its evocation of mountain majesties and fruited plains.

It’s even seen pushes to become the national anthem. Even if it doesn’t, “America The Beautiful” is a fitting anthem for this Olympic beer garden on the edge of the west.

Start planning your trip to Colorado Springs today with an official visitors guide.

About the Writer: Andrew Roush is host to Texas Monthly’s TexPat series. Texan by birth, Roush has traveled around the country and lived in other states, but always found his way back home. Others have left the Lone Star State and fully embraced living abroad from Texas. Roush is in search of these TexPats—why they left, what they miss, and more importantly, what they love about their adopted homes.

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