The next morning we woke around 6:30 AM and drove to the airport (it's about 10 miles out of town). We returned the car, preflighted, and headed out. I had dithered about flying up the San Luis Valley toward the La Veta Pass before heading east, but ultimately decided to head east first, around the southern end of the mountains, over Las Vegas, NM before turning north on the eastern foothills of the Rockies. Mostly because I had never been there before and also I thought that it would be smoother and less likely to have any weather.
I know that I've said that some places I've flown over have been the center of nowhere, but flying north from LV, NM toward Colorado Springs, CO goes over an awful lot of empty. And some pretty damn high ground - up in the 8000 ft. range - near Raton, NM just south of the CO border. We followed I-25 pretty much the whole way north, with the Rockies off to our left and 1500 miles of flat off to our right. We passed over Pueblo, and after about 1:45 we turned final for runway 33 at Meadowlake airport (KFLY) where Burrall Sanders is based. He had agreed to loan us a car for the day, so we met his son Sean, fueled up the plane and taxied to Burrall's house (on the airport). Around 11 AM we headed out in an old Jeep toward Garden of the Gods. We stopped at the visitors center for some lunch and drove through the rock formations - it was too hot for a hike.
We then went to Cave of the Winds - I had been there twice before - once with my parents in 1970, and again with Deanie and my son in 1996. I had forgotten just how much commercial activity could ruin a natural formation - this cave is privately owned. I'll take a National Park run tour anyday - you learn a LOT more from rangers than from 16 year old tour guides. But it was 54 degrees underground and the cave is still very interesting, even if it's no longer possible to tell what's natural and what's man made.
After Cave of the Winds, we took Burrall's poor, old decrepit Jeep up Pikes Peak - all 14,115 feet of it. It performed admirably, and we had a great time in the 39 degree weather, looking at the 360 degree views of the Rockies, the cities, the plains and the cog railway. It's pretty weird, standing on the ground and being 4K - 5K ft. higher than when we were flying into Colorado Springs. The road's in a lot better shape than I had remembered it, too. The "World Famous Donuts" at the top? Well, they're just cake donuts - nothing magic.
The drive down is as spectacular as the drive up. It's amazing, no matter how many signs they put up telling you to drive down in 1st or 2nd gear, how many people ride the brakes. They have a "brake check" stop about 1/3 of the way down where they check your brake temp with an IR thermometer and if your brakes are too hot they admonish you and tell you to wait 20 minutes in the parking lot before continuing down further. We got a thumbs up that I wasn't melting Burrall's car and down we went.
By the time we got down it was late afternoon so we checked into the motel, relaxed for a while and then went to a Chinese restaurant that the web said was good. It was - very good. We then went shopping for some snacks for the next couple of days at a Whole Foods we noticed along the way and then went to sleep after watching some baseball on the computer. Thank god for MLB.tv and free Wi-Fi at cheap motels.
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