On Saturday morning we had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. because we wanted to head south to Colorado Springs for the Colorado Balloon Classic. This annual hot air balloon show has become the largest and longest running hot air balloon festival in Colorado. It is held every year in Colorado Springs over Labor Day weekend and since the timing of our visit was perfect, I didn’t want to miss it. The balloons start to take flight right around sunrise, but it was definitely worth waking up at that wretched hour because it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. We arrived at Memorial Park just as the very first balloon was being inflated, but most of the other balloons weren’t even set up yet. This gave us time to find a breakfast vendor and some much-needed coffee. By the time we were finished with our breakfast burritos, the field of balloons were starting to go up.
As they each started to take flight, they passed over a lake within the park and some of the pilots attempted a touch-and-go off the water. I definitely wasn’t expecting to see that!
There was a veterans’ memorial in the park, so we decided to check that out while we were there. It was actually quite impressive with a lot of different smaller memorials for specific services and units surrounding this center memorial for all veterans.
It was really amazing how many hot air balloons were at this festival. We had to have seen at least 100 of them and there were still more setting up as we were leaving. I could have easily stayed for hours to continue watching them, but we were trying to squeeze a lot into our day, so we had to leave before it was over. On our way out of the park we saw the Fire Fighters’ Memorial, so of course, we had to check that out too.
Our next stop in Colorado Springs was the Garden of the Gods. The park is filled with beautiful red rock formations and it is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in Colorado Springs.
The rock formation below is called the Kissing Camels.
The next rock formation was particularly amusing to Rob and I. It didn’t have an official name like the one above, but we think it looks like a cartoon Mt. Rushmore because it reminded us of the presidential bobble heads that run around the field at the Nationals games. Can you see it?
There were rock climbers throughout the park. Notice the guy sitting at the highest peak in the picture below.
There were also climbers in costume that offered some entertainment value. Take note of the princess and the bee!
Just when we thought all the awesomeness was over…we found these final great rock formations on our way out of the park.
The final thing on our Colorado Springs agenda was to check out Pikes Peak. Apparently, Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in North America. It was ok, I guess, but it was really hard to compete with what we had already seen that morning. And it might have been a better experience if the drive up there wasn’t so terrifying! It is a 19 mile drive to the summit on one of the windiest roads I have ever been on. That, in and of itself, is not terrifying. But when it is coupled with cliffs that start right at the edge of the road with NO guardrails….that makes for a very stressful 1 hour drive to the top of the mountain. Yes, that’s right….it takes at least an hour to drive the 19 miles up the mountain.
After finally arriving at the top, I think Rob and I were both stressed out. It definitely felt good to get out of the car at that point. We were just over 14,000 feet and the temperature was much colder. This was the 2nd highest altitude I had ever been at (the highest was during our hike of the Inca Trail where we were just under 15,000 feet). The view was pretty cool, but I think they should use that $12 per person entrance fee to install some more guardrails. Just a thought…
I was starting to feel slightly light-headed from the elevation, and we were both ready to head back down the mountain. We assumed that driving down the mountain was going to be much easier than our drive up…but, we were wrong. After 6 miles, each vehicle gets stopped for a brake check. If you aren’t driving in low gear your brakes become too hot from excessive use, so they have a park ranger there to check the temperature of your brakes. Anything under 300 degrees and you are free to go on your way. Anything higher and you need to pull over and let your engine and brakes cool down for about 15 minutes. Our brakes registered at an impressive 435 degrees….FAIL!
After our mandatory cool down period, we safely made it off the mountain and it was time to leave Colorado Springs and head west to ski country. Rob’s cousin Becky and her family were staying at a ski resort in Avon and she invited us to join them. We drove through all of the beautiful ski towns…Breckenridge, Vail, etc. and we finally made it to Avon. Rob and I were both pretty spent after such a long day and so much driving, so we just had a relaxing evening with Becky and her family. But we were looking forward to seeing a bit more of the area the following day.