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December 20, 2014 –

I had the greatest day. While I got off to a slow start, my day was action packed once I reached Painted Mines Interpretive Park in Calhan, about 20 miles East of Colorado Springs. I heard about the park from a photography group that takes an annual trip to shoot the colorful formations. I thought I had signed up to go, but then realized I failed to RSVP, so I was on my own.

Sometimes I think going alone is better anyway. I tend to hike faster than photographers and slower than the average hiker as I go off into lala land while admiring nature’s wonders. Today was no exception. The group of forty was going very early. All morning the sky was covered by a large, grey cloud…like a snow cloud that I’m certain blocked the sunlight and the vibrant colors it brings out on the rocks. While many times, an overcast day is the best time to shoot, in this instance it wasn’t, and by the time I arrived the skies were clear! I’m so glad I went alone and delayed my arrival.

Painted Mines Interpretive Park was slightly farther out of the way than I expected. My planned hour drive was closer to an hour and a half. Occasionally I wondered if I really should trust my GPS as I passed through very rural farm country. After miles, I finally came up Calhan, a very small community with a few shops and gas station much to my relief. The park was just a few miles away.

The map of trails indicated hikers could follow a few loops to historic areas where Indians and early settlers once lived and to geological areas. I opted for the geological area. 55 million years ago, the area was a hardwood tropical forest which was later covered by white sandstone known as the Dawson Arkose Formation. Its stone and clay layers have been weathered by wind and rain to produce the current badlands and hoodoos.

It didn’t take long to reach the formations with very narrow walking paths. This solidified my awesome choice of going alone. I can’t imagine fitting three people in certain areas, much less forty, especially having to maneuver on uneven, snow-covered terrain at times. And I had a ball using the contraption my mom brought to me from China. I could take a selfie from several feet away with a collapsible metal pole that held my phone and extended!

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Each badland area, located on either side of the main, sandy trail was unique. Some areas were larger than others. Some displayed an array of pink, orange and white hues, while others did not. Hoodoos, unusually shaped spires towered above vibrant layers of colors in some areas and didn’t exist in others. The only constant were the bunnies that hopped from one hiding place to the next as I wandered through the formations.

After spending close to an hour on this 0.6 mile trail, I decided to follow another trail that climbed to an overlook. At this point, the park seemed like mostly prairie land and not too exciting, but the information board suggested hikers could spot wildlife, so I decided to follow one of the loops. While the sign posting is good, I might caution that there are two parking areas. When I looked at the map, I only saw one, and the loop I was following seemed different from the picture I remembered. This was because I focused on the wrong parking area. It certainly didn’t cause any problems, it just seemed weird until I noticed the other parking area on a different road as I followed as I strolled around the loop.

I can’t say the rest of the park was terribly interesting, though it did provide an amazing view of the snow covered Pikes Peak, and I got in a decent walk. I didn’t follow the other 2 mile loop that passes by a small lake as while I was down near Colorado Springs, I wanted to try my luck at the Incline in Manitou Springs.

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Boy does the Incline have a reputation. It was once a cog railway, built in 1907 and used to access water tanks at the mountain top that provided gravity fed water pressure to the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. Soon after its construction, it also became a tourist attraction. The railway operated until 1990 when a rock slide knocked out the tracks. Since the Pikes Peak Cog Railway opted not to repair the tracks, the trail steadily gained popularity as a hiking destination and fitness challenge. Due to the land which the Incline traverses being owned by three entities and the challenges of limited parking which costs $5, the Incline was part of several legal battles which were finally settled in January 2013 after reaching the US Congress!

The trail remained open until August 2013 when it was closed for repairs. It just reopened a few weeks ago. Honestly, as my heart beat rapidly beneath my heavy breath, I couldn’t understand the draw of this trail. It gains 2,000 ft, from 6,600 to 8,600 in less than 1 mile and the view ahead of the climb was of not terribly aesthetic railroad ties and an occasional rusted barrel. I could tell when the trail increased in steepness just by seeing double stacked railroad ties and opposed to singles that I to scramble over. At times, I could reach my hand out in front of my chest and touch the next step up! It was important to lean forward and step on the ice carefully as to not sail backwards down the stairs.

I hiked for 25 minutes before I looked at my phone to see the time with the looming summit in my view. Good grief, how long was this going to take me, I thought. I didn’t have the luxury of stopping as I began the trail at 2:30, thus I only had two hours of daylight! I finally bothered to turn around and look at the view when I reached the “bail out” point three quarters of the way up. This was when I realized why people might want to torture themselves for something other than exercise. I have to admit, I don’t generally enjoy city views in the mountains, but this view was spectacular! Just looking down the hundreds of stairs I had climbed was cool.

The whole time I was slowly stepping up the Incline, I couldn’t help but wonder how many floors I had climbed. Just the previous day, I had climbed 53 floors in 13 minutes on the revolving stairs at the gym. I also wondered how my two hundred squats and lunges in my PiYo class twice a week were helping me. Further I thought of the firemen who climbed up the World Trade Center with all their gear in the smoke. I sure felt a lot a respect for them. I had a lot of time to think given it took me 1:03 to summit. The decorated Christmas tree brought a smile to my face as I heaved to catch my breath. You’d think after climbing multiple 14ers, it wouldn’t be that hard at half the elevation and less than a mile, but I have to say it was a good challenge. My time was a far cry from Olympian Apolo Ohno’s time of 17:45 which is a whole minute behind the fastest time. I suspect if I were still playing soccer or if I tried the climb during my marathon training, I would have finished much faster. Now a days, I’m just happy to complete the things I try.

I remained at the summit for about three minutes before I decided to take the Barr Trail down. This is the common route down as the Incline can be very crowded. I suppose one benefit of going at 2:30 is that not too many hikers were attempting to tackle the climb in the late afternoon. Only five people were at the summit when I arrived, and one guy told me it would take about an hour to get down, whether I returned down the railroad ties or followed the 2.5 mile path. I’m actually not exactly sure of the path’s length. He said 2.5 miles. The sign at the bottom of Barr Trail said 4 miles to the summit. Most of what I read said 2.5 to 3 miles with a round trip of 3.4 to 4 miles including the Incline.

Regardless, I expected the trail would be easier to descend than the icy Incline. Since I was by myself and strapped for time, I began jogging down the trail. The views of the snow dusted mountains to the southwest with the pink clouds overhead were lovely. I wished I could have gone slower to enjoy it a bit and take out my good camera which was packed in my backpack. Instead I snapped a few shots on my phone, though I think some random filter was on given the pink sky and red rocks look blue! As I descended, I soon reached some icy patches where I slowed to a walk. It didn’t take long for me to take a step and do a pirouette.

While my dance move may sound graceful, I can promise it wasn’t. Most of my turn was around my right knee (ouch), until it gave way enough for me to catch myself with my left hand as I fell. I think I would have scored a half point higher than a fallen ice skater! I continued on passing many which was not the case on my ascent as I was being passed. One girl was cursing as she was trying to maneuver the ice and rocks. I mentioned that I nearly bit it (my butt never hit the ground), and she and her two friends replied, “We already have.”

I reached some more ice, and thought I better hold on the wood railing. I wrapped my hand around the log, took a step and did the splits. Whew, my body was not made for that much stretching. It felt like I pulled every muscle in my left leg! Admittedly, I had my microspikes in my bag, and I could have strapped them on, but each time I thought about it, I’d get to a long dry stretch. I’d think oh there can’t be much more ice as I’ve descended over 1,000 feet. Of course, there was more ice, and I finally met my demise with me feet sliding out from under me and landing on my side. Funny, falling hurt far less than saving myself! I popped up as fast as I fell in order to get my hand out of the snow. I didn’t feel too bad about falling though, as each person I spoke to on the way down fell at least once! Gluttons for punishment I suppose.

It took me just under an hour to descend at my slow jog and penguin walk. Toward the end, my legs were tired and unfortunately on the ice I had to keep all my muscles from waist down tensed to take tiny steps and stay upright. The good news was I finished and my day was far from over. I swung by 24 Hour Fitness for a shower and treated myself to visit at the Broadmoor decked out in Christmas lights. I walked along the lake surrounded by trees decorated in white lights. I admired the gingerbread houses in the upstairs lobby. And I enjoyed an amazing fruit and cheese plate at The Hotel Bar while meeting a few nice ladies, Lynn and Judy.

The Broadmoor’s displays were wonderful, and I think I found a new favorite place and winter tradition (minus the Incline). I liked the Incline, and I can see how it would be a draw to locals because climbing stairs outside beats the gym, but coming from 80 miles away, I think I have other trails to explore. All in all, my day was spectacular, and I will definitely return to enjoy the Broadmoor and to check out the cute town of Manitou Springs among other things! ETB

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