Friday, July 11, 2014

The Coussoules' Great Western Adventure: Day Two, Colorado Springs

My day started bright and early - actually, more early than bright, given the air-raid-blackout quality of the shades in our hotel room, but by the time I got in the van at 5:05 to head out for a run, the rays of dawn were already warming the sky. Thanks to a tip from my childhood friend, Chip, who happens to be stationed right here in Colorado Springs, I headed for the Santa Fe Trail entrance at the U.S. Air Force Academy's north gate entrance.
Absolutely beautiful - one of my favorite things to do in a new place is to go for a run, as you experience a destination so differently when it's just you, your running shoes, and the stretch of pavement or trail in front of you.
Despite the elevation (Colorado Springs is about 6,000 ft above sea level), I managed to knock out a pretty decent run, stopping to take a few pictures along the way. Hard to miss the majesty of the mountains behind the drama of the Air Force Academy.
Got back to the hotel and got ready for the day ahead, beginning with a tour of the Air Force Academy!

I'm not going to lie - it was a little bit soul crushing when we made our trip plans and Justin and I realized that our children were going to visit the Air Force Academy before West Point. To ensure there was no confusion as to where their allegiance lay, we suited up in - what else - West Point shirts. Yep, we're Those People. Gray Hog.
We started at the Visitor Center, watched the movie about a year in the life of an Air Force Academy cadet, bought the mandatory souvenirs, and then headed up the path to the Cadet Chapel, the singularly most-recognized building at USAFA. It was as beautiful and inspiring as I imagined it would be; standing outside and looking up to the top of its spires, you do feel like you're gazing at heaven, especially on a bright, sunny day with a cobalt blue sky like today. Inside, its modern steel, glass and stained glass architecture is stunning, as is the massive pipe organ in the choir loft. We peeked our heads into the Catholic Chapel, the Jewish Chapel and the Buddhist Chapel, too, making the most of the compact arrangement for all faiths.
It was interesting to me the way the Cadet area was laid out; at West Point, it's compact, but the central building is Washington Hall (which houses the mess hall) and the barracks aren't fully centered around it. Here, the Cadet Wing housing is built around a quadrangle and the parade ground, so it was easy to get a panorama of the main cantonment area.
Given the central nature of the main area, at that point we got back in the van and planned a couple of stops on the drive back out the front gate - Falcon Stadium, and the massive B-52 at the north gate entrance.
Standing up close and person to the Stratofortress, you can only imagine the fear it must have invoked when it appeared on the horizon, ready to drop its massive load of bombs. It is a fearsome war machine, and it is impossible to avoid the phrase "Strategic Air Power" looping in your head as you take it in.
Unfortunately, by the time we hit the gate on the way out, the little man wasn't feeling too good, so we took a midday break at the hotel. With storm clouds blanketing the mountains to the west, it felt like good timing to be back inside; after lunch and a little bit of rest, though, it was time to get back to seeing the sights!

Having friends who live in the area has been great; not only did Chip tell me about the Santa Fe Trail, he recommended visiting the U.S. Olympic Training Center. I didn't know until we got here that Colorado Springs is the home of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and one of three official training centers. The tours are free, which is just our speed, and we got there right as the next tour was beginning.
How inspiring to see where our Olympians and Paralympians train!! The tour was brief but thorough, and we got to see most of the facility. This is definitely a do-it-if-you're-ever-here kind of tour; an hour of time for an overview of how our nation supports its Olympians in training.

As much we enjoyed the tour, though, you know the best part was photos on the medal stand out front. Victory!
In an effort to find those hidden gems along the way, Justin had found a neat little place called the Money Museum which is, fittingly, a museum about money. Clever, no? It's run by the American Numismatic Association, and for a very small, very inexpensive attraction, it is incredibly well done with a remarkably extensive collection. We spent an enjoyable hour there, leaving only because it was 5 PM and it was closing time.
Thanks to a lucky bit of scheduling, Chip happened to be able to join us for dinner, so in a don't-eat-at-chain-restaurants-if-you're-having-an-adventure approach, we drove a little farther south to The Airplane Restaurant. (Insert all jokes about airplane food here.) It is a restaurant that includes seating in an actual airplane, with a cockpit open to kids to go in and press buttons, turn knobs, and pull levers. Oh, and I think the kids liked their spaghetti, too.
I had a wonderful time catching up with Chip, who I haven't seen in about seven years - but as with all members of the Long Gray Line, it could be seven years or seven days, and you can pick up without missing a beat.
In a worrisome turn of events, John seemed to feel worse and worse as dinner went on, and by the time we got to the van, he proactively suggested skipping the pool tonight to go to bed early. Never a good sign. He seems to have a mild fever, which I'm hoping is easily tamed by the Tylenol and a good night's sleep. Tomorrow brings more excitement, with our last Colorado Springs destination before heading north. The Adventure continues!

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