Natural wonders abound in Colorado Springs

City was inspiration for 'America the Beautiful'

Colorado Springs lies at the foot of Pikes Peak. (Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak)

March 28, 2006 4:48 AM

You can't help but notice the mountains. From the moment you leave the airport in Colorado Springs, the view is breathtaking. Take a moment and soak it in, purple mountain majesties all around you.

Colorado Springs was the inspiration for "America the Beautiful," the song taken from a poem first written in 1893 by Colorado College professor Katharine Lee Bates. She wrote a second version in 1904 and a final version in 1913. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the song has eight verses.

A note from Bates detailed her journey to the 14,000-foot summit of Pikes Peak. She and some of her traveling companions had to leave the prairie wagon they had rented and make the rest of the way up by mule. Bates described being very tired, but when she saw the view she felt "great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."

The wonder of America still can be found in Colorado Springs. And you can watch a baseball game there, too, thanks to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Triple-A affiliate of the Rockies.

Colorado Springs was founded in 1871 and is the second-largest city in Colorado behind Denver, which is some 80 miles to the north. The city also is situated fewer than 100 miles east of world-class skiing, making it a mecca for year-round fitness buffs.

Colorado Springs has become one of the fittest cities in the United States. One big reason is because the U.S. Olympic Training Center is located there. Many Olympic athletes live year-round in Colorado Springs to take advantage of the facilities and train at altitude.

Another reason is that Colorado Springs is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where cadets aren't allowed to be anything but fit. The military is a big part of the community. The largest employer in the state is Fort Carson, which is on the south side of Colorado Springs. Peterson Air Force Base is here, as is NORAD, which was built under Cheyenne Mountain. The Air Force Base Command is headquartered there.

"The impact that the military community has on Colorado Springs can't be underestimated," said Rai Henniger, the Sky Sox senior vice president of marketing. "The city embraces the military, whether it's active duty, dependents or retired, like no other city in country. When troops deploy or come home, this city really supports them."

The city also is home to Colorado College, which despite a student body of slightly more than 2,000 is perennially one of the top teams in Division I ice hockey.

Besides some high-quality Minor League Baseball, Colorado Springs plays host to a wide array of sporting events. The Pan American Judo Junior championships will be held here on April 13. The USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Women's Western Championships will unfold eight days later. The ninth annual Rocky Mountain Super Race, which pits a horse and rider against barrels and the clock, will take place on May 5. The Women's National Wrestling Championships occur that same day.

The summer features the fourth-annual Ride for the Brand, a WRCA-sanctioned rodeo, and the 84th Annual Race for the Clouds, where cars, trucks and cycles will make their way up Pikes Peak. Additionally, there will be the Rocky Mountain State Games, a long-drive golfing contest at Pikes Peak and an Ascent Marathon up Pikes Peak.

So, yes, being fit does help.

"People have become almost desensitized to the international events," said Henniger, who doubles as the team's pyrotechnics director. "There are a plethora of opportunities to see a tremendous level of sports competition."

Being in shape also allows the residents to better deal with the extreme altitude. The Sky Sox play at Security Service Field, which is the highest elevation ballpark in the country at 6,531 feet above sea level. To put that in perspective, the stadium is at a higher elevation than the top two Major League ballparks -- Denver's Coors Field and Atlanta's Turner Field -- combined.

"Part of the culture of the city is knowledge and tips on fitness, how to sustain it and improve it. It's something America is getting better at. Here, we're on the leading edge of it," Henniger said. "You get in the flow wherever you are. Here, when you look at the beauty, you want to be a part of it. To get into the beauty, you either get on a bike or hike or ski."

Pikes Peak may be the most overwhelming sight in the area, but there is no shortage of natural wonders. Garden of the Gods Park is a geological marvel of naturally formed red rocks. Seven Falls is the only waterfall in Colorado to make National Geographic's list of international waterfalls. Water cascades 181 feet in seven separate steps down a solid cliff of granite.

The Sky Sox can take their share of the credit for the city's growth. In 1987, the team was the Honolulu Islanders and looking to make the move to the mainland. Team officials spoke with representatives of Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City and the Los Angeles area. Then-Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Isaac showed off an undeveloped tract of land and promised the city would build with the team. He kept his word.

"There was nothing here but coyote, jack rabbits and plains. It was fruited mountains meet the plains," Henniger said. "Isaac told him, 'We can get a land deal, and you have to have a long-term vision and the city will grow around you.' We built our own stadium with our own money.

"It's a Libertarian-slanted city. That is part of the mentality of the West. You pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. There's not a lot of taxpayer initiatives going forward. That really reminds private industry to do what it should be doing, which is to carry its own weight. We didn't even look for a handout."

Colorado Springs has become a thriving community. Housing is much more reasonably priced than many other cities in the United States, and the natural assets are obvious. The Tejon Street Quarter downtown is a destination for restaurants and bars.

"We have a thriving art scene and a thriving sports landscape. There's not much you need to leave here for," Henniger said. "What strikes a chord with them is fireworks -- an All-American night of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and fireworks."

Tim Leonard is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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