Cheyenne Mountain State Park opened its gates in 2006. Even though this coincided with our return to Colorado Springs, it originally did not engender curiosity enough to make us pay the $7 entrance fee, when the area offers a host of alternative outdoor playgrounds, all free of charge. That changed a few years back, when we invested in an annual pass which affords unlimited entry to all of Colorado’s 42 state parks, for $70. We soon realized how effortlessly we exceeded 10 visits in a 12 month period.
Among our intermittent destinations are Castlewood Canyon State Park in neighboring Douglas County and Mueller State Park in Teller County, but Cheyenne Mountain State Park’s proximity to our house is a decided advantage — to reach its entrance from our driveway takes under 10 minutes. Situated just south of Colorado Springs, off Colorado Highway 115, El Paso County’s first and to date only state park is nestled at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, famous in olden days for being much loved by Helen Hunt Jackson, local author and Indian activist extraordinaire, and, in contemporary times, for concealing NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) in its man-made caves and conduits. The land used to be a homestead and was saved from a housing development by the combined efforts of the city, the county, an association of state parks, and a number of private organizations.
Twenty miles of trails invite hiking and biking across differing terrain. My husband makes occasional use of the archery range to practice with his recurve bow. Sporadically, we participate in bird and wildflower outings, as well as in literary walks which have as their central theme writers of regional interest. They commence with a biographical overview at the Visitor Center, and culminate with a reading in the ”rock garden”, accessible by a short stroll. The popular campground is typically filled on summer weekends and holidays, mostly with RVs, but two walk-in tent loops are also in high demand.
From the access road, the scenery unfolds like a canvas. The grassland of the lower reaches is punctuated by wildflowers. Yellow stalks of mullein, pink heads of thistle, and snowy disks of prickly poppies peep out of the green. Prairie coneflowers wear sun-colored skirts, creamy yucca blossoms dangle like garlands between the bayonet-like leaves. This prairie-like environment also harbors winding warrens for prairie dogs. Their chirping sounds I interpret as a friendly greeting. Mobs of magpies attempt to drown out the marvelous music of Western meadowlarks in vain. Tree swallows line the fences near their nesting boxes. The foothill scrub oak and juniper plant community of intermediate elevations is the preferred habitat of Spotted Towhees and Scrub Jays. At higher altitudes, it gives way to a predominantly coniferous forest, with aspen interspersed now and again. Vanilla-scented Ponderosa Pine hide Hermit Thrushes whose haunting melodies float down the hillside. Invisible silken strings stretch across the trails, dragon- and butterflies flutter by on soundless wings.
We are content to explore the existing routes in changing combinations, yet are pleased about the prospect of a path leading to the very top of Cheyenne Mountain, heretofore off limits. Currently under construction, it is slated to open in the foreseeable future and will add another attraction to a favorite retreat right at our doorstep, with an even loftier view of the park and its environs.
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