After a long and restless 2020 that was stifled with isolation and very little travel for many folks, the Rocky Mountain LTVers were ready to venture out, explore new locales, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and make new friends among our community of compact RVers and what better place than the Garden of the Gods and being surrounded by healing mineral springs?
Manitou Springs and Pike’s Peak RV Park were hand-picked for several reasons. First, Colorado is central to our region, and with many club members living between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, this trip was easy for lots of folks to attend. Moreover, visiting Manitou Springs, exploring the Garden of the Gods, and ascending the Manitou Incline was all on my personal travel bucket list. Furthermore, there is so much to see and do within just a couple of miles of the RV park – from history and museums to mineral springs tasting, plus plenty of hiking and biking options including within the Garden of the Gods.
Thursday: The Gathering
The first day of each RV rally reminds me of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. RVs slowly arrive and folks step out one by one, carefully setting up their sites and stretching their wings (or slides). Being the wagon master, I like to get to our destination right at check-in so we’re available to meet folks as they appear, letting them know when and where to meet the group as afternoon setup concludes and dinner approaches. During this time you’ll see LTVers begin to walk their dogs or themselves around the park and casually meet others attending the rally.
We gathered at 5 pm for a pre-dinner club meeting which gave us a chance to introduce new members to the LTV Travelers Club, discuss general club operations, and review the rally programming to come over the next few days. The meeting concluded with a raffle in which four attendees won a pair of LTV-branded Miir camp mugs, and one rally goer walked away with an LTV backpack. Once the raffle excitement concluded, everyone went back to their RV, grabbed a plate of their own cooked meals, and returned to our site to enjoy a bring-your-own dinner gathering filled with lively conversations and laughter. (Pandemic protocols steered us to refrain from potlucks, and simply engage in BYO dinners instead.)
Friday: The Garden
On the first full day of the rally we indulged in our crowning activity: exploring the Garden of the Gods. The RV parking is located about a half-mile from the southwest entrance so we gathered at our site in the morning and broke into groups based on who wanted to walk into the park, those that wanted to tour on bike, and others who towed a vehicle and opted to drive. The walking group was able to make it up to Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock, hike trails on the west side, and enjoy the Trading Post.
I led the folks who brought their bikes and eBikes, circling the entire park and taking a small northern offshoot, riding over 13 miles (21 kilometers) with nearly 1,300 feet of elevation gain. We took time to stop at sights and overlooks that the group wanted to enjoy including Balanced Rock, High Point Overlook, the Visitors Center, Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, and the Central Gardens. Some enjoyed a late lunch on the ambient, landscaped patio at the Trading Post before heading back to the RV park.
Although most folks visited Garden of the Golds, some partook in alternate activities – especially those who live nearby and experience the garden on a regular basis. One such activity was visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, a prominent mountainside conservation park with over 700 animals and the world’s largest giraffe herd. The attraction was so well-received that other rally participants were inspired to visit during subsequent days.
After an active morning, we all took a moment to rest our legs before the evening festivities. During the latter part of the afternoon, Van City RV sponsored an ice cream social and technical talk. Bringing two coolers of our favorite classic cones and sandwiches, two Van City representatives fielded questions from our club members regarding the newer chassis, different floorplans, upgrades, and technical assistance. The questions progressed to more of a shared discussion with members pitching in to expand on answers, showcasing the prominent helping culture we’ve always admired about the LTV community.
Following the ice cream social, we capped off the evening with a pizza party, which was well-received by tired folks who certainly didn’t want to cook. We leveraged generously provided funds from LTV to order a menu selection from a local pizzeria, Slice 420. The gourmet pies were enjoyed by all and we headed to bed for a fulfilling sleep.
Saturday: The Springs
Saturday was officially ‘Explore Manitou Springs Day’ for rally-goers. Many folks had already perused the rally program with recommended activities, booked local tours, planned to visit museums, or simply wanted to browse the town offerings. Kurt and I had nailed down a general plan for our day, inviting anyone who wanted to come along with us, and we certainly had a good group.
We began the day by walking the beautiful, paved path adjacent to the RV park into downtown Manitou Springs, only about a mile to the heart of town. On the way, we stopped by the Visitors Center. We were tipped off by another LTVer to pick up a map and description of all the mineral springs plus a tasting cup so we could easily enjoy this historic tradition. Walking further into town we passed many quaint shops and grabbed a welcome cup of morning brew from Red Dog Coffee. We walked up the hill through the neighborhoods, admiring the historic architecture on our way to our first attraction: the Manitou Cliff Dwellings (note that if you choose to walk to this attraction, you’ll walk up steep roads and even cross a busy highway).
A must-see if you stop in the area, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings consist of recovered cliff structures dating to around 1200 AD and the attraction includes a museum of prehistoric Native American life onsite and a gift shop whose never-ending rooms seem to suck you in. The cliff dwellings were a perfect partial day activity as they weren’t too large or extensive and yet they empowered visitors to enter rooms, climb ladders, and read historic notes along their journey through the structures.
After our walk up to the dwellings and a couple of hours of touring, we were certainly getting hungry. Meandering back to the center of town we began breaking into smaller groups where folks chose to find the perfect bite, shop, and soak in the history. Eight of us enjoyed a perfect patio lunch together on the Veranda at The Cliff House, sharing our favorite parts of the morning tour and discussing upcoming afternoon plans.
After lunch, a small group of us pulled out our mineral springs maps and tasting cups and made our way around town for a self-guided tasting and to soak up the healing powers of each unique spring. Our first stop was Wheeler Springs which was right next to our lunch spot followed by Twin Springs, Stratton Springs, Cheyenne Springs, Shoshone Springs, and Seven Minute Springs (and we didn’t even get to all of them!) It was interesting to taste the nuances in each spring, read the guide to understanding which minerals were more prominent per site, and learn about the healing properties of each mineral.
After a full day, we headed back to the RV park where some folks opted to rest while others kept the momentum going. One of our club members, Linda, led a jewelry-making workshop for anyone who wanted to partake. Linda brought an array of beads and materials with options to customize earrings, bracelets, or a necklace. She provided some tips to plan the design of our pieces and helped secure the fasteners and earring backs. I had made a beautiful bracelet at a workshop Linda hosted at one of our RV rallies years back and opted to craft some matching earrings this time around. I now have a cherished jewelry set to remind me of my RV travels and friends.
Earlier that day Linda enjoyed the Pikes Peak Birding & Nature Festival that took place at the Garden of the Gods. This event hosted every May, included a birding walk, professional talks on swifts and falcons, and discussions about the geology of the area.
The day concluded with our ever-popular BYO, a walking happy hour, and RV tours. Those who felt comfortable participating had the option to simply tour others’ coaches or to share their LTV along the way. We each grabbed a glass of our happy hour choices as we stopped around the RV park, sharing our custom storage solutions, discussing upgrades and décor, and viewing floorplans that some may not have seen before. A few folks even prepped wine and other libations to pour when it came time to tour their RV.
Sunday: The Climb
Sunday was the last full day of the rally, which was earmarked for the Manitou Incline. We took the town bus to the base of the steps and came prepared for a potential change in weather. The incline is quite renowned, as the retired cable car track takes hikers up (currently) 2,744 steps, ascending 2,011 feet in less than a mile (.88 to be exact). Those who start up the steps have a couple of options to divert off the trail before they reach the top which keeps the steps safer (no downhill traffic) and allows a wider ability level to partake in as little or as much of the challenge as they can. Once reaching the top of the steps, serious hikers can even continue up a trail to the summit of famed Pike’s Peak.
We had a large group join in for the incline, taking our time with no one aiming to cause injury or elevation sickness. The average grade is 45% with some areas as steep as 68% and requiring the use of hands for help. Although dark clouds were closing in, the day started hot with many of us shedding layers on our way up. We paused on more prominent steps, sipped water when needed, separating and regrouping throughout the journey. Finishing one by one, we waited at the top for the rest of our group, cheering and taking pictures as each LTVer accomplished the grand feat. Overlooking the Colorado Springs valley below, we ate some snacks and drank more water before taking the lower part of the tamer Barr Trail back to the base of the mountain. On our way down, the rain set in – first as a sprinkle, then a little harder, then opening to small hail. Those who live in or visit Colorado in the springtime know this is common – a quick five or ten-minute showering of small ice balls. Lucky for us, we were partially protected by trees and foliage on the trail, although we certainly got a little wet and pelted.
Most folks opted to take the bus back to the RV park to dry off and take a nap. Some of us decided to celebrate our big climb with a local brew, edging our way to take over a corner of Manitou Brewing Company. From flights to beers to high-quality pub food, we filled our bellies and enjoyed warm conversation around the wooden table.
As an alternative to the Manitou Incline, some folks pre-registered for a Yoga & Hiking Day Retreat that took place throughout the entire day. The event included morning yoga in the Garden of the Gods Park, a fresh picnic lunch, a sensory-guided walk in the park, meditation, and a professionally led watercolor painting workshop.
Back at the campground, the rain stopped and started over the next few hours. Despite the wet weather and wind, we found ourselves gathering under a pavilion back at our site, libations in hand, and enjoying each other’s company, knowing this would be our last evening together. With some lively laughter and sincere new friendships solidified, we didn’t depart until well past dinnertime.
Monday: The Farewell
The last morning of any rally is bittersweet. We made it sweeter by catering delectable breakfast treats from Amy’s Donuts, a local and highly rated specialty shop. Our delivery included an array of unique concoctions such as almond banana caramel and maple bacon plus included traditional staples such as glazed and blueberry old-fashioned. Rally attendees packed up their rigs, brought their coffee over to the pavilion, and partook in a buffet of donut flavors while they exchanged information and goodbyes. It was a perfect ending to a phenomenal rally in the Garden of the Gods.
Written by: Teresa Pennington