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Mountain spectacle and sweeping views are Colorado Springs trademarks, but so is family fun

In the past, Colorado’s Front Range posed an imposing barrier to incursions farther west, with Pikes Peak serving as a beacon for travelers.

For folks visiting Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak remains a beacon, but now it’s a beacon of fun and good times.

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway. (Courtesy of Pikes Peak Cog Railway)

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway. (Courtesy of Pikes Peak Cog Railway)

The stunning beauty of the 14,115-foot mountain is revealed in all its glory on the Pikes Peaks Cog Railway (cograilway.com), which slowly inches up the incline. As the train takes an hour and 15 minutes for the ascent, the evergreen forests slowly give way to the white aspen with quaking lime leaves.

And then the train bursts above treeline to a spectacle of mountains to the north, west and south, and the plains spreading eastward into Kansas.

“It’s gorgeous, just amazing,” said Bromley Scheel, a railway ticket agent. “I think the biggest highlight of the trip is when you actually break the treeline. You overlook all of Colorado. You can see all the way out into Kansas. There’s a mountain range visible that goes all the way into New Mexico.”

The base of the peak also is home to the Cave of the Winds (caveofthewinds.com), which is not only a geologic wonder with tours ranging from family friendly, to beginner spelunker, but also an outdoors playground for adrenaline junkies, said Aaron Friese, supervisor.

“It’s fun for the whole family,” he said.

The family tour takes about an hour and goes along a well-lit, paved path but with great views of different formations and lessons on geology and history, Friese said.

The Lantern tour is about 90 minutes and diverges into primitive areas of the cave.

“It’s for people looking for something with a little more excitement,” he said. “The only light is from the little candle lanterns that we hand out. It’s kind of spooky. We tell ghost stories and talk about the folklore of the cave.”

The Cave of the Winds features the Valley of Dreams. (Courtesy of the Cave of the Winds)

The Cave of the Winds features the Valley of Dreams. (Courtesy of the Cave of the Winds)

The Spelunker 101 tour is two hours of crawling through narrow passageways and slogging through the mud, Friese said.

Several outdoor rides have also become big draws, as well, he said, including the Terror Dactyl, which was named the No. 1 thrill ride in Colorado in 2015.

“It’s kind of like a giant pendulum where you drop about 150 feet off the side of a cliff,” he said. “You reach speeds of almost 100 miles per hour.”

“You can make a whole day of it,” Friese said.

The Terror Dactyl was named the No. 1 thrill ride in Colorado in 2015. (Courtesy of the Cave of the Winds)

The Terror Dactyl was named the No. 1 thrill ride in Colorado in 2015. (Courtesy of the Cave of the Winds)

Outdoor adventure also is just outside Colorado Springs in the Garden of the Gods (gardenofthegods.com), which is a visual treat of sandstone formations.

The 1,367-acre park is designated a  National Natural Landmark and is biodiverse blend of grasslands of the plains and piñon-juniper woodlands characteristic of the American Southwest, finally merging with the mountain forest. The area includes 15 miles of trails, stunning rock climbing opportunities and cycling areas.

For those looking for a more refined adventure, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (csfineartscenter.org) has been a local bastion of the arts for almost 100 years.

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has been a local bastion of the arts for nearly 100 years.

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has been a local bastion of the arts for nearly 100 years.

The center not only is a renowned art school offering year-round classes, but it also contains a theater program with vibrant live shows, and an art museum of note, said the center’s Amanda Weston.

The museum features a large Southwestern collection with an array of local, regional, national and even international selections, she said.

For instance, the museum recently acquired a series of woodblock prints from noted Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí that will be on display through the end of the year. The images were inspired by Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” Weston said.

Another exhibition focuses on works by various artists reflecting life in the circus in “Under the Big Top.”

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