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article imagePhoto Essay: The Beauty of Colorado’s Front Range Special

By Justin King     Apr 4, 2014 in Travel
Monument - The term “Front Range” indicates a specific range of the Rocky Mountains, however, in common usage it applies to the surrounding area and its varied terrain. The area’s elevation ranges from around 6000 feet above sea level to over 14,000 feet.
It’s an outdoorsman’s dream. The unique geography of the area and rapidly climbing elevation offers cliff dwellings, hiking, horseback riding, dog sledding, rock climbing, skiing, and breathtaking views. For the even more adventurous and better prepared, Pike’s Peak offers one of many climbs in Colorado that break into the coveted “fourteener” class, exceeding 14,000 feet.
Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The face of part of the cliff dwellings.
The face of part of the cliff dwellings.
One of the first stops in the lower elevations is Manitou Springs, where a visitor will find the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are contained in a park that allows visitors to tour an Anasazi cliff dwelling, inside and out. The very unique thing about touring the structure, located at roughly 7000 feet above sea level, is that the Anasazi never lived in this part of Colorado.
Rather than being 1000 years old, the dwellings located in Manitou Springs were built in the early 1900s. The dwellings were built by Virginia McClurg after an unsuccessful campaign to force the government into protecting the original cliff dwellings from looters. In 1904, McClurg paid to have some of the destroyed ruins trucked out of the desert and reassembled in the current location.
Light from the windows illuminate the interior of the dwellings.
Light from the windows illuminate the interior of the dwellings.
By today’s archeological standards, McClurg’s actions were completely unethical; however at the time of the site’s construction, there existed no Antiquities Act to protect the original site. While McClurg is found on the wrong side of history today, if the very protections she sought for the pueblos had not been put into place under the Antiquities Act a couple of years after construction of the Manitou site, those dwellings might be the only remaining structure even remotely preserving Anasazi architecture.
A view down a hallway inside the cliff dwellings.
A view down a hallway inside the cliff dwellings.
A visitor can freely explore the 40-room structure and move about the halls and rooms at their leisure, an act that could lead to imprisonment in the National Parks at Mesa Verde. While the site constructed with concrete mortar rather than adobe is not completely authentic, it is as close to a free exploration of a cliff dwelling one can get without risking arrest or obtaining an advanced degree in archeology.
Garden of the Gods
A view of several of the formations from a hill within the park.
A view of several of the formations from a hill within the park.
A relatively short drive from the dwellings at Manitou Springs sits Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark. The sprawling park offers free admission and has dozens of hiking trails, as well as opportunities for horseback riding and rock climbing.
One of the more beautiful formations.
One of the more beautiful formations.
Garden of the Gods came to be when Charles Elliot Perkins, head of the Burlington Railroad, made arrangements for the land to be converted into a public park after his death. He purchased a massive section of land to build a home on, however he never built the home and the Burlington Railroad never came to Colorado Springs. The 480-acre park now sits exactly as he envisioned; a park where there are no buildings except as needed to maintain the property and where no alcohol is dispensed.
One of the many formations jutting from the Earth within Garden of the Gods.
One of the many formations jutting from the Earth within Garden of the Gods.
Before a visitor to the area embarks on a hike across the park or a climb to the summit of one of the many rock formations, it is advisable to allow time for your body to adjust to the increased altitude. Even experienced climbers and hikers can find themselves dizzy and weak after rigorous activity at the starting altitude in the area of 6,000 feet.
Rock climbing on one of the faces within Garden of the Gods.
Rock climbing on one of the faces within Garden of the Gods.
From the tops of the rock formations, it is easy to gain a clear vantage point of the massive geological features that give the region its name. Pike’s Peak is clearly visible, towering above the rest of the Front Range. The snowcapped peaks provide a wonderful view when contrasted with the desert-like surroundings that can be found in Garden of the Gods.
A view of Pike s Peak from Garden of the Gods.
A view of Pike's Peak from Garden of the Gods.
Dog-sledding in the Mountains
This particular husky seemed very interested in the camera.
This particular husky seemed very interested in the camera.
The Town of Breckenridge maintains an Alpine environment and is nestled at just under 10,000 feet. The community is best known for its many skiing and snowboarding activities. For the more adventure-minded, Good Times Adventures offers a six-mile dog sledding course.
Many of those interested in such an activity might be put off by concerns about the well being of the dogs. During orientation, sledders are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the animals. This journalist took the opportunity to quietly check the dogs’ teeth, eyes, skin, and the pads of their feet. All of the animals appeared to be extremely well taken care of. Once on the course, the playful attitude of the animals in the snow and the attitude of the guides working with the dogs provided convincing evidence of the living conditions granted the Alaskan and Siberian Huskies.
During breaks in the trip  the sled dogs will roll in the snow and play with the rest of their team.
During breaks in the trip, the sled dogs will roll in the snow and play with the rest of their team.
After orientation, which includes instruction on working the sled and commands for the dogs, participants begin the course. The altitude and terrain make the course challenging, but extremely enjoyable. It should be noted that while going uphill, the sled driver will be expected to assist the dogs getting the sled up the hill. A face covering is highly recommended, as the winds coursing down the mountain can be unforgiving.
Sled dog team at work.
Sled dog team at work.
Along with the experience of being pulled through two feet of snow by a team of dogs, the views of the mountains from the course can only be described as breathtaking. By the end of the journey, a driver will have learned the individual dogs’ personalities and experienced something that few ever will. One might even be inclined to adopt one of the retiring huskies.
A dog emerges after a playful roll in the snow.
A dog emerges after a playful roll in the snow.
While the Front Range doesn’t typically make the top ten lists of places to visit, for those interested in outdoor experiences that are also willing to accept a bit of cold and elevation adjustment, it offers a wonderful opportunity to take part in activities that can’t be found elsewhere in the United States.
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