Best Of » Recreation

Best of Recreation: Work that Body


Best Romantic Getaway
Inn at Zapata Ranch
5303 Highway 150, Mosca, 800/284-9213

For city-lovers, nothing tops a weekend at the Brown Palace Hotel with dinner at Zenith, possibly Denver's finest restaurant. After extensive field research, however, our clear winner is a stay at the Inn at Zapata Ranch, the Nature Conservancy resort outside the Great Sand Dunes. Let the mountains beckon you for hikes as gentle or as arduous as you wish (go ahead, take your sweetie up Mount Blanca) -- there'll be a hot tub and pool waiting back at the Ranch. After a fabulous dinner (try the tilapia, farm-raised nearby in Mosca), wander out onto the prairies under a vast nighttime sky filled with more stars than Carl Sagan could imagine. Retire to a rustically elegant room (we recommend the two-room suite) and awaken the next day to do it all again. Nature Conservancy members get a 10 percent discount. (NH)

Best Place to Watch Summer Lightning Storms
Sky Sox Stadium
4385 Tutt Blvd., 597-1449

Forget the 4th of July fireworks, the best pyrotechnic displays of the season take place when late summer thunderstorms come swirling into town, recycling themselves in the vortex between mountain and plain in an often endless illumination of the night sky. It seemed like the rain might never come in the dry summer of 2000, but when it did, it came with a vengeance -- and a whole lot of flair. One late August ballgame stood out for the torrential downpour that filled the dugouts and nearly drowned the bat boy while three separate storms converged on the little ballpark on the prairie. Hair stood on end as the prematurely darkened sky was pierced by a trident of lightning bolts, the ultimate IMAX screen for a carefree crowd of drenched revelers perfectly willing to trade an evening of Sky Sox offensive firepower for some celestial finger painting, glow-in-the-dark style. (OP)

Best Ongoing Trail Improvement
Intemann Trail

It used to be there were no signs marking the Intemann Trail. There were no markers for the different sections. The ascent to the trail (from Manitou) was a washed-out dirt gully and one of the trail's sections ended on a dirt road in front of somebody's house. Things have changed a lot on that trail over the years. For starters, it's almost complete. The story goes that an outdoor enthusiast and Manitou city planner named Paul Intemann had a simple dream -- he wanted to see a nice trail that followed the contours or Red Mountain and Iron Mountain, linking Section 16 with Barr Trail. Intemann died in 1986 and for the past 14 years, hundreds of city planners, volunteers and local clubs have worked hard to fulfill his dream. Now almost all of the sections are linked. And the trail actually looks like a trail. There are signs at the trailheads; steps to control erosion have been enacted; there are actually trail markers along the way; once unofficial paths leading up Red Mountain and Iron Mountain are now marked and user-friendly. For better or for worse, the Intemann Trail is almost official and all grown up. It's been a long haul, but one man's dream is about to become reality. (SB)

Best Pikes Peak Region Resort
Readers' Poll Winner
The Broadmoor
1 Lake Circle, 634-7711

I heard, when I was a little kid, that the suites at the Broadmoor have polished copper toilet seats. COPPER TOILET SEATS. Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but c'mon -- any place that can inspire rumors like that has got to be schwank. (KS)

Best Skate Spot
Goose Gossage Sports Complex
Parks and Recreation, 578-6981
If you're looking for a place to bust a few tricks without getting hassled by cops or security guards, the Colorado Springs Skate Park is the place to go. The park is free of charge, molded out of concrete and metal, and occasionally visited by pros passing through town. Sometimes on busy days there is an ambulance crew hanging around, so if you get caught up on the coping and eat it, you won't have to pay anyone gas money to take you to the hospital. (You'll still get a bill, though.) (MF)

Best Reminder that Nature Should Be Left to Her Own Devices
Williams Cañon
Northern end of Cañon Avenue in Manitou Springs

Where there once was a hard-packed dirt road there is now an artful jumble of shale and granite. Where there was once a drainage ditch, water freely flows into shallow pools and sporadic streams. Where weeds and grass once ruled, ruby chokecherries gracefully bend dark branches and wildflowers color the red earth. Where cars once drove, deer nibble at fallen wild apples, a bobcat suns itself on an outcropping and a hawk circles overhead. What we called horrible devastation after the flood of an April past, we now call peaceful beauty. Momma Nature always knows best. (KS)

Best Rock
Cliffs at Red Rock Canyon, North End
Suburban Manitou

There's rock climbing, rock scrambling, bouldering and throwing stones, to name but a few of the activities for the geologically inclined. But in the new age of tectonically correct recreation and a pox of "keep off" signs spreading across the foothills, it's often all we can hope for to find a good rock to simply contemplate from afar. This category has been dominated for decades by the old stand-by spires at Garden of the Gods, but praising those rocks is like preaching to the converted. Frog Rock has made strong showings in recent years, the roadside landmark up past the pass that tells you it's time to look for the turnoff to the mountain cabin. But this year the category was stolen by the prominent cliffs at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon, overlooking the sprawling strip malls between Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs. While best rocks of years past have pandered to populations already on their way to Paleolithic-era playgrounds, the red rock cliffs beckon to the weary commuter, the frazzled shopper or the daydreaming drifters on Colorado Boulevard to get out of cruise control, leave their sedimentary ways and go scratch a few knees. (OP)

Best Way to Tire a Tyke
Ferrara's Happy Apple Farm
1190 First St., Penrose

Put them to work! Let the little curtain climbers earn their keep! Take them down to the Happy Apple Farm and let them spend an afternoon in the apple orchard. You can take a tractor ride out into the fields, and early in the season you (or your children) can squat and bend and reach and pluck raspberries and blackberries. In the fall you'll want to pick apples. Give each child a bag, and an admonition to avoid the ones with worm holes. They won't listen, but tell them anyway. Take lots of water, and pack a picnic or eat lunch at the new deli counter. In October it's time to hunt for the perfect pumpkin, and the Ferrara family takes great pride in decorating their pumpkin patch. (MBP)

Best Free Arts & Crafts for Kiddies
Zany Brainy
1710 E. Woodmen Rd., 531-5002

The catch is they want you to come in and play with their toys. The good part is you get to go in and play with their toys. Mornings at Zany Brainy are a time for preschoolers to get down and dirty (that's real paint they're using!), with crafts, art projects, learning projects and story times. It's all absolutely free; Zany Brainy provides all the materials, and the kids get to take home whatever they make. Friday evenings and weekend afternoons, the activities are generally geared for ages 6 and up. This is a great sneaky way to scope out what toys your kids will actually play with before you buy them! Call or stop by for a monthly calendar of events. (MBP)

Best Place to go Camping Within an Hours Drive
Readers' Poll Winner
Elevenmile Canyon
Lake George

Just west of Lake George is a rutted dirt road that follows the curves of the south Platte River, meandering through a deep canyon of high granite walls and darkly wooded slopes. Here there are three campsites: Springer Gulch is a secluded cluster of sites hidden in the thin pines, away from the dusty road. Tightly nestled against gray-green boulders is Cove Campground, only a few feet from a wide expanse of calm water, where the Platte stretches against its banks before ethereal blue rapids and roiling white crests break against tumbled rocks. At the Spillway, the river gracefully fans out at the foot of the Elevenmile Reservoir dam. Here, the grass is deep and soft, and the sun glints off the gentle currents. And all so close to home ... this is what camping is all about. (KS)

Best Surprise View
Descending west on Wilkerson Pass

Wilkerson Pass proves you never know what lies just around the next corner. About an hour west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24, Wilkerson is one of the more mellow of passes to the Middle Range. It's relatively short, has no switchbacks, does not require tire chains and actually has restrooms at the top. But the best thing about Wilkerson Pass is the view. You can't actually see the full view, even when you are right on top of the pass, but as you round the corner and then start descending into the grassy, mountain-rimmed valley of South Park, it's like the world opens up before you and stretches on forever. There is nothing but blue sky (usually), a flat grassy basin and buffalo between you and the snowcapped Collegiate Peaks looming miles out on the horizon. It's one of life's better and most consistent surprises. (SB)

Best Running Trail
Readers' Poll Winner
Monument Valley Park
The Monument Valley Park trail is so well-used that it often appears in guide books aimed at backcountry hikers as an urban alternative to the typical Jeremiah Johnson daytrip. Looking very much like San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the groomed gravel path was created around the turn of the century for genteel Victorian creekside strolls, and the stone benches and staircases, lampposts and gardens created then are still beautiful and mysterious today. Only three mud puddles between Van Buren and Bijou, a couple of water fountains and the width and accessibility of the trail make it a favorite for spandex-clad joggers and power walkers, just like it has been for 100 years, and hopefully will be for 100 more. (KS)

Best Bird to Breeze Through Town
The Western Tanager

Colorado Springs, a verdant and wholly artificial oasis between mountain and plain, is home to a rich and various avian population, both resident and migrant. Most of us can recognize about six species: pigeons, robins, sparrows, crows, magpies, and once-migratory ducks and geese, who have taken up year-round residence in our parks. Go for a walk with a dedicated birder in early summer, and you'll find out that the common House Sparrow is not a sparrow (it's a weaver finch), and that there are scores, even hundreds of different species that, over the years, a careful observer can spot. Of those, the Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) is one of the most spectacular. If you're lucky, you might see one during their early spring migration. The males (red head, yellow body, black-and-white wings) are resplendently beautiful; the females only slightly less so. They breed in the north, and winter in Central America; like so many of us, they're just passing through, as they have for millennia. If you're really fortunate, one might pass through your backyard; failing that, try the Section 16 trails. (JH)

Best Arcade
Manitou Arcade Amusements
930 Manitou Ave., 685-9815

For what may be millions of years -- it's been there longer than any of us -- Arcade Amusements in Manitou has been the hoppin' spot for thrillseekers on a budget. For a nickel you can get an eyeful of Victorian leg in the penny arcade (I highly recommend dropping a dime into the "look inside the harem" game, especially if you're into poultry), or drop your quarters in the bazillions of high-tech video games. There's also an entire building devoted to skeeball, which, in my opinion, should be part of the 2004 Olympics. Top it all off with one of those hard-to-find black-and-white photo booths and a ride on Champion, the mechanical buckskin pony, and you have an action-packed afternoon, all for under five smackers. (KS)


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