July 2016 – I woke up feeling quite a bit better, and we left the hotel for an hour and a half drive to Colorado Springs.  We parked at the Seven Falls parking lot and bypassed the extremely long shuttle line in favor of walking.  Unfortunately, we weren’t entirely sure of what direction to go in, and we ended up making what could have been a mile walk into a nearly four mile walk (without sidewalks most of the way).  We made it, though, and got in line to enter the park.  The line was quite long, but after about fifteen minutes an employee asked if anyone had purchased tickets online (which I had).  We were given armbands and allowed to bypass the line, just in time for the rain to start.  We huddled under a tree while it poured for about half an hour.  We were very cold by this 113 Seven Falls_July 2, 2016point, but we started off as soon as the rain slacked up.

111 Seven Falls_July 2, 2016The walls of rock to each side were pretty majestic as we walked through the park.  We were pretty hungry, so we decided to split a plate of nachos at the restaurant while the rain finished up.  After lunch, we climbed the stairs to the falls.  It was around 230 stairs, about the same as a lighthouse.  The altitude definitely made a difference, though, and we were gasping by the time we reached the top.  We paused for a couple of moments to catch our breath and take a few photos then continued up.

At the top, we had our choice of a couple of different trails.  The trail to the falls was not well marked, so once we figured out where we were going we decided it would be less crowded.  The trail wasn’t very long, and we reached the waterfalls pretty quickly.  We climbed down the rocks and across the stream to a more private area.  After a few minutes, we went back across and up to a cave area (would be a good place to camp) and then returned the way we came.  We wanted to 145 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016explore the Garden of the Gods before nightfall, 147 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016so we decided to get going.  We reached the trailhead and started down the stairs, just to get stopped by a family
that was taking their time walking down the stairs so that they could all scream at each other.  After what seemed like
an eternity, we made it to the bottom and walked back out of the park to the shuttle (no wait this time).  The weather had cleared out and made it a pretty nice day by this point.  We returned to our car and visited a local King Soopers (had never seen one before Colorado, and I fell in love with this store!) for some dinner wraps, sides, deserts, and a flashlight.

We drove about thirty minutes to the Garden of the Gods, visited the visitors center for a map, and after awhile found a parking spot.  We left the car at a picnic pulloff and took our bag of food, our flashlight, and our blanket with us.  We hiked about half a mile before finding a great spot among the rocks for a picnic dinner. 136 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016 We stayed here awhile just enjoying the view and the quietness (except the cars below), then we continued our hike.  We passed several rock formations noted on our map, saw many elk, and visited the Trading Post for bathrooms and souvenirs.  We then continued to the Balanced Rock and then took a quiet trail back north.  The sun was beginning to 151 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016set, and people were leaving the park (open until 11pm).  We only passed a couple of other people on our way back.  We took the long way around, exploring the canyon.  Just before nightfall, we made it back to the spot we had eaten dinner and put the blanket back down for some stargazing.  Then
we waited.  We could see fireworks in the city in the distance, and headlights below.  It was pretty late before the sun finally went down, but there was still quite a bit of light from the city.

We used the flashlight to get back to the car and drove up the interstate about fifteen minutes.  At an exit with no “services,” we pulled off and stopped along the side of a fence.  There were no street lights, and the noise from the interstate was the only sign of civilization.  We got out of the car and looked up, amazed.  I have 161 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016never seen so many stars in my life.  Our city is never dark, so we can only see the brightest ones.  But here, we could see every star in the sky.  It was truly amazing and freezing (blanket was useful yet again).   This one stop determined our trip next year back to the west, maybe to Yellowstone.

158 Garden of the Gods_July 2, 2016After stargazing for a few minutes, we got back into the car and drove back to the hotel for our last night in the midwest.  The trip went by too quickly, and I will definitely return in the future.  I hope to see more wildlife on my next visit, though!