Pikes Peak Cog Railway,
located in Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a fantastic ride through dense spruce and aspen forests up to 14,000 feet. Our Pikes Peak Cog Railway Adventure started nearly 2 hours late. There were high winds on Pikes Peak, with gusts up to 90 mph. Because of this, we could only go up to 12,000 feet that day. We were given the option for a partial refund, or a reschedule. Since our tickets were comped and we had traveled nearly 200 miles, we opted to go ahead.
While waiting, we browsed the gift shop and snack bar. Tiny O2 canisters were available for those with altitude issues. This is the first time I’d seen them. What a clever idea! Downstairs from the covered seating areas we explored a little stream and enjoyed the shade.
Finally, our train pulled in.
Our conductor, Elliot, was full of goofy tour guide jokes. And our engineer Nick did a great job driving the train up and back. I only had to talk to the man and the boy a couple of times about staying off their phones. The upward journey through the forest, with the heavy scent of pine wafting into the cars, was soothing. We passed several waterfalls, each accompanied by one of Elliot’s anecdotes. Pipe waterfall was particularly entertaining. The water falling out of a pipe…
I think we had the best seats in the coach. Windows all around and right next to the engineer for the return trip. The side windows have hand cranks, just like the old automobiles. You can actually roll the windows down. The wooden seats are definitely not made for luxury.
You can see the cogs down the middle of the tracks.
Hikers can ride the train, too. I don’t know about the cost of that.
The train ride was so popular at one time that there were a couple of one-room hotels, which have collapsed and/or burned down since.
For many years there was a hydroelectric plant along the line and a caretaker lived in this cabin.
There is a beautiful view of Lake Moraine near the top of the pass. The lake supplies water to Colorado Springs.
We had to stop at the Windy Point Station,
elevation 12,000 feet, due to gale force winds at the 14,000 ft. peak. The wind was blowing so hard that large sticks and numerous small items were picked up and flung over the train and station. We could feel the strong vibration of the wind when we put our hands on the windows.
The Mountain View stop
at 10,000 ft has some interesting sights. There is an old train car, OUT house, and hiking trails which cross several streamlets. It felt nice to get off the train and stretch our legs. We had time for a bit of hiking and photo ops with some interesting scenery.
At one point you can even see the city of Colorado springs in the distance.
Descending through the trees
gently brought us back to reality. The October weather had been so mild, and the sun so welcome, despite the wind, that we all felt our Pikes Peak Cog Railway Adventure was over too soon.
Check out our YouTube video on this post. To plan your trip click here: Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
From our spot in southern Colorado, we cut across US Highway 64 to enjoy a scenic drive past Earthship Biotecture communities. Spectacular is the only way to describe the view from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Our destination for the day, Arroyo Seco, New Mexico.
We didn’t stop to photograph the Earthship homes but they are private residences anyway, so that might have been rude. We did stop to take pictures on the bridge, however.
Awarded “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in the Long Span category in 1966, it was dubbed the “bridge to nowhere” during construction because there were no funds to finish the road on the other side. The Rio Grande river runs from southern Colorado to Mexico. About 10 miles outside of Taos, it flows through a 50 mile long, 800-foot deep canyon created by earthquakes millions of years ago. From the top, it is hard to imagine that the gorge is home to a rich and diverse ecosystem. Petroglyphs are evidence of early human habitation. There are also supposed to be hidden hot springs and ruins. Consequently, I will need to return in warmer weather to investigate.
The town of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico was originally settled on a Spanish land grant, in 1745. The historic church, La Santisima Trinidad, occupies a prominent place in the town. Arroyo Seco currently caters to tourists and retirees. Only 7 miles from Taos, it is a convenient stop for skiers and hikers. Get home cooked burritos and burgers at tiny convenience stores and food stands along the main drag. Boutique shops feature local artisans and upscale gifts.
carries everything from antiques to handcrafted soaps to toys. Seems like the shelves are bursting with color.
A tiny garden
next to the Mercantile offers a picnic table, benches, and waterfalls, in addition to a reconstructed log cabin dating to the 1860’s. Our visit fell during the Christmas season, and the garden was decked out with a nativity scene and Christmas bells.
carries reasonably priced and southwestern flavored apparel.
We didn’t browse half the shops but there is certainly something for everybody in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. Handwoven rugs, pottery, fine art, and jewelry are just a few that we missed. For more info, you can visit the Arroyo Seco website.
We found Tropical Palms RV Campground, Kissimmee, Florida through our Passport America membership. We just needed a spot for 2 nights, while we took in nearby Universal Studios, but once there, we wished we could have stayed for more.
The RV spaces are clean and easy-in-easy-out. Mostly pull through. There is also a large section of tiny homes for rent. Several parks dot the complex, including a dog park, and there is a full-size pool, a kiddie pool, and a Jacuzzi. The laundry area is ample and the machines well maintained. The bathrooms are also very clean, with nice showers.
We found dealing with the office personnel very pleasant. A staff member escorted us to our site, in a golf cart. We had plenty of 4G and were too busy during our 2 days there to really need the free wifi, so I can’t tell you how good it is. But in most cases that depends on how close you are to the signal, and how many people are on it.
Sitting outside under our awning was most pleasant, as the bugs were not bad. The swimming pool was convenient, right next to the laundry room, so we enjoyed several hours of splashing and swimming. Sadly, we were not there long enough to partake of the Toucan Café, the Friday night dive-in movie, or the many other activities taking place at the resort.
We don’t normally care for RV parks and were happy to leave when the space next to us filled up. Despite this, Tropical Palms definitely gets 2 thumbs up. We will definitely stay there again. Especially in the off-season (if there is such a thing in Florida) when the crowds are gone.
For more info, check out the Tropical Palms website.
2650 Holiday Trail, Kissimmee, FL 34746
Our trip to Florida was much too rushed, but we thoroughly enjoyed our day at Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Hogsmeade – The Hogwarts express sits just inside the gates, awaiting passengers to be ferried between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (requires a separate ticket or park-to-park admission. We felt the park-to-park admission was worth it for the day).
Tour Hogwarts Castle while you wind through the line for The Forbidden Journey. The Dragon Challenge seemed a bit too extreme for us, but the Flight of the Hippogriff was loads of fun, soaring past the pumpkin patch and Hagrid’s Hut.
Hogsmeade Station experienced a brief shut down as the train underwent some minor difficulties, so we continued to tour the town until we were able to board the Hogwarts Express. We love trains, even if it is just for a 5-minute ride to the other Universal Park.
Diagon Alley has quite a bit more shopping and a few more rides than Hogsmeade, but it also closes up earlier, so get there with enough time to enjoy all it has to offer.
Diagon Alley – Escape from Gringotts is rollicking fun. Atop the bank is a fire breathing dragon. Inside is an opulent reconstruction of the movie set, designed to entertain you as you wind through the line for hours awaiting your 2-minute experience. We were lucky. The longest lines we had to wait in were about 30 minutes. Without the express pass.
Other fun highlights outside Diagon Alley include the Knight bus (outside only) and 13 Grimmauld Place (outside only).
Kings Cross Station – entering platform 9 ¾ was not as exciting as we had hoped, but we got over it, as the excitement of boarding the train mounted.
In Diagon Alley, traditional pub fare is available at the Leaky Cauldron, along with pumpkin juice and butterbeer. We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, with butter beer and pumpkin juice. Altogether too much sugar! I got a tummy ache.
Carts throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley purvey bottles of ice cold pumpkin juice (be ready for the $7.50 price tag) and mugs of butterbeer.
Ollivander’s wand shop offers instruction in choosing wands – economy or deluxe. The deluxe version allows the wizard to perform magic at several spots in the wizarding world. Got wands for me – Molly Weasley, of course; the boy – Sirius Black (who knew?!), and my daughter – Snape.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes offers just about everything it does in the movie and more. We made sure to get a chocolate frog, peppermint toads, and some other delectables. Quite a few visitors toured the park in Madame Malkin’s “bespoke” robes. Luckily for my wallet, I had made us robes a few years ago, which were still quite serviceable. No wonder I identify so closely with Molly Weasley. It was great fun going through the shops and looking at all the wizarding items. Borgin and Burkes’ shop is as creepy as it was in the movie.
Back in Hogsmeade, we decided to explore other areas of the park and made our way to Jurassic Park, where we narrowly escaped being lunch for a “friendly” velociraptor. Jurassic Park was exciting, especially since we had recently seen Jurassic World in the theater.
By the time we made it to Marvel Super Hero Island, it was raining. Not wanting to crush our belongings in ride lockers again, we took turns under the umbrellas with the backpacks.
Adventures of Spider-Man in 3D is thrilling. The close calls really get the adrenaline going. Storm Force Accelatron is a good old fashioned spinning ride.
At the end of the day, it was relaxing just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of Hogsmeade – something we should also have done in Diagon Alley.
Note that Universal does not allow guests to bring in coolers and the lockers are quite small. Certain rides have lockers available for personal items, but they are also very small. Free for the duration of the ride, though.
My notes for future visits – keep backpack light. Just a few snacks and water. Shop just before leaving – your wands will get crushed in the tiny ride lockers. The “all day” lockers are not much bigger than the ride lockers, but if you must bring additional items, they’re a good option. they are located in the Marvel Studios area of Islands of Adventure. Also nearby are the cell phone and tablet charging lockers. This was a new feature to me and seemed like a very good idea. Though I carry my own power pack, there was a time I didn’t, and phone and camera batteries can get used up quickly on trips like these.