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Head to Manitou Springs for a weekend getaway

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com
Vail CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
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Officially, the Manitou Incline is closed to the public, thus making it illegal to hike. Unofficially, the near-vertical scar on Pikes Peak mountain provides a helluva workout to a steady stream of people who are running, walking and, at times, crawling to the top. That’s despite the clearly posted but faded “No Trespassing” signs, which didn’t seem to be enforced. Tourist shops in Manitou Springs hawk T-shirts that proclaim “I survived The Incline,” which tells you about the popularity of the trail.

The Incline was built in the early 1900s for the construction of city water lines and a hydroelectric plant. The Maintou and Pike’s Peak Railway took over the cable car for use as a tourist operation, but the Mount Manitou Scenic Incline Railway line closed in 1990 after a rockslide. It’s a short-and-anything-but-sweet 5,280 feet to the top that averages a 40 percent grade. That’s a gain of 2,011 feet in elevation in just more than a mile. It’s akin to a stair-climber machine from hell.

We climbed it at 6 a.m. The trailhead – though it’s unmarked for obvious reasons – is in the same lot where the sanctioned Barr Trail starts, which you can hike if you’re loathe to break the rules. Despite the early hour, there were a few cars in the lot, a handful of hikers heading up each trail and a pair of wide-eyed deer hanging out on the periphery.

The path was swathed in fog, which suddenly cleared about 100 yards from the top. Once at the top, we looked in awe as the low-lying clouds swirled around in dust devil-like inversions below us. It was the most memorable moment of a recent trip to Manitou Springs, a quirky, utterly charming little town that’s adjacent to Colorado Springs and around three hours from Vail, making it a great weekend getaway destination.

The hotel

Consider staying at the historical Cliff House at Pikes Peak, a luxurious 54-room hotel built in 1873, before Colorado even became a state. The charming hotel is decorated a la the 1800s but has modern amenities you don’t often see. Our suite, the F.W. Woolworth suite, had a gas fireplace, heated toilet seats and towel racks and a two-person spa tub. Woolworth was once a guest at the hotel, along with Clark Gable, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Dickens, William Henry Jackson and a slew of others.

The fun

Over the course of two days, we explored the town and surrounding attractions. Along with our hike up The Incline, we took a 1.5 hour lantern tour at Cave of the Winds, an extensive limestone cave system near Manitou that was discovered in 1869 and opened to public tours in 1881.

We also meandered around the town and visited the 11 natural mineral water springs for which Manitou Springs was named. Each spring has a distinctive flavor and effervescence because of the minerals the water picks up as it passes through limestone and dolomite caverns. Centuries ago, the Indians paid homage to the minderal springs, which they believed had healing medicinal properties. They believed the water to be a gift from the Great Spirit Manitou.

The food

We had two fantastic meals in Manitou Springs. For some authentic Middle Eastern food, head to Heart of Jerusalem Cafe. Order the beef and lamb shawermah (gyro) with grilled zaatar pita bread, hummus and gazaziki sauce and the crisspura fries ($10.99). The veggie plate comes with hummus, tabouleh salad, falafel, dolmas and pita bread ($7.99). Reasonable – snuck out for less than $20 – and the waitstaff was very friendly and the service was fast.

For a quiet, slightly more expensive dinner, try Adam’s Mountain Cafe, which has been in business for 25 years. Everything in this funky restaurant (replete with mismatched antique chairs and silverware) is made from scratch. Try the spicy malibari curry ($15), turkey meatballs made with a traditional Indian curry and served with Basmati rice and red lentil dal. Vegetarians will love the Senegalese vegetables ($12), a slew of still-crunchy vegetables in a cilantro and ginger peanut sauce, topped with currants and toasted noodles and served over rice or noodles. And if you opt to take The Incline challenge while in Manitou, you can splurge on the blueberry cheesecake for dessert, which was easily the best we’ve ever tasted.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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