Glen Eyrie's Spectacular
Queen's Canyon and Grounds
I was excited to attend a retreat on the beautiful grounds of The Navigator's Glen Eyrie Christian Conference and Retreat Center in Colorado Springs in May of 2010. I made the most of my free time by hiking through Queen's Canyon to Dorothy Falls, then squeezed in a trek up Glenview Canyon. The next morning before breakfast I enjoyed the solitude of Echo Rock Canyon.
If you stay at Glen Eyrie over the weekend, you can enjoy the trails free from the crowds. The trails are open to the public Monday-Thursday 9 am - 4 pm. You have to preregister online at www.gleneyrie.org/hiking.
The Castle was started as the residence of William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs and several railroads. The castle went through renovations in 1881 and 1904. I appreciated the woodwork and detailed masonry. His wife was nicknamed Queen, thus the name of the canyon.
Directions: From I-25 exit at Garden of the Gods Rd. (#146), go west 2 miles, turn left (south) on N. 30th St. and go 1/2 mile. Look for The Navigator's sign on the right. After turning in, make an immediate left and head to the gate to check in. The trailhead is at the north end of the castle parking lot.
Difficulty: It's only 2 miles roundtrip to Dorothy Falls and another 1/4 mile to reach the punch bowls. It's a class 2 hike due to having to cross the river about 15 times over rocks and logs. In spring the water is higher, making passage more tricky. To the right of Dorothy Falls is a steep rocky climb to start the section to the punch bowls. It took us an hour to reach the falls because I was so cautious crossing the river.
The canyon walls climb sharply along both sides of the path. I thought they'd protect us from the strong wind gusts that plagued us on that hot day, but the canyon was just as windy as the rest of the grounds. Bottom photos show how dry the river bed was when I went in July 2009.
Near the beginning a rickety walkway provides easy passage above the canyon floor. I wondered how long the structure would hold up as I saw sections of broken railing and sometimes felt a sway as I walked. Overall, it felt safe.
I was so glad I brought a hiking pole and had Greg along to help me balance during the river crossings. I didn't trust my ability to leap across the rocks or traverse the logs as most of my friends were doing - three of them kept their shoes dry the whole trip! I waded through the refreshingly cool water that never got above my knees and was thankful the rocky stream bed wasn't that slippery. It would have felt good to get more wet, but I was diligently guarding my camera from the water and rocks.
I was particularly impressed with Jody's (lower left) carefree approach as she skillfully crossed over narrow logs and jagged rocks as if she was merely taking a stroll down the street.
As we approached Dorothy Falls, I saw that the surrounding cliffs soared over it.
Right after this shot of Greg by Dorothy Falls was taken, I stood beside him for another photo. A few seconds after the picture was taken, I saw a large splash about 10 ft. in front of us. I thought somebody had fallen in from the boulder nearby, but Greg saw it was a rock a foot in diameter or so that had fallen from the cliff above us. We thanked God that it didn't hit us or one of us could have been killed. No one went in the water after that.
Greg clambered up the steep path to the right of the falls to see if he could reach the punch bowls. He soon saw the possible culprit of the fallen rock. Hopping along the cliff wall that towered above the falls was a lone big horn sheep with barely anything to stand on. Lower left photo is a crop from the right picture (it is just to the right of center).
Once he reached the top of the waterfall, Greg saw this stunning view looking northeast toward the punchbowls (large rounded "pools" of water in the rock along the river). The lower right photo shows the view when standing at the top and looking down the falls. Since I was waiting at the waterfall and the path looked confusing ahead, Greg didn't go much farther. He didn't realize he was supposed to follow the river through a narrow passage over rocks.
With little time before dinner, a few of us rushed up Glenview Canyon to explore more of the area. It is only .3 miles from Glenview Lodge to a ridge with great views to the north and south. Wood steps in steep sections make the trek easy, though it is a bit of a climb. We also came across a ropes course and newly constructed climbing wall.
Below are views first looking south toward Garden of the Gods (far red rocks) then north toward Scar Mountain. From the ridge you can keep going to the right or left, heading back south.
The next morning I woke up early, hoping to find a solitary place to pray outside. As I loaded my car in the Big Horn Lodge parking lot, I looked at the nearby trail leading north. I didn't have my bear mace on me, but I figured I'd just go a little way since it was almost time for breakfast to be served. As I went, I admired the glow of the sunrise on Turtle Rock (second photo below).
The cool air felt invigorating. I soon came to a sign that said, "Echo Rock Trail". Curiosity kept me going. Breakfast could wait a few minutes. Since I had encountered cougars about the same time (7:30 am) a couple miles south of there in 2008, I kept a wary eye out for movement in the tall bushes bordering the path. The path veered left and I was intrigued by the steep rock wall ahead of me.
Then I came to a delightful rock overhang with a hole directly above a bench with a nice view. Not having seen a soul along the path, it was the perfect place to sit and talk to God. There was a peaceful silence broken only by the wind, birds and a plane.
One of the highlights of Glen Eyrie is the possibility of seeing big horn sheep up close. I was ecstatic during my first trip when I spotted about 7 of them on the cliff above the Castle parking lot, most with large horns. They meandered about for over an hour, providing me excellent photo opportunities with my 300mm zoom in the bright afternoon sun. A pair of them even charged each other twice, creating a very loud crack as their horns hit. A little one was scrambling along a steep wall, knocking down rocks as he went. I was amazed that he didn't fall.
Both times while I was at Glen Eyrie I ran into wild turkeys. I especially enjoyed seeing the mother turkey with three babies near the entrance. There is an old eagle's nest easy to spot high up a rock wall that I assume is still being used judging by the droppings around it.
Overnight guests can go in the Castle, but day hikers are allowed only in the Carriage House (below) where there are restrooms, a bookstore and coffee shop.
If you are not much of a hiker, simply walking the nicely landscaped grounds is a pleasure, too. There is a rose garden, terraced perennial gardens and a prayer walk with thoughts to read along the way.
The Big Horn Lodge is like a typical 70's or 80's motel. It is nice and clean, though it could use some updating. There are a variety of lodges to choose from, some tucked farther away from the Castle. We saw a lovely wedding reception on the Castle's large patio. The splendid architecture had my hopes up for excellent food, but our three meals were very average.
Even though our retreat material was quite good, it was hard for me to stay inside and not keep exploring the trails. It's a 1.5 mile walk south to Garden of the Gods.