During my family’s stay in Colorado Springs earlier this month — where we reveled in luxurious accommodations, courtesy of The Broadmoor, Colorado’s only five-star/five-diamond resort, thank you very much — we experienced no less than six major attractions for families in the area: the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Seven Falls, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Garden of the Gods, nearby Royal Gorge Bridge and Cave of the Winds. We all agreed that our Eco-Venture Tour of the historic caves was a true highlight.
The Cave of the Winds is so named because some of Colorado’s earliest residents believed the Great Spirit of the Wind lived nearby, as wind rushing through the cave entrance made a whistling sound (it’s since been sealed off). The limestone caves, filled with fascinating formations, were formed over the course of 500 million years, yet they were only “discovered” in the late 1800s by two young boys on a church-group outing.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have explored and toured the caves, which are quite close to the town of Manitou Springs. Since cave preservation was not top of mind for neither the caves’ owner nor their visitors in the “olden days,” the caverns bear so many “human impact” scars. That was a focus of our Eco-Venture tour, a new guided trek that’s offered this summer through Labor Day. After five p.m. all of the lights in the caves are turned off, and tours are by flashlight. It is estimated that by turning off the cave lights in the evening this summer, enough power to light 20 homes in a month is saved.
Our knowledgeable, enthusiastic, young guide Ben told us that the perspective of what we’d see only by the shine of our own personal light (which we got to keep after the tour), is quite different than focusing on the formations that are spotlit during the day. Ben pointed out the fraying rope ladder that was once used on cave tours (my kids: “I wish we could climb that!”) and the long narrow drill marks in the cave wall where dynamite was placed to blast out rock to open up cave chambers. We also saw, sadly, the number of stump-like stalactites (“hang on tight!) from above and stalagmites (“you might trip”) on the ground that had been broken off by overzealous visitors decades ago, who did not know that those icicle-like rock formations were created over thousands and thousands of years and would not renew themselves for several more thousands of years.
We were reminded often that caves are formed by water, and that if we touched the cave walls, we’d leave behind oil from our skin that would impact how the cave would further evolve. I tell you, though, it is so difficult to just look and not touch, and it’s a common reflex to want to reach out to steady yourself on the wall as you’re walking through the dark. (Not that I did this at all.) Toward the end of our tour, it was so satisfying to be able to touch a “pre-approved” section of the cave that was shiny, smooth and slick from all the visitors who had rubbed their hands on the wall — which was marbled and striped like bacon.
Our 50-minute Eco-Venture Tour by flashlight ($18/$9) was excellent, and I’d highly recommend it. It did, however, only go through a portion of the cave, and didn’t involve climbing any steps (a liability in the dark). Ben pointed out some steps that are used on one or both of the other tour offerings: the basic, 45-minute Discovery Tour ($18/$9) and the spooky, 1.5-hour Lantern Tour ($22/$12), where you explore only by the light of a lantern. I’d certainly take the latter tour on a future trip to the Colorado Springs area.
Yes, there’s a requisite gift shop — a rather large one at that — at the entrance to the caves (so it’s unavoidable). But it’s worth a walk-through, if only to snap a silly photo in front of the giant stuffed bear. The touristy memorabilia in the case outside the gift-shop is also certainly worth a look-see. Again, I think the Cave of the Winds is an excellent attraction to visit on your family vacation in Colorado Springs.
Thanks to the Cave of the Winds for hosting my family, and thanks for the above photos — no flash allowed in the caves on my Eco-Venture Tour!