15 Mar Wanderings: Manitou Springs, Colorado
The song, “America the Beautiful,” was written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895. She initially wrote the patriotic hymn as a poem after seeing the town of Manitou Springs, Colorado, and looking up at 14,114-foot Pikes Peak.
Since then, the town of about 6,000 residents has inspired countless other artists who call the historic community home. Located 6 miles west of Colorado Springs, it’s a great little vacation spot for those seeking a mountain town with artistic flair and outdoor attractions.
Word spread about the beauty of Manitou Springs and its surrounding area and the live-and-let-live attitude of the townspeople in the 1970s, which is when it began attracting creative types. It isn’t difficult to see why.
Artist Michael Baum says he doesn’t have to look far for creative inspiration — he can see the Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon and Pikes Peak from his house. “[Manitou] started out as a resort town because of the mineral springs,” Baum says. “In the ’60s it attracted a lot of hippies and craftspeople. I came to visit in the mid-70s, and I was immediately taken by the creative vibe and the breathtaking landscapes. So I decided to move here.”
The town was named in the 1870s for its mineral springs, which were used for centuries by Native Americans. “Manitou” is an Algonquian word for “great spirit,” and the area was considered sacred for its naturally carbonated healing springs. The soothing effects of the soda water on sour stomachs and dry skin attracted not only the Mountain Utes, who wintered here each year, but the Cheyenne, Arapaho and other Plains tribes, according to the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce. All were free to share in the gifts of the waters without the worry of conflict.
Today, eight springs are located in town, and the springwater is available to the public for people to fill cups or jugs. Each spring has a distinctive taste due to the differences in mineral content. You can take a guided tour, or Springabout, every Wednesday or Saturday, or visit SunWater Spa, which offers one private and seven public cedar pools ranging from 85 to 104 degrees.
Scenic beauty reigns supreme in Manitou Springs, and there are countless way to enjoy it. There are ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings outside of town that date from 1100 to 1300 AD. Nearby hiking trails range from a meandering walk along Fountain Creek to more vertical challenges such as Barr Trail, which reaches the summit of Pikes Peak, offering views into seven states. (You can also ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit.) In addition, there’s the Manitou Incline, a hike up a former cable car track that stretches for 1 mile and climbs 2,000 feet. And a 20-minute drive will take you to Broadmoor Seven Falls, a series of waterfalls that cascade down a box canyon to earn its reputation as “the grandest mile of scenery in Colorado.”
Manitou Springs is the type of place — and you’ll hear personal testimony from many of the artists here — to which people come for a brief visit and never leave. Charles Rockey, a local artist and icon, is one of them. He moved from Colorado Springs to Manitou in the mid-1970s. “Friends suggested I move to Manitou Springs because there were other artists there,” says Rockey. “I arrived here with $15 in my pocket. And I’ve never left.”
The 85-year-old artist has created more than 800 paintings of his adopted hometown, which may be some sort of American record. He lives simply in an old wooden cabin down by a creek and is an anomaly in today’s world. He doesn’t paint for money. He has no website. He doesn’t show his work. And when people knock on his door to buy a painting, he won’t sell it to them.
“When you paint for money, you’re painting for other people. But I paint for myself,” he says. “I’m creating art for pleasure, not for money.”
You can find his work throughout town, as Rockey has “loaned” about 150 of his paintings to local folks, “to enjoy in their own homes for six months or so.” But he admits he really hasn’t kept track of who’s borrowed which paintings.
Natalie Johnson is the director of the Manitou Art Center and the affiliated Manitou Springs Creative District. The town was floundering economically in the 1970s, she says, and city leaders saw the arts as a way to transform it. “Now, I’d estimate that, in a town of 6,000 people, one of every four of them is an artist,” says Johnson.
One such artist is Marica Hefti, a native of Switzerland and the gallery chairperson at the Manitou Commonwheel Artists Co-Op. The co-op displays and sells the work of 35 artists in wall art, jewelry, glass, pottery, sculpture and clothing, and also holds an annual Labor Day Arts & Crafts Festival.
The distinctive ceramics of Tina and Ken Reisterer — along with a few dozen other artists in various media — are displayed at Green Horse Gallery. Fred Darpino displays his in-demand sculptures at Darpino Studio Gallery. And Wong Wares studio is where Mark Wong creates imaginative Raku pottery.
This little town lists 16 art galleries, and no one’s yet counted all the studios. And there are some 80 beautifully preserved historic structures in the Manitou Springs Historic District.
Among them is Miramont Castle, built in 1895 and demonstrating a variety of architectural styles. Today, it’s a Victorian-era historic museum, and visitors can tour 42 furnished rooms and gardens. There’s also the Congregational Church, built in 1880 and still in use; and the Cliff House, built in 1872 and still a fine hotel with Victorian romance.
Throughout town, there are a number of interesting attractions. Rockhound ATV Rentals offers the opportunity to explore the surrounding beauty up-close-and-personal. At The Glassblowers of Manitou you can see magnificent craftsmanship via daily demonstrations. There’s also the Manitou Springs Arcade, with roughly 250 old-fashioned games. And the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater has offered performances for more than 50 years.
“This is the type of place,” Baum says, “that you only have to see once to fall in love with it.”
If YOU GO…
ATTRACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
Cave of the Winds
100 Cave of the Winds Rd. 719.685.5444; caveofthewinds.com
103 Pawnee Ave.; 719.685.5255; manitouchurch.org
Garden of the Gods
1805 N. 30th St., Colorado Springs 719.634.6666; gardenofgods.com
The Iron Springs Chateau Dinner Theater
444 Ruxton Ave. 719.685.5104; ironspringschateau.com
Manitou Art Center
513 Manitou Ave.; 719.685.1861; manitouartcenter.org
Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Museum
10 Cliff Rd.; 719.685.5242; cliffdwellingsmuseum.com
Manitou Springs Heritage Center
517 Manitou Ave. 719.685.1454; manitouspringsheritagecenter.org
Manitou Springs Penny Arcade
930 Manitou Ave. 719.685.9815
9 Capitol Hill Ave.; 719.685.1011; miramontcastle.org
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
515 Ruxton Ave.; 719.685.5401; cograilway.com
Red Rock Canyon Open Space
South at Ridge Road; redrockcanyonopenspace.org
Rockhound ATV Rentals
8825 W. Highway 24, Cascade 719.684.2408; rockhoundatv.com
514 El Paso Blvd.; 719.695.7007; sunwellness.net
ACCOMMODATIONS & RESTAURANTS
1899 Victorian Retreat
113 Deer Path; 719.685.5958; vrbo.com/458652
Agate Hill Cottages and Bed-and-Breakfast
103 Cave Ave.; 719.685.0685; agatehill.com
Briarhurst Manor Estate
404 Manitou Ave.; 719.685.1864; briarhurst.com
306 Cañon Ave.; 719.785.1000; thecliffhouse.com
934 Manitou Ave., Ste. 102 719.344.5801; creeksidecuisine.com
Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant
733 Manitou Ave. 719.685.0277; monalisafondue.com
301 Manitou Ave.; 719.685.3755; savellispizzapastasubs.com
SHOPPING & GALLERIES
Commonwheel Artists Co-Op
102 Cañon Ave.; 719.685.1008; commonwheel.com
Darpino Studio Gallery
934 Manitou Ave.; 719.531.7972; darpinostudiogallery.com
The Glassblowers of Manitou
4 Cañon Ave.; 719.685.1555
Green Horse Gallery
729 Manitou Ave.; 719.685.0636; greenhorsegallery.com
The Olive Tap
906 Manitou Ave., #103 719.358.9329; theolivetap.com
12 Oklahoma Rd.; 719.685.1460