A historic wildfire season in the western U.S. has propelled Colorado Springs into the national news spotlight this summer. The city's plight was the lead story on thousands of newscasts in late June and early July. The pictures and eyewitness accounts were daunting.
Prior to its containment late last week, the Waldo Canyon wildfire destroyed 347 homes, resulted in several fatalities and scorched more than 18,000 acres -- that's roughly 29 square miles. It was among the worst natural disasters in Colorado history, and I would never dream of minimizing it as families left homeless struggle to rebuild.
But as with all such news stories, the prolonged coverage led to some perception problems for outsiders. Travelers from other regions cancelled reservations for Colorado Springs, believing that all area attractions are smoky, scorched or inaccessible.
Waldo Canyon was a favorite stop for hikers. But there are scores of other areas near Colorado Springs where you can hike, raft, climb, rappel, explore and generally enjoy yourself.
My recent visit came as firefighters were still struggling to contain about half of the fire, and just a few days after the most dramatic destruction. But even at that time, almost everything I wanted to see either was available or reopened at some point during my short visit. I feared that I'd be taking a hotel room away from evacuees or visiting firefighters, but I found there were plenty of available rooms. I do not regret my decision to visit.
The picture above is from Garden of the Gods, where red sandstone rock formations amaze you at every turn. As with many other major attractions here, Garden of the Gods can be visited without an admission fee.
On the wagon trail, some pioneers displayed the written message "Pikes Peak or Bust." It's time to have a similar attitude today about visits to this great Colorado city.
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