You get an entirely new perspective of Colorado Springs’ famed Cheyenne Mountain Zoo from the new Mountaineer Sky Ride.
The ride, an unusually smooth one for a chairlift, lasts 7 or 8 minutes and not only passes over the zoo itself, but also the forest above it on Cheyenne Mountain. Those deer? Not zoo animals.
At the top, we hop off and follow the paved path to an enclave of buildings. A small shop sells items not available anywhere else at the zoo – old-fashioned sodas in bottles and candy from childhood (if not yours, maybe grandma’s?). There’s a climbing wall for those with a sense of adventure and no fear of heights, and a Mongolian yurt, where visitors can go if the weather turns unexpectedly damp or where special events can be booked. There’s also a small playground and a picnic area.
The vast views include the zoo below, The Broadmoor hotel complex below that, the city of Colorado Springs beyond, and the endless Colorado prairie stretching to the horizon.
Up on the mountain to the north is the spire of the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, built by Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose in the 1930s to honor his cowboy-philosopher friend after Rogers died in a plane crash. Penrose’s remains, and those of his wife Julie, are interred in the chapel of the shrine. You can drive to the shrine from the zoo entrance below. If the wind is right, listen for the shrine’s melodic chimes on the quarter-hour.
Back down at the zoo, we take a quick detour to see the notoriously prolific giraffe herd and feed crackers to the long-necked giants. Their prehensile tongues reach out and wrap around the treats, gently taking them from your hand. New babies are born here nearly every year and help supply other zoos. The herd usually stands around 20 strong.
Then we head to Rocky Mountain Wild, the zoo’s tribute to the wildlife of the West. We pass the historic wooden carousel, a transplant from the World’s Fair of 1932; it’s older than most of the people who ride it, but is in excellent restored condition. Pick your favorite horse and take it for a spin. We also pass the real pony rides, and then we’re there.
In the zoo’s Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit, you enter by a manmade riparian habitat, see a flock of wild turkeys, a grown moose lazing in the shade of a tree, mountain lions napping in the afternoon sun (until they spot a nearby squirrel), a lynx, some frisky river otters, a small pack of wolves and the latest addition, grizzly bears. To see the bears, you’ll ascend a tower and cross a long wooden bridge to get to their enclosure. We caught them playing – two giant mammals throwing themselves at each other with apparent glee. If you hang around long enough, you might catch them fishing for trout in the manmade stream next to the viewing glass.
Anyone who has not visited the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo should go at least once. It’s a lovely place, clean and well maintained. It’s a unique setting for a zoo and yes, you’ll see plenty of wildlife wandering around free – if you count chipmunks, squirrels and mule deer, not to mention magpies, hummingbirds and other feathered critters.
Ride the Mountaineer Sky Ride, which is named in honor of the old train that once ran from The Broadmoor’s main hotel up the mountain to the zoo (the engine of which still is on display by the parking lot).
Best time to go? Mornings are nice, because it still is cool and animals are more active. And the weather is less active. In summer, it’s not unusual to get an afternoon thundershower at the zoo, which sits at 6,800 feet and higher. Wandering its 146 acres, visitors will see more than 800 animals representing 172 species.
And you’ll really get to see them! Watch the meerkats (so popular since “The Lion King”) pop in and out of their burrows. See a mountain lion leap over your head. Laugh at the antics of a tiger cub playing with its toys.
On top of all this, you’ll get a good aerobic workout. But if that sounds too daunting, grab a ride on the zoo’s shuttle, which will take you to the top (and other stops along the way).
If You Go
Location: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is located on Cheyenne Mountain in southwest Colorado Springs.
4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80906
For directions and a map, go to cmzoo.org.
Hours: The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, and closes at 5 p.m. the remainder of the year.
September through May, the Sky Ride is open weekends only, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day the Sky Ride is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. All Sky Ride availability is weather permitting.
Fees: Zoo admission is $14.25 ages 12 and older, $12.25 for seniors 65 and older, $7.25 for children 3-11, and free for those younger. The sky ride costs $5 for those 12 and older and $4 for ages 3-11. Zoo admission is not required to ride the sky ride. It can be accessed separately, or from inside the zoo.
Information: Call 719-633-9925 or go to cmzoo.org.
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer who lives in Colorado Springs.