Shangri-La and national security in Colorado Springs
February 15, 2003
It was obvious. Maybe too obvious.
The suits. The sunglasses. The haircuts.
Halfway between Miami Vice and Ivy League preppy.
You can't fool veterans of American TV culture.
Sure enough, the Secret Service had invaded our Shangri-La.
Melting uncomfortably into the Broadmoor Hotel's ambience, the fidgety scouting party for Vice President Dick Cheney's entourage was scoping out the situation at placid Cheyenne Lake, in the heart of this resort's expansive grounds.
The lake's two resident swans didn't seem to care, though.
The November, 2002 election was a few weeks away, and I'd read about an upcoming fundraiser for a Colorado Springs congressman, coinciding with our stay at the Broadmoor. I wondered then if Cheney would make an appearance at the Broadmoor, long considered one of Colorado's finest hotels and resorts. The apparent presence of government agents indicated that Cheney was indeed on his way, once the situation was secured.
But the staff at the Broadmoor, old pros at dealing with celebrity and discreetness, didn't seem to notice. In fact, they deftly changed the subject or claimed ignorance when asked if the No. 2 man in the U.S. government was joining us for a lakeside cocktail.
Eventually, their casualness rubbed off on us as well. Besides, it was more important to stake out seats next to the large stone fireplace on the patio on the east side of Cheyenne Lake, as the brisk October air in the hills west of Colorado Springs began to cool. With twilight creeping over the grounds, a Broadmoor staffer was busy stoking the happy hour fire, and a chilly microbrew after a round of golf was our mission possible.
At least the famous man-in-hiding, the VP, had good taste in picking the Broadmoor as a refuge from his beltway bunker.
Life at the Broadmoor
Always a man of taste, flamboyant Spencer Penrose was the guiding force behind the modern incarnation of the Broadmoor. An entrepreneur from Philadelphia who made big bucks trading mining claims in Cripple Creek, Colo., Penrose in 1918 transformed what was a casino and small hotel into a larger, 250-room hotel. He sought to bring the opulence and luxury found in European hotels to the Colorado Springs foothills. Thanks to renovations and additions, the Broadmoor now has 700 rooms.
Although long gone, Penrose lives on in spirit at the Broadmoor as the staff, perhaps on instruction, always referred to him during our stay as if he were still around. From the starter on the first tee of the west golf course, with a friendly Western twang to his voice, to the Euro-accented waitresses, the staff loves to poke fun at Mr. Penrose, chiding him for his drinking and extravagance.
Typically, I prefer less-extravagant accommodations in my travels, but visiting family, eager to mix golf with a Colorado stay, suggested the Broadmoor, and I readily assented, curious to visit the legendary hotel and resort.
We stayed in Broadmoor West, which seemed a little removed from the main building's hustle and bustle.
Activities at the Broadmoor
Besides dodging the Secret Service and keeping an eye out for celebrities, a rich menu of activities is available to guests at the Broadmoor. The knowledgeable and friendly concierge staff is well-equipped to arrange activities, which vary on the season. In October, hot air balloon flights, jeep tours of the foothills outside of Colorado Springs, guided fly-fishing on the South Platte River and other activities (some led by local outfitters) were offered.
The Broadmoor maintains equestrian stables about 20 minutes to the west in the Pike National Forest, and guided one- and two-hour trail rides were available.
Many nearby attractions await visitors willing to take off on their own, including hikes at the nearby North Cheyenne Canyon Park, and drives to the Royal Gorge, Garden of the Gods, the Winery at Abbey in Canon City, Cave of the Winds, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, and the mining towns of Victor and Cripple Creek.
The Broadmoor maintains a full spa and fitness center with scheduled exercise classes, in addition to a tennis court complex. Two 18-hole golf courses are beautifully laid out and the wide, green (even in a drought year) fairways afford views of the plains and downtown Colorado Springs to the east and the foothills to the west.
On the tamer side of the activities list are culinary demonstrations, watercolor painting sessions with the resident artist, and a gardening walking tour of the grounds. For those who prefer to do nothing except read or catch up on correspondence, quiet nooks and crannies, especially in Broadmoor West, offer refuge.
Keeping time at the Broadmoor
Two attributes of the Broadmoor serve as the keepers of rhythm and activity.
Above the Broadmoor to the west, chimes emanating from the Will Rogers Shrine act as the resort's clocktower, signalling the quarter hour. The shrine/chapel, completed in 1937, is the final resting place for Penrose, in effect a personal mausoleum. However, as the legend goes, Penrose, sensitive to concerns that he was a bit pompous in building his own monument, dedicated it to his pal Will Rogers.
While the chimes may be considered an intrusion, interjecting the cruel march of temporal reality into the Broadmoor grounds, they also signal that it's "Broadmoor" time that's observed here, a more relaxed clarion call of luxury and sophistication.
The other measure of activity at the Broadmoor is the walkway surrounding Cheyenne Lake, what I came to call the "Zen walkway." I'll guess that it's about a mile in circumference, and it's populated with early morning walkers, staffers and others. Follow the staffers carrying trays of fresh seafood to find the good parties.
Or lounge on the benches scattered around the lake to people-watch.
On an early morning walk after the apparent arrival of Cheney, I ran into an alert security guy staking out a position near the north side of Broadmoor West. Nearby, agents were leading German shepherds through the inside of government black Chevy Suburbans. Others were checking under the hood and underneath other vehicles, presumably sniffing for explosives. I quickened my pace.
But, of course, there was nothing to worry about. This is the Broadmoor — nothing can go wrong here, and nobody, man or beast, seems out of place here.
Impeccable service, a dazzling grounds and golf course complex, and great food at the resort's many restaurants, all surrounded by the low, unassuming mountains of the Rocky Mountain foothills make the Broadmoor a winner. Just ask Dick Cheney.
Road trip to Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek is an old mining town about 45 miles from the Broadmoor, and is a rewarding destination, principally for a small treasure — the Cripple Creek District Museum. While limited-stakes gambling in the town's historic downtown district tends to dominate the scene, with legions of zombies feeding slot machines, the museum is where the real motherlode is in Cripple Creek.
Said to be the richest gold camp in the U.S., the Cripple Creek mining district produced not only millions of dollars in gold, but a cast of interesting characters. The museum, comprised of the 1895 Midland Terminal Railway Depot, an assay office and the 1893 Colorado Trading and Transfer Building, tells the story of Cripple Creek through dozens of photographs, letters, maps, and exhibits of mining machinery, gold ore and a restored Victorian-era flat. There's even information about Spencer Penrose and the early days of the Broadmoor Hotel.
A friendly and knowledgeable curator cheerfully answered all of our questions. While limited-stakes gambling was sold to Colorado voters in part as a means of historic preservation, the Cripple Creek District Museum didn't seem to have reaped the benefits, which is a shame, because it should. Nonetheless, for history buffs and museum aficionados, the museum is a delight. Call 719.689.2634 for more information.
Story and photos by David Iler