To us common English folk, the word 'Colorado' most probably conjures up images of skiing holidays and the Denver Broncos. As I discovered however, the beautiful Centennial State has so much more to offer, and I had the great fortune to peruse the Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs.
Located just outside of Manitou Springs, COTW boasts 500 million year old underground rock formations, filled with hidden treasures in a zero-degree chill. Visitors can choose from either the 'Discovery' or the 'Lantern' Tour, the latter of which includes, I'm told, lying on one's belly, hence I chose to take the former.
The Discovery Tour was no less exciting however, as my company and I ducked and dove under all manner of obstacles while we were guided through the pokey caves. I'd advise any future cave-dwellers to don a pair of grippy sports shoes and bring a few layers. It can get very chilly down in the caves, but likewise you will also find yourself working up a sweat climbing its multitude of naturally-formed stairs.
The tour begins with a photo, and the subsequent having to get used to ducking in the caves' enclosed spaces. Throughout our tour we were told stories of previous explorers who had tried their luck at tunnelling into the caves, complete with real props, such as a slightly ominous looking hanging ladder. There were also superstitious tales, such as a wall of hair ties, in which women were encouraged to throw their own – how it landed would affect your likelihood of marriage or divorce, so says the legend.
The tour was not without its scary moments; indeed if you're afraid of the dark, you may not enjoy the part which plunges the visitors into ten seconds of total darkness. Nevertheless it's worth the scare factor for the knowledge gained throughout the 45-minute tour; I left knowing the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, and was even treated to a bit of poetry, in the form of an excerpt from C.A. Higgin's The Titan of Chasms inscribed on one of the walls.
Culture aside however, there is no escaping the Cave of the Winds' natural beauty, such as the natural rock formation aptly named the 'Bleeding Heart.' While you aren't allowed to touch any of the beautiful rockery (due to the natural oils in the skin damaging the limestone) you can admire from afar the aesthetic pleasures of something which has taken 500 million years to form.
Once your tour is over, for those looking for a little more adventure, there are other attractions on offer. There's the Wind Walker Challenge, an assault-course-come-climbing-frame which towers high over the valleys. Alternatively there's also the Bat-a-Pult, a 1200 foot zipline over the canyon which I was amazed I had the balls to try out – not as scary as it looks, but exhilarating all the same.
With prices starting at $9 for children and $18 for adults, Cave of the Winds is a worthwhile cultural, historical and natural experience that I'd recommend to anyone bored with staying indoors. There's something for everyone from tame explorers to thrill-seeking daredevils, and with its 364 days a year of operation, there's no excuse not to indulge in the beauty of Cave of the Winds.