Long ago, when Colorado was covered with an inland sea, the parents of mankind prayed to the great spirits to remove the water. The spirits sent “Thirst”, a great Lizard Dragon, who drank all the water. His form remains as Colorado Springs’ own Cheyenne Mountain. Later the Cheyenne and Apaches came to the mountain for teepee poles, and the Utes retreated up the mountain’s ravines with their stolen horses, sometimes setting fires to block their pursuers.
Thus begins the history of the mountain RMFI is delighted to be working on, having built the Top of the Mountain Trail, laid out by our late founder Mark Hesse, and now progressing to constructing the Dixon Trail, which will connect the top with the rest of Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
But the mountain holds a lot more of interest besides the old Indian legends.
Our region’s grand old explorer Zebulon Pike famously looked from the summit of Cheyenne Mountain to the mountain he had his sights on (Pikes Peak) and said, “It would have taken a whole day’s march to arrive at its base, whence I believe no human being could have ascended to its pinnacle.” This was 1806.
Gold fever hit the area in the mid 1800’s, first in the Denver/Boulder area, and later in the Pikes Peak area, then part of the new Colorado Territory. In the 1870’s, prospectors built the Little Suzie Lode on the north end of the mountain. Not too much gold came from the mine, but it is now the source of water for the Overlook Colony, founded in 1911 by a group of Colorado College professors, which grew to include doctors, artists, musicians, oilmen, and an ambassador to India.
William Dixon homesteaded the northeastern lower slopes of the mountain in 1867, some of which was purchased by Spencer Penrose for the Broadmoor Hotel. Dixon also built a tavern on the trail along the backside of the mountain. He later turned the trail into the Cripple Creek Stage Toll Road, which we now call Old Stage Road.
In 1880, a man named John Lytle grazed cattle on the eastern slope of the mountain until he parceled it out to Lida Touzalin and her husband, who owned most of the land until 1937. Lida was an accomplished chef who wrote a cookbook in French, “L’Amerique a Table”. The Jones family then negotiated a land swap with the Touzalins to form the JL Ranch, which occupied the space until 1963 when NORAD forced Jones to move-both because the water on the property had dried up, and NORAD did not want cattle there. In 1979, the ranch was sold to a foreign investor, reputedly Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and the State of Colorado purchased the land in 2000. It was opened to the public as Cheyenne Mountain State Park in 2006.
The year 1885 saw a Wade homestead 4 miles up the Old Stage Road, which became known as Wade City. “Although never a city-outside its name-at one time it was quite a little settlement. The Cripple Creek stage, which started from the corner of Colorado Avenue at Tejon Street, always stopped at Wade City. The six horses that pulled the stage and passengers alike had easily raised a thirst by the time Wade City was reached.” Wade’s grandson was Fred Barr who built Barr Trail.
Grace Lutheran Church built a retreat in Emerald Valley in 1904. It changed hands several times and is now The Broadmoor's Ranch at Emerald Valley.
In 1905, Dr. August McKay homesteaded on 120 acres on the east slope of Cheyenne Mountain. He developed a series of trails and rest houses that led to The Sunshine Inn that he built as a health resort above Old Stage Road. The property was purchased by Spencer Penrose, who had the inn torn down, although some sources say that landslides from the construction of the Cheyenne Mountain Highway are what took it out.
Thomas Dixon (possibly William’s grandson?) and Bert Swisher homesteaded the top of the mountain in 1917. Both had cabins there and after a title dispute the land wound up in the Swisher family. They sold 10 acres for the Antennae Farm in 1950, and eventually put conservation easements on the land and sold it to State Parks and the City of Colorado Springs to become part of the state park.
Dixon, the entrepreneur, when he heard the Broadmoor was serving frog legs in their restaurant, made a frog pond near his cabin to supply them. The pond is still there, but dried up. What does remain is a great stand of rhubarb, which we made a pie out of this summer.
The Dixon Trail was Dixon’s access to his cabin up the southeast end of the mountain. Swisher’s namesake trail heads up the west side, accessed from Old Stage Road and the MacNeill Trail. MacNeill was a notoriously nasty manager of the gold processing mill in Old Colorado City.
Spencer Penrose was flush with his earnings from Cripple Creek gold when he began purchasing property near Cheyenne Mountain in 1915. He built the Broadmoor Hotel in 1920 and hired the Civilian Conservation Corps to build the Cheyenne Mountain Highway in 1925-much to the consternation of many residents who felt it created an unsightly scar on the mountain. The beautiful white adobe Cheyenne Mountain Lodge was built the next year with a 3rd floor penthouse suite for Penrose’s personal use. Guests could ride to the lodge on an elephant, which had been given to Penrose by an Indian rajah. The lodge closed in 1961 and is the site of the Broadmoor’s Cloud Camp. The zoo was also built in 1926, or rather moved to its present location from down by the hotel where the smell bothered some of the guests. In 1938, a cog railway, a miniature version of the Pikes Peak Cog, was built from the Broadmoor lake to the entrance of the zoo. It was a two-mile ride and closed in 1974. In 1957, a T-33 training plane en route to Peterson Airfield crashed into the southern ridge of Cheyenne Mountain; the wreckage remains to this day.
It has a fun history, this mountain-next-to-our-town. In addition to its colorful past, the mountain and its 1,021-acre state park are home to a unique blend of ecosystems, and represent the last significant open space along the southern section of the Colorado Front Range. Soon, portions of the park closed off for decades will be open to the public thanks to RMFI’s work in building new, sustainable trails to its summit and surrounding areas. The new Dixon Trail could take another couple years to complete and will open up the Top of the Mountain to all who are willing to tackle a steep hike. It’s a wonderful backcountry setting close to town that has thankfully been protected from development.