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Manitou Springs without crowds.

In summer, hordes of visitors descend on Manitou Springs, the gateway to Pikes Peak. I'd rather visit after the aspens have dropped their golden leaves. An excursion of just a few miles includes a beautiful canyon drive, visits to a couple of Colorado's perennially popular attractions at their uncrowded best, and the chance to wander around a historic town.

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum, 4 miles west of Colorado Springs off U.S. 24, is a good place to start. You can take a self-guided tour through more than 40 rooms and a mysterious tower reconstructed to look like they did when the Anasazi lived here from 1100 through 1400. About a mile west is Cave of the Winds, a natural labyrinth discovered in the 1880s and now open for tours of its underground chambers.

From the cave, drive across the highway and wind your way down into Manitou Springs. In the 1860s and '70s, the town was developed as America's answer to European spa resorts, thanks to restorative waters that bubbled from the ground northeast of Pikes Peak. The Cliff House at Pikes Peak, one of the grand old hotels of that era, recently reopened after a major renovation.

As you wander through the shops, galleries, and eateries along Manitou Avenue and adjacent side streets, look for the nine historic springs; all are marked with plaques. (At the chamber of commerce, ask for the brochure "Delight in the Mineral Springs.")

Later, drive west on Ruxton Avenue toward the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Up to the right is Miramont Castle, an imposing 46-room mansion that's now a museum - it's a must for anyone interested in high Victorian design.

Continue to the cog railway station for a look at the little engines and the gingerbread house-like depot. En route back, stop to admire Iron Springs Pavilion, an elegant gazebo overlooking one of the town's famous springs.

For a scenic round trip back to Colorado Springs, take Manitou Avenue east until it becomes Colorado Avenue at the city line. Follow it through Old Colorado City, whose restored Victorian buildings make it the most charming section of Colorado Springs.

WHERE: Colorado Springs to Manitou Springs via U.S. 24.

DINSTANCE: Less than 20 miles round trip.

COST: Cliff Dwellings, $7. Cave of the Winds Discovery Tour, $12. Cliff House, from $150. Miramont, $4.

CONTACT: Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce; (800) 642-2567 or www. manitousprings.org. Cliff Dwellings; (800)354-9971 or (719) 685-5242. Cave of the Winds; (719) 685-5444. Cliff House; (888) 212-7000 or (719) 685-3000. Miramont; (888) 685-1011 or (719) 685-1011.
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Title Annotation:Colorado
Author:Walter, Claire
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:428
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