A Heavenly Experience
Some of the great saints wrote about the spiritual “ascent” toward God. On Monday, about 100 Knights and their families made a more physical climb by journeying high into the Rockies as they toured the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Pike’s Peak and the Garden of the Gods.
The academy tour started with a ten-minute movie that showed what cadets go through to become Air Force officers. Following the movie, the group headed to the big attraction: the distinctive Air Force Academy chapel, with its 17 peaks or spires. Designed by Walter Nesch, the structure houses three chapels in one to accommodate Catholic, Protestant and Jewish worshippers, as well as two separate all-faith rooms for prayer. The visitors spent their time at the Catholic chapel on the lower level where a mosaic mural in shades of blue, turquoise and crimson serves as a backdrop for the marble figures of Mary and the Archangel Gabriel depicting the Annunciation.
The longest part of the tour was spent traveling by cog railway to Pike’s Peak, which rises to a thin-air 14,110 feet. Pike’s Peak was named after Zebulon Pike, a U.S. Army lieutenant who sighted the huge mountain on Nov. 15, 1806. While the peak would bear his name, Pike miscalculated the height of the mountain to be 18,581 feet and incorrectly predicted that the mountain “might never be climbed.”
The way to Pike’s Peak is figuratively and literally breathtaking. Amazing rock formations and bristlecone pine trees, some of which are thought to be over 2,000 years old, make the 90-minute trip an exciting adventure. At 8,332 feet, which is a little more than halfway, the visitors are treated to a trickling waterfall in Minnehaha, which aptly means “laughing water.”
At the peak, the Knights and their families began to feel short of breath, slightly nauseous or light-headed – the common effects of the extremely high altitude. Nevertheless, many ventured onto the observation deck to take snapshots of the views, then quickly grabbed coffee or hot chocolate to counter the lower temperatures and the wind chill. Some visitors even observed lightning flashes and a short episode of hail at the summit.
On the descent, the families sighted some wildlife that made for interesting photos. Many of the Knights had a great time waving and cheering passengers from other trains heading up the mountain.
The final leg of the tour was a quick stop at the Garden of the Gods, a natural landmark that showcases Colorado’s incredible red rock formations sacred to Native Americans. The Knights and their families took some snapshots from the Nature Center terrace and then headed to the gift shop to purchase souvenirs to take home with them and to remind them of the natural wonders of Colorado.