United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado

University campuses can be quite historic and beautiful and the service academies are certainly no exception. Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the United States Air Force Academy is quite beautiful. We often go to the grounds of the academy to go hiking, but it is also worth taking the time to actually go to the chapel at the academy and to see the field house that serves as the dorms for the cadets. If you get a chance to be in Colorado Springs during the fall, going to a football game at the Air Force Academy is an experience that you will never forget.

Cadet Chapel
Statues of Airplanes
Cadet Squadron
More Statues on Display

The grounds of the Air Force Academy are a protected area for wildlife, so it is common to see wild animals if you decide to go for a hike. There are several trails at the academy including some difficult trails that go into the mountains, some easier trails that go through the fields, and even part of the Sante Fe Trail. Access to the academy can be restricted at times, so it is important to check ahead and you must show a valid id in order to pass through the security check points. There are two entrances, the north and south entrance, but most people use the north entrance and that is also the entrance that is used to go to a football game.

Turkeys Crossing the Road
Hiking at the Academy
Walking along the Trail
Surrounded by Pine Trees

The design of the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel makes it one of the most recognizable buildings at the academy. Not surprisingly, many former cadets return to the academy to have their wedding at the Cadet Chapel. The chapel was completed in 1962, just a few years after the first class of cadets graduated in 1959. There is also the parade grounds near the chapel as well as a variety of statues in honor of famous graduates from the academy as well as different planes from over the years. You will also find planes, gliders, and cadets learning to parachute over the academy throughout the year. The academy has its own airport where cadets learn to fly in smaller aircraft.

Statue with the Cadet Chapel in the Background
Parade Grounds and Airplanes
Glider Overhead
Front of the Chapel

We have had the opportunity to go to several football games throughout the years and each one is truly special. There is something about the pageantry of a football game at the United States Air Force Academy that is hard not to be impressed by. Whether it is the cadet march-on as squadrons line up on the field, the flyovers by different styles of airplanes, or the traditional skydivers that parachute into the stadium, it is an exciting atmosphere that is very unique. During the graduation ceremony at the Air Force Academy, the Thunderbirds put on an amazing performance every year that has people from all around Colorado Springs stopping to watch the jets as they fly overhead.

Dramatic Entrance
Cadets Marching on to the Field
Flyover the Stadium
Color Guard

When it comes to places to visit when coming to Colorado Springs, the United States Air Force Academy is certainly one not to be missed. Whether stopping at the overlook off of the highway, touring the academy grounds, or just going for a hike, the academy is definitely worth at least a couple of hours of your time. Speed limits are clearly posted on the roads within the academy and they are strictly enforced, so be sure to adhere to all posted signs.

Landing on the Field
Academy Airport
Living Quaters with a View
Statue Close-Up


The Watchers in the Mountain

We’re not talking about mountain lions, hawks, or some other wild animal, we’re talking about NORAD and the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.  If you ever drive through Colorado Springs, when you get to the south end of town, past Pikes Peak, you’ll likely notice a large group of antennas on the peaks of the southern-most mountains in the range.  That is the only sign that the group of men and women who constantly scan the skies in search of any incoming threats to the United States or Canada reside inside Cheyenne Mountain.  The complex is literally inside of the mountain.  Built by the Army Corps of Engineers, tunnels were dug into the granite mountain in order to protect the facility from any potential air attack.  Today, April 15th, the site is celebrating its 50th anniversary of being fully operational.

Picture of the North-Portal - Taken from NORAD's Website
Picture of the North-Portal – Taken from NORAD’s Website
View from Cheyenne Mountain over Colorado Springs
View from Cheyenne Mountain over Colorado Springs
View Looking North from Cheyenne Mountain
View Looking North from Cheyenne Mountain

NORAD, North American Aerospace Defense, was created at the height of cold war to detect potential nuclear weapons being launched by Russia at the United States.  These days, their work is somewhat more difficult as they monitor for potential aircrafts that might be in the control of terrorists and not following predetermined flight paths, ready to scramble jets at a minutes notice.  Today the facility also houses US Northern Command, USNORTHCOM, but most of the daily operations are run from Peterson Air Force Base, located in southern Colorado Springs.  Every now and again, when terrorist threats are high, residents of Colorado Springs are reminded of the potential threat to the mostly quiet city as it is home to both NORAD and the Air Force Academy.  We don’t have any pictures of the antennas on top of the mountain because, well, frankly it isn’t that interesting, you can imagine what a bunch of tall antennas look like.

View of the Prestigious Broadmoor Hotel from Cheyenne Mountain
View of the Prestigious Broadmoor Hotel from Cheyenne Mountain
Another View Looking North
Another View Looking North
Another View of Southern Colorado Springs
Another View of Southern Colorado Springs

NORAD isn’t all seriousness and dread, however.  NORAD also sponsors “NORAD tracks Santa” every year on Christmas Eve where children from around the world can call in or go online and find out the current location of Santa Claus as he flies around the world in his sleigh delivering gifts.  In fact, for several years, we volunteered and answered phones, letting children know that Santa would be arriving soon and that they needed to go to bed soon.  Legend has it that Sears Department Store mistakenly put in the number for NORAD in a local paper and when they started receiving calls, the staff decided to tell the children Santa’s location and the tradition was born.  The truth is probably slightly different, but the end result is the same, children are thrilled with the thought that Santa is real and that our elite defense group is keeping their eyes on him, making sure he can safely deliver gifts.

That's Us Answering Calls from Children
That’s Us Answering Calls from Children
Santa Track Operations Center
Santa Track Operations Center
More People Answering Phones
More People Answering Phones

Regardless of your thoughts on the military, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex is truly a unique and interesting piece of history hidden in the hillsides of Colorado Springs.  The work that they do on a daily basis to keep us all safe should be complimented and appreciated.  We wish them a happy anniversary for providing 50 years of service in the tunnels below the mountain.