Flying High at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs
On a brisk, clear day at the legendary Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, I was enjoying the peaceful Rocky Mountain setting, but that tranquility was shattered when falconer Katy Wickberg led me to the mews, home to the captive-bred birds in the falconry program.
An owl named Cupid let out a deafening call, something between a high-pitched scream and a howl worthy of a horror film. I asked if the bird was a screech owl. No. It’s a barn owl. Despite their name, screech owls don’t make such an ear-splitting racket.
At 21, Wickberg is the youngest and newest member of the falconry team, but she’s been a licensed falconer since she was 12. She reassured me the owl was not telling me to get lost but was begging for food.
She called the bird, and it flew across the room, landing gracefully on my gloved arm. As I admired its snow-white, heart-shaped face, Wickberg rewarded her with a tasty mouse.
The experience was repeated with a much more intimidating Eurasian eagle-owl named Layla. The wide-eyed bird came when commanded, showing off her impressive six-foot wingspan. I jumped when she brushed my shoulder and alighted silently behind me. In the wild, this nocturnal predator eats rabbits, rats, reptiles and other birds, including other owls.
Wickberg asked me to guess Layla’s weight, so I estimated 20 to 25 pounds. The correct answer is less than five pounds. This enormous carnivore is all light, hollow bones and feathers.
Falconry, the sport of hunting with trained falcons or other birds of prey, has been around for thousands of years in civilizations around the globe, peaking in Europe during the Middle Ages. This observation-based beginner’s class is strictly educational and doesn’t involve hunting, but after taking advanced classes, guests are allowed to participate in a guided winter hunt if they choose.
The luxurious, 3,000-acre Broadmoor that sprawls at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain champions this ancient sport and is one of the few resorts in the country that offers falconry courses to guests.
Back outside, I met Maverick, Ice Man and Goose, a trio of Harris’s hawks named after pilots in the 1986 film, “Top Gun.” The birds are popular among falconers because they are easy to train. Their dagger-like talons are so sharp and strong, they can kill prey with one quick stab or by choking it.
Maverick arrived only a few weeks ago, and like a toddler with a new babysitter, he’s been challenging his new handler. Recently, the hungry bird obstinately declined the food Wickberg offered and refused to stay on her glove.
“He hasn’t warmed up to me quite yet,” Wickberg said. “We have made a lot of progress in the last week and a half, but we regressed on some of it this morning. A lot of it is give and take, figuring out how to build that trust while making sure I’m the one training him and not vice versa.”
She’s confident they will get there eventually.
Over the next half hour, I was introduced to a variety of species, including the once endangered peregrine falcon. Populations decreased across North America in the 1960s because of DDT, a pesticide that contaminated the food supply. DDT was banned in 1972, and the species has made a full recovery.
These intelligent raptors are known for their extraordinary speed. In a controlled dive to capture prey, they can reach 186 mph, making them the fastest creatures on Earth.
Females, which can weigh up to three pounds, are about 50 percent larger than males.
Next, we piled into a van and drove to the flying field, a disused golf course, so I could see the birds in action. Wickberg gently removed a hood from Ice Man, and he immediately flew high into the trees, but he returned when called – something I found incredible. Why not permanently fly the coop, so to speak?
This ability to command birds felt like a superpower, one that I envied. On my next visit, I’ll take the intermediate class so I can experience the powerful thrill of falconry as a participant instead of a spectator.
Falconry is just one of many activities at this 104-year-old resort. Golf, tennis, pickleball and a world-class spa keep guests coming back year after year.
On Cloud 9 at Cloud Camp-The Ultimate Glamping
It was hard to tear myself away from the opulence of the 5-star Broadmoor, but I was curious about the resort’s mountaintop hideaway called Cloud Camp, an all-inclusive luxury wilderness experience. I met up with cheerful mule skinner Elysia Eastty, who looked the part in her black cowboy hat and well-worn boots. She guided me to the top of Cheyenne Mountain as fast as my mule could go, which was at a snail’s pace. That’s okay, because he was sure-footed, and that’s what’s needed to navigate this rocky, winding trail that leads to Cloud Camp, once the site of Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose’s Cheyenne Lodge.
This cowgirl’s backside was a little worse for wear when we arrived, but the breathtaking panoramic scene made me forget all about it. At an elevation of 9,200 feet, Cloud Camp offers sweeping views of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak.
After checking into a charming cabin tucked into the evergreen trees, I met up with some other guests for a pre-dinner game of bocce ball.
This was not the camping of my youth where dinner meant campfire roasted hotdogs that were blackened on the outside and half cooked on the inside.
In the cavernous timber and stone lodge adorned with Western-themed art, I dined fireside on lobster in cognac and butter sauce. As I was savoring the last sip of a crisp sauvignon blanc and yearning for my comfy bed, the server arrived with coconut cream pie drizzled in chocolate sauce.
Making s’mores by the campfire captures the nostalgia of summer camp. It’s a hub where guests discuss the day’s activities – their success at the remodeled archery range, trail rides, and, of course, hiking.
Hiking is the best way to discover the area’s flora and fauna and enjoy the views. Some set out with a guide who will point out wildlife, such as grouse, foxes and maybe a black bear, while others prefer to explore on their own.
There’s one eager soul who is always up for a hike. Moose, a one-year-old Bernese mountain dog and golden retriever mix, belongs to camp manger Kurt Reineke, and sometimes guests take the good-natured, bear-like dog along.
A few have been incredibly grateful they did. Unlike some hikers, Moose has an accurate sense of direction. When a group got lost, Moose guided them back to camp.
“He would run ahead 25 to 50 feet and stop and wait for them,” Reineke explained. “He would pick the trail.”
Moose was a hero to the hungry, exhausted hikers.
Stories like this were one of the best things about Cloud Camp.
I’ve never been much of a camper, but this glamping thing? I’m all in. As I made my way down the mountain (in a car, not on a mule), I was already planning my return to Cloud Camp and dreaming of commanding birds at Broadmoor.
Broadmoor resort. 1 Lake Ave., Colorado Springs, Colorado. 844-602-3343. Reservations 1-855-634-7711, www.broadmoor.com
Follow Tracey Teo on Instagram @gobigorgohome2