Nestled at the base of the Pikes Peak region in Colorado Springs, is the home of the United States Air Force Academy. The Academy is one of the largest tourist attractions in Colorado and well worth the visit as it holds over 60 years of history of our nation’s military service. The campus covers 18,500 acres, just north of the city of Colorado Springs. A self-guided tour is available online or you can stop at the visitors center to learn more about the campus. Here are some of my recommendations of things to see while visiting the Academy as well as information if you need to know about wheelchair access.
The Chapel is indeed a uniquely designed building and is one of the most visited man-made tourist attractions in Colorado. What makes the building so unique is the 17 spires that shoot 150 feet into the sky. The Chapel serves all faiths such as Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist and is capable of holding services in all rooms at the same time. The elevator is to the back of the chapel to maneuver up and down the different levels.
Below the chapel is a large area called the Terrazzo, where you can see various retired aircraft and read about their importance to the United States. The name comes from the walk way’s terrazzo tiles that are set among the checkerboard marble strips. As freshman (C4C) you are only allowed to walk from one building to the next on the outer marble strip walkway. If you are standing at the Chapel, you will see in the distance a small hill which is called the “Spirit Hill.”
Directly below the Chapel you will see the Class Wall where USAFA class ring plaques are displayed, each with their unique design. In the center is the current graduating class ring plaque until after Ring Ceremony and then the new graduating class ring plaque is mounted there for one year. If your cadet is with you, you may want to take a picture of him or her standing under the plaque.
Air Gardens – The Fountain
The Air Gardens are located to the east of campus where you will find a series of reflecting pools and sunken planting beds divided by a walkway. Once a “firstie” (a senior cadet) finishes his last final, it is a tradition to jump into the water fountain, which is a 700-foot shallow pool.
Our cadet’s squad was hosting their commissioning ceremonies at the Air Garden. Under the bright sun, a gentle breeze and the occasional flicker of water from the fountain, it was a great experience to see these cadets become 2nd Lieutenants.
If you need to use the restroom you will have to either make your way over to one of the dorms or ask a cadet to help you locate one close by as it is a bit of challenge when in a wheelchair. First, locating the elevator and then the bathroom can be quite daunting. Give yourself plenty of time as these facilities are not close to one another.
The Visitor Center is approximately 31,000 square-foot building that contains exhibits, a snack bar and a gift shop. You can easily cross over to the Cadet Chapel from here but not so for someone in a wheelchair. To enter the building, you will need to approach the right-side of the building where a wheelchair entrance is provided.
Once inside, you may watch a movie that tells the story about the graduating class, highlighting their experiences from their first day at the Academy to the last day. The exhibit area features displays on the history of the Academy, cadet life, as well as statistical information of those attending the Academy. You will also learn the “Pillars of Excellence.” You will find on display an example of a cadet’s dorm room and what the expectations are to keep it clean and tidy.
You may take a self-guided tour with maps or contact the front desk for a guided tour at 719-333-2025. Wheelchairs are available for use while visiting but must be returned once you leave the facility.
Although airplanes fly over head often here, we were lucky to see an two Osprey land in the middle of the Terrazzo on campus while visiting. Osprey planes are a combination of a helicopter and cargo plane with the wings rotating, depending on the type of landing approach. Due to the week of our visit being graduation week, we also were able to witness the United States Thunderbirds practice for their performance. The Thunderbirds are a demonstration squadron that tours the United States putting on air shows. Witnessing the planes and watching them practice in the air was such a treat!
Exploring the campus and reading about the history of our United States Air Force Academy brought appreciation for the dedication our military service men and women put into training and education to protect our nation. I encourage you to make the Academy a part of the many sites to see in Colorado Springs.