Mood Swing

Swing for the fences in Glenwood Springs

Summer is the time for swing sets.

While growing up, most of us engaged in the bulk of our swinging during school hours, sprinting out of the cafeteria at recess in a mad dash to one of several highly coveted spots. But things really got serious when schools officially locked their doors, because then there were no teachers, and no teachers meant no rules.

Who can forget rocking your body weight backward and forward, buckling your knees in optimal swinging motion to obtain the highest possible extremes like some crazed pendulum hurtling out of control? Then, when you had gotten to your maximum altitude and all the children stood and gawked at your great height, you held your breath, relinquished control and leapt. Sometimes you soared for what seemed like days, landing perfectly on your feet at a distance that must have been hundreds of miles away. Other times you shattered your femur. But it didn't matter. It was the high of flying so freely through the air that made you do it, the high that kept you coming back.

Been chasing that high ever since? Search no further.

That's right, thrill-seekers, chug eight Mountain Dews and make your way to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, because its Giant Swing is a contraption unlike any you've ever seen.

"For the truly adventurous, the Giant Swing will launch you out into Glenwood Canyon, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. The ride and the views of the Canyon are breathtaking as you soar through the air at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour," exults park propaganda. "It's like this enormous slingshot," elaborates spokeswoman Mandy Gauldin. "I rode the thing and found myself suspended in the sky looking face down at the Colorado River over a thousand feet below. It's a pretty serious adrenaline rush. Everyone who rides it screams, whether they want to or not -- sometimes inappropriate things."

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will offer plenty of opportunities to turn the air blue this summer as its proprietors unveil several mammoth additions, including a large-scale downhill zip line and what they claim is the first alpine coaster in the United States. That ride will whip visitors through the trees and down a mountain along a 3,400-foot track. It's a marked change for the once quiet spot some 7,100 feet above Glenwood Springs.

The property -- formerly owned by an eccentric man named Pete Trebble who was said to run people off his land with a shotgun -- was leased by Steve and Jeanne Beckley in 1998. The couple bought the area a year later. Steve, an experienced spelunker, had learned of the unique system of caves there while studying as a petroleum engineer at the Colorado School of Mines in the 1980s. He wrote Trebble and asked to be allowed to explore the land, eventually gaining approval a mere sixteen years later. After purchasing the land, the Beckleys opened it up to visitors in May 1999, and in the first year, they shuttled about 40,000 people up the mountain in a van to trek through the labyrinthine caves, underground rooms and strange rock formations. Business was good, but extreme weather closed the roads every season, and the Beckleys were only able to share their find for half of the year. So they constructed a tramway, which could move up to 300 people an hour to the top of the mountain, then a restaurant, then more buildings. They never looked back. This summer's additions mark the largest transformation yet for the little theme park that could.

"We're still very much an outdoor-adventure place," Gauldin comments. "It's just that now there's a whole lot more to do; there's something for everyone."

And it beats the pants off the swing set in your back yard.

 
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