Article and photos by John Basche
Less than 40 miles south of Castle Pines Parkway lies one of our nation’s most treasured learning institutions, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Steeped in Colorado’s rich convergence of aviation and military history, the USAFA provides a great day trip for families of all ages looking for an interesting diversion that can provide a little something for the scenic, sports, historic and even patriotic minded.
While many of us catch a passing glimpse of the iconic Cadet Chapel driving south on I-25, this beautiful campus roaming over 18,000 acres at the foot of the Rampart Range is best experienced up close. Just off the USAFA’s North Gate exit, visitors can go west to the campus gate. Once on campus, an early chance to stretch your legs appears as the fuselage of a vintage Cold War B-52 sits on display. Visitors can wander and learn about this amazing aircraft’s history that spans to present day.
With well-marked signs throughout the hilly terrain, a great next stop is the Barry Goldwater Visitor Center. A special treat awaits 2017 visitors when they walk through the main doors, the Commander and Chief Football Trophy, which is awarded each year to the U.S. service academy football team that has the best record in head-to-head competition. The layout of the visitor center is organized with four main exhibit areas that guide guests through the USAFA’s “Four Pillars of Excellence” or the building blocks of a cadet’s four-year experience.
Regardless of your collegiate loyalties, a truly can’t miss event while at the USAFA is the 20-minute movie, “A Year In The Blue,” which showcases the journey cadets make from in-processing to commissioning as officers in the USAF. Educational and inspirational for all, the movie gives visitors a small taste of the unique and challenging academic and physical demands that these young men and woman face during their time at the USAFA.
About a one-half mile walk from the visitor center sits the Cadet Chapel. Finished in 1962, this structure represents a unique design that includes the 17 spires that tower 150-feet up in the air to form the chapel’s impressive diamond cutting external appearance. Inside the main worship area, mosaic stained glass casts reflections on the walnut and mahogany pews built to hold 1200 worshipers per service.
From the chapel grounds, other parts of the cadets’ campus life can be viewed where monuments and sculptures from distinguished units and classes have been dedicated throughout the buildings and courtyard. Another campus highlight is Polaris Hall, which houses the USAFA Center for Character and Leadership Development, can be visited.
Finally, while a trip to the USAFA grounds alone warrants a visit, the school is also home to many division one college athletic event pursuits. It is hard to beat the pageantry of a football game at Falcon Stadium as every game starts with a flyover from one or more state-of- the-art U.S. Air Force aircraft. For those more outdoor minded, at certain times, the USAFA does open access to their multi-use trails, including more than 23 miles of unpaved trails for hikers, bikers and equestrian enthusiasts.
For more information, including hours, visit www.usafa.af.mil.
U.S. Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80840