My family moved to Colorado Springs from Northern California in 1998. We came here for many reasons: clean air, minimal pollution, very little traffic, low crime rates, low taxes, and (most importantly), we had family here.
A few weeks in, I noticed that there are some strange quirks about living in Colorado (and Colorado Springs, specifically) that I hadn’t expected. So for anyone interested, here is my list of the funny quirks of “The Springs,” my home sweet home.
Colorado Springs is a major military town.
We have five (count ’em: 5!) major military installations here: NORAD, Air Force Academy, Ft. Carson, Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB. I’ve heard estimates that military spending accounts for 70-80% of our local economy, and those figures don’t surprise me. Most local shops in town offer “military discounts” for active-duty military, and you’ll frequently see soldiers dressed in combat fatigues when you’re shopping or out for dinner. An enormous percentage of our population is active or retired military. What a lot of people do is work for the Air Force or Army for twenty years and retire to Colorado Springs, working for a private contractor doing the same job as before (Space Systems Engineering, for example) for three times the pay, while drawing military retirement benefits. It’s one of the most lucrative deals I’ve ever heard of.
I like and support our military (my Great Grandfather served in the Army, my Grandpa served in the Air Force and my Uncle served in the Marines), but, alas, I personally haven’t been in the military myself. Which means I’m in the minority, and I’m constantly telling people behind cash registers “No, I don’t have a military I.D.” when they offer me a military discount.
People in Colorado Springs don’t really recycle.
In California, we recycled because it’s required by law. It was just part of our routine—we’d set out our color-coded recycling bins (green/yellow/blue) at the curb next to the garbage can on trash day. So naturally, after moving here, I figured that recycling would be even more important because we were living in the mountains. Boy was I wrong. Instead, I was shocked to see that most people in Colorado Springs don’t recycle anything. A few years ago, I tried to find a place where I could recycle our glass bottles because I felt bad always throwing them in the trash. I started calling around. Only one recycling center told me they could take my glass bottles if I wanted, but I wouldn’t get paid anything, and I would have to drop them off since they wouldn’t pick them up. So if you’re at a BBQ at a friend’s house, don’t bother looking for a recycling bin for your soda or beer can. Just throw it in the trash.
[Update, 2015: As of last year, my local trash service has started offering single-stream recycling, and I signed up as soon as I found out about it. For only $3/month, we now get a blue rolling recycling container that we can put paper, glass, and more in. Finally. What changed that allowed them to offer this? I don’t know, but it sure helps us out. And it only took them a decade and a half to catch up!]
Kids in Colorado Springs play Lacrosse.
What on earth is lacrosse? It’s a game of supposedly American Indian origin, where high school kids run around on grass fields wearing enormous safety goggles and waving white nets. The first time I drove by a high school and saw a lacrosse game, I thought the girls soccer team was running around catching butterflies. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. What a strange sport—I had never heard of this before moving to Colorado. In the reverse, nobody here has ever heard of Water Polo, which is a huge sport where I grew up. How funny.
People here don’t swim much, but if they do, it’s at an indoor pool.
There are about 5 city pools in our entire population of half a million people. I know several “natives” of Colorado Springs who have never even been to a beach. For the most part, people in Colorado Springs don’t have pool memberships, and there are very few pools in town, aside from indoor pools at gyms like the YMCA.
Colorado Springs is the Land of Fire & Ice
Just about everywhere you live, you’ll find some sort of natural disaster that hits your area. In Northern California, the big scare, of course, was earthquakes. Here in Colorado Springs, there are two natural disasters we get: unbelievably huge hailstones, and forest fires. I’ve lived through two wildfires (the Waldo Canyon fire, and the Black Forest fire) and nearly 1,000 homes were burned down. You’d think that would cost insurance companies a fortune to replace everything, yet my friend who is an insurance agent told me that his agency pays out FAR more in claims from hail damage each year than they did after the forest fires. (On a side note, he’s been a great agent and helped me with my hail damages car and roof! Give him a call if you need help: Mark Olsen Insurance).
It’s no laughing matter, obviously, but it is interesting to me that Colorado Springs would have two natural disasters that are such polar opposites—we get damage from extreme cold/water and extreme dry/fire. …and the hailstorms are very strange: it will literally be a calm, sunny day, around 80 or 90 degrees, in late July, where you’re sweating in the dry heat, then around 2:00pm, a huge deluge of golfball-sized hail falls out of the sky, smashing windshields, denting cars, ripping leaves and flowers off of trees, and then… 20 minutes later, it’s all gone, and it’s warm again. …but everything is now bent, broken, and smashed. Strange.
Colorado Springers can’t pronounce Spanish words. And they don’t care about it at all.
We live in “Colorado Springs.” That’s easy to pronounce. However, just down the road from us is a city called “Buena Vista,” which would obviously be pronounced “bway-nuh vis-ta.” But you can always spot the natives in Colorado Springs—they say it “bee-yoo-na vista.” Why? …some people say that’s the official name of it. I don’t know that I buy that, but even if I did, that doesn’t excuse the fact that when they say “Florissant” (the tiny town just up the mountain), they’ll call it “fluorescent“. …as in “fluorescent light bulb.” The strangest pronunciation though, is the way that a lot of older folks call “Pueblo” “pee-yeh-blow.”
Cities are bad enough, but people also have trouble with road names. There are many roads in downtown Colorado Springs that give people a lot of trouble, two that seem nearly impossible: “Cache le Poudre” and “Vermijo.” Cache le Poudre is French for “hide the powder,” and has a fascinating back story of French trappers who hid gunpowder in a river bank a long time ago. However, nobody cares about that, or the fact that it should be pronounced like “cawsh-luh-poo-druh” so instead they’ll say “catch-la-pooter.” Some people haven given up entirely and just call it “Cash Street.” Quoi?! I’d hate to hear them pronounce “San Joaquin,” the county where I grew up.
Pikes Peak is really just for tourists.
Tons of locals haven’t been to the top of Pikes Peak, and they don’t care to. I have been to the top of Pikes Peak exactly twice: once 20 years ago when I was visiting my grandparents, and last year, to take my daughter there on a school field trip. Both times, we took the cog railway to get up there. My wife, who’s lived here for 21 years has never even tried to go to the top, or hike it at all. Oh, and for the record, it’s called “Pikes Peak,” not “Pike’s Peak.” Its official name does not include an apostrophe, at least since 1890. There’s a law somewhere that says mountain’s can’t have “possessive names,” so they just removed the apostrophe.
Bottled items and bags are under pressure.
Because of the high altitude, everything that’s bottled is under pressure. For example, when you opening a can of yogurt, if you don’t point it away from yourself, the lid will “pop” and spit yogurt into your face. I’ve watched this firsthand several times, and it’s funny every time a tourist or newcomer gets an eyeful of yogurt. When you go grocery shopping, it’s funny to see all the potato chip bags just about ready to burst from all the air inside.
Many homes in Colorado Springs don’t have an air conditioner.
The first week after we moved here, I heard a family telling their friends about how they’d just purchased an “Air Conditioner” for their house. I couldn’t understand what all the excitement was about. …I later found out that in Colorado, having A/C in your home is a luxury, depending on when it was built. Most homes here, unless they were built in the past 10 years or so, don’t have them. Even if they do, you’re lucky if they actually work. Many people will even not have one installed when getting a new home built.
In California, it was simply a necessity. I remember one summer in the early 1990s in Stockton when our A/C was broken for a few days… let me tell you—spending a week in 110° heat was miserable. Yet, in Colorado Springs, many people will complain of the intolerable heart when our summer days hit 80°. Oh yeah, at least in California, we could go to the pool, but as I said, most people here don’t swim.
People in Colorado Springs are very, very, very nice to strangers.
I remember taking walks to the neighborhood park in my first few months here, and the people I walked past as I crossed the street would look me in the eye, smile and nod, and say “Good morning!” I wondered if these were people I’d met before, because I wasn’t used to being spoken to in this manner by strangers. This politeness can also be a little bit weird sometimes: if you are approaching the front door of any building, whether it’s a store, church or gas station, someone is going to hold the door open for you… sometimes even when you’re twenty or thirty feet away from the door. They’ll just stand there, holding the door open, waiting for you. Polite, but very awkward.
Most people in Colorado Springs are white.
We have very few minority groups. That was a strange shift for me, coming from a city with people from China, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, India, and more. Out here, most people look like Conan O’ Brien. If you’re from NorCal, you know those little roadside strawberry stands that the Hmongs run? I remember those fondly; but people here have no idea who or “what” a “Hmong” even is.
The elevation is killer. (Literally).
We’re a little bit sadistic for some reason, I guess. People here like to chuckle at tourists, especially those from sea level… because they all magically turn into wimps when they’re here. They’ll huff and puff as they try to climb even a tiny set of stairs. They’ll chug bottles and bottles of water and talk about how dehydrated they are or that they’re getting a headache. Then they’ll get really tired and take long naps in the middle of the day. We were like that once, I suppose. But it’s so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like, but I’m reminded of it when I take my visiting friends out to dinner, and they down three glasses of water in a row and ask the server for a refill.
Poor tourists. On top of jet lag, they have to deal with our thin air. Oh yeah, did I mention that our dry air and high elevation means that it’s super easy to get sunburned? Even though we get less sun than some other places, since we’re closer to the sun, your skin will turn red here much faster than it does back home.
When I say the high elevation is killer, I mean it. Sometimes people go hiking in the mountains and get so over-exerted that they have heart attacks. Not because the climb is so hard per se, but because it’s too hard for them since they’re from sea level or have never done a serious hike before. So add this to your to-do list when you get here: 1) drink tons of water, 2) walk up the stairs slowly, 3) wear lots of sunscreen, and 4) don’t climb mountains.
There is no good seafood in Colorado Springs.
For the most part, people in the Springs don’t “go out for seafood.” You might order some if the restaurant you go to happens to serve salmon, but that’s about it. Most people I know have never even tried Scallops or Oysters. This really makes me miss being near the coast. If you want seafood, you’ll have to drive somewhere like Denver. But even then, they’re still bringing it in from far, far away.
The coolest cars here are SUVs, not sports cars.
You will very rarely see a convertible or sportscar. If you do, it’s probably an older man in a classic Corvette. Here, it’s much cooler to own a Porsche Cayenne or Cadillac Escalade than it is to scoot around in a Ferrari or Lotus. Most of of the wealthier people on the north side of town just drive Jeep Cherokees or Honda Pilots. I haven’t figured out why this is, other than the fact that it snows here, so having all-wheel-drive is a must. (You’d think wealthier folks would have both, but many don’t).
There are (nearly) NO bugs here!
This is my favorite thing about Colorado Springs, with one exception: our ants are big enough to make you wet your pants with fright when you see them… but other than that, there are also nearly no mosquitoes or cockroaches. All year long, we revel in the fresh, clean, bug-free air. The worst that happens here is we get moths in our garages every fall, and they die by the first freeze of the winter, so you’ll spend weeks sweeping up dead moths, but at least they’re just moths, and… they’re DEAD!
There’s almost no humidity. That’s good and bad.
Colorado is so dry that you can leave a bag of potato chips sitting on the counter wide open for three days and the chips won’t go stale. It’s so dry here that you don’t even need a towel when you shower off. By the time you get out of the shower, you’re almost dry already. That’s the nice part about having such dry air. The part that sucks is that you can get nosebleeds very easily (sometimes, just sneezing is enough to give you a nosebleed). Also, it took my skin at least three years to adjust to it. Up until that point, I went through jars and jars of lotion and Vaseline trying to keep my hands from cracking and bleeding.
Deer are pests in Colorado Springs.
You can always tell who the tourists are, because they obsess over the deer that walk around in the streets. They’ll literally pull over their cars, roll down the windows, point, and then get out and take pictures. I hate to say it, but… we laugh at people like that. Locals here will slow down for deer, but that’s to avoid hitting them. Deer are pretty, but they’re annoying as well—they jump over fences, trash your garden and and eat the fruit off your trees. If you’re cruising down the highway and you hit a deer, you’ll probably total your car. I have several friends that have done this. Some people even die from hitting deer.
Every coffee shop in town has a bible study every morning.
If you go to any coffee shop in Colorado Springs before 8:00am, you will see tables with men (and women, but less so) having bible studies. As a Christian myself, I think this is great, but I don’t remember ever seeing this in California. If you spend any length of time at coffee shops on the north side of town, you will hear the conversations peppered with prayer requests, talks about sermons, and people saying “Oh, you go to New Life? I do too!“
There are some people who focus on this far too much, I think. Some locals think Colorado Springs has a reputation as being too close-minded or too much of a “religious mecca.” My observation is that this isn’t even close to being true, and those people are listening too much to talk radio or party politics. For example: yes, the north side of Colorado Springs is filled with Christian nonprofits (Compassion International, Focus on the Family, etc), but according to data compiled by the Pikes Peak United Way’s “Quality of Life Indicators Report” in 2013, only 15.2% of people in the Colorado Springs area self-identify as “Evangelical Protestants,” while a whopping 66.7% self-identify as “Not Participating” with any religious affiliation at all. The report even says “Colorado Springs even has a “smaller percentage of its population reporting [a] congregational membership than either the USA or Colorado as a whole. …only Portland, Oregon has a lower participation rate.” In my experience, this data is far closer to accurate than what a few vocal opponents claim.
The drivers here are absolutely horrendous.
You think California’s drivers are bad? Come out here and you’ll change your mind. For some strange reason, when you’re on an on-ramp trying to merge with traffic on the highway, people will ignore your need to merge and instead speed up, as if to force you off the road. The same thing happens when you try to change lanes. People see your turn signal, and then accelerate it to try to prevent you from getting in front of them. Why? I don’t know. It’s very dangerous, and very strange. Also, each time it snows, you’ll see accidents all over the roads… sometimes even fatal multiple-car pileups, even if there’s only a half inch of snow. It’s as if people completely forget how to drive on snow, every single year.
Are there “Springs” in Colorado Springs? No. Yes. Sorta. Not really.
Are there any “springs” in Colorado Springs? I’ve asked people this question for over 15 years, and the resounding answer from dozens (if not hundreds) of people has been something akin to “Hmmm… I don’t know. I never really thought about it.” I think this is the strangest case of complacency I’ve ever encountered—am I really the only one who thinks it’s weird that nobody except me asks this question?
The good news is, finally, yes, we have indeed found “the Springs” in Colorado Springs! The bad news is, you can’t go there. You can’t see them, swim in them, or drink from them. All that remains of our magnificent Springs is a capped-off plumbing stub with no signage or fanfare in a downtown park where homeless people sleep. Fortunately, as of last year, there’s an effort by a few brilliant people to try to restore the Springs. For information on that, check out “Restore Tahama Springs.” And join me in my bewilderment that nobody seems to care about this bizarre situation and lost piece of history.
Colorado has more microbreweries than any other state.
Personally, I find this to be awesome. There’s plenty of good beer here. Not just beer made in Colorado and served here, but actually made here. Tiny little shops the size of my own house, or smaller, brew their own beer, and it’s excellent. On the other hand, wine is not nearly as popular, and when people do drink wine, it’s usually from California. There are a few wineries in the state, but I’ve never gone to see them. I’ve heard a rumor that you can see almost all of them in one day because there are so few of them and they’re all extremely small—literally as small as someone’s backyard. Maybe I can confirm this when I take a wine tour someday.
Being local is very important.
One of the more common question when doing business here is “are you local?” Most people want to do business with locals. If you live in Denver and want to do business in Colorado Springs, you’re simply going to have a hard time. Most Colorado Springs businesses resent “big city” Denverites coming down here to sell products and services, almost like they’re just here to take advantage of us. What’s funny is Pueblo is the same way. So we don’t like businesses from Denver here, and Pueblo people don’t like businesses from Colorado Springs coming to their town . We’re kind of like a dysfunctional family of three kids:
- Denver: the oldest child. She’s bossy, stuck up, and thinks she’s better than her obnoxious younger brothers.
- Colorado Springs: the poor middle child. He’s certain that his older sister is no better than him even though she’s bigger. And at least he isn’t a baby, like his little brother.
- Pueblo: the poor baby of family, who tattle-tales on the two older kids and always says “you’re not the boss of me!”
Since I’m in Colorado Springs, I’m biased: I think the middle child has it the roughest.
Colorado Springs is a land of contradictions.
Actually, our city is, and our state is. Colorado Springs is home to Focus on the Family on the north side of town, and several atheist (and arguably anti-Christian) organizations downtown. Statewide, Colorado consistently has a either a conservative congress and a liberal governor, or vise-versa. We rank number one in the nation both for churches per capita, and bars per capita. Half the people here are pantheistic, earth-worshiping, pot-smoking greenies who protest fracking, and and the other half are old, white real estate developers and gun-rights activists. In our city, we have a huge presence of Christian nonprofit organizations, and we were (until recently) the capital for Crystal Methamphetamine and suicides. Colorado has some of the nation’s strongest firearms liberties, and we’re also home to the only Buddhist college in the nation. What did Lincoln say? “A house divided is… Colorado”?
Colorado Springs has a cemetery of tech companies.
Believe it or not, back in the ’90s, the largest assembly plant for Apple Computers in America was just south of Colorado Springs, in a little suburb called Fountain. The building that used to house their operations is now the El Paso County Administrative Center. There was a HUGE tech boom here in the early 2000s, but just a few years later, the entire industry died and there are still silicon-chip manufacturing plant “corpses” all over town. The only real tech companies that still exist are defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, etc.
Taking some data from the 2013 “Quality of Life” report I mentioned earlier in this post, here’s a sad quote that sums it up: “Since 2000, we [Colorado Springs] have lost 18,800 information technology and manufacturing jobs, although the employment in these two industries stabilized during the past two years.” So we’re still hurting from the boom and following bust, but it appears to be slowly getting a little better.
There’s a huge presence of SCUBA divers in Colorado Springs.
There are several SCUBA diving shops. Right here, next to Pikes Peak. Nobody thinks this is weird, for some reason, yet the closest open water is over 1,000 miles away. I love this, because it means that I can take my refresher dives at the Underwater Connection two blocks from my house, when it’s 8 degrees outside, and snowing… and hop on a plane and do a two-tank boat dive in the Virgin Islands the very next day when it’s sunny and 90 degrees. But still… you gotta admit, this is really weird.
There’s static electricity everywhere.
Oftentimes, when walking across a carpeted floor, when you go to turn off a light, the light switch will shock you. The same thing can happen when you go to shake hands with somebody. The only explanation I’ve heard for why this happens is that our air is extremely dry and that somehow causes static buildup. Sometimes, it’s not a big deal and you’ll just get a small zing. But every once in a while, when you’re not expecting it, you’ll flip off the light at night and get a zap so powerful that it hurts your whole arm and makes your funny bone tingle for several minutes. Don’t worry though, you’ll get used to it eventually. Try this sometime: when you’re done grocery shopping, set your grocery sacks down on the floor and walk in to the kitchen and kiss your spouse before touching any door knobs or light switches: you will get a “kiss shock.” This happens to my wife and I ALL the time.
The snow here stays for half a day, then melts.
We get snow all the time in the winter, but it will melt either the same day or the next day. On Monday, it might be 4 degrees and icy, and on Tuesday it might be 70 degrees with full sun and not a cloud in the sky. I’m not kidding—we do have swings that extreme. What this means is that nobody takes the snow that seriously… no matter how bad it gets, it’s pretty much guaranteed to melt tomorrow. So we all just drive around on melting snow all winter—our cars are always covered in road dirt and black slushy ice that’s half melted. We often forget having a snow scraper in the car too, which becomes a major hassle only once every two months or so.
Constant, never ending road construction and potholes
Colorado Springs is the land of eternal construction. I’ve been here 17 years and the main thoroughfares of our city are ALWAYS under construction. Union, Powers, I-25, Academy…. all the main arteries of transportation are constantly being resurfaced, or widened. This wouldn’t be so annoying except for the fact that the city seems to want to do construction on all of them at the same time. I’ve gotten to the point where my route to and from work is a bizarre sort of zig-zag pattern where I dart in and out of residential side streets, all to try to avoid the obnoxious “work zone” speed limits and orange traffic cones. Even though I’m limited to 35 or 40 miles per hour, I can get there faster sometimes.
The entire city shuts down at 10pm, every night.
This one really, really drives me nuts. Nearly everything in town closes every night at 10:00 except the bars downtown where soldiers with PTSD get into bar brawls, and creepy old men bump and grind on unsuspecting young women. Where does everybody go at 10pm? I have no idea. Home, maybe? Walk around any part of town (except bar alley on Tejon Street) and you’ll hear nothing but crickets. The lights are out. The doors are closed. I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s really quite annoying. Example: my sister flew in from Florida a few months ago. It was a Tuesday night, and just barely 9:20pm. Every place we tried (over 10 different restaurants!) was either closed already, or closing in 10 minutes. I think I ended up pounding my first on the dashboard and cursing in frustration, then dejectedly pulling into the Village Inn parking lot. Yay. Come see how we roll here in Colorado Springs—land of Village Inn. So exciting.
Well, there you have it. That’s my list. Having said all that, Colorado Springs really is a very nice place to live. Every city has its quirks, to be sure. As I mentioned in the beginning, the crime is low, there’s no pollution, and the benefits far outweigh living here compared to Stockton (and many other towns in California). But these particular quirks are so strange to me, and sometimes so annoying that they’re worth mentioning.
Colorado Springs is really a very friendly city, and it’s a great place to raise children (hence, my raising my five kids here). So I generally do recommend that people come here to visit or live, especially if they’re seeking asylum from crime-ridden areas like I was.
What are your thoughts? Are you thinking of moving to Colorado Springs? Are you interested in relocating? Where are you living now? Have you heard anything else funny about Colorado Springs not listed here? Let me know in the comments! (You may note that so far, I’ve gotten lots of comments, and I try to answer every single one of them, so if you do have a question, just ask!)
Note: I’ve gotten so many emails about this post from people asking “which side of town should I move to?” that I talked to a realtor friend of mine to help answer this. She’s an expert on helping people relocate to Colorado Springs from other states (and other countries!) so feel free to visit her website at www.springshomefinders.com and contact her. She will be happy to help you find a place to live, and help determine which side of town and which school districts are best for you and your family. She is much, much better at this than I am.