Cheyenne Mountain, a geographical landmark southwest of Colorado Springs, is known for such famous attractions as the Broadmoor Hotel, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and, more recently, a bunker underneath it housing the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
The Cheyenne Mountain area has long been inhabited, but it is not clear exactly how long. Petroglyphs found in the Cheyenne Mountain foothills indicate human presence predating the Utes, Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Apaches, all of whom were present in the nineteenth century. The nomadic Utes used the Cheyenne Mountain area for hunting bison on the plains and deer in the mountains for hundreds of years. The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 brought a surge of white American settlers, some of whom settled near Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado City. The town became a hub, supplying miners in South Park and Blue River. Although some mining did take place on Cheyenne Mountain itself, it was usually unproductive. Rising tensions between the growing population of newcomers and the Utes eventually led to the Utes’ relocation as a result of the 1880 agreement.
Early mining operations led to trade and trail networks, establishing a basis for property ownership and homestead settlements. In 1867, William Dixon acquired property near Cheyenne Mountain. Dixon struggled to find enough water to support his cattle herds, competing with miners and Native Americans for the precious resource. Another entrepreneur, Prussian count James Pourtales, also bought substantial plots of land at the base of the mountain and constructed the Broadmoor Casino in 1891. The casino failed after a few years.
In 1892, just as Pourtales departed from Colorado Springs and as gold prices and mining activity reached record heights, Philadelphian Spencer Penrose glimpsed Cheyenne Mountain. This development brought another surge of eager laborers and investors to the area, and the population ballooned as a results. After Penrose made his fortune in Cripple Creek, he returned to the Cheyenne Mountain region. Penrose also purchased railroads, land, ranches, and water rights around Cheyenne Mountain between 1915 and 1925. He purchased the McKay Property and its water rights in 1918, which supplied settlers with water. Penrose’s fortune and access to water spurred the construction of Broadmoor Hotel and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
By 1915, Spencer Penrose had acquired enough land and capital from his successful mining investments to fund into the Broadmoor Hotel, which opened in 1918. The hotel, which became one of Colorado’s most famous and luxurious establishments, was consistently renovated and expanded into the 1930s and beyond. From its opening, the Broadmoor was the seat of culture in Colorado Springs, attracting renowned musicians such as Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff and an assortment of special guests, including John D. Rockefeller and Will Rogers.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo started as Penrose’s peculiar project to acquire his own collection of exotic animals. His animal collection began with a bear, some elk, and deer, and eventually included an elephant, a twelve-foot boa constrictor, a fox, and many others. By 1926, the first cages were installed in their present sites. The Broadmoor Hotel and the Zoo have since grown immensely and remain tourist attractions in the Colorado Springs area.
Cheyenne Mountain is also home to the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which resides within the mountain itself. Built during the Cold War, the large bunker is designed to withstand a thirty-megaton nuclear explosion. NORAD Headquarters have since been relocated to nearby Peterson Air Force Base, but the Cheyenne Mountain bunker still serves as an alternate command center. Fort Carson, a large army base, currently sits at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.
From its early history as a hunting ground for Native Americans, Cheyenne Mountain has been used for various purposes, from gold mining to tourist attractions and military installations. Cheyenne Mountain’s colorful history and its prominence as a backdrop to Colorado Springs have secured it a place in local legend and culture.