COBWEB CORNERS: Cheyenne Mountain and the stone tower

By Mel McFarland

       People wonder sometimes about the stone tower on the side of Cheyenne Mountain. It is the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. It was built in the 1930s by Spencer Penrose, one of the area's richest men in the years of the Cripple Creek Gold Rush. He spent a bunch of his money on investments in this area. He developed the Broadmoor Hotel, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the road up Pike's Peak and was building the shrine in 1935 when his friend Will Rogers, a humorist from Oklahoma, died in a plane crash in Alaska with pioneer aviator Wiley Post.
       Penrose dedicated the Shrine of the Sun to Rogers' memory. From the zoo there is a road to the shrine. A road once went from there to the top. It was built in the 1920s. At the time there was a hotel on the summit, owned by the Broadmoor Hotel. There are stories that it was used as a spot to have a drink during Prohibition. It was closed in the 1960s, and the Flood of 1965 damaged it to the extent that it never reopened.
       If you have never seen the tower up close, it is 100 feet tall, above the zoo near the bottom of the mountain. There are photos with stories of the famous humorist in the tower. To get to it you have to drive through the zoo. There is a fee. At night the shrine is lighted, and residents of the area can hear the shrine's chimes. I am not sure if they still do it, but sometimes speakers broadcast music, like at Christmas.
       Today more people are familiar with Cheyenne Mountain's interior resident, NORAD, or with the many broadcast towers for radio, television and telephones on the summit. When the first television stations looked for a good high spot for the antennas, they put them where the old hotel used to sit. The 1965 flood made it difficult to get to that spot, so a new spot was developed on the summit, which has a lot more room for the towers.