Curious Colorado: What is that structure you see and hear up on Cheyenne Mountain?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — You can hear the chimes reverberate for miles down the side of Cheyenne Mountain. It’s a sound that has blessed Colorado Springs for 80 years.

“They chime every quarter hour,” George Guerrero said.

He’s heard his share of chimes as the curator at The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun for more than two decades.

The classic Westminster chimes are no longer live, but a recording. More than 300 different selections can be heard from the diverse library. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., musical selections play at the top of each hour. They range from patriotic music and classic Mozart to the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

Guerrero said on any given day during the summer, there could be up to 400 visitors to the shrine. March is another busy month, since many schools are on spring break.

Meghan Armijo was visiting the shrine for the first time with her husband, Juan, and daughter, Genessee.

“This is our first time we’ve been up,” Armijo said. “My mom and grandmother are also from here, but I’ve never made it.”

Armijo, like many growing up in the area, hadn’t seen the shrine in person.

“Anytime we go down to the zoo we hear the chimes every time,” she said. “The times it goes off, in the back of your head, you think, ‘Hey, we should check that place out.'”

The Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun is hard to miss. The chimes are set to be heard at a three-mile radius, so the chances of seeing it are better. It stands at 114 feet tall and at an elevation of 8,136 feet. It can be seen all the way to Monument, 26 miles away – and maybe even farther when it’s lit up at night.

The shrine was built as a mausoleum by Spencer Penrose.

“There are four people buried here,” Guerrero said. “Spencer Penrose, his wife, Julie Penrose, Mr. Horace Devereaux, Mr.  William Leonard. The two gentlemen were very close friends and business associates of Mr. Penrose and this is where they’re buried. ”

They are located on the bottom floor with the chapel, the same place you can find the source of those chimes.

So why the name Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun?

“Mr. Penrose admired what Will Rogers stood for and did,” Guerrero said.

Yes, the millionaire who built the Broadmoor and owned most of Cheyenne Mountain named the shrine in honor of Will Rogers. Rogers was a stage and motion picture actor, radio and vaudeville performer, American cowboy and social commentator.

Rogers was killed in August 1935 in plane crash in Alaska. In 1936, Penrose announced he would honor Rogers and name the mausoleum the Will Rogers Shrine.

Penrose ran into sculptor Jo Davidson during a trip to France and contracted him to make the bust of Rogers that greets visitors at the entrance to the shrine.

“Davidson told him he would send him drawings for approval, but Penrose paid him on the spot and told him he trusted his work,” Guerrero said.

Everything about the structure is custom made, from the sculpture of Rogers to the granite taken out of the mountain.

“The building itself came from one single boulder. It was 6,000 cubic yards,” Guerrero said.

Hand-painted original wall murals portraying the rich history of Colorado Springs are on the first floor. Then it’s an ascent up 10 flights of stairs–94 stairs, to be exact. Images of Rogers hang along the stairwell, and there are even more inside the three small lookout rooms. Halfway up the tower is the main viewing deck that looks out on Colorado Springs. To help you pinpoint locations on the landscape, placards are strategically fixed along the wall for guidance. Fort Carson is the most popular vantage point.

Armijo was amazed at the view.

“It’s gorgeous. I bet, on clearer days, you can see all the way to Kansas,” she said.

In the words of Will Rogers, “even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” So pack up the car and take a drive up to the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun for a whole new perspective.

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