Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pikes Peak or Bust

Pikes Peak shines brightly over Crystal Reservoir.
"Pikes Peak or Bust" is the mantra that so many wrote on their covered wagons as they headed west during the gold rush days in the 1800's.  We were not in search of gold, but definitely did not want to miss the opportunity to see Pikes Peak. The city of Colorado Springs is flanked by the Rocky Mountains chain and towering majestically over all other mountains is Pikes Peak.  This glorious snowcapped mountain caught our attention every time we glanced to the west and eventually lured us up to its’ peak. 

Pikes Peak was named after Zebulon Pike, Jr. - the first man to describe the mountain.  He first thought it was a cloud but realized it was a snow covered mountain when he neared.  Pike was unprepared to summit the mountain as it was winter and the summit is 40 degrees colder than the base.
The altitude really affected me and I was out of breath after five steps.
Spirit had a great time on the summit and was excited about seeing snow for the first time.  She ran in it, bit it, rubbed her face in it, and  yes, peed in it.
Standing on top of Pikes Peak is one of the truly awe-inspiring moments that gives you chills and makes your eyes well up.  A look to the east and you see the amber waves of grain that fill the plains or Colorado and Kansas.  A glance to the west and you are mesmerized at the purple mountain majesties that are the Rocky Mountains (the world’s longest mountain range).  And a gaze up will present some of the most beautiful spacious skies that are sure to burn an image in your soul.  If you are starting to hum a tune based on my words, then let me clue you in on “America the Beautiful” and the connection to Pikes Peak.  The inspirational song that accurately describes our country was written by Katherine Lee Bates after she visited Pikes Peak in 1893. 

There is a commemorative plaque paying tribute to "America the Beautiful" which was originally written as a poem.  Bates had traveled from the east to Colorado Springs for a summer teaching job.  She was intrigued by the mountain and decided to ascend it with other teachers.  She remembered, "We hired a prairie wagon.  Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules.  I was very tired.  But when I saw the view, I felt great joy.  All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."   
Just one of the many awesome views from the top of Pikes Peak, dubbed "America's Mountain."
The drive up the 19-mile road to the top of the mountain will take you an hour or so and is not for the faint of heart.  I squirmed in my seat, tightened my seat belt, closed my eyes, and gripped the door handle for about 15 miles of the trip.  Betsy grew tired of me asking, “why don’t they have more guard rails?”  There are numerous pull-offs for viewing points and she offered to stop but I just wanted to get up to the top so this terrifying adventure would be over.  Stepping out of the car at the top we were greeted with a brisk wind and 30-degree weather with snow still on the ground from a recent storm.  The drive was so worth the majestic views that are so aptly described in “America the Beautiful.”  Not to mention the restaurant had a fresh hot batch of their famous donuts and warm hot chocolate. 

Like I said earlier, there are not many guard rails and you feel like you are going to free fall off the side of the mountain.  There is a road race up the mountain (the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb) that dates back to the early 1900's.  It is the highest elevation race and is commonly known as the "Race to the Clouds."
As elevations near 11,500 feet, the subapine zone changes to alpine.  The harsh elevations in the alpine zone prevent trees from growing and ground cover is limited to tundra grass, mosses, and lichens.
The desolate alpine zone.

The Historic Glenn Cove Inn mid-way up the mountain.
The drive will take you through four ecological zones - foothills, montane, subalpine, and alpine.
The drive back down the mountain was not as terrifying and I relaxed enough to soak up some more of the views.  You also get a great view of Colorado Springs and the clear mountain reservoirs that provide drinking water for the city.
If you stop at Crystal Reservoir you will see a statue of Big Foot.  In the late 1980's there  were many alleged sightings.  The television show "Unsolved Mysteries" became interested and set up cameras and hair snares.  Although no pictures were captured, there was hair collected and determined to belong to an unidentifiable primate.
If you don't feel like driving up Pikes Peak, you can hop a ride on a cog railroad, or you can run up it in the annual Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon which climbs over 7,700 feet.  No thanks!  I'll stick to the terrifying car ride.

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