There it is: Pikes Peak! At 14,115 feet it is called "America's Mountain."The saying "Pikes Peak or Bust" was a familiar slogan when I was a child. It was a saying that became popular during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859, when over 100,000 men rushed west to the Rocky Mountains in search of gold, and for pioneers heading west with hopes for a better life. It later became a rally cry used when someone was trying to describe a dream they hoped to accomplish by every means possible. The phrase certainly fired my imagination! (All photos and photo collages will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on)
The story of Zebulon Pike's discovery and attempted conquest of the mountain names after him. Click on photo to enlarge.This placard is located on the Riverwalk in Pueblo, Coorado.
This is the third summer we've lived in Colorado, and even before we lived here, I wanted to drive up this mountain that I heard so much about my entire life. My husband and I decided last weekend that the day had finally arrived when we would drive south to Colorado Springs and conquer the mountain! It was not without some trepidation, as last summer we found the drive up the equally high Mt. Evans (click here to read that post) as quite a thrilling drive, and we were a little nervous if the road up Pikes Peak would prove to be the same, and if the weather would cooperate with our drive.
We paid the fee to drive up the 19 mile long Pikes Peak Highway at the road's toll gate and we were on our way!
The road was definitely rising higher with each turn, but it did not feel too precarious.
We passed gentle slopes of pine trees for much of the first miles
As we climbed higher the terrain became more rocky.
As passenger, I could see the Pikes Peak Highway and valley views behind us as we drove higher.
We were soon driving above the tree line, at over 11,000 feet, and were at about the 13 mile mark on the highway. You can read about the different climate zones the Pikes Peak Highway passes through on this link.
There were stops along the way on the highway, that allowed visitors to explore different areas of the mountain, but we wanted to drive straight up and not stop, as we were hoping to avoid the usual thunderstorms that occur most afternoons. There is an area near this point called the "Devils Playground" due to the way lightning dances from rock to rock during a thunderstorm. That must be some sight to see!
The views on the way up the mountain were breathtaking!
As you can see from this photo, the highway is composed of many long switchbacks, which makes the drive up easy to navigate.
Even though this was the last weekend in July. we saw patches of snow!
More winding road ahead.
The higher we rose in elevation, the more desolate the terrain appeared, full of tundra grasses, mosses, sedges and lichens. It is at this altitude that the Colorado State Mammal, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep live, but we did not see any on our journey up.
I had a wonderful view of the Glen Cove and Crystal Creek Reservoir in the distance.
At one time the last few miles of the Pikes Peak Highway were not paved, but now the road extends all the way to the summit. At this point the driver can really feel the high grade and sharper turns, but we we both felt quite safe.
It was thrilling to feel as if one was driving into the clouds!
Some of the summit was extremely rocky.....
....but there were plenty of areas that enabled magnificent panoramic views!
Again, the sensation we had of almost being able to reach up and touch the clouds was mesmerizing!
My husband and I hopped up onto the Pikes Peak bench to have our photo taken.
We then walked around the summit to enjoy all the views!
Thankfully, the weather remained good our entire visit! The weather at Pikes Peak summit can easily be 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the weather at the base of the mountain, but since it was a 90 degree day in Colorado Springs it was a tolerable 55 degrees at the summit. You can check the present weather on Pikes Peak on this link. Also, it is good to remember that at this altitude you are only breathing 53% oxygen! If you are visiting Colorado from another state, and have not acclimated your body to the lower level of oxygen at a mile high, you will certainly feel the effect of being almost 3 miles above sea level!
From an observation deck we could see visitors exploring the terrain.
Also, located on the observation deck, is the "America the Beautiful" monument, as well as other memorial plaques. In 1893, Katherine Lee Bates, an English teacher from Wellesley College in Maine was invited to teach a summer reading course in Colorado Springs. She was so impressed by her 2,000 mile journey west and a visit to the summit of Pikes Peak that she composed the poem/song America the Beautiful. You can read the entire story at this link.
There was another plaque in an area near the parking lot that caught my attention. It was a memorial plaque for Carl Lotave, who died in 1924 and whose ashes were interred underneath it. Lotave was a Swedish born artist who became famous for his portraits and scenes of the southwest and Native American for the Smithsonian Museum
Another summit view.
The ruins of the original Summit House built in 1873. A timeline of the history of Pikes Peak can be read on this link.
For those that do not wish to drive up and down the summit of Pikes Peak, you can take the Cog Railway. My husband and I hope to take the railway one day to have this experience, and I will definitely blog about it.
Sorry for the blurry photo, but I wanted to show you the famous Pikes Peak donut that you can buy inside the Summit House. They are the only donut in the world made at over 14,000 feet, using a secret recipe. They are light and delicious! You can watch a Youtube video about the donuts on this link.
After enjoying the summit of Pikes Peak for a couple of hours we decided it was time to head back down the mountain and return home. We were surprised to see that even in late afternoon there were still many cars making the ascent.
Again, the views were outstanding!
Wildflowers growing among the boulders.
We followed instructions to drive down the mountain using low gear, and to try not to use our brakes continuously.
I could feel the descent grades much more than on the ascent going up.
Some of these rocks that we passed seemed precariously balanced!
We slowly descended back to the sub alpine and Montana regions of altitude.
At the half way point, near the Glen Cove Inn, cars are asked to stop by a Ranger for a brake check. If your car's brakes are not overheated you can continue on your way. If your brakes show signs of stress you are asked to pull over for a length of time in the inn's parking lot to allow them to cool, for your safety. The Glen Cove Inn has restrooms and a restaurant and gift shop. Happily our brakes were good so we continued on our way.
Soon we were back to the entrance area of the Pikes Peak Highway, completing our trip and another wonderful Colorado adventure!
One last look at Pikes Peak on our way home. We did it! "Pikes Peak or Bust!" We conquered the mountain and I know we will be back to do it again someday!
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