Photo above: Cog railway to Pikes Peak of the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway, 1900, Detroit Publishing Company. Right: Panoramic view of Pikes Peak, 1899, William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Company. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.
Such a unique place to visit and even more unique getting there, Pikes Peak, found in European settlement times by Zebulan Pike, although the Spanish might disagree, is 14,115 feet tall. It can be driven to by highway. And boy, what a drive. You'll think when rounding each switchback turn that you just might skim off the mountain. That was really true in past, fewer guardrail days, but still presents an awesome experience for those that want to transmission their way up. That's not the only way to get there. A cog railway, out of commission for repairs at the moment and tentatively looking at a 2021 reboot, has been climbing the peak since 1891. There's also trails for hikers, but you have to be extra special hardy and qualified to try that. For those drivers, a new Summit House Complex with Visitor Center will be awaiting you in fall 2020, and for the time being during peak summer tourist days, and perhaps in the future, your drive up could stop three miles shy of the top where you'll get a shuttle. But no matter how you get there, top of the world is the notion that comes to mind. So if you're traveling west, to Denver, or thereabouts, consider a trip to the peak that Pike made famous. Check your oil first.
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Pikes Peak Then
In the United States, there are ninety-six peaks over fourteen thousand feet. Pikes Peak was home to the Ute band called Tabeguache, People of Sun Mountain. Early Spanish explorers noted it as El Capitan when sighting it in the 1700's, but it was in 1806 when Zebulon Pike, exploring under a mission established by President Thomas Jefferson, that the peak got its name, even though Zebulon could not and did not climb to its top. Edwin James climbed it to the top in 1820.
The view from the summit has been an inspiration to many, including Katherine Lee Bates, who, in 1893, wrote the song America the Beautiful due to sighting its vista and beauty. In 1888, the Pikes Peak Carriage Road was constructed to the top by the Cascade Town Company; it closed in 1902. The carriage road had competition from the cog railway starting in 1889, at first taking passengers to the Halfway House Hotel the next year. On June 30, 1891, it made its first climb to the summit. The railroad was constructed by Zalmon G. Simmons, who owned the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company. In 1915, the Pikes Peak Highway, nineteen miles long, was built to the summit by Spencer Penrose for $500,000. Today, that highway is maintained by the city of Colorado Springs.
Photo above: The Manitou Springs depot of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, now owned by the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort, 2016, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Summit of Pike's Peak, 1901, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Pikes Peak Now
Today you can drive those nineteen miles up the highway, pending the construction at the top, with Visitor Centers at the 6 and 12 mile points, as well as the summit. There are recreation areas, as well, along the way. Until 2021, you will not be able to ride the Cog Railway, under restoration with plans for new cars and a complete rebuild with all new track. The new Summit Visitor Center (Summit Complex), with expanded amenities and thirty-eight thousand square feet of restaurant, viewing, and gift shop space is on the way. It's keeping the famous donuts and is planned for a fall 2020 opening.
For those that like to walk and have the capacity and skill to climb the 8,000 foot elevation change and twenty-six mile round trip, the Barr Trail approaches the summit from the east. During the year, there are hill climbs for cars, bikes, and a marathon up and down to the top.
T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Pikes Peak, Colorado and other National Park T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great for nature, national park, and history fans.
Things You Should Not Miss
1. Take the drive. Prepare your car and make sure you're able to handle the altitude, but if both of those are accurate, then its a spectacular journey up a mountain with views you can hardly imagine. Whether you want to go all the way, or are even able to with the current peak season shuttle service and construction, it's a view and experience to remember.
2. Eat some Summit donuts. Yes, this requires you to get to the summit, but while you're there, you may as well eat those famous concoctions that because they're baked at such heights, with water boiling at a different temperature, are just more magical than others. No, we're not exactly sure why.
3. Take in the pleasures of Manitou Springs. Its a quaint place with hotels, bed and breakfasts, summer stock theater, and museums. Yes, you can stay elsewhere, but give yourself some time to explore its nooks and crannies.
4. We know it can't happen until 2021, but a Cog Railway ride would be so cool.
Photo above: Pikes Peak Avenue in Colorado Springs, 1898, William Henry Jackson, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.