Tuesday, September 6, 2022
It is about a 5.5 hour drive from Durango to Colorado Springs, which is northeast of Durango. It takes us about an hour or so longer by the time we stop for lunch, gas and whatever else happens. Pulling the Airstream makes us a little slower, but not that much. We arrived yesterday, staying at lovely Cheyenne Mountain State Park, a perfect location for visiting the area, yet you feel you are away from it all. It’s a great spot with great views.
We had a list of things to do thanks to Carlotta at the sheepskin store in Durango. We wanted to do two of them today. First up was Garden of The Gods National Natural Area. Located in the city, It is a busy place that attracts visitors like us as well as a great place for locals for hiking, biking or walking dogs. There is an excellent Visitor’s Center with a great porch overlooking the park. It would be much nicer early in the morning when not so crowded, It is also easiest to walk through. We drove and found it difficult to park. Everyone wanted to have their pictures taken sitting or climbing on the rock formations. After a few pictures, I had enough. A very nice guide at the visitor’s center told us about a restaurant at the other end of the park, so we went for a nice lunch.
Next up was driving up Pike’s Peak, a 14,115′ mountain on the front range of the Rockies. Colorado has 53 fourteeners and the US has 96. I had read about this treacherous drive and was preparing myself. You have to reserve a time to go so the little road isn’t too crowded. The other way to go is by taking the cog train, quite an engineering feat to get a train up a steep mountain. Of course gold was the first call to Pike’s Peak, but it didn’t really pan out.
It was named many things by different people, the first known name was a Ute name meaning Long Mountain. Its current name came from explorer General Zebulon Pike. At the same time as the Lewis and Clark expedition, President Jefferson commissioned him to explore through the Louisiana Purchase territory in 1805-1806. A second expedition took him to the southwest – Texas and New Mexico (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebulon_Pike). I had never heard of him until writing this article, but he is quite an explorer and Brigadier General, killed in the War of 1812. Like Lewis, he kept a journal and later wrote a book that was very popular around the world. I ordered a second-hand copy. You can also read it at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43774/43774-h/43774-h.htm.
The base of the mountain took us to the very cute, little town of Manitou Springs. The road first climbs through Pike National Forest on a normal road. You purchase a ticket @ $10 per adult. Then we passed a small guard house. Thereafter the road becomes steep, narrow and winding. A nice ranger gave some good tips: go slow; downshift coming down into first or second gear – mostly first! I hate this kind of road, on the precipice, with sharp curves and switchbacks and areas with no guardrails. On some of the turns I couldn’t see if anyone was coming or not. Driving on the inside is OK, but when on the outside I’m a wreck. Well a wreck is one thing, but one mistake here and it’s Goodbye! Or what if someone else makes a mistake, texting or videoing while driving? All kinds of thoughts crept through my head as Martha urged me on, totally unaffected. She offered to drive, which makes me even more afraid. Later I asked her what she would do if I fainted or had a heart attack. She said she would reach over and put it in first gear and take control. Pretty cool!
Once at the top, there is a nice visitor’s center and great views all around the top. Some rain came through, obstructing the views a bit. The ravens met us again, making me feel better. I watched with amazement as they sailed through the air with ease at this altitude. Of course they are attracted to areas like this where humans always leave something to eat, or something to take home as a prize.
I was shocked in the Visitor’s Center to learn there is an annual car race up the mountain called Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. This ain’t no hill! It is 12.42 miles, 156 turns and 14,115 ft elevation. It used to include motorcycles, but after four deaths, they quit having motorcycles. I cannot comprehend racing up this mountain!
There is also THE BROADMOOR CYCLE TO THE SUMMIT for those who would rather bike 12 miles with a 4,725 ft elevation gain!
I did as the ranger told me going down. I put it in first or second gear and took it slow, stopping a couple of times at overlooks. I started breathing again when I saw the little guardhouse. I stopped next to it wondering why. A man checked the heat of my brakes and said I was borderline, but recommended stopping to let them cool down for about 10 minutes. There is a small souvenir/restaurant, so we checked that out while I and the brakes cooled down. The rest of the way was a normal mountain road.