Pikes Peak is America’s mountain. Pikes Peak could be considered an American heritage tourism site, but is is definitively a Colorado heritage site. Standing on the top of the peak where Katherine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful” gives you a feeling of national pride at the beauty of your country. Standing at the top one can literally see for miles making you wonder how the first explorer and pioneers every settled Colorado or the West.
Zebulon Montgomery Pike was the first American explorer to name and record his view of “the Great Peak” in 1806. He attempted to climb the mountain but snow forced him and his men to turn around. His attempted climb was not easy, he estimated that the mountain was 18,000 ft and didn’t know if anyone could ever climb it. However, Edwin James proved him wrong by climbing all the way to the summit in 1820. By the 1850s a trail up the mountain was established. Pikes Peak would often be the first mountain that those traveling west on the Great Plains would see, causing many wagon trains to adopt the motto “Pikes Peak or bust.”
Pikes Peak is in the Colorado 14ers club ( mountains that are over 14,000 ft). The elevation is 14, 110 ft, making it the 31st tallest mountain in Colorado. Temperatures on the peak vary but are always colder than temperatures on the ground. Ascending ( going up) 1,000 ft is like traveling 600 miles North, as a result the temperature drops about 3.5 degrees every 1,000 feet. However, this does not take into account the wind, which is usually whipping at the top of the Peak. Depending on weather conditions visitors can expect the peak to be about 30 degrees colder than the temperature in Manitou Springs, a town at the base of the mountain.
The mountain itself is a heritage site. People come from all over the world to summit the mountain, either by car, cog, or on foot. Pikes Peak embodies the idea of American beauty, scenery and majestic landscape. To Coloradans, Pikes Peak symbolizes the resilient spirit of the first pioneers who were not afraid to explore the mountains. The top of the summit marks both this national and state heritage. There is a monument on the spot where “America the Beautiful” was written, marking the idea of national identity, and a monument to Zebulon Pike and to a local club honoring the local identity.
The average tourist can summit the mountain several ways. You can drive up the mountain on the Pikes Peak highway or take the railway cog up the mountain. Driving is a great way to watch how the scenery changes as you get above the treeline and closer to the top. On the drive you get to see lakes, valleys and the very edge of the mountain. DO NOT take the road if you are a bad driver, have bad brakes on your car, or if the person you are riding with thinks he is Dale Earnhardt and takes switchback curves at 50 miles per hour as was my experience. Taking you own car allows you to stay at the peak as long as you like, exploring the different markers, taking in the view, or eating donuts in the coffee shop. You can also stop at several scenic points along the way. The railway cog is perfect if you want to be able to enjoy the scenery without having to drive or worry about falling off the mountain. You park your car and enjoy the two hour ride to the top. Once at the top you will have an hour or so to take in the sites before heading back down the mountain.
Once you summit the mountain you feel like you are an American, because after all you were just on top of “America’s Mountain.” Pikes Peak makes you appreciate the natural beauty of America, while also showing how hard it was to first explore and settle the Colorado area.