We continued our time in Colorado with a four night stop in Colorado Springs. At first the weather continued to be cool with gusty winds and afternoon thunderstorms. After a couple days we had temperatures in the 90’s and the mosquitoes came out in force at dusk. We had very gusty winds in New Mexico and the winds followed us to Colorado. We camped at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado’s newest state park. It is a very nice park with terraced campsites and full hookups. Our campsite had a view of Colorado Springs which was especially pretty at night with the twinkling lights of the city shining below us. Nearby is Fort Carson and in the evenings we could hear the sound of bugles as the flag was lowered.
We camped at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain, a very foreboding looking mountain. Perhaps the history of the mountain makes it more mysterious. The underground operations center for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was built in the early 1960’s during the Cold War to monitor the North American airspace for missile launches and Soviet military aircraft. The command center is buried 2,000 feet underground in the granite mountain on five acres and was designed with a bunker to withstand bombing and fallout from a nuclear bomb. Today it is still off limits but many of its functions were transfered in 2006 to Peterson Air Force Base nearby. On top of Cheyenne Mountain is an antennae farm visible for miles around with transmitters for cell phones, radio, television and law enforcement.
We wanted to tour the Peterson Air and Space Museum located on the Peterson Air Force Base. We read that for security reasons you had to go onto their website at least 24 hours in advance to request a visitor pass. When we went online it said they were not accepting visitors at this time due to security precautions.
On our last day we rode the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the longest and highest cog railway in the world. The trip began in Manitou Springs (elevation 6,320) for an 8.9 mile, hour and a half ride through high plains with aspen groves and dense pine forests to an alpine tundra. As we neared the top the snow was piled high along the tracks, higher than the windows. When we reached the summit of Pike’s Peak we were at an elevation of 14,110 ft. The snow was ten feet high and the temperature was 36 degrees with a wind chill of 28 degrees. We had read that at 14,000 feet you may experience breathing problems and nausea. The air at Pike’s Peak has 50% of the oxygen pressure compared to sea level. Since we had both been suffering quite a bit with allergy problems this spring we invested in a little spray bottle of oxygen at the gift shop before getting on the train. Bill used it a few times. I didn’t have any problems until we reached the summit. When I stood and walked off the train I suddenly felt very lightheaded and dizzy. After several sprays of oxygen I felt better. They do have Medic services at the summit for people who experience serious problems.
Bill had to climb over some slippery snow drifts to get some pictures, including a memorial to Katharine Lee Bates. Her visit to Pike’s Peak in 1893 inspired her to write a poem which later became the lyrics of “America the Beautiful”. Pike’s Peak is nicknamed ” America’s Mountain”.
We lucked out on the right time to visit Pike’s Peak. Less than a week earlier the train had not yet been able to reach the summit of the mountain due to ice and snow on the tracks. Besides taking the train you can reach the summit by car and hiking. The driving road has still not yet opened for the season. Pike’s Peak has the possibility of snow any day of the year!
Pike’s Peak is named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, an American explorer who was sent to the southwest in 1806 to explore the source of the Arkansas River. He attempted, but never reached the summit, but they named the mountain after him anyway.
After grabbing a late lunch we drove to the nearby Garden of the God’s Park, a National Natural Landmark. This beautiful city park was once owned by railroad magnate Charles Eliot Perkins. In 1909 he bequeathed the land to the city of Colorado Springs with the stipulation that it remain open and free to the public. It is obvious people love this park. One of the nicest and most elaborate Visitors Centers we have visited is in the park, staffed by volunteers. It has a first class nature center as well as over 30 interactive exhibits on the geology, ecology and history of the area. It has the world’s only Theiophytalia kerri dinosaur fossil replica. The dinosaur skull was discovered in the park in 1886. The park has nature talks, guided walks and guided rock climbing opportunities. There are beautiful views of Pike’s Peak from the observation deck of the visitors center. There is a nice loop drive around the park which we decided to do since it was late in the day. The red sandstone formations were beautiful.
We had mixed feelings about Colorado Springs. I expected more breathtaking views of snow capped mountains and a funky, quirky little town with boutiques and an active downtown area with restaurants. Instead the town came across as old and tired. The roads were terrible with constant potholes which made driving around town feel like driving an obstacle course. On the positive side I saw my first revolving McDonald’s sign!