Friday, September 11, 2015

Colorful Colorado

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak
Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs are two of my favorite cities and I’ve written about them previously, so if you want to know more about the area take a look at Springing to Manitou. From Capulin National Monument it’s a short drive (about 244 miles or 393 kilometers) to Colorado Springs giving us just enough time to plan our attack on the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak. The Garden of the Gods is actually a public park that was designated a National Natural Landmark (NNL) in 1971. The NNL Program is the only national natural areas program that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. The program supports voluntary preservation of sites that strengthen the public's appreciation of the country's natural heritage. The National Park Service administers the NNL Program and may assist NNL owners with the conservation of these sites. At the Garden of the Gods there is a Visitor’s Center with lots of information about the geology and ecology of the park; there is also a restaurant and a gift shop.

The Garden of the Gods area shows evidence of habitation from about 1330 BC with the lush flora and abundant fauna attracting tribes of Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee,
Garden of the Gods
Shoshone, and Utes. There are many areas that provide shelter from the elements along with access to water within the park, which also makes it an attractive place to stay. In the 1500s, explorers and trappers traveled through the area, describing the Garden of the Gods in their journals. Charles Elliott Perkins purchased 480 acres of land that included a portion of the present park in 1879. When Perkins died, his family gave this acreage to the City of Colorado Springs providing that it would be used as a free public park. The rest of the park was acquired when William Jackson Palmer, who had owned the Rock Ledge Ranch and for whom Palmer Trail was named, died leaving his land to the city. Although the geology of the park is overwhelming, it is also an interesting ecological preserve. Studies of the flora and fauna began in the late 1800s with the discovery of the dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri and the Garden of the Gods Honey Ant (Myrmecocystus melliger). The park also abounds with mule deer, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, foxes and rabbits along with more than 130 species of birds.

The spectacular rock formations in the Garden of the Gods are the ancient sedimentary
Cotton-tail Rabbit
beds of 
deep-red, pink and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but were then tilted vertically and faulted by the same forces that caused the Rocky Mountains and the Pikes Peak range. Erosion and glaciation left the present rock formations, but there are also indications of ancient seas, previous mountain ranges, alluvial fans, sandy beaches and broad sand dune areas. Although I have no problem wandering among all of the amazing features, the one I like the best is the Kissing Camels. In recent years erosion has taken a toll on this romantic pair and one camel has lost part of its head, but not its lips. Vince said that when he was here in the 1940s that the park was relatively undeveloped and undiscovered. He parked near the Garden of the Gods Trading Post and walked through the brush on gravel trails to a few of the monoliths. Getting to the really large formations was not an option unless you wanted to brave the undergrowth and the rattlesnakes.
Kissing Camels

Walking around in the Garden of the Gods is a great way to get acclimatized to the lower
Pikes Peak
oxygen levels that occur at 6,000+ feet (1829+ meters). However, it doesn’t prepare you for the summit of
Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet (4,302.31 meters) where I believe oxygen only visits on rare occasions. At the pinnacle, the partial pressure of oxygen is only about 60% of that at sea level, so you must breathe faster/harder to get the same amount of oxygen to your cells as you would at sea level. This also means that water boils at about 186oF (85.5oC) rather than at 212oF (100oC); if you wanted to boil an egg, it would take the better part of 12 hours. As one of Colorado's 53 fourteeners, mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet (4,267.2 meters) above sea level and the highest mountain of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1961; it is managed by the National Park Service. An NHL is a building, site, structure or object that is recognized by the US government for its outstanding historical significance. Pikes Peak has had several names since its discovery. The Utes called it ‘Tava’ or ‘sun’, the Arapaho named it ‘Heey-otoyoo’ meaning ‘Long Mountain’, Spanish explorers termed the mountain ‘El Capitán’ or ‘The Leader’ and Zebulon Pike named it ‘Highest Peak’; however it became commonly known to travelers and explorers as ‘Pike's Highest Peak’. It was renamed, yet again, as ‘James Peak’ to honor Edwin James who made it to the summit in 1820, and finally as ‘Pike's Peak’ in tribute to Zebulon Pike. In 1890, the name was simplified to ‘Pikes Peak’ by the United States Board on Geographic Names, evidently because apostrophes are so terribly difficult.

Pikes Peak is composed of Pikes Peak granite, a pink igneous rock that is thought to be about a billion years old. After millennia of erosion, the soils are gravelly at the top changing
Yellow-bellied Marmot beside railroad tracks
to richer stony sandy loam from the tree line down. Also near the peak are tundra plants growing so slowly that adding an a few centimeters could take three-quarters of a century; farther down are stunted trees and lower still are the more common evergreens of the area. Edwin James, on his way up the mountain, was the first to describe the blue columbine, Colorado's state flower. Within the trees, wildlife is common and includes the expected birds, deer, foxes and rabbits. Farther up the mountain are other animals including the state mammal, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The animal I was most looking forward to catching sight of was the pika; this is a small mouse-like critter that is related to the rabbit. The other animal I wanted to see was the Yellow-bellied Marmot. The Marmots were out and in fine fur when we went up the mountain, but I didn’t get to see a pika; maybe on my next trip.

Getting to the top of Pikes Peak is easier than it once was since there is now a paved road
View from the summit of Pikes Peak
from Manitou Springs to the summit, Pikes Peak Highway. You can also get to the top by taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad or either of the two hiking trails, Barr Trail and The Craggs; if you are not in fabulous physical shape, choose the railroad or driving. Over a half million people visit Pikes Peak every year, but long ago it wasn’t quite so easy. In 1858, Julia Archibald Holmes became the first woman to hike to the summit. From there she wrote in a letter to her mother saying, ‘Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.’ This same sight inspired Katharine Lee Bates some 35 years later to write a poem, ‘America the Beautiful’. Probably better known for achieving the summit is William Wayne Brown who drove his Buick Bear Cat to the top in five hours and twenty-eight minutes in 1913, inspiring the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb up a gravel road. Although it remained passable in the summer, this gravel road continued to erode causing environmental damage to the
Vince with a doughnut
alpine environment. Years later, in response to a suit brought by the Sierra Club, the road was paved. We drove our Jeep up that road in the 1980s, long before it was paved, but this time chose to take the Cog Railroad. Once at the top, we got the most common souvenir available at the gift shop: the Pikes Peak Doughnut. After walking around in the cold with not much air to breath, the pastry and a hot cup of coffee were great and we were very happy to get back on the train and head back to Manitou Springs. Even though the route is the same going and coming, the scenery is ever-changing making this trip very enjoyable.

For information on What we did, Where we stayed and What we ate, go to ‘Reviews of Road Trip to Yellowstone’.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
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