PIKE'S PEAK


On the Road Again
July 20/Day 3.

On the road today from Palo Duro Canyon to Colorado Campground in the Pike National Forest. Interesting lava flows and cones in northeastern New Mexico. Dry brown grass and very hot until I begin to approach Colorado Springs, which I bypass in favor of a route straight to Manitou Springs and Woodland Park. Here, at an elevation of 7-8,000 feet, the grassy meadows are thick and green. And the pine trees—which I’ve always missed since moving to central Texas—stand stately, swaying in the mountain breezes. It’s interesting that, at least at a macro level, the pines are so similar to each other, like a field of corn. Our live oaks in Texas, on the other hand, are each unique, their trunks and branches brachiating in ways that evoke individuality and strength of character, features most Texans pride themselves in.

Got Oxygen?
July 21/Day 4.

Get up and take a 6.5 mile walk this morning. At one point I see a large coyote trotting along perpendicular to me. When he crosses my path he stops in the middle of it, a couple of hundred feet in front of me, and casually turns his head to watch me for several seconds. Then he nonchalantly resumes his trot, undoubtedly with some very important coyote business on his mind.

Next I prepare for the drive up Pike’s Peak, something I’ve looked forward to for more than 20 years. The last time I attempted the climb, all traffic was being turned back about halfway up because of fierce winds at the summit. I’m disappointed to learn from the camp host that in the intervening years the road to the top has been paved. A little too much civilization for me. (An aside: there’s talk of paving the 30-mile road to Chaco Canyon, thus spoiling the ambience for those who take the trouble to go there.) Anyway, I pay my $12 (yikes!) and begin the 19 mile drive to the top. It’s quite a road, even if paved. Many places I can’t see past the edge of the road straight down, and can only imagine what lies below. There are numerous hairpin turns that I can barely make with my 21- foot long  F-350 (which I fondly refer to as The Queen Mary.) I have the steering wheel completely locked to the right or left, depending, as I navigate them. The vistas around every bend are achingly beautiful but I can only glance because, you see, the drop-offs hold my attention.

storms a summit

Storms at the summit

On this day there are thunderstorms scattered all around, especially to the south of the mountain, adding a whole dimension to the awesome beauty. The summit of Pike’s Peak is a jumble of footlocker-sized chunks of granite. There is a weather station in one building and a surprisingly crowded gift shop and snack bar in another. Lots of folks have arrived via the cog railroad, so there may be approximately 200 people at the top. It’s somewhat breezy with a temperature of 50 degrees, which I find surprisingly mild. Because of lightning, every 20 minutes or so a staff member gets on the loudspeaker and warns everyone to stay inside the store for safety or, if heading to their car, make a dash directly for it, head down. As she pointedly reminds us, at 14,110 feet we are the tallest object around.

weather station on top of pike's peak

Top-side weather station doing its job

At that altitude I’m feeling a little dizzy, especially when standing up after stooping to examine some curio on a lower shelf in the store. I actually have to grab onto something to keep my balance, similar to my Lighthouse hike. Age…I hate it. And to think they run a marathon to the top of Pike’s Peak and back annually. I’m told that only athletes who live high in the mountains year round have a real chance of competing. Some others…flatlanders…well, they literally die trying.

R&R
July 22/Day 5.

fifth wheel in forest

Chillin' in Pike National Forest

Today is a day strictly for relaxation. I take a gentle 4 mile walk this morning around a lovely lake that boasts a perfect view of Pike’s Peak in the background. Later I take a random drive down several Forest Service roads, each of which seems to lead to greater secret wonders. From time to time I spot an ancient log cabin nestled among the pines, like it just grew there naturally, like a mushroom or a mountain columbine. The stuff that dreams are made of.

Ruminations
July 23/Day 6.

wildflowers among rocks

Mountain wildflowers

Like most primates for the past…oh, million years or so, I spent much of my youth out-of-doors. I built snow forts with my friends, competed with them for who could climb the tallest pine tree, and hang on as it swayed in a stiff breeze. We had Pee Rock, whose purpose, as the name implies, was to serve as a platform for peeing contests. And Green Rock, a secret meeting place in the forbidden forest across the street from my house. We assembled a dangerous rickety go-cart out of scrap two by fours, powered it with an old castaway three-quarter horsepower Maytag washing machine engine, replete with kickstarter. We re-purposed a set of official Soapbox Derby wheels, used once only, for running gear, and steered the contraption with clothesline, like reins.

Only during the last decade or two have the young of our species begun to prefer sprawling supine before a glowing monitor, rapidly twitching their thumbs.

But I don’t criticize.

Who knows? Perhaps this is a moment in evolution larger than I can grasp, and those of us with the great out-of-doors embedded in our DNA are merely relicts.

Anyway, I started with the idea of telling you one of the great outdoor lessons I learned at an early age: never place a can of unopened baked beans in the campfire. The result may require several hours of scraping and cleaning camp hardware, tents and assorted paraphernalia. Not to mention various personnel unfortunate enough to have been standing within the blast radius.

distant mountains

On the road to Rocky Mountain National Park

But I digress. Today is an easy loafing jaunt from Pike’s Peak to Rocky Mountain National Park. Six hours, 120 miles. I stick to the back roads—the ones that barely make an appearance on my GPS. Mostly county roads that twist, rise and fall through mountainous country scattered with tiny sleepy villages. Upon arrival,  I set camp and still have plenty of time to run down to Safeway in Estes Park for fresh provisions. I return to camp and boil some eggs, which I enjoy on my salads.

next: rocky mountain national park


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