Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pike's Peak and the Cog Railway

Pike's Peak is a famous mountain in the Colorado Rockies. Although not the highest peak in Colorado, this mountain is famous because its namesake, explorer Zebulon Pike, claimed that the mountain could never be scaled. After trying to climb the peak in November 1806, he turned back about 2/3 up because of the snow. Even today, the 14ers association does not recommend anyone on Colorado vacations to attempt to scale Pike's Peak without ample mountaineering knowledge and heavy equipment.

By 1820, the mountain had been climbed, however the mystique was etched into Americana. It is completely possible that the Ute Indians had already scaled the mountain because they had a tradition of putting eagle traps on the peaks of high mountains. The area was popular with Indians and trappers for its abundant natural resources. Although not the highest peak, because it is so close to the great plains, Pike's Peak was often the first part of the Rocky Mountains seen by settlers moving west. After the discovery of gold in the Rockies, the popular phrase "Pike's Peak or Bust" was coined.

The mountain became a popular tourist attraction. The creator of the Pike's Peak cog railway was a telegraph inventor. A weather station had been established on the top of Pike's Peak, and Zalmon Simmons took a trip to the top to inspect his materials at the weather station. He loved the views, but was so tired out by the trip he had to relax in one of the local hot springs. These are still popular locations for Colorado Vacations. Supposedly while shooting the breeze in the hot springs someone talked about a railroad to the top and Zalmon loved the idea.

The cog railroad replaced a carriage road that used horses and mules to haul tourists to the top. The railroad was the only avenue for getting to the top until 1915 when the road was improved to allow cars. To encourage auto travel, the Pike's Peak Hill Climb was established, one of the oldest car races in the United States.

The view from Pike's Peak is legendary. Supposedly the "purple mountain majesties" part of America the Beautiful was inspired up top Pike's Peak. There are several different ecologies as one goes up the summit. Each 1000 foot of elevation lowers the average temperatures 3-4 degrees. At the top is tundra, made of hardy grasses an lichens. Few animals can live at these altitudes beyond the yellow bellied marmot and similar adapted mammals.

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