July 9, 2018
On our first full day in Colorado Springs we set out to explore Pike’s Peak or as it is lovingly called “America’s Mountain”. This mountain rises to 14,115 feet above sea level and it makes a beautiful backdrop to the city as it can be seen from miles and miles around the Colorado Springs area.
After going through the gates and paying admission, we were given instructions and warnings about the drive to the top. This is a very steep 19 mile up to the clouds with numerous switchbacks. We were asked if we had at least ½ a tank of gas, our brakes were checked, told to turn off our air conditioner, we were asked if we knew how to use our Jeep’s low gears as they would be needed on the way down and also to allow 2-3 hours for the round trip. All these safety warnings were music to the ears of Leo, he loves an adventure.
The drive started pleasant enough ascending through beautiful alpine forest with scenic stops along the way with interesting signs warning about a “big foot crossing” and other scenic stops such as the “bottomless pit”. At 9,160 foot we found a gorgeous view point at the Crystal reservoir and visitor center. We made a stop here to enjoy a quick hike around the lake and pick up a couple of souvenirs at the gift shop. A toy stuffed lady Bigfoot complete with painted pink toes was irresistible to me 😄
From the reservoir we continued our climb towards mile 16, the Devils playground, at 12,780 feet high. Before reaching the Devils Playground we crossed the tree line, at around 11,800 feet. At this elevation the vegetation had changed to smaller trees along with some interesting and scary looking plants called Mountain Thistles, they looked like something out of “Little Shop of Horrors”. We were asked to pull off the road at Devils playground, park our car and take a shuttle bus the rest of the way to the summit. The reason being that there is construction up at the top and there isn’t enough parking capacity with all of the construction equipment. The only exception are handicap people, people with pets, or motorcycles who are allowed to drive the additional 4 miles to the summit. By the time you reach Devils Playground the tree line has totally fallen away and there’s only a rocky landscape. The treeless landscape gives you a 360 degree view at every scary switchback, I thought we were going to fall off the edge at times.
The shuttle ride up was very informative. The park ranger gave us a background on the construction of this road to the sky. This mountain road was built with private funds from a very wealthy individual who wanted to be able to drive his car to the top. We were surprised to learn that it is open year round! I cannot imagine driving up this road if there’s any possibility of snow or ice. They do get a lot of snow here so the snow removal efforts to keep the road open must be a monumental task.
We saw a lot of cyclists making their way up, this bike ride will truly test anyone’s endurance. There are other bike tours which takes you to the summit and then allows you to coast downhill. I think going downhill on this road on a bike has to be a scary although exhilarating ride, it takes all kinds I guess. There is also an annual car race to the top and we were shocked to learn that the winner made it to the top in 8 minutes averaging 90 miles an hour! I cannot fathom going that fast on these curves.
Once at the top you are treated to the most wonderful views. If you go take a jacket as the temperature drops dramatically up there, usually a 30 deg (F) from the base to the summit. We walked some at the top and enjoyed the views but before making our way down, we stopped for lunch at the summit restaurant but skipped the famous doughnuts people go up there for. The ride down was just as exciting. This will go down as one of the most memorable roads we’ve been on. If you’re in the Colorado Springs area don’t miss it.