Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Road Trip 4 - 14,000 Shoeless Feet

from: Pikes Peak Toll Rd, Cascade, CO 80809, USA

A few years ago, I was heading south down I-25 from Denver, and I saw one mountain which seemed somehow different from the others. It occurred to me that Pike's Peak was in Colorado, and I wondered if maybe this was it. About a mile later, I came upon a pull-over, so I stopped and discovered that yes, it was. It was pretty amazing to see it, and to have guessed at what it was, since I had no idea where in Colorado it was. It's a nice-looking mountain.

On our trip, we came up from the south, which gave a much better view. Sam was still experiencing the thrill of seeing mountains for the first time, and to see this one in particular standing out from the rest.

When my dad came up with the idea for this trip, he had two destinations in mind. One was Oklahoma City, and the other was Yellowstone. And maybe the Grand Canyon if we still felt like being on the road. From Jackson to OKC is a day's travel, and from there to Yellowstone is about two days, so he needed something in the middle to stop at. He chose Denver, Colorado, and then he made reservations and bought rooms in OKC, Denver, and West Yellowstone, Montana. We had to make it to those places in time or we'd lose the money paid for the rooms, so that meant we didn't get to stop and see much in between.

Wow, that's low octane! It wasn't any cheaper either.

Fortunately, before we started on the trip, he told me his plans, and I took a look at it all on the map and figured out the best route and some interesting things to see on the way. As a truck driver, I pass lots of interesting signs for things to do, and sometimes I even take a note of them so I can come back later. One such thing which wasn't too far out of our way was Pike's Peak. An hour south of Denver, we'd practically have to pass through Colorado Springs, so we may as well stop. He liked the idea so much, he changed our stopping place from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Also, when he was making his plans, he messed up a little and allotted TWO days to get from Denver to Yellowstone, which fortunately meant that we could afford to spend the whole day in Colorado Springs if we wanted. Which we mostly did.

First thing in the morning, after I managed to kick everyone out of bed and get some food shoved down their throats, we headed on up to Pike's Peak.

Just getting to the entrance to the park is a bit of a climb. Fortunately, things are marked well enough that you can figure it out. Just follow all but the last of the signs to the Santa's Village park, which is just outside the Pike's Peak entrance and you can't miss it.

The gate opens at 9:00. By fortuitous happenstance, that's when we arrived, with about 50 cars ahead of us. The line moved as well as could be expected, and half an hour later, we were within the park.

(Side note: It's no longer a National Park, so if you have a National Park Pass of some sort, it will do you no good.)

The total trip up the mountain is 19 miles, and takes you to a little over 14,000 feet. We found out at the gate that, due to weather concerns, we wouldn't be able to drive all the way up to the peak. We could get to the 12,500 foot mark, which was about 4 miles short of the peak, and that was it.

For the most part, we simply climbed. There's a pull-over early on with a fantastic view of the valley you had to pass through to get there, and we stopped for it, but other than that, we didn't stop again until we reached the lodge at 11,000 feet. We passed by a handful of turns to go to camping areas.

Ute Pass

Not too long before we reached the lodge, we started seeing snow on the ground. Sam wanted to stop immediately, but we assured him he'd get his fill of snow in a few minutes. Which he did when we got to the lodge and stopped.

It's been a while since I played in the snow. I've pretty much had all of it I need for one lifetime, so it didn't really occur to me to start doing it again until I found a snowball headed my way. Thankfully the boy's throwing skills weren't as good as mine, and mine came back to me pretty quick.

We did a little climbing up the side of the mountain so we could get some nice pictures, and then made our way back down when Dad wanted to get going again.

Getting to the 12,500 foot limit didn't take much time. A dozen other cars were pulled over, and we found a spot to do the same and got out.

Holy carp!

Not only was it comfortably below freezing, but the wind was blowing pretty good too. I estimate the windchill was in the 30 below range, but never found out for sure.

I didn't want to get too close to any edges, especially with high, variable winds blowing in random directions, but Sam had no problem climbing on all sorts of things to get his daredevil pictures. As much as I hated the cold, I had at least been in it within the past two years. He, having grown up in Mississippi, had rarely even been in temperatures low enough for snow to form. But he's a tough little bugger, so he didn't seem to notice.

The view from there was pretty darn good, as you can see in the pics. I could've stayed there for a while, if not for the cold and the wind conspiring to rob me of my body heat and the feeling in my fingers and ears. But we couldn't stay there forever.

On the way back down, we stopped at another pull-over, which happened to be next to their Bigfoot crossing sign. We spotted him and got a picture. Then SOMEONE, and I won't mention his name, decided to go running up the side of one of the foothills because it didn't look like that much of a climb. I followed after to try and keep him out of trouble. It was a heck of a climb, and I actually managed to keep pace with him, once the lower oxygen started kicking him in the lungs. We were at about 8 or 9000 feet where we started climbing.

Check out that background!

We never did quite make it to the top; it just kept rolling back and back. We probably got about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way, but we were pretty bushed, and I was concerned about getting dehydrated up there, or maybe getting the bends, so I convinced him to head back down.

We didn't stop again until we got to the local HuHot Mongolian BBQ and had lunch. Patti, my cousin whom I mentioned a little while ago, had told us that Cheyenne Mountain was in this area too, so I wanted to see that if we could, but Dad was so concerned about making time, and he wanted to see the Air Force Academy, so we went there, spent a couple hours looking around, and then headed on up the road to get a few more miles under our belts before the day ended.

In the general vicinity of Denver, there are some very scenic mountain roads, potentially even more scenic than the road going up Pike's Peak. I wanted to drive on them, because I like doing that sort of thing, but someone wanted to get as close to Yellowstone as possible, and no one but me was interested in seeing more mountain roads that day, so I got outvoted. (Truth be told, by the time we got into that area, I'd succumbed to the same lethargy.)

We made it all the way to Rawlins, Wyoming, a place I highly recommend you NOT spend the night. Apparently they believe they're Washington DC, because that's the kind of rates they charged for motels. They roll up the streets at 6 o'clock promptly, so if you want to do anything, do it before then. Maybe they figure there's nothing else for 50 miles, and if you're headed to Yellowstone, there's nothing else for 250 miles, so why not bilk the travelers? There was no evidence that either the circus or the Olympics was in town, so that must be it.

That's all I've got for you right now. Tune in again next week!

(Click here to see how this road trip started.)


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