Monday, June 11, 2012

May 25, 2012. The Hawthornes Are At Pike's Peak.

The Hawthornes are approaching Pikes Peak,
one of the highest elevations in the United States
at 14,110 feet.
As soon as I try to shoot a picture,
the clouds roll in.
I'm near the gateway,
which is at 7400 feet.

When traveling Pikes Peak,
ascending 1000 feet is like
traveling 600 miles north.
The temperature drops about 3 1/2 degrees
and different life zones are experienced.
Generally, the summit is about 30 degrees colder
than at the base in Colorado Springs.

This mountain is home to varied and extensive
flora and fauna.
Four distinct life zones are encompassed here. 

 The Eastern Plains Zone, 
up to 6000 feet,
is composed of wildflowers and grassland
and is home to many small animals
like rabbits and prairie dogs.

The Foothills Zone ranges from 5400 to 7000 feet
and is comprised of small bushes and trees
such as scrub oak, juniper, pinion pine, and sagebrush.
Denizens of the Foothills included
skunks, various squirrels, raccoons, deer,
and an occasional mountain lion or bear.

Next is the Montana Zone,
at 7000 - 9500 feet.
Deer, bear, mountain lions, and elk
can all be found at this altitude.
Small shrubs, various wildflowers,
and large forest of pines, Douglas firs,
and aspens are predominant.

The Subalpine Zone from 9500 to 11,500 feet
is less hospitable.  
Douglas fir, bristlecone pine, and Englemann spruce
comprise the area's dense forests.

The Alpine Zone, above 11,500 feet,
is the harshest environment on Pikes Peak.
Tundra composed of tiny flowers,
moss, and lichen eke out a cold existence
in the harsh, short growing season.
Yellow-bellied marmot
and bighorn sheep are inhabitants of this area,
although the marmot hibernates during winter
and the sheep migrate to lower and more hospitable regions.
There are no trees in the Alpine Zone.
Sub-zero temperatures (from -60 degrees), 
moisture-robbing winds (up to 120 MPH),
thin soil, and massive snowpacks (20 feet deep)
are a few of the hardships trees cannot endure.

Imagine being a settler,
coming across the Great Plains,
and seeing this in the distance.

Pikes Peak is west of Colorado Springs
and is the sentinel of the Front Range
on the eastern side of the Rockies.

Colorado Springs is almost a desert.
A desert receives less than 10 inches of rain annually.
The precipitation here is about 15 inches of rain per year.
Having so little rainfall and no large natural lakes or rivers nearby,
 Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas 
rely on the mountains for water.
Snow falls abundantly in the winter and spring
thus providing a pristine water supply to Front Range cities.

To secure clean mountain water,
Colorado Springs began its development 
of water collection and storage
on Pikes Peak in 1891.
As the population grew,
the city purchased water rights from resources
deeper in the Colorado Mountains.
In 1935, the Crystal Dam was built,
storing 1.1 billion gallons of water.
The water is then pumped 70 miles to get here.
There are several reservoirs on Pikes Peak,
available to the public for boating and fishing.

I'm sure you're all asking yourselves,
"Self, how was that mountain made."

Well, Rosie's here to tell you.
You're looking at rock that's
over a billion years old.
Nary a day younger.

The granite that makes up Pikes Peak
was once molten, or liquid, rock.
It slowly cooled and hardened
about 20 miles miles beneath the earth's surface,
giving mica, quartz, and feldspar crystals time to grow.

Over the last 500 million years,
several tectonic plates (the outer layers of earth)
have collided and pushed 
the cooled granite lying below the surface upward.
Around 65 million years ago
a tectonic plate under the Pacific Ocean
was pushing into the North American continent.
This movement initiated tremendous,
mountain-building pressure below what is now Colorado,
 creating Pikes Peak.

From 2 million to 10,000 years ago
a series of Ice Age climates gripped the land.
Alpine glaciers formed on Pikes Peak.

These rivers of ice
gouged bowl-like hollows
and U-shaped valleys.
Since then, erosion continues to sculpt 
this rugged and magnificent mountain.

From the entrance,
you can either take a cog railway to the summit
or drive the 38 mile round trip.
We're driving.
We like to be in control.

At about 7000-8000 feet
we stopped for a pit stop.
Mr. Hawthorne was a bit ashen,

He turns to me and says,
"I don't know if I can make this."

I turned to him and gave him "...the look."
"By, 'I don't know if I can make this,'
what exactly do you mean," 
I asked between clenched teeth?

"I'm dizzy and light-headed
and feel kinda drunk but without the alcohol."

"Then just turn around and go back down,"
I offered rather testily.

"Oh hell nooooooo.
I'd never hear the end of it if I did that.
Just gimme a minute to get acclimated."

"Well, don't bother.
I'd never hear the end of it either
if you got to the top
and had a damn heart attack and croaked on my ass."

We continued back and forth like this for some time.
We can be a surly couple.

This is our second trip across country
and I've missed Pikes Peak going west each time.
I'm determined to see Pikes Peak
on the eastern route home.

This is both the physical, symbolic, and metaphorical
peak of our journey.
After Pikes Peak,
we're headed home with no real destinations along the way.
No stops to make.
It's just straight home.
I'm excited.
I yearn for home.
I'm tired of going into a different hotel room
every night
and loading all the "stuff" onto the cart,
squeaking loudly across the lobby,
finding the room to which the key cards won't work,
shuffling off for the ice maker,
turning the TV on for Big Bang Theory,
or Everybody Loves Raymond, or King of Queens
since that makes us feel like home.
Then I'd have a glass of wine
or Mr. Hawthorne would make
our new favorite drink - the Margarita.
I discovered the Margarita in Cody, Wyoming,
where I had a Triple Margarita at a restaurant.
Limit two per customer.

When we inquired about tequilas,
which we never drink,
until now,
we learned that Jose Quervo is rot-gut.
The lady at the likker store
edumacated Mr. Hawthorne as to the powers
of three different tequilas.
He threw out the top and the bottom models
and picked the middle one.
We always try to set the bar semi-low.

Hornitos is our tequila of choice now.
Very smooth.

This is crazy.
If only you knew what it looks like
on the drop off over there.

Oh wait.
You will know what it looks like.
I have videos at the end.

Mr Hawthorne loves those switchbacks.

We've been on some scary-ass highways.

The first one that comes to mind is Beartooth Highway
going into Yellowstone.
We traveled Beartooth on our first trip
across America.

The second highway 
with sheer drops to the ocean.
We traveled that highway on both trips.

Third would be Death Valley,
which we traveled this trip.

But Pikes Peak takes the cake.
Bar none.
You're looking at the side of the road.
The drop is straight down.

I kept telling Mr. Hawthorne,
"Don't look.
Don't look!"
He couldn't look.
And he didn't want to look.

I was distracting him by constantly opening the window
to shoot pictures.

Every now and then,
when there was a place to pull off,
he would stop.
And breathe.
And acclimate.

Look ahead at the road going through 
the mid-part of the peak.

Finally, we're at the summit.
The 19 mile drive
took a little over an hour.

In the late 1800s, Katharine Lee Bates,
 traveled to Colorado College in Colorado Springs
to teach a summer session.
She and a few of the visiting faculty
took a carriage ride up Pikes Peak.
About 7000 feet,
they switched to mules, as was customary,
for the remaining 6 miles of the trip.
Mules fare better than horses in high altitudes.
They only stayed at the summit for half an hour
since one of their members was suffering from altitude sickness,
but it was long enough for Bates,
 inspired by the majestic view of the Great Plains
from atop Zebulon's Pikes Peak
to write "America The Beautiful."

Bates wrote:
 "One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse."

Recalls Bates:
" An erect, decorous group,
we stood at last on the Gate-of-Heaven summit ...
and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse
of mountain ranges and the sea-like sweep of plain.
It was then and there that the opening lines
of 'America the Beautiful' sprang into being." 

On the way back to her hotel room that evening,
Bates penned "America the Beautiful."

Bates wrote the lyrics.
Church organist and choirmaster,
Samuel A Ward, composed the music.

I walked out to take in the views
and shoot pictures.

Mr. Hawthorne actually got out of the truck,
went to the back door to pull out his winter jacket
since it's around 32 degrees up here,
and then he just leaned up 
against the door for about a minute.
I asked if he was OK.
"No," he said as he clambered
back into the truck.
"I can't breathe."

At 14,000 feet,
you're breathing 40% less oxygen.
It really affected him.
Me, not so much.

Honest to God,
Mr. Hawthorne stayed in the truck the entire time.

"Don't you want to get out and look around?"

"No.  I've seen this all before."


"In my worst nightmares."

He did say the radio reception was excellent. 

One can either drive up Pikes Peak
or take the cog railroad.
The founder of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway
 was a Mr. Zalmon Simmons,
owner of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company,
also quite the inventor,
 and the grandfather of Kiss Rocker, Gene Simmons.

No no no.
Just kidding.
Wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Mr. Simmons had patented an insulator
for the telegraph wires which were used
in the Army Signal Station at the summit of Pikes Peak.
In the late 1880s, Simmons rode a mule
to the top of the mountain to inspect his invention.
After a two day arduous trek,
he returned, worn out and saddle-weary,
to a local hotel.
As he sat relaxing and soaking
in one of the mineral spring spas,
Simmons reflected that there must be
a more comfortable and civilized way to reach the top.
The hotel proprietor suggested to him
the idea of a mountain railroad.
Simmons, taken with the idea,
set about finding capital to fund this venture
and organizing a company to build the railroad.

Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels
upon the rails, called "adhesion," to provide locomotive power.
A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear,
or "cog wheel,"
meshing into a special rack rail,
mounted in the middle between the outer rails,
to climb much steeper grades than those possible
with a standard adhesion railroad.
An adhesion railroad can only
climb grades of 4 - 6%.
A rack railroad can climb grades of up to 48%,
depending upon the type of rack system employed.

I'm by myself at the summit.
One could walk right out to the edge here,
but the wind is gusting,
I'm at an elevation of 14,110 feet,
and Mr. Hawthorne may be passed out in the truck.
He has no sense of time,
I could blow over the edge at any time
and nobody would know where the hell I was
and they'd probably never find my body.

Fortunately, that didn't happen

I didn't blow over.

  I'm OK.

Now we're heading back down.
Downers have the right of way
over uppers.

Going down,
Mr. H. let the motor and transmission
do all the work.
Not the brakes.

There's a mandatory check point
on the way down
where they check the temperature of your brakes.
Mr. Hawthorne was commended
for not using his brakes.

There are no trees here
due to lightning strikes,
said a sign.

A wind-blown Rosie.
It's cold.
Around 35 degrees here.

I liked the little hole in the rocks.

I have to admit:
It was a relief to get back down.
That drive is scary.

Enjoy the videos:

On the ascent.

 This is a scary part.

And  yet another.

More video.


Marilyn said...

My, that is high. Brave Mr. Hawthorne.

Mr. P said...

I was paying attention. Rock and Roll all night and party every day.

What was that white stuff all over the ground?