We woke up this morning to beautiful blue skies! Thanks to all that prayed for good weather for us! We browsed through our brochures this morning & decided the first stop on our list would be to go to the top of Pike's Peak.
And it seems the best way to do that is to take the Pike's Peak Cog Railway. The idea of taking a safe, comfortable, relaxing ride appealed to us today over our 2nd option, a $10 per person toll road that is 19 miles long & mostly unpaved. I really wanted Larry to enjoy the scenery as much as I always do when he is driving. So much of the time he only gets to see where he's been when he downloads our pictures later!
FIRST OFF - What is a "Cog" Railway?
Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels upon the rails, called "adhesion", to provide locomotive power. A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear, "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 to 6%, with very short sections of up to 9%. A "rack" railroad can climb grades of up to 48%, depending upon the type of rack system employed. Some Swiss trains use a combination of "rack" and "adhesion". This enables the trains to reach much higher speeds on the adhesion sections (rack railroads can not go much faster than 25 miles per hour or they run the risk of dislodgement from the rack rail- our top speed today is about 9 MPH). Fast enough for me!!
The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is the highest rack railway in the world as well as the highest railway in North America and the Northern Hemisphere with an elevation gain of over 7500 feet!
The Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway Company was founded in 1889, and track construction began in earnest. Top wages were 25 cents per hour. Six workers died in blasting and construction accidents.
Due to the growth of tourism, the train being used today is extremely evolved from then. In 1974, the Pike's Peak Railway requested from Swiss Locomotive Works a train which could carry over 200 people. The results were the articulated railcars Nos. 18 & 19. These units resemble the smaller single units formerly in use but these are joined by a bellows in the middle. The key difference is that they are now diesel-hydraulic. The braking is done through a hydraulic retardation system, & the two diesel engines must idle on the return trip. These two were put into service in 1976, with two more in 1984 & 1989.
As an adjunct, new switches were installed along the line. With the new sidings at Minnehaha & Windy Point, trains now run up to 8 times a day & pass along the line, instead of the only 3 times a day in the summer in years past. The cost was a bit more than we would have liked $30. Each, but what the heck. As I said earlier, I really wanted Larry to get the full view & I wasn't sure how good the road would be on our own or if there would be side rails. There's Not!
So, off we go, ascending to a height of 14,110 feet!
Named for explorer Lt. Zebulon Pike, Pikes Peak's striking beauty has inspired countless travelers and helped shape our nation's history.
Did you know we owe the inspiration for the lyrics of the beloved song, "America the Beautiful " to the stunning vistas from the summit of Pikes Peak? It was the summer of 1893, and Katharine Lee Bates, a professor of English at Wellesley College, was in Colorado Springs to teach a summer session at Colorado College. On July 22, Katharine, along with several others of the visiting faculty, took a trip in a carriage to the summit of Pike's Peak. Horses got them to the halfway point, and, as was customary, a team of mules finished the climb to the 14,110 foot summit. Because altitude sickness affected one of the party, they only stayed on the summit a half hour, but the brief experience was enough to inspire a poem. She wrote.. "An erect, decorous group, we stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit...and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and sea like sweep of plain. Then and there the opening lines of 'America the Beautiful' sprang into being." ..... "I wrote the entire song on my return that evening to Colorado Springs."
But much of the fame of Pike's Peak is due to its location near the eastern edge of the Rockies. Unlike most other similarly tall mountains in Colorado, it serves as a visible landmark for many miles to the east, far into the Great Plains of Colorado. Driving south on Interstate 25 towards the city of Colorado Springs, it comes into view from a distance of more than 130 miles. On a clear day, it can be seen from Denver, over 60 miles away and far to the east, near the Kansas border.
The Peak is made of a characteristic pink granite, called Pike's Peak granite. The pink color is due to a large amount of potassium feldspar. We noticed many of these granite rocks were split badly, had fallen or looked like they might fall at any moment. Scary, but beautiful!
Many think Pike's Peak is the highest mountain in Colorado. But it is 31st out of the 54 mountains in the state over 14,000 feet, the highest being Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet.
When traveling up Pike's Peak, ascending 1000 feet is like traveling 600 miles to the north. The temperature drops about 3.5 degrees, and different life zones are experienced. So, in general, the top of the Peak is 30 degrees colder than at the station in Manitou. We were sure glad we brought warm jackets & gloves for me!
This mountain encompasses four of the eight distinct life zones that exist in Colorado.
The depot for the Cog Railway is located at 6,571 feet. The Foothills Zone (6,000 to 8,000 feet) is composed of small bushes and trees such as scrub oak, juniper, sagebrush and pinion pine and is inhabited by raccoons, skunks, various squirrels, deer and an occasional bear and mountain lion. We actually passed a mountain lion sunning himself on the rocks but we were seated on the opposite side of the train & I couldn't get a pic, darn...
The Montane Zone (8,000 to 10,000 feet) has various wildflowers and small shrubs, but large forests of pines and Douglas fir, as well as the colorful aspen tree, are predominant. Deer, elk, bear and mountain lions can all be found at this attitude.
The Subalpine Zone (10,000 to 11,500 feet) is less hospitable. Englemann spruce, Douglas fir and bristlecone pine comprise the area's dense forests. It is estimated that some bristlecone pine trees on Pikes Peak are over 2000 years old.
In the Alpine Zone (11,500 feet and above), tundra composed of tiny flowers, mosses and lichen eke out a cold existence in the short growing season. The denizens of this windy zone are mainly the yellow-bellied marmot and the bighorn sheep.
Now we didn't see much tundra today! There was lots of snow in the Alpine Zone & it was COLD!!! If the wind hadn't been blowing I don't think we would have noticed it as much as the sun was shining nicely. We spent an hour or so on top & I was definitely ready to head back down. We only went 7 MPH on the return trip, & we learned there is a back-up brake system! Yahoo, it seemed steeper heading this way!
I apologize for the quality of some of the pictures today. There's not much you can do when shooting out a window, fortunately we were able to take a few up top also. But, I can't share the experience of riding on the train without the shots through the windows. We tried to lower them occasionally, but it was too darn cold when you are moving along. But you will get the idea....
The trip lasted a total of three hours, & we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I highly recommend this ride & we can now say we've been to the top of Pike's Peak. Always heard of it, now we've done it!