Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Colorado Springs - Day 2 - Part 2

There are several ways to get to the top of Pike's Peak. There's the 13 mile hike along Barr's Trail which would be fun but I didn't bring the right kit to go hiking and I foolishly decided to break in a new pair of shoes while here (see earlier post) and they have ripped my heels to shreds (woe is me etc.) You can drive up there which is OK I guess but somehow misses the point as it will be an interesting drive but you won't really be able to appreciate the scenery getting there, or you can let the train take the strain. We decided to take the train.

The Pike's Peak Cog Railway, since it goes straight up the side of a mountain, is obviously not your normal railway. It's a little two carriage, diesel powered train that locks into a third cogged rail and simply drags itself up the mountain. The station is located in the small town of Manitou Springs, a few miles from Colorado Springs. On they way up you get a live running commentary from a local guide pointing out the physical and natural changes as you ascend from 6,500 ft. to over 14,000 ft.

The mountain is simply beautiful. My lame prose won't do it justice but the ascent from warm sunny blue skies in Manitou Springs through lush forest, boulder strewn canyons, scree slopes, up past the tree line and out into the barren, snow-capped cold mountain summit air was stunning. With autumn just arriving the trees were turning a million shades of green and brown. A light breeze wafted through the trees and leaves fluttered down in the sunlight. The excellent commentary pointed out natural formations, the different types of flora and fauna along the way along with a history of the railway and its developments and various attempts to colonise the mountain.

At the top is the inevitable gift shop and restaurant which I'm sure takes advantage of the light headed oxygen starved ground dwellers but the prices were reasonable and merchandise not tacky. The view of almost 200 miles across into neighbouring states (Kansas we were told) was huge in every sense of the word. A three hour round trip with 45 minutes at the summit will be the best $30 you ever spend.

In the afternoon went to The Garden of the Gods. A local park just outside Manitou Springs. The word 'park' doesn't really do it justice; it's more like a geology reserve. Outstanding sandstone outcrops, boulders and formations. It sort of reminded me of Monument Valley on a small scale, the kind of scenery thay used as a backdrop for 50's Westerns. Worth a visit - and free to boot!

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