The Plains Indians (Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapahoe) frequently visited the area around Pikes Peak as did the mountain-dwelling Utes. The Utes continued to reside in the region until they were forced into reservations in 1879.
Zebulon Pike, for which the mountain was eventually named, discovered it during his second and last exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Although he never climbed it (he and his soldiers turned back in waist deep snows), Dr. Edwin James and his party reached the summit in 1820. A carriage road was completed in 1887 and the first cog railroad reached the summit in 1891. Trains still depart today from the original ornate depot built in 1890.
In 1893, Katherine Lee Bates, professor of English at Wellesley College in Massachusetts from 1885-1925, made the trip to the summit by wagon. So inspired was she by the views, she wrote the poem, America the Beautiful. It was set to music many times but is most commonly known by Samuel Ward's tune, Materna.
We reserved our tickets online for a noon departure from the depot in Manitou Springs. Tickets are $36/adults plus $5 for parking. Be prepared for cool weather at the summit. It was about 80 degrees in Manitou Springs when we departed and the summit was a cool 34 degrees (27 windchill). The round trip lasted about 3.5 hours with 40 minutes at the top. A guide provided interesting info along the way.
Sights while ascending to the summit.
Minnehaha was once a place where summer cabins provided a cool refuge from the heat of the Great Plains. It was our first station stop after departing the depot.
Windy Point, at 12,000' above sea level, is the location of a building that once housed a crew responsible for maintaining the highest section of the track. This is the point at which we are above the tree line. At least one baby was born here to the wife of the section crew's foreman.
Can you see the big-horn sheep?
Getting close to the summit.
Breathtaking views from the summit.
Can you see the hikers on top of the rocks on the left in this photo?
This is the spot where we ate our lunch. It was breathtaking! Here's a photo of my handsome husband.
Photo of rail car ascending the mountain as ours is descending.
Part of the enjoyment of our trip was meeting this lovely couple, Penny and Darryl, who had seats across from us on the train. We hope to reconnect with them someday in our travels.
Be sure to take plenty of water with you and some food, as you will feel light-headed at the top due to the altitude. When we hiked only about 25 feet on the rocks, I could feel my heart pounding! There is a gift shop and cafe at the summit as well. They say the doughnuts are awesome, but they were sold out when we were there. Baking them at that altitude is no small feat!
Initially, I thought this excursion was a bit pricey, but after the experience I feel it was well worth it. There is a road that you can drive to reach the summit as well. We were told the trip takes about 1.5 hours each way.