Posts Tagged With: toll road

The Colorado Rockies 7. America’s Mountain. Pike’s Peak.

Pikes Peak

There are 54 peaks in the Colorado Rockies that are over 14,000 ft (4,267m). Keep in mind that the highest mountain in Australia is 7,228 ft!) There are however only two that you can drive up. Pikes Peak is one of these.  At 14,115 ft it is still only the 53rd highest mountain in North America. Nevertheless it dominates the landscape of this part of the Front Range. If you have read my last post on the Garden of the Gods you would have seen it in the distance in many of the photos.

It is also known somewhat cheesily as ‘America’s Mountain’, In 1893, Katherine Lee Bates wrote the song “America the Beautiful” after having admired the view from the top of Pikes Peak.

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The snow dusted Pikes Peak towering over the forest on the climb up the mountain

A 19 mile long toll road takes you off the US24 allowing you to drive to the top. Well not quite to the top this time. They were doing extensive rebuilding of the facilities so the last three miles were in a shuttle bus.  I loved the way you were given the choice to join the bus earlier if you were uncomfortable with the drive. And if you are not used to mountain roads, well it is scary. You shouldn’t underestimate the drive.  It requires a lot of concentration.  It is two lane but there are a lot of switchbacks, steep grades and with no barriers preventing drops of thousands of feet to the valley floor. And for some reason they seem to drive on the wrong side of the road.

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Hairpin bends on the way up the mountain.

The driver of your shuttle will probably point out the spot at Devil’s Playground, where Jeremy Foley went over the edge during the 2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb (incredibly he and his navigator survived).

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The Devil’s Playground.  Near the top of the mountain.  The bollards are where rally driver Jeremy Foley left the road in 2012.  He survived unharmed.

The $15 toll will take you on an awesomely beautiful journey through different worlds with ever-changing landscapes. Firstly pine and fir forests and the calm waters of the fishing paradise, Crystal Lake.

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A view of the Peak through the forest

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Crystal Lake.  A reservoir for Colorado Springs.

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An idyllic fishing spot

Then through aspen groves just starting to turn and spruce forests and over the tree line to the wildness of the alpine zone and tundra with piles of bare burnt red-brown granite boulders.

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Leaving the Bus Station in the Shuttle near the 16 Mile point

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Above the tree line.  Alpine tundra and granite

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Granite tors covered with the previous night’s snowfall

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And the photo gods were hard at work as we had a snowfall the night before and plenty of blue sky and as we climbed the mountain some low cloud to add texture and interest to the images. I was in heaven.

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It was a tad cold at the top and I have to say not being used to altitude sickness, I felt all the classic symptoms, fatigue, breathlessness and headache. (same symptoms as after an all night trad session! just kidding).   None of this detracted from the thrill of being at the top of the world. At least this little part of it.

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The Summit

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The view from the Summit

That malady disappeared pretty quickly once the oxygen levels returned to normal on the descent. And anyway there were enough distractions as the descent gives another perspective as you slowly edge down the mountain in first or second gear.  In the distance was the Cripple Creek and Victor mines one of the largest gold mines in America.

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A view to the south towards the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mines

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Cripple Creek Mine

I was relieved and very satisfied to reach the bottom after a remarkable drive.  Well worth the $15 toll.  America the Beautiful.

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The Colorado Rockies 3. Independence Pass.

Independence Pass

This is the third in a series of blogs on the Colorado Rockies following my visit during September 2018.  In an earlier blog I looked at Twin Lakes.  If you continue driving west from here along Highway 82 towards Aspen you cross the Independence Pass.  That’s where we will go today.

Independence Pass is the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the USA.  The Divide runs like a spine through North and South America from the Beering Straits to the Straits of Magellan and marks the hydrological divide between rivers that drain into the Atlantic to the east and the Pacific to the west.  Independence Pass reaches an elevation of 12,095 feet (3,687m) in the Sawatch Range.  It is closed for much of the year, from October, due to extreme snowfalls.  But this September day, clear blue skies greeted me and not a trace of snow.

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An incredible drive up, switchbacks snake through forests of pine, spruce, fir and aspen and past lakes surrounded by soaring peaks many reaching as high as 14,000 feet (14ers as they call them in Colorado), luckily with a few pull-offs to admire and photograph the views.

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A typical Colorado mountain scene on the way up Independence Pass

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A huge switchback takes you from the valley floor to the top.

Near the top though there is a dramatic change as you enter the treeless alpine tundra environment of open grassland, low shrubbery, bare exposed rock and ephemeral pools.

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Wild landscape at the top of Independence Pass

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This ephemeral lake has dried up during the summer

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The car park under an ‘exploding hill’ at the top of Independence Pass

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arctic tundra

Everywhere you look you see the results of glacial action, the land being smoothed out during the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.  The rocks of course are much older and comprise gneiss dating back 1,700 million years and younger intrusive granites.

The Pass has an interesting history.  Spotted by Zebulon Pike in 1806, during his mapping of the southern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, it wasn’t fully surveyed until 1873.  It was the limit of European settlement at the time.  West, the land was reserved for the Ute people and travel was prohibited but prospectors defied this and on July 4th 1879 discovered gold 4 miles from the pass on the Roaring Fork River, at a place which naturally became known as Independence.  Eventually the mountain, lake and pass itself were given that name.  Independence started a massive gold and silver rush and is now a fascinating ghost town.  I will have more to say in an upcoming blog.

The original path over the pass was suitable only for horses but as Independence became a more permanent settlement, in 1881 the pass was improved so that stagecoaches could cross. A toll was charged and this paid for a team of men who shoveled snow through the winter to keep the road open.  They were successful at doing this for five years but on occasions sleighs had to be used. A typical voyage over the pass required 10–25 hours and five changes of horses. A new road was built in 1927 and the current paved road in 1967.  I took a little time to ponder the different obstacles and tribulations that the prospectors of Colorado had to deal with, compared with those in the Australian gold rushes.  all incredibly hardy folk.

From the viewpoint at the top which looks east you can see a number of peaks including from left to right 1 Casco Peak (13,908 ft, which hides the highest mountain in Colorado, Mt Elbert at 14,433 ft),  2 Lackawanna Peak (13,661 ft). 3 Rinker Peak  (13,783 ft), 4 La Plata (14,343 ft), 5 Star Mountain (12,941 ft) and 6 Ouray Peak (12,947 ft).

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View looking east from Independence Pass showing major peaks.

An awesome feeling standing at the top of the world.  Imagine the scene before me draped in snow.  I didn’t want to leave, but when I did the view from the western side on the way down towards Aspen was just as good.

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Over the pass and down the western side.  A classic glacial valley.

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Heading back beneath the tree line towards Aspen

 

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