James, Tim and Amy atop Pikes Peak summit. (07/06/2008)
The mountain is well known because of its height and its proximity to the edge of the Great Plains. In fact, back in the 1850s, during the western expansion, "Pikes Peak or Bust" became a common expression for westerward-bound settlers.
The Pikes Peak railway depot station. (07/06/2008)
In addition, the stunning vistas from the Pikes Peak summit inspired the lyrics of one of our country's most famous songs. In 1893, Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor from Wellesley visited the summit, and was so inspired by what she saw, she wrote a poem about it that night. The title: "America the Beautiful."
Just one of the amazing views from the Pikes Peak summit. (07/06/2008)
To get to the top, we took the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has been taking passengers to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak for 115 years. It also has the distinction of being the highest-altitude train in the entire United States.
The train that brought us to the top. (07/06/2008)
Although only 8.9 miles long, the train ride to the top takes two hours. Every moment of it is gorgeous too, with the views getting better the higher up you get. The last three miles of the route are above the timberline, which means there are no trees. The rocky landscape almost looks like you're on another planet.
The landscape above the timberline. (07/06/2008)
Although there isn't a lot of wildlife at that altitude, we did see some. For example, we saw a couple of yellow-bellied marmots, large rodents that adept well to high altitude climates. Pikes Peak is also home to one of Colorado's largest herds of bighorn sheep, and we saw several.
We saw wild bighorn sheep near the Pikes Peak summit. (07/06/2008)
We were given about 40 minutes to walk around the various parts of the summit. We didn't stay outside too long because it was bitter cold! Fortunately, the summit also houses the world's highest altitude donut shop, which makes fresh, hot donuts. The donuts are plain (no frosting, glaze or sprinkles), but trust me, when you're trying to warm up from the gusty winds outside, they are the best tasting donuts you've ever had.
Amy delves into her mountain-top donut. (07/06/2008)
Of course there is a gift shop too, which conveniently sells a wide array of sweatshirts and other warm gear. I was just happy to get a pressed penny stating that I made it to the top of Pikes Peak.