May 29, 2011Yesterday, I drove about an hour south of Denver to Manitou Springs, hoping to take the cog railway to the top of Pike’s Peak. The drive was easy and scenic, though more cars were on the road than on arrival in Denver. So many people going about their separate interests and concerns - business or duty or pleasure. I suspect it's mostly pleasure this Memorial Day week-end. The first scenic formation along I-25 was Castle Rock; it truly does look like a castle, viewed from the north. A huge structure perched high atop a solitary hill, it seems to have been constructed of worked stone. That erosion-resistant stone is probably the remnant of an old volcano, the work of Nature’s God; I imagine westward pioneers were awestruck by it.
Shortly beyond Castle Rock, Pike’s Peak arose in the distance, a white dome below which hover blue-gray foothills, remnants of earlier Rockies, now heavily eroded. As I drove toward the foothills, their shading changed to mauve and then to deep green. The snow-cowled mountain seemed to recede continually before me until I finally passed the foothills. Evergreens swathed the lower half of the mountain like a beard, casting a permanent shadow below the glittering white, crinkled top. All of this, too, must have seemed like a marvel to the pioneers who had traveled hundreds of miles across flat plains before seeing the high Rockies, then days after seeing the mountains before reaching them. It took me about half an hour from the time I first caught a glimpse of Pike’s Peak until I exited I-25 at Colorado Springs, headed toward the base of the mountain at Manitou Springs, a formerly popular spa for the well-heeled.
At the Information Center there, I wasn't able to get a ticket for the cog railway for that day (Saturday), but did discover other interesting sites in the area. So I decided to stay in town for two days instead of one and made a reservation at the cog-railway for the following day. Then I drove out of town to visit the Garden of the Gods, a fascinating collection of natural sandstone formations decorating the area north-east of Pike’s Peak. These eerie structures are remnants of effluvia from the more ancient Rockies, whose eroded sand compacted into layers of silt in the shallows of an ancient inland sea, which covered middle North America during the Mesozoic Era. This sandstone was pushed up during the more recent mountain-building period to form these amazing, stratified outcroppings. I hope my photos capture some of the spectacular shapes. I drove around the loops and stopped at turn-outs for photos and hiked the trail to the Siamese Twins. Breathing was difficult on the way up; the elevation there is about 7,000 feet, more than a mile high. The hiking was hard on the lungs going up and hard on the knees going down!
After Garden of the Gods, I visited the Cliff Dwellings not far from town. These were also interesting – partly hewn from sandstone and partly constructed of sandstone blocks and bricks. I didn't get much history on the inhabitants, perhaps because the rise and demise of Anasazi culture is not well understood. But seeing the dwellings cut out of living rock recalled other sites I’ve visited in the past: Mesa Verde, on a trip in 1969 with my sister and our children, and especially Petra, Jordan, in 2004, where the sandstone is also swirled with dark and light strata as in Manitou. That evening I found a spot to hook up, dump and get water in an expensive, very crowded campground, also called “Garden of the Gods” - certainly not heavenly, but the only place I could find to park the RV.