Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pikes Peak or Bust!

America, the Beautiful!

I don't usually post this many pictures, but this adventure was so awesome I couldn't help it! I hope you will enjoy seeing a tiny portion of what we saw on our trip to the top of Pikes Peak, Americas Mountain. This first view is from near Strasburg, the beginning of our drive south. Pikes Peak stands out farther east than the other peaks in the Rockies.

Colorado Springs is about 80 miles south of Strasburg. Here we are just coming into the city, and this is the view of Pikes Peak from there. The early pioneers used the peak as a landmark on their journey, hence the motto "Pikes Peak or Bust".

At the small town of Cascade, west of Colorado Springs, we got on the Pikes Peak Highway. It cost $12.00 each to enter. There were signs up telling the drivers to use low gears when descending, and Rangers were out and about all the way to assist motorists who might be in trouble. So, being duly warned, we started our ascent up the 19 mile highway to the top. We did have some trouble with our brakes overheating on the way down — had to stop and let them cool.

We had hoped to see some fall colors, and just a few miles up we were rewarded with glowing aspens just beginning their change. 

One of our first stops was this beautiful lake, the Crystal Reservoir. It was the most gorgeous view, with the water outlined by the red shores, and the peak; not to mention the fall colors.

At this point the road began to have many switchbacks, and we knew we were really ascending. Finally we saw this sign, "Timberline", at 12,000 feet. Abruptly the trees stopped and the rest of the journey was rocky and barren, but still beautiful.

In this photo we are looking down on one of the switchbacks, and we could clearly see the abrupt end of the trees, which were mostly bristle cone pines. I kept waiting to see if I would notice the high altitude. We'd had plenty of warnings about that, too.

As we rounded our last sharp turn, we were there! 14,110 feet high! (Click to enlarge to see the sign.) It was a lovely, sunny day with no wind, and just a little snow on top, 39 degrees. There is a gift shop and small restaurant there, as well as several viewpoints with binoculars stationed here and there. It was from this vantage point that Katherine Lee Bates wrote the beloved hymn, "America the Beautiful". We could surely see why she was so inspired. There is an obelisk with the words as a tribute to her. There were lots of tourists at the top, all as awed as we were.

Now, about the altitude. My bag of Cheetos was puffed up so tightly that I thought it would burst. That's how we both felt! Our tummies felt bloated, we were a little dizzy, and breathing was not the easiest. We took deep breaths, and along with that, my heart was thumping. The effects of the altitude were uncomfortable, but we did take time to peruse the gift shop, where I bought a souvenir t-shirt and some postcards, and we ate a donut each which were advertised as being high altitude donuts. (Not very yummy!) I looked over a steep abyss, but Mr. Keith declined, since he was more dizzy than I! Our symptoms did disappear just a couple thousand feet down as we descended.

We took many photos from the top, but here is just one, looking to the east, down at Colorado Springs and probably clear across to the end of Kansas. Who knows how far one could see on a more clear day! The red rocks in the distance are part of the Garden of the Gods, which we visited last winter, another amazing sight.

Just to prove we were actually there!

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Driving the Farmland

Going from heavily forested country filled with lakes and rivers to a land that stretches flat for hundreds of miles can be a shock to our systems. There isn't much to do out here on the prairie except go for rides. All the roads are done in squares and rectangles, some paved, some gravel, some just plain dirt. But today our drive north of our area provided us with some sights pleasing to our eyes. Here is a field of sunflowers, one of many we saw. The petals are pretty much gone, and the sunflower heads are drooping, working hard to produce their seeds. It won't be long till they are harvested.

 We saw cornfields with dried stalks and fields where the corn had been harvested, but this one was still flourishing. I don't know if this is eating corn, or corn for seed, or just what it is used for. The ears were plentiful.

 This field looked as though it was being readied for plowing. We couldn't tell what had been growing here.

Sometimes the plowed acres are just as beautiful as the planted crops, with their varied browns against the blue and clouded sky, stretching forever. It's difficult to imagine the hours and hours the farmer must be out on his tractor, getting his fields ready for the next crop.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Beautiful Prairie

Last year when we came to the prairie east of Denver, it was the end of September. The fields were brown and most flowers were gone. The trees were losing their leaves. We came this year mid-August and were pleased to see a lot of green still around, with wildflowers blooming and trees looking lush. I wanted a photo of the fields of wild sunflowers, and I'd hoped to see some pronghorns, too. On this day we got both! These 5 or 6 critters watched us watching them, then they bounded off through the golden sunflowers. Last winter we did not see a single pronghorn and I had begun to doubt that they were around. Where were they hiding, I wonder? (Click to enlarge the photo so you can see the pronghorns better.)

 A few more miles down the dusty gravel roads we were surprised by this bonus, 20 or 30 antelope, also in the midst of a field of sunflowers. You can get a good idea how flat the prairie is, stretching to the horizon.

 What? Llamas out here on the prairie? I love llamas so I always take photos when I see them. It was a hot day in the 90s, but these guys didn't seem to mind. They weren't seeking the shade near the barn.

One last glimpse, a lone pronghorn. This photo shows different prairie vegetation, lots of prairie grasses and some yucca plants. We have enjoyed the prairie at this stage of summer. Soon it will be back to the browns and tans and naked trees and bushes of winter, also beautiful in its own way.