Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pikes Peak - More than just a mountain

 Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

Pikes Peak
photo property of the author

You've heard "Pikes Peak or Bust", the rallying cry for the Fifty-Niners, but it is so much more than just a spot on the map.

Estimates are it formed/rose about fifty million years ago. The volcanic activity in the area about thirty-five million years ago, which was west of the Peak and formed the Florissant Fossil Beds, may have made people believe the Peak is also volcanic. Sorry to disappoint, but the Peak is granite. On a side note, it is this same volcanic activity that created the gold in the Cripple Creek/Victor area.

Of course, the man the Peak is named for attempted to climb it in 1806. He didn't succeed, famously asserting that it would never be summited. This did not take into account the Indians who had been living in the area and called the Peak the 'Shining Mountain'. Did any of them ever summit? We may never know, but I wouldn't discount it. The first documented summit was by twenty-two-year-old botanists Edwin James in 1820. It took James and two others two days to accomplish the feat. He was part of the Stephen Long expedition that was exploring the area that was part of the Louisana Purchase.

Big Horn Sheep on the Peak above timberline
Photo property of the author

Julia Archibald Holmes and her husband James summited the Peak in 1858. Julia is credited with being the first woman to climb the Peak.

So why would they use the slogan "Pikes Peak or Bust" for the rush for gold? The gold was located near and west of present-day Denver, which is seventy miles north. Geography, pure and simple. When coming West from the East, especially via Kansas, the first thing you will see is Pikes Peak. It is the easternmost fourteener and sits by itself. The nearest peak of its elevation of 14, 115' or higher is seventy miles away. (Like all fourteeners it can create its own weather system. I do pity the weather forecasters for this area.) 

As most know it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to compose the poem, "America". Of note, the poem itself is an homage to her trip from Massacheuttes to Colorado. After summiting the Peak in 1893 she composed the first line 'Oh beautiful for halcyon skies, for amber waves of grain'. The poem itself was published July 4, 1895, in 'The Congressionalist'.

Looking toward Colorado Springs from the Peak
Photo property of the author

The first run of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb was in August of 1916. This makes this race the second oldest after the Daytona. Today anyone who wishes can drive to the top of the Peak. They can also hike via Barr Trail or in 2021 can again take the Cog Railway. As a side note, the first cog ride started in 1891.

There is much more I could write about this Peak that sits in my 'backyard', but I would still be writing and you would probably get tired of reading. I personally have been to the top eight times. I've driven four and taken the cog four. I've also soloed "America the Beautiful" twice at 14, 115'. You might say 'The Peak' and I have history.



 Doris Gardner-McCraw -

Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

14 comments:

  1. So informative! I've been to Denver but never got out to the Peak (we wanted to but ran out of time). Thank you for another very informative post!

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    1. You are welcome. I hope someday you will make it to the top of the Peak. Doris

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  2. Doris,

    "Granite is formed when viscous (thick/ sticky) magma slowly cools and crystallizes long before it is able to reach the Earth's surface."

    Volcanic action and magma brings gold together and solidifies. Quartz has the same cooling temperature as gold and is why gold is often found with quartz. In this case, the gold behind Pikes Peak solidified in some strange rock---a veinstone, sealned with secondary quartz. OR another technical explanation: “Quartz Latite “The ore is in altered and brecciated volcanic and volcanoclastic rocks of Oligocene age and predominantly quartz latite composition.” (As much as I studied the ore, and learned about chemical extraction, I still don’t fully comprehend this strange deposit. All the gold I ever wrote about was found on an alluvial plain or in white quartz, and is far more standard a find and thus more romantic to write about.)

    My research shows that in Cripple Creek (located at the back of the mountain range) they used a harsh chemical formula, very toxic, to extract the gold.

    For two years I worked on a novel about Cripple Creek (I told you this before) and after 50,000 words, gave up. The history of Pikes Peak area and Cripple Creek defeated me – it was just too complicated. (I hate to fail, but writing about it would have made matters worse. I could not collect all that history in a story and remain historically accurate.)

    Thanks for this article. I live (parts of the year) down the road, some hundred miles on the base of Greenhorn Mountain.

    I have searched for and panned for gold many places in Colorado and all I ever found was gold flakes. Ahhh, but the adventure of climbing those mountains!

    Thanks.

    Charlie Steel

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    1. Good explanation of the 'unusual' deposit of gold in the Cripple Creek district. I also know what you mean my the history of the area. It is rich, varied and oh so plentiful.

      Of course, when you talk Greenhorn mountains my first that is DeAnza and Cuerno Verde. Doris

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  3. Great post, Doris! I've been a Pikes Peak fan since I was six years old and made it to the top with my mom & dad.

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    1. It is amazing being at the top, isn't it? The mountain and the area have such a deep and rich history. Doris

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  4. Fascinating post, Doris! I first summited around the age of 5, on a family trip. I've since summited by car and Cog (never on foot). I love the Peak!

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    1. Thank you, Jeff. I've not done the Peak via foot either. I'm glad to find another Peak lover. Doris

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  5. My daughter (age 9) who loves to hike (and I do too) read your post and said, "What fun!"

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    1. It is, and for those so 'inclined' there is the workout busting Manitou Incline near the start of Barr Trail. The mountain itself has views that are stunning on a clear day. Doris

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  6. Doris,

    This was so interesting. The closest I've been to Pikes Peak is the few times I've been in Colorado Springs. I have seen it in every season, and each one is beautiful in its unique way. I grew up in the northeastern corner of Colorado (Ft. Morgan). We could see Long's Peak clearly from my house, some 100 miles as the crow flies. The real treat, the 'ooh' and 'ahh' and 'Look! Look' was when the air was especially clear and the sun at just the right location and we were out in our pasture on the highest hill and we could see the very snow capped top of Pikes Peak. Now I live in the southeastern corner of Colorado, and on those same clear days at the "AT&T" tower hill south of Lamar, Colorado, you can catch that same snow-capped glimpse. (I still say "Look! Look!" when I see it.)

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    1. Kaye, I so understand the reaction. When I first came out here it looked like a cloud, but instead it was the Peak.

      I'm glad you found these tidbits interesting. Can you tell I love this mountain? Maybe someday, if you desire you can get to the top. Doris

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