Mark and Wendy’s Excellent Adventure: Pikes Peak both scary and exhilarating

Editor’s note: Mark Bradford is contributing occasional posts from his diary on traveling the country with his wife Wendy while they rent out their Mishawaka home for six months.

Day 76 of our 190 day sojourn

September 9, 2023  —  Littleton, Colorado

Most of you know I am not a Disney fan, so here goes:

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!

(Words by Katharine Lee Bates,   circa 1903)

Today, on a whim (sort of), Wendy and I drove up Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs.

The plan was to go see the Garden of the Gods, which has an interesting story to it and is a really cool place for folks to wander around and watch mountain climbers get trained on small climbs. The Gardens are located just east of the Rockies and were the result of hardened sandstone that was thrust through the earth’s crust like vertically stacking dinner plates. 

 It is an amazing sight to see.

It is also a city park and there is no cost because the guy who donated the land made that a condition of the donation. It was also very warm. The mountains cut off all the wind and there were no clouds in the sky so it felt like 90 degrees on the paths. 

So we decided to treat ourselves to a lunch at a historic hotel at the base of Pikes Peak. While we were there, I got a crazy idea that, as long as we were so close, we might as well drive up the 20-mile path and see the top of the world.

A white knuckle drive later, Wendy stood at the edge of Pikes Peak, while I, the one with the fear of heights, stood 20 feet away from the edge. The air is definitely thinner and that led to a bit of lightheadedness.

What was even worse was that the rangers who check you in warn you not to use your car’s air conditioning on the way up and shift to a lower gear on the way down so your brakes don’t fail. Throw in the fact that I was driving a full 5 mph slower than the Colorado natives and the added stress was there.

The rangers even check your brakes after driving down the hill for about six miles. They stop you at their post next to a little gift shop, tell you your brakes are hot (out of state licenses, lol) and instruct you to let the car sit for 10 minutes. 

Fifteen minutes later,  Wendy and I got back in the car with our new $29.99 t-shirt and proceeded down the hill, stopping every 10 minutes or so.

Despite all the stress and inconvenience, the beauty and miracle of the land we live in shone through. Bates was right on with her song.

Here is an interesting fact….

Did you know that Bates wrote it after visiting the Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak? She was a professor and the words came to her as she saw the same thing we saw today.  She checked all the boxes, and I can attest to that:

Her words are real folks,  not made up by some paid songwriter from Disney.

And, oh yeah, neither Pikes Peak nor Garden of the Gods has a touch of Disney, either. No fake mountains, no dancing big horned sheep.

And the cost is roughly equal to a burger basket inside a Disney Park.