September 16, 2012

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Below are the diary entries for September 16, 2012, with the newest entries added at the bottom. Also, check out today’s photos.

Eric Pikes Peak
Eric (September 16, 2012)

Last modified: September 16, 2012 at 23:34:07

When we looked out of our hotel room window this morning, we were surprised to see two deer wandering around outside. Now we have seen deer in our own backyard at home, but I wasn't expecting them here in the pretty touristy Woodland Park in Colorado.

After breakfast we started out for Pikes Peak, getting gas on the way. The peak loomed over the view from the gas station; in fact, we've seen the snow-covered peak in the distance for most of the day yesterday. The first stop on the way up was at the 2 mile mark at the Ute Pass, where we got a nice view of US-24 sneaking its way towards Colorado Springs. We also saw another deer, this time in front of the car on the road... And we saw the first of many brave bikers on their way up the 19-mile road to the peak.

Then came Crystal Creek Reservoir. The view of the peak, with the lake in front, was breath taking! We were particularly lucky that the tries had started to turn yellow, so the colors were just amazing. They also had displays that included a nice map of the road up, giving an idea of how the Pikes Peak Highway snakes its way up. It turns out the road is mostly on the back of the side of the mountain we see from here.

Continuing further up we pass through various zones, first subalpine, then alpine, and finally we cross the timberline. All the while we have more breath taking views.

Finally we reach the top, which actually is a bit of a disappointment -- it is mostly a big muddy, snowy parking lot. This is also where the cog railroad ends up, and of course it has a souvenir shop and restaurant. But it does have nice views in the various directions.

The way down was mostly uneventful, although we got stuck behind a bicyclist excursion van, which had to follow the slowest of the bicyclists. I guess this was a group that got themselves driven to the top and only had to bike down. We did stop again at the Crystal Creek Reservoir for lunch and some more beautiful pictures.

After having come down from Pikes Peak, we continues north from Colorado Springs and visited the Air Force Academy. We look through the visitor center, including a mock up of a dorm room, and visit the famous chapel. It turns out it has areas for Protestant and Catholic Christians, for Jews and Buddhists, but not for Muslim or other religions. However, the building is really impressive!

From the Air Force Academy we continue on to Denver where we got rooms in the Ramada Inn. There was some kind of a gemstone and other rock event with hundreds of companies displaying their wares and selling rocks, so it is a mess... Tonight we went out into Denver and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

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Nicoline Pikes Peak & Air Force Academy
Nicoline (September 16, 2012)

Last modified: September 16, 2012 at 23:59:26

Today we went to Pikes Peak. To be honest, it wasn’t high on my list of priorities. We’d tried to go there in 2007, but gave up when we realized we’d be snaking up the mountain like rush hour traffic on the Capital beltway and I never thought it was a great loss. But I was wrong, and I’m glad we did take the time to drive all the way to the top and back.

In fact, I did all the driving so Eric could take pictures. Not that we didn’t stop plenty of times to take even more pictures, of course. I usually just wait in the car while Eric fiddles about with apertures and shutter times and what not, but this time the views were so compelling that I just had to get out of the car and enjoy them myself. It’s only a 19 mile drive, but what with the fact that you rarely get about 20 mph and all the stops, it took us at least 90 minutes to get to the top. Amazingly, we overtook several dozen bicyclists. I do admire their dedication, but I wonder if they’ll be able to walk at all tomorrow. Also, it must be pretty dangerous to bike down again!

The drive up is something of a challenge, especially on the switchbacks, but it is nothing compared to the drive down. After the first four miles or so a park ranger makes you stop for a mandatory brake check. The brakes were a tad on the hot side, even though I’m sure I rarely got above walking speed, mostly driving in first or second gear. Anyway, on the ranger’s advice I drove down most of the rest of Pikes Peak in first gear and we made it down safely. Yay for our reliable Honda Accord!

I was quite happy to let Eric take the wheel for our drive to Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy. Another item not high on my list - sorry, Fred :-) - but I’m glad we went. The display in the visitors’ center was informative, though I had to google Barry Goldwater to figure out why it is named for the senator from Arizona. As it turns out, Goldwater served in the Army Air Forces (the Air Force did not become a separate branch of service until 1947) and flew missions in South America, Africa and Asia, including going over “the hump” to fly supplies to Nationalist China over the Himalayas. After the war he remained a reservist, retiring as a major general and having flown 165 (!) different types of aircraft. All this according to Wikipedia.

It’s not surprising that he should be a major proponent of establishing an Air Force Academy. After the visitors’ center we walked up the chapel trail. The chapel is... something else. You’d never know it was a chapel if you didn’t go inside. I wonder why they chose to give it 17 spires. Most religions go for numbers like 3, 7, 10 or 12. It’s clear that the protestant variety of Christianity dominates, with Catholics, Jews and Buddhists relegated to basement. Muslims don’t get any room to worship at all, and that’s not likely to chance any time soon, given the latest furore. Of all the denominations, Buddhists were the only ones to make a point of saying that everyone is welcome. The floor of the synagogue is made out of stones that came from Jerusalem and that were donated by the Israel Defense Force.

From Colorado Springs we took the I-25 to Denver and now we’re trying to figure out if we feel like going into town tonight or if we’ll take it easy and just have dinner at the hotel. There’s a restaurant attached to it that looks decent... On the other hand, if we go into the district known as LoDo according to the touristy magazine in our h otel room, we’ll be in the most historic part of Denver. A tour of the capitol also seems tempting, now that I found out from that same magazine that the building’s roof is actually covered in 24-carat gold leaf in honor of Colorado’s gold rush. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Update: We did go into town and it was a nice neighborhood, seems to be in the process of gentrification. We had dinner at a Mexican place; all in all a great evening!

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