National Geographic : 1951 Aug
Colorado's Friendly Topland BY ROBERT M. ORMES TIMES have changed in the Colorado Rockies. In 1806 Zebulon Pike gazed across the "Grand Peak" later named for him and wrote in his diary, "No human being could have ascended to its pinical." Now, most visitors to the 14,110-foot sum mit don't even bother to climb it (page 203). They ride in Diesel-powered trains, drive their cars, or ride up the bridle path. On top they have their choice of two summit houses. From one they can telegraph home. In both they can eat doughnuts which, because of the altitude, are raised with a fraction of the normal amount of leavening; drink coffee that boils at a temperature scarcely hot to the finger; and buy the souvenir donkeys called Rocky Mountain canaries. Of those who climb, one man counts a thousand ascents. Others have put on their shorts and run up from the prairie in half an afternoon. On the cog road right of way I have seen women walking toward the moun tain in high heels. Even the white ribbons of winter do not tie off the summit. Members of the Pikes Peak AdAmAn Club climb up through wind and snow to celebrate New Year's midnight with a fireworks display (page 214). Roaming the Roof of Colorado For off-the-highway explorers, all Colo rado's upland has the same friendliness. The age of ice is over. The glaciers have receded, leaving only their tracks. These are the sunny cliffs that give grandeur to the scene, the meadow-floored valleys, the cirques that cradle small, vivid lakes. Storms are brief. Even in a wet summer they do not drive the visitor under his tent for long. Most of the high country lies in 11 national forests and one national park (map, page 188). In the 15,000,000 acres of forestland, clear streams and seasoned firewood invite the camper to stop anywhere and make him self at home. Above the tree line rises a wanderer's paradise-a vast open land with long vistas between the mountains.* The era of mining and tree cutting left by roads through the forest, but they too are subjects for the explorer. They have been forgotten, and man-high spruces grow be tween the ruts. My mountaineering began in boyhood, when I could look out the schoolroom window to Pikes Peak. There were trips with my father, who loved the outdoors. I remember beef-and-bacon squares impaled on a long spit and roasted over the open fire. I remember a night in the Bottomless Pit cirque when we woke to see bighorn spring ing noiselessly up the headwall. I remember the first Pikes Peak climb. As we came over the shoulder, we saw other peaks-the Sangre de Cristos, the Mosquitoes, and the Collegiate group-gleaming in rows in the west. These mountains, and more beyond them, have opened out like a vast attic hide-out in which every exploration calls for another. 50 "Fourteeners" Challenge Climbers The Colorado Mountain Club impartially lists Pikes Peak among some 50 that top 14,000 feet. An agile father-and-son team once made all these summits in a single month. My visits, like those of most clubbers, were spaced out over several seasons. More re cent ones have fitted into a collective aim of the State's mountaineers. We voted to pool our knowledge to help others find their way around. The job sent us out to recheck dis tances and heights, verify new routes, note shelters and pack-in facilities, and learn the personalities of the mountain giants. Chief among the many mountains that still hold the glamour of gold is the Mosquito Range, one jump back from the prairies. The treasure hunt began here after the fifty-niners started the State's first gold rush, and still the veins have not dried up. In its time, the industry has used every means from the ledge walking donkey to the great land-cruising placer dredge to keep them flowing. To drive to the Mosquito Range, we cir cled northward around Pikes Peak, passed the fossil beds and petrified forests of Florissant, and climbed to Wilkerson Pass. Before us lay treeless South Park (page 211). We picked out our peaks on the far rim, then coasted into the tawny dip where calves tee tered and lambs gamboled. A roadside ditch showed Colorado's de pendence on water.t On the uphill side were gray mounds of sage. On the downside stretched lush hayfields. As the flats narrowed toward a point, we began to read mingled chapters in the story of metal. First came a million-dollar placer dredge. Crane-shaped, it floated in a pond that moved with it and ate up yards of earth to get spoonfuls of gold. * See "High Country of Colorado," by Alfred M. Bailey, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1946. t See "Colorado, a Barrier That Became a Goal," by McFall Kerbey, NATIONAL GEOGRAPIIIO MAGAZINE, July, 1932.