Excerpt from My Native Land—1903—James Cox

We have already spoken of the discovery of Pike's Peak. At the summit of this mountain, 14,147 feet above the sea level, there is a little signal service station, which can be reached by railway. When the mountain was first discovered several efforts were made to reach the summit, but without success. Major Pike himself recorded his .opinion that it would be impossible for any human being to ascend to the summit. In these days of engineering progress there is, however, no such word as "impossible." Several enthusiasts talked as far back as twenty years ago of the possibility of a railroad to the very summit of the once inaccessible peak, and fifteen years ago a survey was made, with a view to building a railroad up the mountain, by a series of curves and nooks.

It was believed possible by the engineers that a railroad of standard gauge and equipment could be operated without special appliances, and so strongly was this view held that work was commenced on the project. Eight miles of grading was completed, but the project was then abandoned in consequence of adverse reports received from experts, sent out for the purpose. Their statement was that no grade would be able to stand the force of the washouts, though, strange to say, all the grading that was accomplished stands to-day, as firm as ever. Three or four years later another project, destined to be more successful, came into existence. In 1889, grading commenced, and finally the work was completed, and the summit of Pike's Peak can now be reached by railroad.

The road itself is one of the most remarkable ones in the United States, and, indeed, in the world. The road-bed is fifteen feet wide, and there is not a single foot of trestle work in the entire construction. There are three short bridges of iron, and the precautions in the way of cross sections of masonry are very elaborate. The average ascent per mile is 1,320 feet, and the total ascent is nearly 8,000 feet. In the center of the track, between the heavy steel rails, are two cog rails, of great strength. These are provided to insure absolute safety for travelers, one being for general use and the other as a kind of reserve.

Special locomotives are used on the line. These were constructed by the Baldwin Company, of Philadelphia, and include the latest patents in engine building. When standing on a level track they appear to be at a slant of about 8 per cent. When on a mountain road, like that of Pike's Peak, they are approximately level. There are three wheels on each side of the engine, but these are not driving wheels, being merely used to help sustain the weight. The driving wheels operate on the cog rails in the center of the track. The cars also slope, or slant, like the engine. No couplings are used, so that one great element of danger, is avoided. The engine and the cars have each independent cog brakes of almost unlimited power. When traveling three or four miles an hour, the little train, with the locomotive pushing instead of pulling it, can be stopped instantly. When the speed reaches eight or nine miles an hour, stoppage can be effected in less than one revolution of a wheel.

Not only is the ride up Pike's Peak a wonderful sensation and a constant reminder of the triumphs of engineering, but it is also a source of continual delight to the lover of the beautiful and awful in nature. About half way up the mountain is a most delightful little hillside retreat, aptly named—The Half-Way House." It is a very comfortable establishment within rustic walls. The pines and firs which surround it add a great charm to the outlook, and the cool mountain breeze is charged with very pleasing odors. Tourists frequently spend a night here and consider the sensation one of the most unique of a long trip.

A tourist describing a ride up Pike's Peak by this singular railroad, says:
"We are now far above timber line. On all sides can be seen strange flowers, of lovely forms and varied hues. Plants which attain considerable proportions on the plains are here reduced to their lowest forms. It is not an unusual thing to find a sunflower stalk in the prairies rising from a height of eight to ten feet; here they grow like dandelions in the grass, yet retaining all their characteristics of form and color. Beyond this mountain meadow are great fields of disintegrated granite, broken cubes of pink rock, so vast in extent that they might well be the ruins of all the ancient cities in the world. Far below flash the waters of Lake Morain, and beyond, to the southward, lie the Seven Lakes. Another turn of the track to the northward, and the shining rails stretch almost straight up what appears to be an inaccessible wall of almost peerless granite. But no physical obstruction is formidable enough to stop the progress of this marvelous railway; and passing the yawning abyss of the 'Crater,' the line proceeds direct to the summit. The grade here is one of 25 percent., and timid passengers will not escape a thrill of fear as they gaze over the brink of this precipice, although the danger is absolutely nothing. At last the summit is reached, and, disembarking, the tourists can seek refreshments in the hotel, which will cater to their wants, and then spend the time before the train returns in enjoying the view, and in rambling over the seventy acres of broken granite which form the summit.

The view from the Peak, once beheld, can never be forgotten. The first sensation is that of complete isolation. The silence is profound. The clouds are below us, and noiselessly break in foaming billows against the faces of the beetling cliffs. Occasionally the silence is broken by the deep roll of thunder from the depths beneath, as though the voice of the Creator were uttering a stern edict of destruction. The storm rises, the mists envelop us, there is a rush of wind, a rattle of hail, and we seek refuge in the hotel.

"Pause a moment before entering, and hold up your hands. You can feel the sharp tingle of the electric current as it escapes from your finger-tips. The storm is soon over, and you can see the sunbeams gilding the upper surfaces of the white clouds that sway and swing below you half way down the mountain sides, and completely hide from view the world beneath. The scenery shifts, like a drawn curtain the clouds part; and as from the heights of another sphere we look forth upon the majesty of the mountains and the plains, an ocean of inextricably entangled peaks sweeps into view. Forests dark and vast seem like vague shadows on distant mountain sides. A city is dwarfed into the compass of a single block; water courses are mere threads of silver, laid in graceful curves upon the green velvet mantle of the endless plains. The red granite rocks beneath our feet are starred with tiny flowers, so minute that they are almost microscopic, yet tinted with the most delicate and tender colors.

"The majesty of greatness and the mystery of minuteness are here brought face to face. What wonders of creation exist between these two extremes! The thoughtful mind is awed by the contemplation of this scene, and when the reflection comes that these vast spaces are but grains of sand upon fin infinite shore of creation, and that there are worlds of beauty as far and varied between the tiny flowers and the ultimate researches of the microscope as those which exist, on an ascending scale, between the flowers and the great globe itself, the mind is overwhelmed with wonder and admiration. It is in vain that one strives to describe the scene. Only those who have beheld it can realize its grandeur and magnificence."

Lovers of horseback riding regard the vicinity of Pike's Peak and Manitou almost in the light of a paradise. A ride of a few miles in any direction leads to some specially attractive or historic spot. Crystal Park is one of the popular resorts of this kind. It is enclosed by high mountains on all sides, with an entrance which partakes of the nature of a natural gateway. In summer time this park is a profusion of bloom, with wild flowers and vines seldom seen in any other part of the world in such splendor. There are several elevated spots from which the surrounding country can be seen for miles. Above the park is Cameron's Cone. This is a mountain of much interest, although it can only be reached and climbed by hardy, athletic individuals. All around there are a profusion of canyons The Red Rock Canyon was at one time a popular resort. It took its name from the profusion of red sandstone on all sides. This natural wealth finally destroyed the beauty of the canyon, which is now a mass of stone quarries. Bear Creek Canyon has less of the practical and more of the picturesque about it. A very charming brook runs down the center, and there are two or three small but very delightful falls.

The Ridge Road is a species of boulevard recently constructed for the use of visitors to Manitou. At places the grade is so abrupt that timid ladies do not care to drive down it. Otherwise it is a very pleasing thoroughfare, with fresh surprises and delights awaiting the tourist every time he passes along it. The view in every direction is most charming and extensive. Pike's Peak can be seen to great advantage, and in the forty miles of the road many different features of this mountain can be observed. The road also leads to William's Canyon.

Cheyenne Mountain, although dwarfed somewhat by Pike's Peak, is deserving of notice. It is very massive in its form, and its sides are almost covered by Canyons, brooklets and waterfalls. Two vast gorges, know as the North and South Canyons, are especially asked for by visitors. The walls of these gorges are of rich granite, and stand perpendicular on each side a thousand feet high. The effect is very wonderful in a variety of ways. In the South Canyon are the celebrated Seven Falls, which were immortalized by Mrs. Helen Hunt Jackson, the well-known poetess, whose remains were interred on Cheyenne Mountain by her own request. The Seven Lakes must also be seen by all visitors to the Manitou region, and there are so many more special features to be examined and treasures to be discovered that, no matter how long one stays in the neighborhood, a pang of regret is felt when the visit is brought to a termination.

There are other spots in America where more awful scenes can be encountered. There are few, however where the combinations are so delightful or the general views so attractive and varying.

Pikes Peak | Mountain Railroading | Contents Page

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery