America the Beautiful

Barr Trail is one of the Pikes Peak region’s most iconic hiking paths and whether one trains for the annual Pikes Peak Ascent or Marathon, or simply desires to hike it for its own merit, it packs a punch. Beginning at an elevation of approximately 6,800 feet in Manitou Springs, it climbs steadily to 14,115 feet, over a distance of about 12.5 miles. Even though various trails up our local 14er had existed since the early 1870s, Fred Barr surveyed the mountain in 1918, and supervised the construction of the route we still use today. In my mind, it is divided into four parts, each measuring roughly 3 miles, and each endowed with its own character.

The seemingly endless back and forth of the switchbacks right from the start presents the least welcoming aspect. Their repetitive nature is compounded by Incline return traffic which, depending on time of day and week, can result in the need to sidestep the narrow path nearly incessantly, to allow runners to pass. The nearby Incline, an old cable car track, spans 2000 vertical feet in just under a mile, and has become one of the premiere fitness challenges for athletes from near and far. Incidentally, it is visible as the oblique swath that transects the trees below Pikes Peak in the featured photo above.

Beyond the various Incline connections, the crowd lessens, and one’s view widens, including a first glimpse of the summit. At No Name Creek begins one of my favorite segments, by virtue of its profusion of wildflowers and avian activity. Who can fail to be cheered by the chirping of chickadees? Gradually, more expansive scenes of the mountaintop appear, even though, depending on one’s physical form of the day, this can be inspiring or demoralizing. IMG_6700 (43)

After 6. 5 miles, Barr Camp, 10,200 feet high, offers a welcome resting spot, if desired or needed. Also built by Fred Barr, it was used by the tourists he guided up from the top of the Incline, to catch a few hours’ sleep, before leaving for the peak at 1 AM, where they hoped to witness the sunrise on this purple mountain majesty. IMG_6700 (51)Now as then, one can gather strength there, before transitioning to the following section leading to the A-Frame, a wooden shelter. This stretch is steep, and somewhat tedious, but what sustains me here is the proximity of timberline and with it, the promise of the beguiling beauty of the tundra.

Once above the trees, boulders of varying size dot the slanting meadows, brilliant yellow cinquefoil and other colorful blossoms nestle in their shelter, and butterflies feast upon this delicate, yet tenacious alpine flora. Photogenic chubby yellow-bellied marmots, and furry pikas fast on foot keep guard, or hope for a morsel of nourishment. IMG_6700 (76)In the east, the velveteen foothills roll into the wide expanse of the Plains, with its amber waves of grain. The stony face of Pikes Peak looms large in the west. The last three miles zigzag across the façade of the mountain and terminate with the Sixteen Golden Stairs. My heavy breathing, and jelly-like legs convince me that this is a misnomer. Sixteen hundred must be closer to the truth…

Knowing firsthand how extraordinary the trip to Pikes Peak by automobile or cog train can be, reaching this pinnacle under one’s own power is even more gratifying. But all visitors seem united in a similar sense of elation, and I have yet to encounter anyone who is not enthralled by the panoramic view, under spacious Colorado skies. Surely, Katharine Lee Bates would agree. Even though she spent only a few months in Colorado Springs in 1893 to teach at Colorado College (she was an English teacher at Wellesley, as well as a published poet, lecturer, and suffragist), her one trip to the top of Pikes Peak in a horse- and mule-drawn carriage inspired the words of a poem which would later be set to music and become a beloved hymn.

IMG_4160 (24)

Katherine Lee Bates gazing at Pikes Peak from a rock in front of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Addendum: This is only the 2nd post I have ever re-published (with a few alterations). It first appeared on WordPress on 08/17/2016, when I had very few readers. I thought the middle of August was a good time to share it with more of you, for the following two reasons.

This year’s Pikes Peak Marathon is scheduled to take place on August 23, while the Ascent on August 22 has been canceled.

If you have read my two previous posts about the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, you will recognize the building in the photo behind Katherine Lee Bates, whose sculpture is one of many that grace Alamo Square Park. She was born August 12, 1859. If I had paid closer attention, I would have posted this a week earlier. Happy belated birthday, Katherine.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

47 thoughts on “America the Beautiful

  1. Wow! That is sooo awesome! I began hiking the 14ers a few years ago and I don’t feel I am anywhere near ready to tackle Pikes Peak along the Barr trail. That is an amazing feat, if you ask me!

    Also, I like that first picture…you can even see the Manitou Incline Trail!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have had a crazy summer, so I haven’t been out much this year. I had planed to do the DeCaLiBron a few weeks ago, but I had a hiking partner back out. Now, I’m eyeballing Handies Peak in September.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hello Tanja.

    Wonderful photos. I know Pikes Peak from its race! A Finn of rally driver Ari Vatanen won the race in 1988 Peugeot 405!!! Thank you showing a piece of beautiful America.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your comment. The Pikes Peak Hill climb is a big event each summer, but I didn’t know that a Finn had won it, as I don’t usually follow it that closely. This year it will be held without spectators, and I hope all the drivers will arrive safely on the top!
      Best wishes,

      Liked by 1 person

    • Good for you, Dwight, I hope you will have good weather. At least this heat should be over by then.
      I tried to make it clear in my little addendum, but this hike was four years ago, and I don’t think I have been up Pikes Peak since then. Time to get back in shape and try it again!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Du hast recht, liebe Brigitte, wir sind sehr mit naturnahen Angeboten verwöhnt, wissen das aber auch sehr zu schätzen.

      Die Unbeschwertheit wird wohl noch einige Zeit auf sich warten lassen müssen, aber wenigstens dürfen wir raus in die Natur. Ich kann mir nicht vorstellen, in einer Großstadt zu leben und quasi eingesperrt zu sein.

      Herzliche Grüße zurück zu Dir nach Bremen,


  3. Grandios Tanja, was anderes fällt mir dazu nicht ein und beeindruckend was für eine Kondition Du an den Tag legst! Und ich kenne niemanden, der sowas so schön und eindrucksvoll beschreiben kann –wie Du das regelmäßig für uns machst. Bleib gesund Du Nature Queen, solche Beiträge sind selten, weil Du sehr einfühlsam alles so genau beschreiben kannst, dass man sich wünscht, morgen selbst dort zu sein. Morgen geht nicht und vielleicht auch nicht nächstes Jahr zunächst muss ich an meiner Kondition arbeiten, aber ich darf Dich ja zumindest begleiten und dafür bin ich wirklich dankbar!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ich danke Dir herzlich für Deine lieben Worte, liebe Ira, die mich sehr froh machen. Hohe Berge zu besteigen bringt ganz besondere Glücksgefühle mit sich, und ich bin dankbar, das erlebt zu haben.
      Und wenn Du es irgendwann mal in die Gegend schaffst, können wir ja den Berg zusammen besteigen. 🏔
      Herzliche Grüße,


  4. „America the beautiful“! Yes indeed, the few times I was in America, it was always beautiful and we only met friendly, and welcoming and nice people!
    Once Corona and all the other unsettling elements are (hopefully) gone, I hope to travel again and enjoy the beautiful America.
    Thanks for reposting this blog entry! I enjoyed it very much!
    Kindest regards,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Christa. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and I’m glad you have fond memories of your travels to your southern neighbor. Let’s hope that travel opportunities and hospitality will still be part of the future.


  5. […] An English professor at Wellesley College. Katherine Lee Bates was invited to teach at Colorado College during the summer semester in 1893. A brief visit to the top of Pikes Peak inspired a long-lived poem which became known as “America the Beautiful.” It helped advertise Colorado Springs, made Pikes Peak known as “America’s Mountain,” and has long been suggested as an alternative to the national anthem.  I have written about her trip to the top of Pikes Peak before: […]


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