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P.O. Box 1575 MC 060
Colorado Springs, CO 80901
Phone: 719-385-7325
Fax: 719-684-0942
Email: pikespeakinfo@spri. . .
Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

City of Colorado Springs / Pikes Peak - America's Mountain / History


Pikes Peak is not a volcano and has never been one. The granite rock of which the mountain is made was once hot molten rock located as deep as 20 miles beneath the earth's surface. The molten rock hardened and cooled below the earth's surface as much as one billion years ago. Great forces within the earth's crust pushed the rocks upward through a process called uplifting which created a dome-shaped mountain covered with a thick layer of soil and softer rock. Erosion and weathering loosened the softer layers and carried them away.After hundreds of thousands of years of erosion and weathering, a tall granite mountain lay exposed like a large piece of stone waiting for the sculptor to shape it. Anyone seeing this ancient mountain would not have recognized it as the mountain we know today as Pikes Peak. It took the movement of huge glaciers that once existed on the peak to sculpt the mountain. The glaciers lasted about one million years and that ice age ended around 11,000 years ago.

Acting like a giant cookie cutter, the powerful bodies of ice gouged out the rock and left deep, straight-walled basins like the Bottomless Pit with its sharp drop of 1700 feet. The u-shaped canyons that lead down Pikes Peak were carved by the following "rivers of ice". Other v-shaped valleys owe their existence to ordinary streams.

Time Line of Pikes Peak
1803: Pikes Peak area obtained in the Louisiana Purchase.
1806: President Jefferson dispatched Zebulon Montgomery Pike to determine the Louisiana Purchase's southwestern borders. Pike set out to climb the peak on November 24, 1806 from the Pueblo area, but was forced back by a blizzard.
1820: The first recorded ascent was by Dr. Edwin James, doctor, botanist and historian, and two others from an expedition led by Major Stephen H. Long on July 14, 1820. Major Long gave the doctor's name to the mountain, but Pikes Peak soon became the official name, as shown by military maps of 1835.
1850's: Pikes Peak was a symbol to the gold seekers heading west. "Pikes Peak or Bust" became their slogan.
1858: The first woman to climb Pikes Peak was Mrs. Julia Archibald Holmes. She made the ascent with the Lawrence party and stayed on top for two days. Mrs. Holmes is also known as the "Bloomer Girl" because of the bloomers she wore while climbing the mountain.
1860: Work began on the Ute Pass wagon road, the first road past Pikes Peak. U.S. Hwy. 24 now follows part of this route.
1871: The settlement of Colorado Springs began.
1873: The Signal Corps of the U.S. Army built a weather station on the summit. This was manned year round until 1889 by a lone enlisted man who was replaced periodically after a short tour of duty. One Sergeant John O'Keefe gained national notoriety through his tall tales about duty on the Peak. The most famous story was about the death of his baby daughter, Erin from an attack by "mountain rats". There was no truth to any of his stories, but they were published all over the country.
1886-88: The carriage road to the summit was built.
1889-90: The Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railroad was built.
1892: President Harrison established the Pikes Peak Timberland Reserve. Later it became part of the Pike National Forest.
1901: The first automobile to reach the summit (on August 12th) was a two cylinder Locomobile Steamer driven by C.A. Yont and W.B. Felker.
1914: The improvement of the trail up the east face of Pikes Peak was undertaken by Fred Barr and his father. It was completed in December of 1918 and is known as Barr Trail.
1915: Spencer Penrose and his associates conceived the idea of an automobile highway to the summit over the route of the carriage road. This project started early in 1915. The highway cost $500,000.
1916: The first Pikes Peak Hill Climb race was held August 10 - 12 to commemorate the opening of the Pikes Peak Highway. It is the second oldest auto race in the United States (the Indy 500 being the oldest) There are 156 curves on the 12.5 mile course.
1916-36: The highway was operated as a toll road at $2.00 per person for twenty years. Because of the tremendous cost of snow removal and maintenance, a profit was never realized. It was turned back to the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1936. For the next twelve years the road was operated as a free highway but due to the lack of funds, it so deteriorated as to be threatened with complete abandonment.
1948: The Pikes Peak Highway was then set up as a toll road under a permit from the Department of Agriculture. Since June 7, 1948 it has been operated successfully by the City of Colorado Springs.