Continuing on to Tuesday:
Pike's Peak is a study in contrasts. At the bottom, it is all lush forest (if strangely piney to my northeastern eyes). From the treeline up, it is all rubble. That's the strange part -- I had expected solid rock (the non-mountaineer's idea of a mountain), but it's anything but solid. All the way up, it's rubble as far as I could see.
We choose the Cog Rail to get up to the top. I feel like a wimp for not driving, but the description we got from Keith (the innkeeper) didn't sound appealing to an acrophobe like me: a dozen miles of switchback curves along sheer cliffside. The Cog Rail is easier, save that I have to spend half the ride bracing myself in my assigned seat, so as not to slip right out of it on the 20-degree slopes. The bottom of the Cog Rail is a pleasant 70ish; the top closer to 40 degrees.
Much to my surprise, life doesn't end at the treeline. The obvious-from-the-distance pines end suddenly, but the two-inch-thick carpet of plant life continues all the way up, healthy if fragile. (The guide explains that it takes a hundred years to grow an inch of height, so every footstep is destructive up here.) Arctic ravens circle, overshadowing the smaller swallow-like birds, and a few marmots placidly sun themselves on the rocks, watching the caged humans being ferried past.
Pike's Peak consists of a parking lot, a variety of plaques (half a dozen celebrating purple mountain's majesty, composed up there), and one very large gift shop. Mostly tacky tourist crap. They are selling flavored oxygen, and I really ought to buy my five minutes' worth (whee -- altitude sickness is *not* fun), but I get stubborn and stick it out.
The store aside, though, the view is incredible: there simply is nothing in the northeast to compare. The guides apologize for the hazy day cutting the visibility down to only a few dozen miles in each direction.
We are alloted only about half an hour at the top before the train is to return. That's okay: by that time, I'm starting to get genuinely dizzy from the low oxygen, demonstrating that three days at 6500 feet has not been enough to prepare me for 14,000. As we reach the bottom, I finally being to recognize my dehydration headache, an old friend from Pennsic. I'm used to avoiding this headache when it's hot, but the idea of getting it simply because it's cold and high is new and strange. I resolve to hydrate better for the rest of the trip.
After the simple majesty of Pike's Peak, the Cave of the Winds is a letdown. We've been up; now we go down. (Relatively speaking: it's one of the *highest* caves in the country -- at the lowest, we're still higher than pretty much the entire state of Massachusetts, or even most of Colorado Springs, since the cave is inside a mountain.)
But tackiness: they make a big deal about preserving the natural beauty of the cave, and not allowing the public to touch anything, but the cave is festooned with lights, covered in obviously-artifical concrete. The clearly-bored tour guide drives us too quickly past things like the water-vortex carved caverns in the ceiling above us. And after the 40-mile views up top, the eight-inch strips of cave bacon aren't very exciting. They require us to take pictures at the beginning, then hand us the prints at the end -- you have to explicitly give it *back*, or pay an extra eight bucks. (We hand it back, being allergic to hard-sell.)
Driving north, we see McMansions, plaguing here even more than at home. Bizarreness: a wide vista surrounds a development of huge houses packed in like cordwood, with scarcely 20 feet between them. I fail to see the appeal, but fortunately this isn't where Mike lives. His property is lovely and big, but his new neighbor is apparently a paranoid loon, and has erected a chain-link fence with barbed wire between them, right outside their living room window.
Visiting with Mike and Crystal; I realize how little I really know of my stepbrother, but we seem more alike than I would have expected. His room of Mountain Climbing Crap is not so unlike our Garage of Holding, full of SCA Crap. We admire his lovely furniture, and realize how much of it he built -- another thing I didn't know about him. We really need to get to know them better: they are good folks...