“The view of Colorado Springs and the Eastern Plains is nice, but I’m ready to see the mountains on all sides. Let’s do the Crags this weekend.”
Sara and I are planning for our weekly hike on Friday night. It’s true that we’ve seen the Springs from many different angles — having hiked through Red Rock Canyon, the Manitou Incline, Garden of the Gods, North Cheyenne Canyon, the Section 16 Trail, and others — and are ready for a change. We certainly have no complaints about the many hiking choices on offer just uphill from the city — thanks to the forward-thinking local government with an penchant for acquiring and maintaining public lands and open spaces for outdoorsy folks like us — but it’s time to see what Pike’s Peak and Cheyenne Mountain are hiding behind their backs. We decide to get up early on Saturday morning to drive around the backside of the Peak. We’re off to see the Crags.
This is the first time we’ve been west of Manitou Springs; we’ve never shot the Highway 24 gap before. As we approach the turnoff for the Pike’s Peak toll road to the top, we enter a wonderland of kitschy Western gift shops — including a log cabin souvenir shop in “Bust, Colorado, population: 2,” a reference to the famous Colorado Gold Rush slogan, “Pike’s Peak or Bust!”
The small mountain towns of Woodland Park and Divide have a similar flavor as we drive through: gift shops, leather and cowboy clothing boutiques, and outdoor adventure equipment depots abound.
We leave the highway, and soon we leave the pavement altogether, turning on to an alarmingly rough dirt road. A hand-painted sign lets us know that we’ll be bumping for awhile: “Crags: 3 miles.”
But the bumping is worth it as we hop out of our now very dusty car and lace up our hiking boots. We’ve climbed to nearly 10,000 feet from the still-pretty-darn-high 6,000 feet of Colorado Springs. The air is thinner and crisper here, and the scent of the pines is just starting to come into olfactory view as the sun climbs higher.
We hit the trail crossing Fourmile Creek, climbing through the pine forests that blanket the faces of the Front Range below the tree line. We’re doing an easy, family-friendly walk today, not the backside trail to the top of Pike’s Peak — which shares a trailhead with the Crags — so we’re taking our leisurely time. It’s a much more gradual climb than other trails we’ve walked, so fit locals (and their dogs) with good cardio conditioning aren’t flying by as we gasp for air.
After the diversion to the summit, the trail leaves the forest and enters a green meadow. The day hasn’t quite warmed up to its fullest yet, so the sun feels good as we leave the dappled shade of the trees. The characteristic red rock formations above the valley highlight the pale green of the native grasses below and the clear blue sky above.
The trail is well-trodden and busy on this beautiful Saturday, so even when we are unsure of our path, if we listen carefully, we can hear the voices (and barks) of our fellow hikers, particularly as we near the summit of the Crags. When we reach the round granite peak ourselves, we know why so many walkers have plopped down for a rest and a chat.
We don’t have to wait any longer for that 360-degree view of the mountains; it’s here. To the north and east, the lump of Raspberry Mountain rises above the reservoirs of Pike National Forest. To the south, we can see the sunlight flashing on the mirrors and windows of cars driving up the busy Pike’s Peak Highway to the top. Directly below our feet are the rippling formations of the Crags, the lumpy red rocks that we’ve come to love since settling here in Colorado.
Finding a quiet-ish spot — someone in one of the small groups is cranking out intolerable mainstream country music on a portable speaker — we sit down for a rest and a hiking snack. After a few minutes, the music fades as the Big & Rich wannabe himself moves (mosies? Nah, country fans haven’t mosied since the 70s) along down the trail. After a few more minutes here at the top of the world, we follow, hoping to bring the silence up here with us.
We don’t. As we leave the lower meadow, I can hear Toby Keith or someone singing about God and trucks and terrorists and beer. We quicken our step to pass him. As we’re rushing away from the refrain — “God loves trucks, and I hate terrorists, but you love beer, so I love you” or something like that — we pass the diversion to the 14,000-foot summit of Pike’s Peak.
“Someday, we’re comin’ back for you,” I say to myself, “but first, we need some beer, and not because of that awful song!”