Today is going to be a train day. I’m boarding Amtrak’s California Zephyr at around 8 and this time I have a sleeper car. I’ll be heading west into the Rockies, across the Continental Divide and, if we stay on time, we’ll be in Salt Lake City by midnight tonight.
I’m not seeing Salt Lake City (maybe some other time). I’m staying on board through northern Nevada and will disembark at Sacramento, California early Monday afternoon. This will leave me with a ten-hour layover before I board the Coast Starlight for Portland, and my next two-day visit.
I’ve done a lot in Denver these past two days. Already the early part of this trip feels like a blur. I explored a lot of Denver on Friday and, yesterday, I rented a car and headed south to Colorado Springs to board a cog railway to ride up to Pike’s Peak.
Back in 2002, Erin, Wendy and I travelled to Pierre, South Dakota to visit Michael and Rosemarie, and we headed out to the Black Hills as part of our vacation. Erin, Wendy and I actually managed to climb to the summit of the Little Devil’s Tower (not the famous one in Wyoming), which had an elevation of 6,971 feet. I joked that it was the highest I’d ever been. Then, in 2012, Erin and I took the VIA Canadian to Vancouver, stopping a few days in Jasper and boarding a cable car to take us to the top of Whistler Mountain. This one was snow-covered and, at 7,156 feet above sea level, it was a new record for height.
Pike’s Peak’s elevation is 14,110 feet above sea level, and let me tell you that this is an entirely different kettle of fish from mountains that are around 7,000 feet tall. The Pike’s Peak Cog Railway takes you from Manitou Springs, Colorado (elevation roughly 6,000 feet above sea level) on a journey that takes 90 minutes, and features several stretches where the track rises 25 feet for every 100 feet travelled. That plasters you in your seat.
They also warn about altitude sickness, and they’re not kidding. Just getting off that train made me feel like I’d walked the whole way up. I was woozy and out-of-breath, and I’m told that this reaction is quite common. Still, it’s worth it for the views and the realization of just how high you are. Manitou Springs itself has the feel of a mountain resort town, rather like Jasper, Alberta, and I kind of wish I’d spent a little more time there. At least at their elevation, I could still breathe.
I came back to Denver and returned the rental car, and strolled the length of the Sixteenth Street Mall. Transit and pedestrian malls have a mixed record, in my experience. Sparks Street Mall in Ottawa has struggled, and the Rideau Transit Mall is no more. Denver seems to have done much better. There were crowds that Saturday evening, and the restaurants and shops were full. Overall, I was quite impressed. Denver is a city that’s putting a lot of effort into its future.
Photographs of this trip can be found here…