Thursday, September 12, 2013

Peaked & Washed Out

A Paramount film crew was battening down the hatches on a helicopter and an assortment of camera trucks when my little rental SUV crawled past them up Pike’s Peak.  I had hoped that the brief cloud-clearing I saw when I left the Money Museum (I went this afternoon for the second time) would enable me to enjoy the view from Colorado’s best-known “Fourteener” (14,000+ foot mountain), and so I drove out US-24 and reached the entrance at 4:45. I steered clear of the movie people both literally and figuratively—I’ve encountered such folks twice before, and both times they’ve been rude.  It took much longer than I’d expected to drive to the top—the “highway” there (a mostly rail-less secondary road) was almost nineteen miles long, with the steepest grades at the treeless top.  It was 32 Fahrenheit at the summit, and the grey clouds which obscured everything around the parking area spotted me and my windshield with freezing mist.  A kindly park ranger took my photo next to the “top of the mountain” sign, and then I climbed on some rocks to the very highest point and then quickly ran back to my car to start the long, careful decent.  The mountain fell away from the edges of the road at a 65 to 75 degree angle, and navigating down, first in the fog, and then in the pouring rain, was a jittery experience.  The little culvert between the road and the mountain ran with a trickle, then a stream, and finally with a rush of water as I got lower and lower, and soon I was four-wheeling through puddles with my hazard lights on.  I reached the bottom of the mountain at 7 PM to find US-24 East towards Colorado Springs closed due to the rising water, and I was forced to turn west, deeper into the Rockies, wondering how exactly I was going to get back to Denver. 

It took me more than two hours to navigate what my GPS informed me was the shortest alternate route, via a tiny, twisting, two-lane road through Pike National Forest, a deserted and partially charred mountainous area with no cell phone reception and the occasional ominous sign that warned “In Case of Flash Flood, Seek High Ground”.  The rain continued the whole trip, but I was somewhat reassured by the fact that every so often I would meet a car headed in the opposite direction, which indicated the road in front of me was passable.  I did repeatedly experience an unpleasant feeling of disorientation—I could not tell if I was going up a hill or down one half the time, like an airplane pilot without any visible horizon.  This was tremendously disconcerting, and I kept taking my foot off the gas in an effort to get my attitude.  The roads in Colorado don’t have reflective paint (apparently it is easily scraped off by snowplows), and wet pavement is always visually tricky, especially in the dark.  I was very grateful to get home safely.  And utterly tired.  Folks in Boulder and elsewhere are inundated, and schools are cancelled in some areas due to safety concerns.  My cousins and I had planned to go to Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow, but as of this evening the road there was closed due to flooding, so we may just sleep in tomorrow and eat large portions of homemade baked goods. 

Ah, I can think of possibilities for use of this particular piece of currency!

The extent of the visibility on Pike's Peak this afternoon.
Why go out when you can be curled up warm and dry in bed?  The junior kitty wasn't budging from her comfortable nap spot.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

I was at Pike's Peak on July 1 of this year and encountered freezing rain and less visibility than your pictures show. The road to the top was closed for about an hour or so, before we were allowed to go up. Fortunately I was with a friend who has lived in Colorado for 10+ years and was comfortable driving in those conditions, which put me "on edge" (pun intended). She also loaned me her husband's windbreaker fleece, which worked well. :)