Pikes Peak celebrates 200 years on America's map

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Zebulon Pike wasn't the first person to see the towering peak that would bear his name. He never reached the 14,110-foot summit. And after a miserable time in the Rocky Mountains, he was captured by the Spanish and carted off to Mexico.

All of these details are simply part of the lore surrounding Pikes Peak, discovered 200 years ago by the Army captain's expedition.

"Pikes Peak is an American icon," said Carol Keenness, public programs coordinator at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. "Everybody has heard of Pikes Peak."

For the people who haven't heard enough, the museum and organizations throughout southern Colorado have scheduled lectures, exhibits, re-enactments and hikes over the next year, showcasing everything from Pike's 1806 journey to images of the mountain in art and advertising.

Pikes Peak climbs swiftly from the Colorado plains just west of Colorado Springs and dominates the landscape along the eastern slopes of the central Colorado Rockies. On clear days, it is visible for 100 miles, far out into the plains toward Kansas.

The peak isn't Colorado's tallest mountain, or its hardest to climb. But beginning with Pike, explorers, thrill-seekers and miners have flocked there looking for pristine views, breathtaking risks and easy money. The views at the summit inspired Katherine Lee Bates in 1893 to write the lyrics to "America the Beautiful."

"It's like a beacon on the plains," said Barb French-Pfeifer, an interpretive park ranger on Pikes Peak. "It still has that mystic and that allure to attract people."

Pike's mission in 1806 was to explore the headwaters of the Arkansas River. He traveled from Kansas and was in southern Colorado in November of that year when he first caught sight of Pikes Peak from near present-day Las Animas.

Later, Pike set out from what is now Pueblo -- 40 miles south of Colorado Springs -- with three men, little gear and linen army uniforms, believing they could summit the "Grand Peak" and return to camp in two days.

"He was quite an optimist," said Clive Siegle, manager of the Santa Fe Trail Association, which is coordinating bicentennial activities.

It took two days just to reach the base. After two more days of climbing and a long, awful night on a nearby peak, the team turned back to Pueblo.

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