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Air Force Academy and America’s Mountain

October 30, 2013

Colorado – Saturday, October 19

My first stop this morning was the Air Force Academy, and its beautiful chapel. The Air Force Academy is a military school for officer candidates, and they only accept about 11% of applicants. I went into the Visitor Center and then walked down to the chapel. There are actually 4 separate places of worship inside – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist. The Protestant chapel was the biggest and had an enormous organ and choir balcony in the back, and the ends of the pews were designed to look like airplane propellers. The Catholic chapel was the next biggest, with lots of carved marble and another big organ. The Jewish area had a Torah Scroll that had been hidden from the Nazis and was found in 1989 in Polish warehouse. And the Buddhist chapel had floor mats and a big Buddha figure. There are also areas for other religious celebrations, which can be held in a room that doesn’t have any permanent religious decorations in it, although everything is available for other faiths whenever they want to hold a service. There was a general donation box on the main floor, asking for donations to help the chaplain corps attend to all the spiritual needs of the cadets. I wanted to make a donation here for my military-related donation this week, since I haven’t yet made a donation to the military school, so I wrote a note and a check and deposited it into the box. Then I went back to the van, and drove around the campus a bit more, and got Tula out for a walk on part of the Falcon Trail that goes through some of the hills around the campus area. I walked almost 2 miles at the Air Force Academy.

By now the sun was out and the sky was a beautiful blue, so I decided to head for Pike’s Peak in the hopes that the road to the summit would be open all the way to the top. I had to backtrack a little to get there but it was worth it – Pike’s Peak is called America’s Mountain, and I really wanted to visit. There is a $12 fee to drive on the road to the top, and the lady at the entrance said the road was indeed open all the way up, for the first time in a couple days. It’s only 19 miles to the 14,100 feet high peak, but with all the curves and switchbacks and the steep grade it took a long time to drive up. There are several picnic areas and gift shops to stop at on the way up. The views were amazing as I passed through the sub-alpine areas up past the tree line into a cold, windy, rocky landscape. At the lower elevation I drove past a “Bigfoot Crossing” sign – haha. There were no sightings of Bigfoot today! There’s a one-story visitor center up at the windy summit, and the cafeteria area was doing a brisk business selling hot coffee and fresh, warm cinnamon donuts, and the donuts were good. People who don’t want to drive can take a cog railway to the top, but I’m not sure if it was running today because I never saw it. It was really cold and windy outside, but I still enjoyed the views. It made me wonder how many square miles I could see from looking in all directions from the summit! I was feeling a bit like queen of the world up high on a mountain! Lots of people visit the summit, and that’s why it’s called America’s Mountain. In fact, the view was the inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful.” There was a donation box in the visitor center at the top which had different divisions for donations from different states. Michigan was in the top 3. I began to think I’d like to make a donation to America’s Mountain, but then the ranger started shooing everyone out – they wanted to close down on top so that people would get down the mountain in a timely manner. So I didn’t have time to write a note and leave it inside. But I could see the ranger was going to stick around til everyone was gone, so I did have time to write a note outside, along with a donation check, and the ranger said he could either take it, or I could turn it into the lady in the booth at the bottom of the road. I told him I’d prefer to give it to him outside on a mountain top – at 14,100 feet I know I won’t be able to “top” that donation! Everyone had to use low gear to drive down, and I drove through some blowing, swirling snow. There was a mandatory brake check about halfway down – right before the steepest 3 miles. I had to pull off with some of the other vehicles and open the hood and sit for about 10 minutes. The rangers have a tool to check the temperature of the brakes and anyone who has a reading over 300 has to cool off for a bit. Mine were just a bit over 300 so I sat and waited. The ranger was telling us about a race that is held on the mountain, which sounds absolutely crazy, and he pointed out where a couple crashes had occurred with the cars tumbling partway down the mountain, although with no injuries. He also told us that parts of the road at the higher elevations had had a couple feet of snow on them this morning, and they had to get big machinery out to clear the road, and if the sun hadn’t come out to help, the road wouldn’t have been open. I’m so glad it was!

I was only able to do a little walking on Pike’s Peak, so it was time to get a bit more walking done. I headed west and the first town I came to was Woodland Park, which seemed to be a ski town, and Tula and I got out and walked almost 3 miles before it got too dark. So I’m coming up a little short today, and will make it up in the coming days. Then I got in the car for a couple hours and continued heading west. I dipped a little south to find a pet-friendly motel in Salida, where I was also able to do some laundry. I’m pretty sure my camping days are over now that it’s getting later in the year, and colder. When there are frost warnings out, it’s too cold for me to camp!

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