I had never heard of the term “Fourteener” before moving to Colorado, but around these parts you hear it a lot, probably because in the state of Colorado, there are more 14,000 foot peaks than any other state — 54 of them. Hiking/climbing fourteeners is a major summertime pursuit for many people, and there are a rare few that have even climbed them all, including our U.S. Senator, Mark Udall. Hiking a fourteener though is not unique to Colorado — California has the highest fourteener in the lower 48, Mt. Whitney, and Washington state has Mt. Rainier. Alaska has many peaks over 14,000 feet including Mt. McKinley, which soars to over 20,000 feet.
Still and all, even the easiest of fourteeners is quite a fitness challenge, and many would never see the top of a Fourteener if it required hiking. But only in the state of Colorado can one drive to the top of fourteener, where we have not just one, but two 14,000 foot peaks that have paved roads to the top. Pikes Peak, at 14, 114 feet is probably the most notable, located just outside of Colorado Springs. It not only has a road to the top, but a cog railway, and a restaurant where one can nosh on donuts and buy souvenirs. Of course, the cost of all these amenities is $40/car or even more for the railway. But another, less notable fourteener, Mt. Evans, outside of Idaho Springs, offers a spectacular drive with views of high peaks as far as the high can see for free (or if you choose to stop on the summit, rather than just drive through, a mere $10).
The Mt. Evans byway was built as an attraction to woo eastern tourists, and was completed in 1927. A restaurant and gift shop called Crest House or Summit House was built at the summit area to allow tourists to enjoy a yummy meal while enjoying the views all the way out to the plains from the 14,000-foot peak. Unfortunately, the Crest House burned down in 1979 and was never rebuilt, but the ruins are still used as an observation platform.
The Mt. Evans road is usually open Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, but can be subject to closures for road work. We drove up the road yesterday, June 14, and not only were treated to fabulous views, but some snow falling on top, as well as seeing both a herd of bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Driving a fourteener is just another one of those special experiences unique to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.