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Drive down Pike’s Peak

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The view from 14,000 feet. (c) 2018 J.S.Reinitz

For me, mountain driving is a combination of nerve-racking terror and pure wonder and inspiration. Part of me wants to stare out over the endless view of the countryside, while the other part is white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, sweating over the possibility of missing a turn and plummeting endlessly down into that same countryside.

Fortunately, my wife and kids sprung for a dashcam a year ago, so I could pay attention to the road while driving and admire the scenery after surviving.

Below is a video of our descent down Pike’s Peak, the drive-up 14,000 foot mountain just west of Colorado Springs. This year, the operators of the peak highway offered a shuttle ride for the last few miles of the road to ease congestion at the top during a construction project, so part of the video is from the van ride with the dashcam footage picking up at Mile 16 of the Highway.

The dashcam segment is sped up to five times because I know that no one wants to sit through 35-plus minutes of driving footage. It also increases the sense of danger.

Some 20 years ago, we hiked up the Barr Trail to the top and then headed back down, staying at the Barr Camp. This year’s plan had been to take the Cog rail to the top and hike the 12 miles of the trail back to town, but the Cog is closed this season, so we ended up driving.

 

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Sharing a hail storm

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After a day and a half of driving and less than an hour from camp, we drove through a serious hail storm in Colorado Springs, Colo. In a rental. Without purchasing the optional full coverage.

The first chunks of ice hit like bricks, slamming into the car. I was just waiting for one to crash through the windshield. As the storm intensified, the hail came faster, and we headed for a tree next to the road to wait it out. I caught the whole thing on a dashcam (see above).

Later, at the campsite after the storm passed through, we found ping-pong sized hailstones all over the ground.

Luckily, I wasn’t able to find any damage to the vehicle.

Trip shot: Pony Express

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  Pony Express rider galloping across the sky at the Colorado visitors center.

Video: Splash

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I shot this back in January and edited and forgot to do anything with it until now.

Trip shot: Parting shot

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Superstition Mountains loom over Apache Junction, Arizona. (c)2017 J.S.Reinitz

Trip Shots: Cliff Dwellings

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IMG_0808 It’s a short uphill hike to the lower cliff dwellings of the Tonto National Monument located just outside Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Arizona.

Built in the 14th Century, the site is one of the last cliff dwellings of the Salado people in the Southwest. Sheltered in large cave overhang, the lower dwellings contain about a dozen rooms made of quartzite rocks bonded with adobe laster and accented with sycamore wood and saguaro cactus ribs.

Tonto National Monument also has an upper cliff dwellings site that is available only through guided tours with a reservation.

More  on the dwellings and their former residents can be found here.

Trip shot: Lake view

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(c)2017 J.S.Reinitz

  View of Roosevelt Lake, Arizona, from the trail to the lower cliff dwellings at Tonto National Monument.

Trip shot: Where there is spirit writing

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Pictograph Cave in the distance.

Pictograph Cave in the distance.

Tucked into the gorges outside of Billings, past an antenna farm on the top of a flat hill and down a winding road lurk three caves with a past the predates recorded history.

Beginning somewhere around 250 B.C., inhabitants of what would later become southern Montana drew rudimentary scenes of daily life on the natural shelters’ walls. The pictures eventually faded but would sometimes return when conditions — humidity and such — were right, and tribes thousands of years later would conclude they were messages from beyond — ghost writings.

Today, the Pictograph Cave complex (known in the Crow language as Alahpalaaxawaalaatuua for “place of spirit writings”) is a state park, and for a nominal fee ($6 per carload of out-of staters or $0 per carload of Big Sky Country residents) visitors can take a short hike to the caverns and take in the prehistoric artwork. The best pieces are at the flagship Pictograph Cave, nestled into the eagle sandstone cliffs. The park service includes a guide showing the location of the images superimposed on a photo of the wall. I also found it helpful to use a set of binoculars (I just happened to have a set in my backpack) to observe from a respectable distance.

There is something that appears to be a warrior with a round shield, and there are animals. More recent art (estimated between 1480 and 1650 A.D.) in red pigments stands out year round and depict items like flintlock rifles. Some 100 images have been documented, and on the average day only about 10 are visible. With the right circumstances, 30 or 40 appear, according to park officials.

Also in the complex are Ghost Cave and the aptly named Middle Cave (between the other two caves).

 

 

Trip photo: Enchanted

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Sometimes photos are better without captions.  

Trip shot: Prairie dog break

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Because sometimes you need a mandatory prairie dog break when traveling in Montana.

Trip shot: Big Sky Country Barad-dûr

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Anaconda Smelter (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

 

(c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

 
From the distance, it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings — a dark, impossibly tall tower looming in the foothills, perhaps a wizard’s stronghold crowned by a fiery floating eye or something will later be attacked by humanoid tree creatures.

The tower was visible from miles away as we traveled through the valleys of western Montana on our journey. As we neared the stone giant, and after miles of guessing its origin and purpose, we happened upon a rest stop with a display that answered the riddle.

The structure is the remaining smoke stack of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company smelter that was left standing as a testimony to the workers after the rest of the 100-year-old facility was torn down in 1986. At 585 feet tall, the stack is the highest masonry structure in the world, passing the Washington Monument by 29 1/2 feet. Fitting, as the operation was once the largest non-iron smelter in the world.

More on Anaconda Copper here.

For cool stuff to do in the area, click here.

Trip shot: Waterfall break

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(c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

During a long day of driving, we took a mandatory waterfall break at Falls Park, located on the north end of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The site features a series of falls where the Big Sioux River cascades over pink quartzite cliffs. There are the remains of the Queen Bee Mill, which was built in the 1880s and shuttered after a few short years in operation, and a former hydroelectric plant that had a longer run, cranking out power from 1908 until 1974. The power plant now houses a cafe. An observation tower and gift shop complete the scene.

For more shots from the journey, tap into our Twitter feed.

 

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