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There’s another Pike’s Peak

Brief by Central Staff

Geography – August 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

Next year marks the bicentennial of Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike’s 1806-07 expedition to Colorado, which included a Christmas camp near Salida and his capture by Spanish soldiers in the San Luis Valley.

This bicentennial won’t get nearly the attention that the Lewis and Clark “Voyage of Discovery” is getting now, although news is trickling in about some likely events in 2006, including a possible visit by a Pike impersonator.

At any rate, his name lives on our map at 14,110-foot Pike’s Peak, which, as one historian pointed out, “he neither discovered, nor climbed, nor named.” And as it turns out, there’s another Pike’s Peak.

For our purposes, it was “discovered” by Virginia McConnell Simmons of Del Norte, who’s a historian, frequent contributor to these pages, and columnist for the Alamosa Valley Courier.

Recently she wrote a Courier piece about Pike’s Peak State Park. The peak is a bluff about 500 feet high in northeastern Iowa along the Mississippi River.

It may have a better connection to Pike than the Colorado mountain does. Before Pike was sent west in 1806 to find the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers, he led an 1805 journey north from St. Louis to find the source of the Mississippi River (which he missed by a few miles, picking Lake Leech instead of Lake Itasca).

This was just after the Louisiana Purchase, so it was important to find the start of the great river in order to establish boundaries, and along the way, Pike met with Indians and traders to inform them that Thomas Jefferson was now their president.

He was also supposed to find good spots for forts, and he recommended the bluff in Iowa for its commanding view of the Mississippi near its junction with the Wisconsin River. However, the Army selected nearby Prairie du Chien instead.

The bluff went into private hands before becoming a state park in 1935, and the photos on the web show trails through woods and brooks, rather than windswept rocks and tundra. And it’s a Pike’s Peak that Pike actually climbed.

On Colorado’s Pike’s Peak, after a few cold November days of trying, Pike concluded, “I believe no human being could have ascended to its pinical.”