"Rocky and mountainous and vaguely Martian."
Pikes Peak, CO: Earth and Mars were made from the same primordial stuff, according to NASA's website. Maybe that’s why it’s possible for me to feel as though I’m on Mars when I’m in fact about twenty minutes (and fourteen thousand feet) up from the town of Manitou Springs, Colorado.
Two thousand feet past the timberline, Pikes Peak is a rocky place without vegetation or wildlife of which to speak. In August when temperatures climb into the forty-degree range, the usual snow recedes, leaving the smooth pink-red of the granite to dominate the landscape in unwieldy piles. Here and there are little apparatuses with their feet dug into these rocks like planetary rovers. And all around is the general upheaval of new construction, and the conspicuous fencing and plowing give it the look of a space operation in its early years. I am reminded of the final scene in Interstellar, in which Anne Hathaway’s character looks out on the horizon of a new planet—rocky and mountainous and vaguely Martian although belonging to a new galaxy, too—and a small basecamp set up in the middle distance, meant to house the first of the last of mankind.
The landscape of Pikes Peak is beautiful, but it unsettles me. This is unfair to what the place really is and to the modest enterprise here. But beauty is packed in so tightly by the evidence of our workings on this scant summit, there is no sliver of land left on which to avoid the unavoidable—the reminder of all that we have, and could, and certainly will do when it becomes even remotely possible.