Ravenpalooza…by Brad Marks

Somehow we are officially in December and as far as I can tell, we must only be getting one maybe two weeks top per month being no other explanation for how fast time is flying by. Yesterday I was wondering whether to isolate my Turkey from the rest of the fix’ns or just make one big scrumptious pile and douse it with the entire contents of the gravy bowl. A day later wondering if I’m going to get my shopping done before Christmas Eve (which, at this pace might end up being tomorrow). Thankfully, we can lean on Brad to keep us entertained while I wage battle with the hourglass. I must say, our new staff member is doing quite well on his goal milestones – especially the bonus counter for the use of “craptastic” – we never imagined it would find its way into a post in the “literal” sense. Editor note, he would have pulled a mega-score if he had replaced bird “pose[ing]” with a Python reference to the Norwegian Blue nailed to the perch – now that would be Senior Corporate Staff Writer at Intrigued material hehehe. Enough of my rambling, let’s get to Brad’s latest offering, the Ravenpalooza (or should that be Ravenpooplooza?).

Take it away Brad…

The Fall of 2021 was our first visit to Pikes Peak in Colorado.  Jan and I had high hopes of spectacular views from the top. The sun was shining in Manitou Springs at the base of the mountain where you board the cog rail to ride to the peak (visit here for more details on the cog rail).  We booked our tickets for the cog rail while driving to Colorado the day before, so we didn’t end up getting the best seats.  In fact, we ended up sitting backwards on the train as it headed up the mountain.  We were fighting gravity the whole way because the average incline is a 10% grade (up 10 feet for every 100 feet forward) with short runs of 25% grade.  This also means that while we were facing forward on the way down, we were still holding onto our seats so we didn’t fall into the laps of the people sitting across from us.

Unfortunately, the weather can change very quickly around the Front Range of the Rockies.  That visit was no exception.  As we approached 9,000 feet on the ride to the top, clouds settled in and the view diminished quickly.  At about 12,000 feet, snow started to slant past the windows.  By the time we reached the peak, we were in a full-on blizzard.  The snow was falling so fast, and the wind was so strong, that we had to follow the handrails to the visitor center for fear of getting lost in the white-out.  Understandably, we were disappointed not to have a good, or any, view at the top.  Jan and I did decide to run outside for a quick selfie in the blizzard, then ran back inside just as quickly.  After a quick break in the visitor center, we boarded the cog rail for the ride back down the mountain.

Fast forward to Fall 2022.  We bought cog rail tickets months in advance to try for better seats.  Jan and I  ended up with two front row seats.

Hit the jump to read more of Brad and Jan’s “clearer” return to Pikes Peak.

Booking well in advance gave us the best views — a window next to us that opened and a giant window in front of us (which happened to be the front of the train).  At the start of the ride the view was very similar to the previous year:  clear blue skies and a view of the top of Pikes Peak.

We made more progress this time; the skies were still blue and cloudless more than halfway up the mountain.  About ¾ of the way into the trip, the conductor asked if anyone on the train was from Texas.  A few travelers shouted that they were.   She mentioned the mantra that everything is bigger in Texas and they whooped and hollered a bit.  Then she said to look at the chunks of Pikes Peak granite out the window.

She said that not everything is bigger in Texas, and that the granite boulders outside the window were only considered “gravel” in Colorado.  Everyone laughed.  Not sure about the guests from Texas though. 

Luckily for us, the skies remained blue this time and we were beginning to get excited about the view from 14,115 feet up.  Pikes Peak is one of the “14ers”, the 58 peaks above 14,000 feet, in Colorado.  Just prior to the top, the conductor on the cog rail announced a bunch of “alpine” ravens just off the left side of the train. They were certainly enjoying the updrafts in the bowl-shaped valley near the summit.

I did a quick lookup of “alpine” or “arctic” ravens and found nothing credible (meaning Sibley or Cornell sites).  I did find that some groups (also known as a rave, a treachery, an unkindness, a conspiracy, or a plain old flock) of ravens like altitudes.  There must be something to eat for that many ravens to be at 14,000 feet above sea level.  Ravens tend to like unpopulated areas, and will prefer forested areas next to wide expanses of open land.  The top of Pikes Peak is certainly an unpopulated area with wide open expanses of granite. When we reached the top, the conductor told us that there are certain safety devices on the cog rail in case the traction cogs broke or the brakes failed.  Those safety devices were two very large springs located near the bottom of the cog rail to help stop us:  Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs.  There was, of course, a general groan from the train for the bad pun.

Manitou Springs is hidden from view in this photo — it’s tucked under the mountain ridge.  Colorado Springs is visible at the far-right edge of the photo, just above the mountain ridge.  The photo is facing northeast and looks like it tips a bit to the right, but it is level.  The Front Range mountain peaks on the left side of the photo are several thousand feet above the plains on the right side.  And if you squint hard enough, you can see Kansas to the east.  Yes, I tried to see Kansas.  (When I was much younger, the only time we actually saw the summit of Pikes Peak on our family vacation was looking out the back window of the gold-colored 1970 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Holiday Coupe as we left Colorado and drove into Kansas.)  To be honest, the view is very distracting.  Being over 14,000 feet in the air and being able to see for dozens of miles in any direction is quite mesmerizing.

As we left the cog rail train and worked our way around the walkway, we spotted this guy floating on the wind.  Ravens are jet black.  The color changes in the photos are because of the angle of the sun reflecting off its feathers.  His/her friends were floating nearby just out of the photo.

We watched this individual raven looping around the summit.  He (or she) would float past on the updrafts, then dive towards the granite below making a steep curve back the way he/she came from.  There would be a brief time where we couldn’t see him (I’ll presume “he” for this story) and then he’d pop up again over the ridge and float by on the wind.  This went on for several cycles until something else caught his attention and he flew off in a different direction.

Many, myself included, confuse crows with ravens at a distance, or even up close.  Ravens are slightly larger than crows.  Some ravens seem to have a pronounced forehead.  Ravens will actually soar on the wind, while crows will not. 

Crows make that “caw-caw” sound we are probably all familiar with.  Ravens make a similar ”caw-caw” sound, but it’s more of a baritone than the tenor of a crow.  As I watched and listened to the “ravenpalooza” flying just out of reach of my camera lens, I was hearing single grunts or croaks from individual birds.

Ravens mate for life.  First breeding at age 3-4, a pair raises 3-7 chicks per clutch each spring.  The chicks stay in the nest for 5-6 weeks before leaving home.  Young ravens are fond of playing games.  They have been observed in the wild dropping sticks mid-flight and then diving to catch them.

Ravens are omnivores, split between being opportunistic feeders (waiting for larger predators to take down a meal) and being predatory feeders (taking small critters or grubs, etc.).  They have also been known to congregate where humans leave large amounts of refuse (tourist locations or trash dumps).  Ravens can live over 20 years in the wild.

A friend once told me that he watched a raven untie the strings on the saddlebags on his motorcycle to get at food hidden inside.  Seeing this, he tied a different knot to try to stop the ravens.  This only slowed them down a bit as they quickly learned how to untie the new knot to get to the food.  He also thought he saw them teaching other ravens how to untie the saddlebags on other motorcycles in the group.

Since the sky was clear, and the weather light (minimal breeze even at 14,000 feet) we spent most of the time wandering around the expansive summit complex.  We were a bit surprised how large the area is after not being able to see more than a few feet in the blizzard on our last trip to the summit.

Jan and I walked across the parking lot (yes, some visitors chose to drive to the summit) to take in another breathtaking view.  This photo is facing mostly east with a little bit of south (back towards Colorado Springs) shows the Front Range on the right and “Kansas” on the left side.

Ravens aren’t the only wildlife at the summit.  This character was hanging around just outside the visitor center.  Most of the tourists took a quick selfie from a distance and then went back inside for the warm cinnamon rolls (which smelled wonderful by the way).  Jan maneuvered around on the rocks (still on a trail, sort of — don’t worry, she does this all the time) to capture this portrait of a famous local.

The bighorn sheep was actually standing on a service road (hidden by the rocks) behind the visitors center at the summit.  We think he was licking salt(?) from the road.  Or water from the melted ice that was on the road a few minutes before we arrived.  We saw a couple of his friends on the way up, and then again on the way back down.

I’ll leave you with a photo Jan caught when tracking a single raven.  We think it’s a good way to end your day:  think of blue skies ahead and leave the craptastic stuff behind you. (No, that’s not lens flare or a cloud behind the raven. It’s probably what you think it is.)

Even though we had seen ravens before, this was the first time we had seen any at such a high altitude. 

In keeping with Brian and Ron’s brotherly competition, and being a Senior Corporate Staff Writer at Intrigued (seeing if the promotion will stick if it’s in print) these ravens are NOT a +1 for me.  My XXS year count stands at 62 for the year (at the time of writing this article) for those keeping score at home.  I have had +10 new species this year, thanks to our travel destinations (maybe +11 if I can identify the LBJ’s in several photos from another hike).  Though unlike Brian and Ron, the birds aren’t stopping to pose for my big glass yet.

Thank you for reading.  If you want to see more photos of our Pikes Peak experience, please visit here.


Thanks again to Jan and Allyson for proofreading and editing.  Thanks to Jan for some of the photos in this article.

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