Filed Under Exploration

“Purple Mountain Majesties”: Why Pikes Peak is America’s Mountain

Pikes Peak has a long and valuable history that provides visitors with a look through different ages of America, highlighting the beauty and diversity of the land and people.

With incredible height, diversity, age, and beauty, Pikes Peak towers above at an astounding 14,115 feet, making it one of the tallest mountains in the United States. Many, if not all, Americans have heard the moving lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” but few know that Pikes Peak was the inspiration for the song. Pikes Peak has long been the subject of ballads of beauty and adventure, as well as a symbol of hope and freedom for many throughout American history. 

The peak itself has undergone a variety of “discoveries” throughout the different ages of settlement. Some of the first people believed to have discovered and lived near Pikes Peak were the Clovis people yet not much is known or recorded of their experience. However, the histories of many Native peoples’ lifestyles, religions, and legends centered around the peak. The Utes, or the Tabeguache, believed the mountain itself was a sacred site where the Great Spirit created the earth and where many ceremonies were held. 

The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the peak in 1779 and named it “El Capitán,” or “The Captain,” due to the imposing nature of the peak. With the completion of the Louisiana Purchase, the French sold vast tracts of land to the United States of America. In an effort to appraise the land and resources the United States had obtained, President Jefferson sent out several different expeditions to explore and record the areas. It was not until 1806 that Zebulon Pike, the first American explorer who dubbed the mountain Pike’s Peak, came to the Colorado area and attempted to hike the peak. The expedition failed to summit it because they were not prepared for the weather, and the peak remained an alluring call for explorers to attempt to conquer. 

Pikes’ writing on his expedition, including the details about the imposing mountain, were published in several languages and widely distributed due to their fame and the public’s interest in the unexplored West. In his writings, Pike referred to the peak as the “the Grand Peak” or simply, “highest peak.”  In 1820, Dr. Edwin James made the first recorded ascent. Later in its history, a variety of media featuring Pikes Peak attracted settlers and spurred further western migration. The phenomenon started with miners and spectators with the discovery of gold and gradually drew more settlers with large plots of grazing land and a tourism industry. Pikes Peak influenced the early formation of American identity and still manages to inspire those who visit today.


Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak Source: MarkTSnow. "North View of Pikes Peak." May 10, 2006. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike
Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike Source: Gue, Benjamin F. "Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike - History of Iowa." 1903. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A Postcard of Pikes Peak
A Postcard of Pikes Peak Source: "Colorado City CO - Pike's Peak." 1900/1909. Via Wikimedia Commons.
A Sign at the Summit
A Sign at the Summit Source: Suvajac, Milan. "Pikes-Peak Summit-Sign 2012-10-21." October 21, 2012. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Pikes Peak in Colorado
Pikes Peak in Colorado Source: "Colorado - Pikes Peak - NARA." 1917-1964. Via Wikimedia Commons.



Addie Coombs, Brigham Young University, ““Purple Mountain Majesties”: Why Pikes Peak is America’s Mountain,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 20, 2024,