Author’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles chronicling the Offutt Family Vacation.

To a newcomer, the first impression of Colorado is that all the signs are lying and you’re still in Kansas. The roads are flat, the trees are rare enough to be roadside attractions and the word “Kansas” is crossed out on travel literature and “Colorado” written in with Sharpie.

However, to the seasoned traveler, it’s easy to differentiate Colorado from Kansas. Take a bag of chips on the trip; they’ll inflate with altitude and sometimes explode. This is called fun, especially if you’re not driving.

On my first family trip to Colorado, when my father announced “we’re in Colorado” I thought he was lying. My 5-year-old head expected mountains to rise from the state line, which they totally don’t. Then a potato chip bag exploded and I nearly peed myself.

The bags of chips I brought to make my own children nearly pee didn’t explode. No worries. We were on our way to Pikes Peak; at 14,115 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The chips would pop. Oh, yes, they’d pop.

It costs $15 per person (or $50 per car) to drive the Pikes Peak Highway, a 19.23-mile paved road that takes motorists from Cascade, Colorado, to the mountain summit/souvenir stand/snack bar.

The highway starts calmly enough as a well-kept two-lane road with signs alerting motorists of animals that inhabit the mountain, like coyotes, mountain goats, black bear and Bigfoot (yes, Bigfoot). We passed picnic areas, hiking trails and two gift shops strategically placed for people who chicken out at some point but may still want to spend money.

Not the Offutts. We are afraid of nothing, except maybe wolverines, asteroid strikes and the IRS.

“Drive slowly,” my wife said, her voice as tense as mine at a parent-teacher conference.

What? Slowly? That’s not the Offutt way.

“Sure, honey,” I said with the intention of flooring it, then we approached the first hairpin turn.

Driving on the mountain is a lot like “Mario Kart,” but unlike in the game, driving off the mountainside would result in the death of an entire family. There are occasional guard rails, staked more as a reminder the shoulder is a thousand feet below you than as a barrier to slow your fall.

Eventually all cars get to the top where passengers can dine on pepperoni pizza and chicken strips, buy Bigfoot Crossing mugs, pose with a sign that reads, “Summit – 14,115 feet,” and drivers can use the bathroom to throw up.

The view from the summit is dazzling, like looking out the window of an airplane. We stayed just long enough for altitude sickness to hit. Altitude sickness is a lot like being drunk without enjoying it, which was great for my drive back down the mountain.

When we reached the bottom, I realized the bags of chips never exploded. So much for Pikes Peak.

Next week: part five.

Jason Offutt’s newest book, “Chasing American Monsters: 251 Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts,” is available at