Pikes Peak


Tava-Kaavi / Sun Mountain

The Nuuchiu (pronounced New-chew, meaning “the People”), or the Utes, are the longest continuous Indigenous inhabitants of what is now Colorado. According to Nuuchiu oral history, we have no migration story and our people have been here since time immemorial—when they were placed within their homelands, on different mountain peaks, to remain close to their Creator. Nuuchiu Ancestors, in order to maintain transmission of cultural knowledge, taught generations through oral history about the narratives and the names ascribed to geophysical places and geological formations within their aboriginal and ancestral territory.

Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. At 14,115 feet, it is a colossal landform where Mother Earth meets Father Sky. More than a well-known tourist destination, among the Nuuchiu it is a place of reverence. According to the oral history of the Kapuuta (Kah-poo-tah) and Mouache (Mow-ah-ch), two of the twelve historic bands within the Nuuchiu Nation, Pikes Peak is one of the places where the Creator placed their Ancestors.

The Mouache and Kapuuta refer to Pikes Peak as Tava-kaavi (Tah-va-kaav). In the Mouache and Kapuuta vernacular of Colorado River Numic, a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language family, Tava-kaavi translates as “Sun Mountain.” Pikes Peak was named Sun Mountain because it is the first landform on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains to greet Grandfather Sun each morning.

Pikes Peak is located in an area where the Mouache and Tabeguache (Tab-e-gwat-ch) territories overlapped. While the Mouache frequented the eastern side, the Tabeguache visited the western side, and the Kapuuta occupied the southern portion during their seasonal rotation to harvest plants and hold ceremonies on the summit.

Tava-kaavi is a traditional cultural property and viewed as an ancestral place of origin to which the Nuuchiu are still connected. Although Edwin James is famous for his ascent in 1820, Nuuchiu Ancestors were the first to summit Tava-kaavi due to their placement by the Creator. To honor the cultural significance of Tava-kaavi, Nuuchiu spiritual practitioners maintain the tradition of visiting the summit and making offerings and prayers at certain times of the year. Although the three Nuuchiu bands were physically removed by force from their ancestral and aboriginal territory, the spiritual significance and teachings pertaining to Tava-kaavi remain within the oral history, prayers, and souls of their descendants—the members of the Southern Ute and Ute Indian Tribe. Tava-kaavi is deeply rooted in our traditional way of life and is a permanent fixture within our identity and lifeways as Nuuchiu.