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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Garden of the Gods after an early snowfall.
Pikes Peak is seen in the background.
In August 1859, two surveyors were working to lay out a small town south of Denver which they called Colorado City. One of them suggested that the area would be "...a capital place for a beer garden". His companion, awestruck by the impressive rock formations, exclaimed, "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We'll call it the Garden of the Gods." If you think of God as the ultimate artist, then the 1,364 acres on the western edge of what is now Colorado Springs, Colorado, might well be considered his sculpture garden. If so, the only disagreement I would have with the name given it by our intrepid surveyors would be that it should be singular--"The Garden of God."

Steamboat Rock (left) and Balanced Rock (right).
Some things change...some things never do.
During the past few months I have been highlighting the top ten city parks in the world as rated by TripAdvisor. The Garden of the Gods they list as number two in the world; and if anyone is an expert on such things, it would be the thousands of travelers (of which I am one) who write reviews on such things. It's only fair to note that other top ten lists differ significantly in their rankings. In any case, having written now on eight of the ten, I'm not sure this park would be near the top of my personal list, but I can certainly see why other TripAdvisor reviewers rate it so highly.

Colorado Springs is just east of Garden of the Gods while the U.S. Air Force Academy is about ten miles north along I-25.
First of all, it is quite unlike any of the other top ten city parks. Although there are roads and trails through it, and an all-important visitor's center, it was never a plot of land set aside in the middle of the city, designed by man to radiate warmth and flowery beauty. That is to say, as mentioned before, God was the landscape architect of this city park. To start with it's not in the middle of Colorado Springs at all, but on the far western edge of the city, perhaps best known as the home of the U.S. Air Force Academy just a few miles to the north. For those unfamiliar with Colorado, the state's second largest city is some seventy miles south of Denver on I-25 which runs near both the park and the academy. As city parks go, it's not the largest in the world, but it is the largest on TripAdvisor's top ten list, spread over 2.13 square miles of semi-arid landscape.

How romantic! Actually the Kissing Camels are
located in an area adjacent to Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the Gods is not the place to go if you want to take pictures of the traditional acres of green grass, massive masses of flowers, lovely little lakes, or pretty pagodas and pavilions. Yet it would be hard to imagine a place more rewarding in terms of vast, photogenic vistas, and weathered red rock formations featuring Pikes Peak some ten miles off in the background (provided you're shooting westward). The Garden of the Gods' ravishing red rock formations (above) were created during a geological upheaval along a natural fault line millions of years ago. Archaeologists tell us prehistoric people visited Garden of the Gods as early as 1330 BC. Around 250 BC, Native American peoples began camping in the park possibly attracted to wildlife and plant life in the area while using the overhanging rocks for shelter as seen today in the nearby Manitou Cliff Dwellings (below, and not a part of the park itself). Many native tribes such as the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Ute have an ancestral connection to Garden of the Gods.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings next door to the park.
Beginning in the 16th-century, Spanish explorers and later American explorers and trappers discovered the area, including Lt. John C. Freemont and Lt. George Frederick Ruxton. In 1879 Charles Elliott Perkins, purchased 480 acres of land that included a portion of the present Garden of the Gods. Upon his death, in 1909, his family gave the land to the City of Colorado Springs with the provision that it would be a free public park. Perkins' friend, William Jackson Palmer, owner of the nearby Rock Ledge Ranch, did likewise when he died a few years later, thereby more than doubling the park's acreage. The City of Colorado Springs' grew the park to its present 1,364 acres by adding a nature center in 1994.

The Three Graces.
The ancient sedimentary beds of deep-red, pink and white sandstones, conglomerates, and limestone were deposited horizontally. Over the millennia, The resulting rocks had different shapes as they were toppled, overturned, stood-up, pushed around, and slanted. Balanced Rock was once part of a fountain formation, a com-bination of coarse sand, gravel, silica and he-matite. It is hematite from which it derives it's rich, red hue. Balanced rock was formed as erosive processes removed softer layers near its base, eventually leaving the precarious-looking formation seen today. The Gateway Rocks Three Graces, and other outcroppings are sedimentary layers that had been pushed up vertically.

Segment of Cathedral Spires

Today, The Garden of the Gods Park is popular for hiking, advanced rock climbing, riding mountain bikes and horses. It attracts more than two million visitors a year, making it the city’s most visited park. There are more than fifteen miles of trails with a 1.5-mile trail running through the heart of the park that is paved and wheel-chair accessible. Annual events include two summer running races, recreational bike rides, and a Pro Cycling Challenge Prologue. The park's visitor's center features thirty educational exhibits staffed by Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation, and Culture employees. There's also a short movie titled, How Did Those Red Rocks Get There?

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