Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Growing up in Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods was one of my favorite places to run, bike, hike and walk. I had several college classes there, studying the four eco-zones that characterize the area. My cross-country team in high school frequently came to train on the trails, and is one of the most popular attractions in Colorado Springs.
Touring Garden of the Gods
If you get to the park early in the morning, you can avoid the crowds that swell throughout the day. I don’t mind all the people who want to see the wonder and beauty of the beautiful rock formations. However, I particularly enjoy visiting in early morning when there aren't as many people - it's still quiet and awakening to another day. It’s a spiritual experience for me.
I feel fulfilled when I come to the Garden. Perhaps it satisfies a spiritual craving and stirs my heart when I am close to these vibrant rocks. I believe many others feel the same. As you walk the trails, you can’t help but feel a sense of calm.
Even when I was younger, I could be in the worst of moods, but when I took in the views of the piñon pine, and the prickly pear cactus, I always felt better. The plants, animals and sky all combined against the dramatic backdrop of the rocks jutting up from the earth, and the tranquility of the scenery seemed to reach into my soul and deliver me to a calmer place.
A Little History
The rocks at Garden of the Gods have a long, incredible history. When the ancestral Rockies began to erode 250 million years ago, their sediment collected in streambeds and in other places downstream from the mountains.
The material included mud and clay that formed shale, sand that turned into sandstone, and other small pieces of rocks and sand combined to form conglomerate rock.
These materials formed in layers that made up the Fountain Formation. These rocks and layers were not immune to the effects of erosion, either. Eventually, they eroded away. The sand and sediment from the Fountain Formation collected into dunes. Over time and with external pressure from the buildup of these materials, sandstone formed again.
Sandstone is what makes up the rocks in the central part of the park. Eventually the flat layers of rock became vertical. This was due to ever-shifting land and mountains. The foothills of Colorado Springs and even Pikes Peak formed this way.
Because the rocks at Garden of the Gods formed as a result of the forces of erosion, they, too, are vulnerable to it. They won’t be there forever. We as humans, however, can help curb that erosion by acting responsibly while in the presence of these magnificent rocks.
The Ute Indians
I am fascinated by the Utes.
According to their history, as long as there have been people, the Utes have frequented the grounds at Garden of the Gods. They had lived there for thousands of years before white settlers reached the region in the 1700s.
In the early part of the 18th century, the Utes were the only American Indian tribe in the area. The Apaches lived out on Colorado’s eastern plains.
Due to forced relocation of a number of tribes, eventually the Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes moved into the region, as well.
The 14,000-foot mountain of Pikes Peak stands to the west.
When the Utes inhabited the area, they called it “TA-WA-a-ah-gath” or “Sun Mountain.” They made a ritual of sending members of their tribe to the top of Pikes Peak as a special rite. It wasn’t until 1820 when Edwin James became the first white man to summit the peak.
The Utes only lived at the Garden of the Gods for part of the year, usually in winter. Sometimes they would head farther south, down to the San Luis Valley.
They considered the rocks to be very sacred and held many ceremonies near them.
The Gold Rush of 1857-60
Garden of the Gods was en route to a number of places where gold had been discovered. Melancthon Beach and Rufus Cable debated what to call the wondrous rocks. They finally thought about it being a garden fit for the gods, and the name stuck.
Around this time, people were migrating to the region in search of fortune. Places to the north and west of the rocks were reputed to have gold. Many camped in the area and helped it to grow.
A number of people “owned” Garden of the Gods – either through finding riches in the region or after finding wealth elsewhere.
However, after a man named Charles Perkins passed away, his family donated the land to the state of Colorado in 1909. They wanted the park to be free to the public. Now, the park boundaries were at 480 acres.
The park expanded greatly when the city acquired land from Curt Goerke in 1932. Then the last of commercial properties was removed only in 1998, expanding the park to its current 1,367 acres.
Garden of the Gods Trails
The park has a number of trails. Some are for mountain biking, others are for hiking, and still others are open to horses.
The pictures I took of the Garden of the Gods were primarily from the Central Garden Trail. This trail was appealing because though it is paved, it offers the closest views of the rocks.
You also can see incredible flora and fauna around, as well. The paintbrush and prickly pear are two beautiful plants that put out colorful flowers in the summertime. Yucca plants also dot the landscape. Gambel oak, pine and other bushes and shrubs abound, providing food and shelter for many animals. Birds constantly fly around the top of the rocks. You can also see some non-native plants such as Creeping Jenny and Mullein.
Indeed, these rocks are spectacular and a natural treasure. If we all tread lightly and respect them, they will be here for posterity. Though they are subject to erosion, we can do our part to keep them as long as possible.
I would like to dedicate this article to all my friends and family who were affected by the Waldo Canyon fire in 2012.
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© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun