After spending most of the month of June and early July in New Mexico, we headed north to Colorado. We have not spent much time in that state so we were looking forward to seeing this part of the country and also visiting with some of David’s family. Our first stop was Colorado Springs. Although there are many attractions in the area, we decided to take in two unique sites: Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak.
Garden of the Gods has some wonderful geologic rock formations that have attracted visitors for generations. These red rock sandstone and gravel conglomerate formations were originally part of a riverbed but they were tilted upward after they hardened into stone. Over time these stone monoliths have continued to evolve and change shapes due to the effects of wind and water. Today there are more than 15 named rock formations throughout the Garden of the Gods park which is owned by the city of Colorado Springs and is free to the public.
The land where the park is located was known to Native American Indian Nations and European-American explorers long before it was owned by any one person. In 1879, this tract of land was acquired by Charles Elliott Perkins, owner of the Burlington Railroad, to be his family’s summer home. He purchased 480 acres but never built a home on the property. Throughout his life, he allowed the public to come and enjoy this unique landscape. After his death in 1909, the land was given to the city with the stipulation that the park would always be called Garden of the Gods, that it be free to the public, and that no buildings would be built in the park. In fact, the Visitor Center is actually across the street from the park itself. In 1972, Garden of the God was declared a National Natural Landmark.
Legend has it that the name given to the park came about when two friends, M. S. Beach and Rufous Cable, were exploring the area. M. S. Beach said that it would be a great place for a beer garden. His friend replied that it was indeed “a place fit for the Gods.” From then on, it was known as “Garden of the Gods.”
David and I had a great time walking and hiking around Garden of the Gods. There are multiple ways to view this incredible park. In the central part of the park, there are wide paved paths. We saw visitors touring on Segways and bikes. In other parts, there are hiking trails that lead to other rock formations like the Siamese Twins rock formations. If you do not want to walk or hike, you can also drive through sections of the park although you will not be able to see as many of the rock formations.
These tall rocks beckon many rock climbers to Garden of the Gods. We saw a number of groups ascending and descending the monoliths’ vertical sides. To climb there, you must have a permit and it is limited to those with technical climbing experience.
In the Visitor Center there are some interesting displays, an orientation video, a gift shop, and a small café. The park rangers also offer free nature programs throughout the day.
This park is very popular so we recommend that you arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there are fewer visitors. There is also a large parking area near the park’s entrance that will accommodate larger RVs. The Visitor Center is an easy half a mile walk from the central part of the park. If you prefer not to walk to the park, there is a free seasonal shuttle bus that departs from the Visitor Center and will ferry you to and from the main area of Garden of the Gods.
David and I arrived early and we spent the better part of the day walking and hiking Garden of the Gods until some afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. On our way out of the park, we stopped by the Trading Post. This establishment claims to be the largest and oldest gift shop and art gallery in Colorado. It does have many souvenirs, pieces of Native American Indian art and jewelry, as well as a restaurant and ice cream shop. We had a great visit to Garden of the Gods.
Another day we went to the summit of Pikes Peak. The Ute Indians called this high peak “Sun Mountain” and the Spanish explorers called it “El Capitán.” The current name honors an American explorer, Zebulon Pike, who was the first American to see the mountain in 1806.
David and I were not the only ones who ascended the 14,115 foot peak that day. There were lots of other tourists there too enjoying the views of the valley below and the surrounding mountain peaks covered in snow.
Currently, they are in the midst of a multi-year construction project to build a new Visitor Center at the summit. As a result there was a lot of heavy construction equipment in the parking area so you are not allowed to drive your vehicle all the way up to the top of the mountain. You are required to take one of the free shuttle buses to the summit. Once the construction is completed, however, you should be able to drive to the top again.
Another way to access Pikes Peak is via the Cog Railroad. We had several people recommend it to us but unfortunately it is also closed for renovations and will not be operational for about three years while they complete the modernization of the railroad.
We were fortunate to have a clear day when we reached the top of Pikes Peak. Although it was a very hot day in Colorado Springs, it was windy and cold at that elevation. We were glad that we brought our heavy coats along.
When we arrived, several marmots greeted us.
The panoramic views atop Pikes Peak were breath-taking. It was another heavenly place that we explored near Colorado Springs.