Colorado Springs’ Garden of the Gods: Red Stone Geological Masterpiece
Garden of the Gods is a public park located in Colorado, USA. The park was established in the early 20th century, and later designated as a National Natural Landmark. Garden of the Gods is renowned for its amazing geological history, which spans 300 million years. It is little wonder that the park received its designation as a National Natural Landmark. Garden of the Gods is best-known for its magnificent rock formations, which were shaped by natural forces over a long period of time, a testament to its long and unique geological history. And the park is still viewed as a sacred site by many Native Americans.
The red stone formations in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, USA are its most popular attraction. Pikes Peak stands snow frosted in the background. ( rondakimbrow / Adobe Stock)
Garden of the Gods Was Originally Called Red Rock Corral
Garden of the Gods is located in Colorado Springs, the seat of El Paso County, Colorado. Originally, the park was known to the early European explorers as Red Rock Corral. This is a reference to the red rock formations that the park is so famous for.
At one point of time in the earth’s history, much of Colorado, including the area of the Garden of the Gods, was under a huge sea. Signs of this prehistoric sea can still be seen in the park, including seashells, sea fossils, and prehistoric water ripples on some rock surfaces.
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Over time, sediment settled at the bottom of the sea, and hardened, thereby forming the red rocks. These are conglomerates of red, pink, and white sandstones and limestones. Upheavals in the earth’s surface caused the rocks to be uplifted. Subsequently, during the Pleistocene Ice Age , the rocks were eroded and carved by glacial forces, resulting in the formations visible today.
The red rock formations did not fail to impress a sense of awe and wonder in the Native Americans in the area. Amongst the Native Americans known to have travelled to the Garden of the Gods for “spiritual purposes” were the Apache, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Ute tribal peoples.
These various Native American tribes treated the Garden of the Gods as a sacred site, and a place where peace was respected. Therefore, when they entered the area, they would lay aside their weapons. Additionally, the Ute creation myth takes place in the Garden of the Gods. Archaeologically speaking, the presence of humans in the area can be traced as far back as 1,330 BC.
Despite its association with, and importance to the Native Americans, Garden of the Gods did not obtain its name from them. Instead, the park only acquired its name around the middle of the 19th century, thanks to a pair of American surveyors, M. S. Beach and Rufus Cable. In August 1859, the pair were in the area to help with the establishment of Colorado City (now known as Old Colorado City). Whilst they were working there, they took a day to explore Red Rock Corral, as it was known then.
Beach, who had previously visited Germany’s beer gardens, declared that the site would be “a capital place for a beer garden!” Cable, who was “young and poetic,” on the other hand, disagreed with his companion, exclaiming “Beer Garden! Why, it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” It was after this that the name became the official name of the area.
Plaque in the Garden of the Gods commemorating the donation of the land by the children of Charles Elliott Perkins in 1909. ( http://www.cgpgrey.com / CC BY 2.0 )
How the Garden of the Gods Became Public Land in 1900
The next important chapter in the history of Garden of the Gods took place in the 1870s. By that decade, the railway system in the USA had expanded to the country’s west. In 1871, Colorado Springs was founded when General William Jackson Palmer was extending the lines of his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. One of Palmer’s friends was Charles Elliott Perkins, who headed the Burlington Railroad. Palmer repeatedly urged his friend to build his home in the Garden of the Gods, and to establish a railway line from Chicago to Colorado Springs.
Eventually, in 1879, Perkins bought 240 acres (97 hectares) of land in the Garden of the Gods area for a summer home. In 1899, Perkins purchased another 240 acres of land at the site. He did not, however, built on his property, preferring to leave its natural beauty intact. Additionally, visitors to Perkin’s property were allowed to admire the beautiful landscape. Moreover, in his letter to Palmer, Perkins expressed his wish to donate the entire property to Colorado Springs. Palmer himself had already donated more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) of his own land to the city, which was turned into public city park lands. It is likely that Palmer’s philanthropy had an influence on Perkins.
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Perkins died in 1907 before he was able to officially arrange for his property to be turned into a public park. His children, however, were aware of their father’s plans, and carried them out for him. As a result, on 22 December 1909, Garden of the Gods was deeded to Colorado Springs, on the condition that it remain “free to the entire world.”
Since then, the public park has grown to 1,367 acres (553 hectares), thanks to other local donors, and acquisitions by the Parks Department. In 1971, Garden of the Gods was designated a National Natural Landmark.
Garden of the Gods remains a popular tourist destination today, with an estimated six million visitors each year. In line with Perkins’ intentions, entrance to the park is still free for everyone. There are different ways to explore Garden of the Gods, including by car, on horseback, on a Segway, and by jeep. The park is open year-round, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Top image: The spectacular red rock “wonderland” of the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, USA. Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock
By Wu Mingren
Garden of the Gods Visitor Center. 2021. Garden of the Gods. Available at: https://www.gardenofgods.com/
Larusso, J. 2021. The (Not-So-Touristy) Guide to Garden of the Gods. Available at: https://www.5280.com/2021/06/the-not-so-touristy-guide-to-garden-of-the-gods/
Pikes Peak Region Attractions. 2021. About Garden of the Gods. Available at: https://www.pikes-peak.com/about-garden-of-the-gods/
U.S. News & World Report L.P. 2021. Garden of the Gods. Available at: https://travel.usnews.com/Colorado_Springs_CO/Things_To_Do/Garden_of_the_Gods_62166/
Visitor Information Center. 2021. Your Guide to Garden of the Gods Park. Available at: https://www.visitcos.com/things-to-do/garden-of-the-gods-park/