When we first arrived at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, we were really surprised to see people climbing all over all of the beautiful red rock formations without even having paid to get into the park. Then after we got to the entrance to the park and the gift shop, we found out that it is free according to the wishes of Charles Elliott Perkins, whose children donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909.
Elliott thought that this area should be shared with everyone without even having to pay for the privilege of visiting this beautiful place. The actual name of the park dates back to August 1859 when two surveyors who were helping to set up nearby Colorado City happened to be exploring the nearby areas. Upon discovering the site, one of the surveyors, M. S. Beach, suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden." His companion, the young Rufus Cable, awestruck by the impressive rock formations, exclaimed, "Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods." Over the years since then, the beer garden never materialized, but apparently the name stuck forever.
The park contains many recreational opportunities such as numerous trails for hiking, walking, mountain biking and even horseback riding. One of the most popular trails, (named Perkins trail), has been paved in an effort to combat the erosion of the park's central garden caused by its continuing and numerous visitors. Visitors receive frequent reminders to watch out for rattlesnakes in the hot days of summer and trust me, we did!
This is a very popular bicycle-riding area because of the scenic views, safe one-way recently-paved roads, and healthy clean air. But because of the unusual and steep rock formations in the park, it is an attractive goal for rock climbers too.
Rock climbing is permitted, with an annual permit obtained at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center. The only requirements are reading the rules, proper equipment, climbing with a "buddy", and always staying on established climbing routes. Due to the often unstable conditions of the sandstone (particularly after much precipitation) several fatalities have occurred over the years. Which by the way, helped me to not go too high up on these formations and still gave Mrs. LZ a chance to catch me making a fool out of myself yet again. And... in fact there was one place that seemed easier to climb up to, than it did to climb down from. This seemed to cause both me and Mrs. LZ a little angst, but I eventually made it back down.
Some of the many Geological formations that you can find here are; a row of hogbacks. The "Kissing Camels" formation is the nearest hogback on the right. The "llama's heads" are above the hole in the rock through which sky can be seen. I’ll let you try and figure out which ones are which, (from the pictures I’ll post here). But sometimes, if you look at them from a different angle, they look like something different than perhaps their name would imply.
These outstanding geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of red, blue, purple, and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but have now been tilted vertically and faulted by the immense mountain building forces caused by the uplift of the Pikes Peak massif. Evidence of past ages; ancient seas, eroded remains of ancestral mountain ranges, alluvial fans, sandy beaches and great sand dune fields can be read in the rocks. A spectacular shear fault can be observed where the Tower of Babel (Lyons Sandstone) contacts the Fountain Formation. As just a little aside, the name Colorado is said to have come from the color of the sandstone. There are many fossils to be seen: marine forms, plant fossils, and some dinosaur fossils.
The hogbacks, so named because they resemble the backs and spines of a pig, are ridges of sandstone whose layers are tilted. Instead of lying horizontally, some layers are even vertically oriented. Each hogback can range up to several hundred feet long, and the tallest (called North Gateway Rock) rises to a height of 320 feet (98 m) tall. A notable rock feature on this hogback, the Kissing Camels, appears to be two very large camels sitting face to face with their lips touching.
There is an outstanding view of Garden of the Gods from the other Visitor's Center (the newer one) called Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center and it is located near the park entrance and offers free nature presentations daily. Natural history exhibits include minerals, geology, plants and local wildlife, as well as Native American culture. Programs include nature hikes, a Junior Ranger program, narrated bus tours, movies and special programs. Proceeds from the center support the Garden of the Gods Park. The center provides useful information for the experienced hiker as well as the armchair tourist.
Near the other entrance to the park is the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, a recreation of rustic ranch of the late 1800s. The walking tour features a restored ranch house, demonstrations of black-smithing and facts about Native American activity in the area, including a small recreation of a Native American campsite. Rock Ledge Ranch is not part of the park, and it actually charges an admission fee.
Another interesting point is that in 2006 a dinosaur species discovered there, was named after the park: Theiophytalia Kerri. But I failed to make her acquaintance. But in spite of that fact, needless to say, we really enjoyed this park and its location right on the edge of the Colorado Rockies.“A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.”
~ C.S. Lewis