Stepping slowly over the rocks to get just the right combination of shade and sun, I heard it before I saw it. The buzz of a western rattler was just one step off to my right as I walked the trail this morning into a national park which is tucked into the back corner of Colorado Springs. Some things you never forget.
Standing as still as the stuffed bear back in the Fishermen’s Lodge in Cotter, I froze while I figured out which direction to leap. Holding the gear bag in one hand and my camera in the other I took one giant leap back just as the rattler struck. Two seconds slower and my ankle would’ve been in his mouth. As it was, he struck at empty air.
I had heard about this park when I was in West Virginia and I wanted to check it out for myself.
In mid-summer of 1859 two crusty surveyors set out from Denver City to start a new town to be called Colorado City. While scouting for locations, they stumbled across an area of sandstone formations. One of the surveyors, Michael Beach thought it would be a great spot for a beer garden. His buddy, Rufus Cable, wasn’t in favor of a beer garden. “…it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods,” he said. And this is what it has been known as ever since.
By the 1870’s, the railroads had started making their way westward. In 1871, General William Jackson Palmer laid out Colorado springs and extended his railroad lines the Denver and Rio Grande. By 1879, Palmer was constantly urging his friend, Charles Elliott Perkins, to establish a home in the Garden of the Gods and to build his railfroad. While the railroad never did reach Colorado Springs directly, Perkins did invest in two hundred and forty acres in the Garden of the Gods. Perkins added more land to his holdings, but never built on it. He wanted to keep the land open to the public so that they could enjoy it. Perkins died in 1907 before he completed arrangements for the land to become a public park even though it had been open to the public for years.
Located near the entrance to “Garden of the Gods is an open air museum called Rock Lodge Ranch Historic Site. With displays and activities Memorial Day through Labor Day, park volunteers are able to answer tourist questions over a number of time periods. Since Rock Lodge Ranch Historic Site is not a part of the main park, the hours vary depending on the season and the day of the week.
The Garden of the Gods attracts more than two million visitors annually, and is the city’s most visited park. Having more than 15 miles of trail, including a 1.5 mile trail that is paved and accessible for wheelchairs, annual events including the Pro Cycling Challenge Prologue and summer running races take place in the park.
With an abundance of unusual and steep rock formations, the park is an attractive destination for rock climbers. Rock climbing is permitted, with an annual permit obtained at the Garden of the Gods with the only requirements are having proper equipment, climb on the “buddy” plan and stay on established climbing routes.
Visit either website to get more information. Click here for Garden of the Gods and here for the Rock Lodge Ranch Historic Site.