Garden of the Gods – A Christmas Gift Beyond Time

Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Surreal Landscape


“If we were to scale earth history on a one-year calendar, with the earth forming on January 1 and today being midnight December 31, the oldest rocks we find in Colorado would not appear until the beginning of August. The detailed sedimentary record of the seas begins about Thanksgiving, and humans reach Colorado only in the final hour. It would be worth the time to sit in a high place above town and briefly review the geological history of the region.”

Geology Professor Jeff Noblett in “A Guide to the Geological History of the Pikes Peak Region”:


Garden of the Gods - Craggy Formations


The study of rocks reveals the secrets of ancient upheavals in the earth and its environments to those who understand their language. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs is one of the most spectacular places in the country to learn those words and to read what the sedimentary layers have to tell. Inscribed in the rocks are chapters telling of years as an inland sea, time as tropical environment, even as a landscape of sand dunes. Dinosaurs once browsed stands of tropical ferns, ‘sea serpents’ once swam shallow seas, and mammoths once roamed, each in their turn of Colorado’s story.  Millions of years have passed since mountains rose and tipped vertical the rocks we see today. The old Pacific plate slamming into the North American Plate set off an intense period of upheaval forming  great mountain ranges.   Mountains rose pushing upward the overlying layers of sedimentary rock. Over the course of time, softer rock crumbled away leaving the hard ridges and vertical sandstone formations which today draw visitors from the world over.

The advent of man here was rather late in the timeline. But, we late comers do know magic when we see it. Native American Indians, notably the Ute Tribe, considered the area sacred grounds and assembled here in the shadow of Pike’s Peak to hunt in the fall and to winter here under the surreal formations of rock.  The Ute people are said to have always lived in the region and had no stories of migration from any other place. Artifacts dating back 3000 years are a testament to the presence of early peoples in the Garden.

It is a common misconception that Garden of the Gods derived its name from the Native Indians who lived here. Gold was discovered in the South Park area, NW of Colorado Springs and along the Front Range in 1858 bringing gold seekers in great numbers. “Pikes Peak or Bust” was a popular slogan of the time.  In 1859 two surveyors tasked with laying out the townsite of Colorado City gave Garden of the Gods its name. As the story goes, Malancthon Beach and Rufus Cable, were riding on horseback through this fantastic area.  Malancthon suggested it would be a “capital place for a beer garden”. Rufus Cable, a “young and poetic man” replied, “Beer Garden? Why this is a place fit for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” And, so it is!


Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Lone Tree


Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Perched Boulder


Garden of the Gods is a wonderland not just for geologists, but also rock climbers, hikers, photographers, and students of nature and the outdoors. General William Jackson Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871 while extending the lines of his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In 1879, Palmer encouraged his friend and fellow railroad man, Charles Elliot Perkins, the head of Burlington Railroad to build a railroad from Chicago to Colorado Springs and to purchase land in the Garden of the Gods to build himself a home.  While the railroad didn’t go directly to Colorado Springs, Perkins bought 240 acres and later added 240 acres more to his holdings.   He never built on the land but instead chose to keep it open to the public and in its pristine, natural state.  He intended on giving his 480 acres to the city of Colorado Springs to become a park. He died in 1907 before putting this into a will. But, two years later, knowing how he felt about this place, his six children honored his wish. Christmas Day of 1909 Perkins’ 480  acres were officially given to the City of Colorado Springs with the provision that  the park remain free to the Public always. The Plaque reads:

The Garden of The Gods

Given To

The City of Colorado Springs

in 1909

By The Children


Charles Elliott Perkins

in Fulfillment of His Wish

That it be kept Forever

Free to The Public


Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Waiting to Climb


Garden of the Gods,Colorado - Rock Climber


Garden of the Gods, Colorado - Girl Rock Climbing


The gift conveyed by Perkins’ children on Christmas Day of 1909, was not just a piece of land with some surreal rock formations. Perkins and his family preserved our right to enjoy majestic, natural beauty and by that access,  inspire a quest for knowledge of the beginnings of the earth and ourselves!

Merry Christmas!


PS: A big thanks to my son Zach and his wife Jen who took us to see Garden of the Gods during our brief whirlwind stay in September. Colorado is beautiful exciting country!! Geology really was my first love and I could spend many days learning and exploring its wonders!! Please see my Writer Links sidebar  or click here for the Architectural History of the Old North End, Colorado Springs book which was co-authored by Jennifer Wendler Lovell.

Some links about Garden of the Gods:

A Guide to Geological History of the Pikes Peak Region by Jeff  Noblett

Friends of Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods History – Colorado Springs

~ by Judy on December 11, 2014.

16 Responses to “Garden of the Gods – A Christmas Gift Beyond Time”

  1. It’s such a beautiful place. You were right in my back yard there, too! 🙂 I live north, a bit south of Denver, north of Parker, in Colorado. I haven’t been to Garden of the Gods in years, but it’s a truly beautiful place. Next time your out here, you should try to check out Roxborough State Park, which is just south of Chatfield State Park Roxborough doesn’t have quite the bright orange red rocks, nor the tall spires, but it is another incredible place with giant red monoliths jutting out of the earth. It’s particularly beautiful in the fall/early winter (IMO).

    • I did think of you when we went to Colorado and wondered if you’d taken your wonderful camera and lens to the Garden. Our time was terribly short so my shots are just very few from a marvelous introduction to the place. While thousands of people have stood exactly where I did, for that first shot especially, it does not take away in the slightest from the wonder of the first viewing of the site. If I lived there I’d haunt the place for all the times of day I could for sunrise and sunset and anything in between…just to enjoy the play of light and color on that magnificent stone!!

      Besides the glory of the rock formations; it was fun to see people enjoying the park and all the rock climbers on the rock faces and nooks and crannies. Even image number 1 here, has rock climbers all over the place which I only saw once the image was on my computer. I would have to think Mr. Perkins would have smiled to see the people scaling the various formations with their ropes and lines and colorful climbing duds.

      • You are a very eloquent writer. 🙂 I love reading your blog!

        Garden of the Gods is indeed probably one of the most amazing places here in Colorado. There are a number of them, but this one is kind of unique. Great Sand Dune park is another. It seems bland, but there are so many small details.

        I really do need to get back to Garden of the Gods myself, though, and at night. I have wanted to photograph the Milky Way rising over the red rocks there ever since I started getting deep into astrophotography last summer (2013). I think it would just be amazing to see the core of our galaxy rising over those amazing spires. I need to learn more about photographing the milky way, though. I have tried on a number of occasions, but I’m not getting the kind of results I see other people get, so I’m missing some kind of technique there.

        Anyway, glad you came out and enjoyed your time here. You hit up one of the best spots in Colorado, for sure. Only a few, I think, could really top that. Maybe the divide in RMNP, the Maroon Bells, maybe a couple others down in the south western quadrant.

      • I would be very excited to see images you would do of the sandstone spires and ridges at any time of the day really, but especially with the stars at night!! I am sure whatever technique there is to capture the Milky Way, you will learn it!

        Can’t take full credit of picking one the best spots. I was given some magical sounding choices and Garden of the Gods just sounded too tempting. Because I did not research images before I went, I got that full amazement factor when Zach and Jen drove me along the road where you could see the image 1 landscape. It was like, oh my, that’s here!!

        I appreciate the comment on the writing too as I tried to put my sense of wonder into what is really readily available factual information. I would like to engage in further reading on the first geologists who stepped foot there. They must have been overcome with joy as they recorded their observations and what the rocks told them of the changes through time in that area. Scientist or photographer or painter…just fantastic to see!!

        Hope you go there soon because I would love to see what you come back with!!

      • Aye, Garden of the Gods…apt name for a majestic sight. 🙂 It is a truly amazing place…definitely have to get back there.

        It’s winter now, so as far as the milky way goes, what’s visible is very faint. Summer is when the much brighter milky way core comes out. I think the difficulty getting the milky way in a photo there is, Colorado Springs is right there…lot of light pollution. May not be able to see the milky way at all.

  2. Thank you Judy for posting this. I will make it a point to go to Garden of the Gods next year during a road trip some friends and I plan to take. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    • Oh, I think you should make it a point to do so!! Hike around and drive the roads through the park. Many images are to be had right from the road side. We were there about midday but maybe do a little research on where the sun is for sunset or sunrise and I bet you could get some glorious light! But, truly, any time of day is good because the rock formation are so inherently interesting that you can’t go wrong. See Jon Rista’s comment above as he lives in Colorado and mentions Roxborough State Park as well.

      We drove along Cheyenne Canyon which was beautiful even though I forgot I react to steep drops when I can’t see the edge from the car. I heard of places like Cave of the Winds and Seven Falls which might be great as well in Colorado Springs. And, of course there is Pikes Peak.

      I will look forward to your pictures when you go and visit!!

  3. These pictures are such a startling change from your usual palette of colors, and (without disparaging your other photographs, mind you) a welcome change. 🙂

    • It is nice to get out of my backyard for sure!! Flat Florida is a bit challenged in the waterfalls and monolithic rock formation category!! But, now that you say it I guess every area does have its distinctive palette of colors due to the kids of foliage, trees, and rocks in the area. Luckily, I feel grateful that returning to many of the same places, shooting the same birds and same lighthouses and same ocean never feels boring and never feels exactly the same when I am out there. I am glad you enjoyed the change as I did when I was in Colorado marveling over the beautiful and strange landscape.

  4. Even for those who don’t live in ‘flat as a pancake’ East Anglia, these shots must be astounding. Brilliant photography and write-up too. And as BB says, it’s a pleasant change from birds – much as I like birds. 🙂

    • I share your sense of ‘flatness’ as Florida certainly fits that category too! When I first started taking pictures I wanted to blur waterfalls. Well, it is an act of desperation to find waterfalls in Florida. We have fountains in front of hotels though?!

      • While I grew up in a town of small hills and swamps, it always fascinated me that there were mountains in the distance. OK, so these are eastern U.S. mountains, and inhabitants of the Rocky Mountain states can laugh at them. Still, there’s something about being to rise above the land around you. (Which is no doubt why a mountain just figured so much in my concluding story.)

      • There is absolutely something compelling about mountains….not just their majesty but maybe in a spiritual sense their proximity to the heavens…maybe they make us feel small in their shadow..or even so very impermanent in the scale of time representing as they do great upheavals as the earth formed!

        Just remembering that when my son, Eddie, first got to Hawaii where he attended college….that he called me up exclaiming ‘guess what I can see from my window?”….Wasn’t palm trees or ocean was mountains.

  5. I vacationed in Colorado with my parents when I was in grade school. I still have a photo of my dad and me at the Continental Divide, and for years I had the box of rocks I collected on that trip. I know we went to the Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, and Cave of the Winds, but what I mostly remember was our July snowball throwing at the Divide!

    Today, of course, I’m much more interested in geology and history, and wouldn’t mind following following some of the explorers whose tracks I came across in Kansas into Colorado. Zebulon Pike camped on the Tallgrass Prairie — it’s always a delight to read the writings of those early explorers.

    Your photos are magnificent. The Texas Panhandle, northern New Mexico, Colorado — all of the red rock territories stir my imagination.

    • I love geology too! And, descriptions from early explorers and geologists when field geology was actually a practical science. When you plan that western adventure in the footsteps of those who tramped the frontier… me a seat….you’ve got company!!

      As a kid, being an Army Brat, we traveled by car many summers from one post to another. One trip took us from the east to west coast. I can still remember writing long letters to my friends trying to describe rock formations rising perpendicularly skyward out of a vast expanse of flatness!! It was so hot traveling through the desert that sometimes Dad drove at night. Unfortunately, when we passed close enough to go to the Grand Canyon to swing that way for a visit, the Park was closed down due to some weather condition. So I never did visit there. Probably acquired my love of rocks during some of those trips though! Dad was great about stopping along the way for any scenic sidetrip. And, you are right, these formations do stir the imagination…so earthly and otherworldly at the same time.

  6. Judy those photo’s are stunning what a beautiful part of the world. The colour of the earth reminds me of Sedona or the Grand Canyon. Thanks for sharing your trip. kath

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