Yesterday we took a break from meetings in Colorado Springs to hike around the Garden of the Gods, an amazing array of rock formations. You drive through suburban neighborhoods, basketball courts, and soccer fields, then suddenly you notice jagged and colorful rock formations off in the distance, with Pike’s Peak and the Rockies in the background, One of the formations is bleached white, as shown in the photo above, but most of them are a vibrant and deep red. That’s when you know you’ve reached the Garden of the Gods.
The colossal rock formations in the Garden are sandstone, and they trace their history back hundreds of millions of years, to the period after the “ancestral Rockies”–the mountain range that existed here before the current Rockies were formed–had been eroded down to low hills and sediment. The climate then dried out and the landscape was covered with huge sand dunes, which eventually were covered by new layers of sediment that caused the sand to become compacted, forming horizontal sheets of sandstone. When tectonic plate shifts created the Rockies millions of years later, the sandstone formations were tilted and thrust upward, creating the Garden. In short, the story of the Garden is the story of geology and the inexorable forces of planetary change and pressure that have changed the landscape. When you think about it, the story of the Garden is also a humbling reminder that the human lifetime is a drop in the bucket compared to the millennia that shaped the formations that we mortals now enjoy.
The Garden is an easy hike, with most of the walking on paved paths. It’s also a relatively short hike, because the formations are confined to a limited area. We walked from the overflow lot to the site, spent about an hour and a half walking around and seeing the different formations from different vantage points, and enjoying the red crags against the blue skies, the little windows between the rocks in some of the formations, and the rocky balancing acts like the one seen in the photo below.
It was a brilliantly sunny day, with only a few clouds drifting across a bright blue sky, making for perfect conditions for taking photos of the formations. One thing to keep in mind if you visit the Garden of the Gods is that it is a dry climate and you will be changing elevation as you walk up and down–which means you’re going to want to bring a water bottle. We remembered to bring ours and were glad we did, because by the time our visit was ended we had drained our water supply.
One of the trails leads upward, via a series of steps, to a point where there is very little vegetation and visitors can scramble out onto the rock. Taking that trail allows you a close-up view of the sandstone and see some of the sedimentary layering, and allows you to get a better sense of how the area was formed. Except for a lone bush, you might as well be on the surface of Mars.
Some of the sheer rock faces are available for experienced and well-equipped rock climbers. During our visit we saw some hardy climbers on the top of one of the tallest formations. You can see the climbers below, as a tiny dot just to the left of the pinnacle of the formation on the right side of the photo. They must have had an amazing view of the Garden and the Rockies beyond.
From the upper trail you also get an interesting view of some of the formations, jutting dramatically above the surrounding trees, giving the observer a breathtaking vista that is a study in reds, blue, and greens. Whether you are an amateur geologist, or just interested in taking a walk through some beautiful scenery, the Garden of the Gods is worth a visit.