Near Manitou Springs, Colorado, lies Garden of the Gods, a natural wonder every bit as imposing and impressive as ancient temples like the Parthenon, or the pyramids of the Mayans and Egyptians. The red and white spires of this national natural landmark are hewn out of sandstone thrust out of the earth millions of years ago by tectonic forces.
The first people to explore Garden of the Gods were Native Americans, including the Utes who traditionally wintered in the park. In modern history, white Americans discovered the park when looking for gold in the 1800’s. It wasn’t until 1859 that the park gained its current name, having previously been known as Red Rock Corral.
During my visit, I was amazed not only by the spectacle of those sandstone spires, but also by the number of visitors to the park and the distance those visitors traveled to get there. I saw license plates from as far away as Florida. According to the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, despite being only 1,300 acres, Garden of the Gods boasts 100 times the visitation rate of Rocky Mountain National Park, an area 200 times its size!
As the sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds, I walked the trails, watching swarms of white-throated swifts glide around the peaks. Occasionally they would dip into a narrow crevice before emerging again, as fast as their name suggests. Rock doves (aka pigeons) also make their home in the park.
They peered at me from the tops of several smaller spires as I passed. A lone cottontail rabbit rested in the shade, idly nibbling on the greenery while bushtits and scrub-jays flitted about. Although rattlesnakes also live in the park, I didn’t see any, though I kept my eyes to the ground just in case.
One of the major pastimes for visitors to the park is rock climbing. However, climbers require a permit (free at the visitor center) and proper equipment for technical climbing. Horseback riding is also permitted in the park on authorized trails as is mountain biking.
Access to the park is free to the public and open from 5am to 11pm between May 1 and October 31 and 5am from November 1 to April 30. So if you’re in the area, take some time to check out Garden of the Gods. It’s a fantastic place to take a day trip or longer.