The Garden of the Gods’ spectacular rock formations made it a sacred place to the Ute people who lived there before white settlers took over their land. Later a large part of it came into the ownership of Charles Elliott Perkins, a wealthy railroad president. He intended to build a summer place there, but after a change of heart, Perkins left it undisturbed and allowed the public to visit. In 1909, a couple of years after his death, his heirs donated the land to the City of Colorado Springs, in accordance with their father’s wish (it says on the plaque shown in photo #8) “that it be kept forever free to the public.” The city subsequently bought a lot of adjoining land that almost tripled the size of the park. No admission is charged, though visitors are invited to make donations, and the city operates a gift shop in the visitor center and a “trading post” (i.e., a bigger and more elaborate gift shop) on one edge of the park.
Most of the rock formations are red sandstone, in the shapes known as fins and spires. Looking at them, it’s easy to see the strata of sediment produced by sandstone’s origin on the bottom of prehistoric seas. But instead of being parallel to the horizon, the strata run straight up and down, or nearly so, indicating that the rock has been flipped 90 degrees, more or less. Long after the seas had laid down the sediment—long enough for it to become rock, which must have taken millions of years—geologic disruptions broke it up and pushed it into this unaccustomed position (which I suppose I can’t call unnatural, as no one but Nature is responsible).
300 million years ago, the pushing up of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains by colliding tectonic plates began the breaking and flipping. But during the next few hundred million years, those mountains were eroded to flatness. That process left a lot of sedimentary rock around. And lo, about 70 million years ago, a second mountain range (this would be today’s Rockies) broke forth in the very same place, and once again big chunks of solidified ancient sea-bottom were pushed up until they stood sideways. Another few million years of erosion completed the job of creating the Garden of the Gods by smoothing and rounding off at least some of the sharp edges.
The verticality of the rock formations makes them irresistible to rock climbers. "Technical rock climbers," according to the park brochure, can get special permits to climb after registering at the visitor center (and, presumably, presenting some evidence that they know how to go about it.) We saw two or three teams in the act of ascending—you can see them in a few pictures.
Photo #2 shows yucca in blossom. It isn’t likely to win any flower show awards, but earlier in the trip we read in one of the park visitor centers that yucca was among the plants currently in bloom, and this was the first time we actually caught it in that condition, so I thought I’d better record the occasion.