Garden of the Gods
To say I was originally smitten by Garden of the Gods would be an overstatement. My first impression when driving through was, it’s overrated.
Now that I’ve said that, I must add my hesitance to call anything overrated – the statement seems so disrespectful. I mean, what authority do I have to categorize anything as “less worthy” than something else; but the crowds of people (literally) lined-up to take photos in front of the large sunburst rock made me feel like I was at some sort of amusement park rather than about to undergo a tranquil outdoor trek.
We drove around for over 20 minutes looking for parking. We ended up leaving and returning later in the day. More about that further on in the post.
The moment I was going to write the whole thing off as, not worth the hype, we found a place to park.
I thought, I’m here. I need to give the place a proper chance.
At a certain point, the photos begin to speak for themselves and, with what visuals don’t captivate, history will sweep-up and dump in your heart; giving those wonder lust feelings life once more.
More to Love
Garden of the Gods is located on the west side of Colorado Springs, about an hour and a half drive from Denver. The huge natural red rock is nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak (the highest southern summit of the Rocky Mountains).
And, the Park is completely FREE!
These geological beauties attract travelers from all over the world. In fact, Garden of the Gods was rated by TripAdvisor as the No. 1 park in the Country (ahead of the very popular Central Park in New York City).
Once I became aware of the historical complexities of the Garden, even the largest group of people couldn’t cloud my respect for the natural wonder.
There is human history dating back over 3,000 years – a neutral, sacred, ground for Native Americans; where even the most rivaled tribes laid their weapons before entering.
In 1878, James Kerr found the only known Theiophytalia Kerri (genus of herbivorous iguanodontian dinosaur) in the Garden.
Originally mis-identified as the skull of a Camptosaur (beaked, plant-eating, dinosaur of the late Jurassic period) the remains lived at Yale Peabody Museum for years before being reexamined.
It wasn’t until 2006 the Theiophytalia Kerri was properly identified as a completely new genus and species of dinosaur.
The dinosaur was named after the location in which it was found. Theios is a greek word meaning, “belonging to the gods” and phytalia means “garden.”
You can now find Theiophytalia Kerri exhibited at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center.
A Little Advice
Normally, I would say arrive at a park when it first opens to avoid large groups of people. In our case, we arrived, then left, and returned 15 minutes before the park stops allowing new guests in – this was the sweet spot.
We found parking right away and Palmer Trail (one of about a dozen) had only two passerby’s. Now, the main garden where the paths converged had more traffic, but that is to be expected because it is the central point of the park.
At the end of the day, it’s always about perspective.
I was unaware of the parks massive popularity. Sure, I’d heard from numerous people that it’s a must see, but my true understanding was dim. The disappointment I felt from the beginning of our arrival was quickly overturned when I accepted the park for what it is.
Don’t go expecting to be engrossed by pure nature; although the park is gorgeous (and a photographer’s dream), it’s a park – pathed paths, parking lots, people in numbers. All of the things that are packaged with a park (and one labeled the best in the U.S, at that).
I say Go!, encounter Garden of the Gods for yourself. In the end it is worth the hype.
You can learn more about the Garden of the Gods from their website – Here.
The Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Originally, the parking situation was so hectic at Garden of the Gods we left to explore the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, located just 11 minutes away. There is a $12 per person charge to enter – discounts for military.
Walking through the dwellings only takes about 20 minutes (if you read all of the information at each stop). They also have a museum which dives deeper into settlers of the regions; how people survived in the area; different methods of farming, basket weaving, and tools.
There is a particular type of inspiration that arises after visiting the Manitou Cliff Dwellings – a realization that people of humble means, from so long ago, were able to adapt. Carving and creating homes, communities, in what was arguably inhospitable land.
There is a lot to be appreciated here. I hope this post helps to plan your Colorado travels.