My weekly travel article is up on the Fort Bliss Bugle! You can pick up a copy anywhere on Fort Bliss or read the online version here. This week the destination is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado.... enjoy!
In 1859, two surveyors left Denver for a location now known as Colorado Springs, Colorado, to see what possibilities were waiting for them in surrounding areas. They eventually stumbled across many acres of red rock in unusual formations engulfed by lush green trees backed by the famous Pikes Peak Mountain.
One of the surveyors thought it would be “a capital place for a beer garden,” but his companion rebuked him saying, “Beer garden? Why, it is a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods!”
This apparently true story is how the site got its name, and for more than 100 years people from around the world have been enjoying this registered national landmark.
Upon the death of its proprietor, Garden of the Gods was officially deeded to the city of Colorado Springs in 1909 with the stipulation that it be “kept forever free to the world.” As a result, the park’s 1,367 acres have been and will always remain open and free of charge to the public.
Colorado Springs is an 8.5-hour drive from El Paso, making it a feasible road trip for a four-day weekend. It’s an easy drive, too – straight up US-54 East to US-84 West, with the majority of the travel time being spent on I-25 North riding into the Springs.
In fact, if you don’t mind adding an extra 30 minutes to your travel time, you could take I-10 West to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where you can remain on I-25 North for the entire journey. I-25 North also allows for stops in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, if you need a distraction to break up the trip.
The reason most visitors go out of their way to stop at Garden of the Gods is obvious when you first see it: the geology. The reddish-orange rocks we’re familiar with in the great American Southwest are there, but they are surrounded by snow-capped mountain vistas and lush green vegetation as well. The rock formations are aptly named, like the Balanced Rock, Siamese Twins, Kissing Camels and Cathedral Spires, to name a few, and the privilege of meandering among them is very special. Many of these are tall, towering rock formations that feel like a natural city of skyscrapers, which makes the experience in the park surreal.
Garden of the Gods accommodates a host of activities, from biking and hiking to horseback riding and rock climbing. There is also a series of easy walks throughout the center of the park, where you get the impression the “gods” must stroll when no one is around.
The park also has an excellent Visitor and Nature Center and a Trading Post, both with award-winning gift shops and reasonably priced restaurants with outdoor balconies for gorgeous views while you eat. A showing of the 14-minute film “How Did Those Red Rocks Get There” shows at the Nature Center as well and is a popular attraction.
As spectacular as the Garden of the Gods may be, there are still other incredible things to do in the Colorado Springs area that make the trip from El Paso even more worth it. You can drive through winding mountain passes or take a tram to the famous Pikes Peak at more than 14,000 feet, atop which Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful.” There are cliff dwellings, Cave of the Winds caverns, Santa’s Workshop at the “North Pole,” the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and a myriad of other attractions.
In a way, the Garden of the Gods is Colorado Springs’ epicenter, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This free natural wonder should be on everyone’s bucket list, and being stationed in Fort Bliss gives you the perfect excuse to make it happen.
Things to know
– There are three entrances into the park. The welcome sign is at the main entrance on Gateway Road across from the Visitor and Nature Center. Many visitors choose this way to enter the park to find ample parking.
– Visitors can also enter the park on Garden Drive, which winds through a narrow pass next to the famous Balanced Rock. Many tourists feel their trip is not complete without a picture under the park’s iconic attraction.
– Rock climbers are always visible scaling the steep wall of the North Gateway Rock. Climbers must fill out a free registration form at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center before climbing. Visitors under 18 must have the signature of a parent or legal guardian.
– The Cathedral Spires is one of the most recognizable structures within Garden of the Gods. A parking area along Garden Drive allows visitors to take pictures of this iconic location.
– Pikes Peak lays behind the large Sleeping Giant rock formation in the park. As the sun sets behind Pikes Peak, photographers often align on a lookout next to the Visitors and Nature Center to capture dramatic skies over the area.
– The views are beautiful from the Garden of the Gods Visitors and Nature Center, which is located across from the main Gateway Road entrance. The café in the Visitors and Nature Center makes for a beautiful backdrop while dining.
Visit www.gardenofthegods.com for more information.