Tuesday, October 6, 2015

God is the better Gardener

On a recent trip to Colorado for my son's wedding (hurrah for he and the new missus!), we took a side trip to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  In truth, I am normally so cynical to the depths of my soul that most natural wonders that wow others often leave me unimpressed and underwhelmed.  For instance, I find the important Kansas landmark, the World's Largest Ball of Twine, to be less than inspiring, especially considering the desecration of it by many local visitors, but Garden of the Gods was different.  For a simple backyard and frontyard gardener, Garden of the Gods is a humbling experience in what a Greater Power can do with the simple forms of rock and earth.  Don't go by Colorado Springs without stopping there.

Garden of the Gods (GOTG from here on out) is a public park funded by Colorado Springs and the proceeds from its own gift shop, but it entirely free if all you want to do is visit and wander the park.  There's a paved drive that you can take if you're just in the mood to pass through, but you can also bike or hike a number of various paths around the park.  If I lived in the area, I believe it would be a constant weekend outing for me.  It was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1971.

The rock formations at GOTG were created by an upheaval along a natural fault during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.  Native Americans considered it a sacred place, unsurprisingly, and the Ute's, in particular, incorporated it into their creation stories.  Early Spanish and other European explorers began visiting the area in the 16th century.  The public park was created when Charles Eliott Perkins donated 480 acres of land containing part of GOTG to the city in 1909, and William Jackson Palmer later donated his Rock Ledge Ranch which contained the remaining formations.

The primarily sedimentary beds of red, pink and white sandstones were eroded during the Pleistocene Ice Age into the present forms, including "Balanced Rock", a fascinating formation that is now,  stabilized in place by concrete lest it move and crush the adoring public around it. Although it is unlikely to topple over without a major earthquake, I was still a bit nervous driving between these two pillars.

 Although the park is free, don't overlook the very excellent Visitor and Nature Center across from the park entrance.  The center contains many well-done and informative displays about the parks formation, ecology, and history and offers some excellent scenic views for family photos.

Of course, being a gardener, one of the things I found most fascinating about the park was the way that life chooses to cling to every small patch of lousy soil that exists in whatever wind-swept cubbyhole it accumulates in.  Whatever your interest, geology, botany, paleontology (the park has its own resident dinosaur species Theiophytalia kerri), or anthropology (Ute petroglyphs are documented in the park), there is something for everyone in GOTG.  Rock climbing is permitted, for those who are crazy enough to test Death on a daily basis, and even the non-exuberant birders will relish the 130 bird species that exist there.   See it, when you can, and prepare to be amazed.  My mother, who shares my hard-to-impress nature, was practically bouncing off the car windows as we rounded each formation to view the next.  That entertainment alone was sufficient reason for a trip to the park, and the natural formations were just icing on the sedimentary cake.

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