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The Red Garden

Article contributed by: Through The Eye Of The Beholder Photography

There is a valley near the base of Pikes Peak known since the mid-19th century as the Garden of the Gods. It is a garden not of flowers, but of rock - of kissing camels and stone toadstools and mammoth sandstone walls tilted upward toward the Colorado sky. Travel-writer Ernest Ingersoll once called this garden "a gigantic peep-show in pantomime." Novelist Helen Hunt thought it "the very climax of some supernatural catastrophe." And all-American hero Charles A. Lindbergh was fully convinced that he had never seen "a more spectacular and magnificent place."
During the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859, two young town builders from eastern Kansas inadvertently wandered into the primeval rock paradise known ever after as the Garden of the Gods. The pair stood for a moment in speechless wonder, gaping at the gigantic sandstone rocks that stretched so majestically upwards towards the summer sky. Finally, Melancthon Beach broke the silence:"This will make a capital place for a beer garden, when the country grows up." "Beer Garden!" exclaimed his more poetic partner, Rufus Cable. "Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods." The Garden of the Gods has been the object of many studies over the years. The red rocks have been named and climbed and analyzed as to their origin and composition.

The plants and animals have been cataloged and photographed. Entire books have been written on areas of special interest: ecology, geology, photography and rock-climbing. Only the human element has been somewhat neglected. And yet, if the great red rocks could but speak, what stories they might tell. Stories of Indians who camped here in ages past...of mountain men who paused here before entering the high country...of gold seekers who carved their names into the soft sandstone rocks...of early settlers who claimed this land as their own...of later promoters who tried to make money off the natural beauty...of conservationists who sought to preserve this Garden as a place forever free to the public.

Photographing the Garden is a challenge even for the most advanced photographer. Just when you think you have the ultimate shot the next day's dawning creates another more spectacular array of scenery. The red sand stone seems to glow like a fire which flames are never entangle changing. Each one of the garden's giant sand stone rocks has a proper name and a popular name, Gateway Rocks, Tower of Babel, Balanced Rock, Cathedral Spires, Three Graces, Sleeping Indian, Siamese Twins, Scotsman, Pig's Eye, in any case anything they can be named will pale to their emotionally moving existence.

The Garden Of The Gods is located on the Western Mesa Valley of Colorado Springs nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak. From Interstate 25, travel West on Garden Of The Gods Road to 30th street turning south. Continue South approximately 1.5 miles and your eyes will be host to a feast of lavish scenery.Before the entrance of the Garden is the visitor center offering a spectacular vista of the Eastern face of the Garden. You can listen to helpful interpreters as they spill a fountain of knowledge of the area and the Garden in particular.

As a photographer be prepared to run out of film as you run across a diverse terrain of wildlife and naturally wonderful scenery. This is where the Eastern plains actually meet with the Rocky Mountains. Geologists claim that the story of the Garden of the Gods began nearly 300 million years ago, when sediment from the Ancestral Rockies was carried eastward and spread out into great alluvial fans. This sediment was then reddened by ferric iron and long covered by a shallow inland sea.Local writers and historians have long argued over the significance of the Garden of the Gods to the Native Americans of the Pikes Peak region. Some have claimed that the sandstone formations were considered sacred ground, and that here the rival tribes laid down their weapons and communicated in peace. Although there is no historical proof for this assertion, it is thought that the location of the Garden so close to the sacred springs of Manitou must have inspired a certain reverence. At the very least, it is tempting to believe that visiting tribes were as awestruck as we are ourselves each time they camped in the shadow of the gigantic red rocks.

The Garden of the Gods seems to have attracted not only the Mountain Utes, but also the nomadic tribes of the plains - first the Apache, then the Comanche, and finally the Kiowa, Pawnee, Arapaho and Cheyenne. Early white settlers claimed that the Garden was a favorite campsite for the various bands of Utes, especially in late fall and winter. It was said that the Utes came to the Garden during those seasons not only because of the absence of their enemies, the Plains Indians, but also in order to hunt the great herds of elk which fed upon the nearby mesa. With the start of the Indian wars in the mid-1860's, the Arapaho and Cheyenne discontinued their visits to the Pikes Peak region. Not so the Utes, who continued to camp in the Garden of the Gods throughout the 1860's and 70's.

Photographers from every part of the world seem to flock to the garden almost all year round. The brilliant colors presented at dawn and the mystical silhouettes at sun set make for some of the most dramatic subjects. With a vast array of wildlife and plant life in the park a photographer can literally spend a year camped in the park and still only see one small part of the over all grandeur. Even for the sports photographer there are a bounty of prizes waiting or in better words clinging to the rocks. Technical and free style climbers from all over the globe are found throughout the park trying to conjure their mini Everest.

The garden has been under a major renovation and redesign for more fluid transits through the park. Most of the roads have been made one way to keep the traffic flow going in a more controlled and smoother flow. Parking has been moved to areas that are less intrusive on the natural surroundings. In any case the sights of the park are cleaner and fully accessible even to the wheelchair bound tourists.

No matter your reasons for traveling to this land of Giant Red Rocks, you will walk away with a sense of something magnificent and a child like wonderment. Be ever mindful and always "Take Only Photographs and Leave only Foot Prints as Memories."