Thursday, August 10, 2017

GARDEN OF THE GODS: A NATURAL LANDMARK

By Steven Wade Veatch

The tall spires and monoliths of the Garden of the Gods have been a landmark to countless travelers and explorers.  The story of these rocks starts long ago and spans many periods of geologic time. About 65 million years ago, forces in the Earth’s crust resulted in the uplift of buried Pikes Peak granite and the bending and warping of overlying sedimentary rocks to a near vertical position.  This uplift, called the Laramide Orogeny, formed a major fault, the Rampart Fault, that fractured rocks in the area and caused their movement along this and other faults.   


A view of the Garden of the Gods. Pikes Peak is in the background. 
South Gateway Rock (left) and North Gateway Rock (right) are 
eroded features of the Lyons Sandstone. A Ute encampment 
is seen at the base of North Gateway Rock. 
Antique postcard from the S.W. Veatch collection.
The Rampart Fault divides the Garden of the Gods Park. Rocks on the west side of the park are at an angle of 45 degrees or less. It is here that the rocks of the Fountain Formation, such as Balanced Rock, are on display. To the west were the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, formed 300 million years ago. Erosion washed down unsorted sand and pebbles of many sizes from the nearby Ancestral Rocky Mountains. By 250 million years ago these mountains were eroded away, leaving behind sediments piled up as gravels in layers that formed the Fountain Formation.  This rock unit, up to 4,500 feet thick, has a dark red color from the chemical alteration of iron minerals.  

Rocks of the Fountain Formation are on the west side
of the Garden of the Gods park. Balanced Rock is on
the left, Steamboat Rock is on the right. These landmark
conglomerate rocks reveal the interbedded nature of
the Fountain Formation.  Antique postcard from the
S.W. Veatch collection.
Rocks east of the Rampart fault have been tilted more than 90 degrees from their original, horizontal position, such as the North Gateway Rock, which is formed from ancient sand dunes when the area was much drier and windier 280 million years ago when all the continents were joined into one giant landmass known as Pangaea.  Today, geologists call this rock formation the Lyons Sandstone which is composed of uniform sized grains of sand. The Lyons Sandstone was deposited largely in a desert environment, and oxidation of iron to hematite caused the red color. 


Archaeologists tell us people have visited the Garden of the Gods for over 3,000 years.  Before the advent of settlers and their occupation, the plentiful game, wild plants, and nearby water, made the park a good camping site for the Ute people and other Indian tribes. 
Starting in the 1800s, explorers spread the word of the scenic wonders there. The 1850s and 1860s brought gold prospectors through the region and others who stayed and farmed and raised cattle in this area.  With the establishment of the railroad in the 1870s, tourists flocked to see the unusual sandstone formations. 

In 1879, General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, persuaded his friend, Charles Elliot Perkins, to buy land in Garden of the Gods.  Perkins paid $22.00 per acre for 480 acres that surrounded the Gateway Rocks.  Perkins, who lived in Iowa, was the president of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.  He never built on his land in Garden of the Gods and wanted his holdings to become a public park. Perkins died before this could be arranged.  In accordance with their father’s wishes, Perkins’ children offered the land to the City of Colorado Springs with the following restrictions: 1) the park will be free of charge to visitors; 2) the park will be known as Garden of the Gods; 3) no liquors could be made or sold in the park; and 4) no buildings could be built, other than those needed to maintain the park. 

Late in 1909, the Colorado Springs City Council accepted the land and conditions.  Today, Garden of the Gods Park, with over 1,360 acres, is a national landmark (designated in 1972 by the U.S. Department of the Interior) and a popular destination for tourists from all over the world. We all owe a debt to the Perkins family.

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