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Garden of the Gods

When I first laid eyes on the towering red rocks of Garden of the Gods, I was struck by the park's unique beauty and wanted to explore every corner. Since then we have moved to Colorado Springs and I can visit the park as much as I like to hike or bike and observe the sandstone rocks in different weather and lighting.

This is where I had my surprising cougar encounter early one morning in August of 2007. I was told a female cougar lives somewhere in the park and there have been occasional sightings of her with cubs. Because there are so many tourists and locals in the park most days, I wouldn't worry about seeing a cougar, especially if you are there from midmorning to late afternoon.

Directions: From I-25 exit at Garden of the Gods Rd. and head west for 2 miles. Turn left on N. 30th St. and go 1 mile. On your left will be the Visitor Center and the park entrance is across the street from it on your right.

Hours: The park is free and open from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. (until 11 p.m. May through Oct.). The Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. Memorial Day - Labor Day (9 a.m. - 5 p.m. winter). Besides restrooms in the Visitor Center, there are a couple in the park.

Difficulty: Fifteen miles of easy trails cut through the 480 acres (maps are at the Visitor Center across the street). There's only about 200 ft. in elevation gain on the almost moderate trails. Palmer Trail on the west side is my favorite for the views and semi-seclusion as it meanders through trees and small rock formations. There is a paved 1.5 mile wheelchair and stroller accessable trail that winds around the tallest rocks in the center of the park (park in main lot on north end). Below is the view from the main parking lot looking south followed by a shot of the paved path nearby.

Most dirt trails are shared with the occasional horseback riding guided tour. Mountain bikes are allowed only on designated trails in the southeast area of the park. There is a smooth and wide bike lane along the one-way loop road that circles the center of the park. I've only biked the loop twice because, even though it only takes perhaps 30 minutes, it has alternating LONG hills that are great fun to fly down, but pedaling up, up, up is a chore! Flatter trails along the far east side are much less grueling.

Below are views from Palmer Trail looking southeast.

The next photo shows the view looking north. Glen Eyrie (another gorgeous park with big horn sheep sometimes seen north of the main parking lot) and Scar Mountain are behind the rock spires.

On Earth Day I enjoyed checking out the Visitor Center's birds of prey (owl, falcon, etc.), snakes and llamas. Then I stopped to watch the colorful and lively Native American dances. Since Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site (along Garden of the Gods' southeast border) was free that day, I stepped back in time and toured some of the buildings and watched demonstrations around the quaint pastoral setting.

If you are at the park on a nice day, chances are you will see a few rock climbers. To climb the rocks you first have to register at the Visitor Center (free) and bring the right equipment. I am constantly amazed at how the rock climbers can find anything to grab or rest their feet on as they scale the sheer rock faces high above the ground. As you can see in the crop below, they have to bring a lot of equipment. Once in awhile we hear on the radio about someone falling to their death at the park, usually because they didn't follow the proper procedures. There is a fine for rock scrambling, but I see people do it anyway.

Below to the left you can see how high and steep the walls are. The crop on the right shows how the person at the bottom stands as a weight for their pulley-like rope set up.

I was so happy I brought my camera on this foggy October morning after a snowfall. I loved how the jagged sandstone peaks disappeared in the mist. As I made my way to a somewhat hidden high point near the center of the park, I was surprised to see three other photographers with their tripods carefully positioned on the rocks. We clicked away in silence, enjoying the serenity around us.

My second favorite trail in the park is The Siamese Twins where you can take a rock framed photo of Pikes Peak and see the more rugged west side of the park. It was near here that I saw a coyote catch and eat a small animal. We also saw an owl fly overhead when we went up a ravine just west of this trail.

Along with Pikes Peak, this park is a must see if you are traveling through Colorado Springs. I have enjoyed delicious and reasonably priced lunches at both the Visitor Center and The Trading Post (south end) where you can also buy gift items. Once in awhile they give a cougar talk at the Visitor Center where you can see my shot of the two cougars I saw on a morning hike.

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