Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and Other Fun Stuff

We’ve had an interesting and very busy couple of days…so this post is a bit photo intensive. Sorry about that.

Thursday we headed off for our first fun day; we had two stops scheduled for our visiting pleasure. First up was the Garden of the Gods State Park here in Colorado Springs. Our plan was to drive through the parts of the park we were not going to hike through and then take a 3.5 mile hike around the central and most scenic parts of the park.

Our first stop was Balanced Rock. This 700 ton boulder is about 20 feet tall and 30 wide and is balanced on a little segment about 6 or 8 feet around. It’s right next to the one way road through the park so it was a pretty easy visit.  

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After that we made our way around to the south parking area and set off on the Chambers/Ute/Bretag/Palmer trail which is  a nice loop that covers most of the best areas in the park. Right at the north end of the parking lot we spotted Cathedral Rock. Our original impression of this rock was that it was just a pinnacle as you can see from this first photo which was taken from the south side.

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Little did we know that in actuality it’s a long skinny dorsal fin shaped rock about 500 or so feet high. As we got further around the east and then north east sides of it Neil took the following two pictures…it’s nice how almost every direction gives you a different viewpoint.

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Shortly after that we happened across a Black Billed Magpie. This is really a beautiful bird with the black and white accents…Neil was able to get 2 good pictures from slightly different viewpoints.The wings are black and white and flash in flight along with the greenish iridescent tail.

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Shortly after this we crossed the main entrance road into the park and took this shot of the classic and famous view of South Gateway Rock on the left, Signature Rock in the middle, and North Gateway Rock on the right. This view is looking to the west and that’s Pikes Peak about 15 miles away between the two gateways.

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We turned to the west around North Gateway Rock  and passed White Rock; this is the north side of North Gateway Rock shortly after we turned again to the south to continue our hike.

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After going up and down a couple of canyons we exited the trail and entered the Central Gardens area of the park from the west side where we went past Cathedral Spires.

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Doesn’t look much like spires from this angle but from the side you can see the separated towers that give it it’s name.

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Doesn’t look like the same rock formation, does it. It’s about 200 feet or so high and the profile in the second picture was taken from immediately to the left of the rock in the first picture. Here is another neat formation we saw in the Central Gardens although hit doesn’t appear to have a name of it’s own.

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While in the center area we spotted this Western Scrub Jay.

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With that our hike was about done so we exited the east side of the Central Gardens area, rejoined the Chambers/Ute section of our original trail and made our way back to the parking lot.

Our next stop was the Manitou Cliff Dwellings which were inhabited by the Ute Indians for about 1000 years…they lived in the caves in the cliff and farmed on the top of the mesa above. Due to a drought about 1300 or so they abandoned the area and moved further south between Pueblo and the Four Corners area. Here are a couple of shots of the dwellings.

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Connie noticed that we had forgotten to take a picture of the Kissing Camels at Garden of the Gods earlier so we stopped by there on the way back to the Fam Camp. We really needed to wait until later so that the Camels (which actually are on top of South Gateway Rock) would be backlit and hence easier to see.

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You can see the hump and head of the left hand camel and pretty much just the head of the right hand one; the large bump to the right of the second head sort of forms his hump but it’s harder to see than the left one.

With that we headed home as we were pretty tired. We stopped by the Trinity Brewing Company and had a couple of beers and then pretty much just snacked for dinner.

Friday we got up early as we had another pretty long day. 

Our first stop was Helen Hunt Falls. There are two falls at this location; the first (and what turned out to be the better of the two) is right at the trailhead parking area.


This falls is about 40 or so feet high; the picture above is an HDR compilation Neil took from down in the stream bed. After that we headed up about a 1/3 mile hike which would normally be pretty easy even with the 200 foot vertical rise over the distance. However, since the hikestarted at 7600 feet…it was pretty tough going until we got to the top. Neil grabbed this shot of the valley part way up


and then we got up to the upper falls which pretty much turned out to be a bust. This is the best picture Neil got; the falls here are only 4 or 5 feet high. Still worth the hike though.


On the way down he grabbed a couple more shots of the stream; this first one was just below the upper falls after the water ran down a 45 degree rock slope and then hit a rock that was poking out of the slope. Neil really thought this was a really neat shot.


and finally this is the stream just above the lower falls.


With that we were off to our second destination of the day…Pikes Peak. There is a 19 mile long road that goes all the way up to the summit at 14,110 feet. Costs 12 bucks a person toll to go up but the views were definitely worth it. Following the recommendation of the toll road folks we drove all the way up and stopped for photos on the way down as that’s a lot easier on the car than stopping and then having to start again going uphill. The first 9 miles or so were pretty easy climbing through Pikes Forest…the next 4 were getting steeper, less shoulders, almost no guard rails except at the switchback turns and climbing through the tree line and the last 6 were essentially through arctic tundra. Again, not much space on the side of the road if one lost control and it was a long way down. Finally arriving at the summit; the first thing we did was put on some warm clothes as it was 29 degrees up there instead of the 80 it was down in Colorado Springs. Here are some shots from the top.




as well as a 180 degree panorama view looking to the east/northeast.


Here’s the obligatory We Made It!! photo of us at the top.


The wind was blowing about 20 knots so the wind chill temp was around 19 or 20…needless to say we didn’t hang out too long outside. We did head into the gift shop and Connie got a T-Shirt that says “Pike’s Peak, 14,110 Feet. Got Oxygen?”

We thought the air was thin down in Colorado Springs but it was really, really tough to breathe up on the summit. We walked maybe 300 or 400 yards tidal around the top taking photos and buying stuff and pretty much stopped and gasped every 50 feet or so. Right before we left, Neil grabbed this shot of the Pikes Peak Reservoir; this is the main water supply for Colorado Springs. The reservoir is over a mile below the summit in height and about 7 or 8 miles away horizontally.


With that; we got back in the car and headed down…slowly and in low gear so as not to overheat the brakes and recreate the old Harry Chapin song “Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas” which is about a truck headed into Scranton PA that has a brake failure and the resultant trials and tribulations of the driver (true story by the way behind the song). The purpose of this picture will become clear in a bit.

Here is a shot of some of the switchbacks up in the above the timber line tundra area.


These are actually not some of the steeper ones; Neil was afraid to stop and get a picture of them since there were no pullouts. The grade ranges from 4% up to about 15 or 18% for several short ramps. I can’t believe that they actually run a marathon foot race up this mountain with the finish at the top. The race starts down in Manitou and climbs over 7000 feet during the course of the race. Nuts I say.

On the way down; we stopped at the visitor center on the shore of the reservoir from a couple photos back; at the top of the reservoir you can see the white line that is the dam holding the reservoir back; the visitor center is just on the left side of the dam. Here is a shot from the visitor center lot looking back up towards Pike Peak.


This shot is looking almost due west. The dam is immediately out of the frame to the left and the road is behind where Neil took the photo from. The highway to the summit turns and parallels this reservoir for a bit then winds around the back side of the rightmost snow capped peak you can see here then onto Pikes Peak itself which is the left hand snow capped peak. The road comes up from the back right side of Pikes Peak and the summit house is just to the right of the highest point you can see.

We headed home then went out to Ted’s Montana Grill for dinner…then it was back home and since there is nothing worth watching on TV tonight we’ll go to bed early. I think we’re getting acclimated to the thin air. Tomorrow we’re heading south about 50 miles to Pueblo, Colorado for the Western Cowboy Festival. I can’t remember what we’re doing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday but we have more fun stuff scheduled for all 3 days. Wednesday is get ready to travel day and we head out for Great Falls, MT on Thursday.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, and Other Fun Stuff

  1. Mj Trainor says:

    Bravo for the wonderful pictures! 🙂

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Connie was ready t come back downreally thin air and cold made her cranky.

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