Garden of the Gods is an example of what John Sears would call a sacred space. Garden of the Gods got its name from two surveyors on their way from Denver to what would become Colorado City. They were some of the first to record their siting of the rock formations. One is reported to have said the area would be a great place for a beer garden while his companion said it was better suited as a place for the gods to assemble. They compromised and decided to call the rock formations Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the God’s could easily be called America’s garden as well. Folks have been traveling to the area since the mid 1800s to view the spectacular rock formations. Early railway tours and automobile tours touted Garden of the God’s as a must see site in Colorado. The beauty and wonder of the rock formations cause a visitor to have sacred feelings of awe at the wonders of the natural world. The uniqueness of the rocks has led to the site to become a heritage tourism site of America as well as Colorado. Tourists from within and outside the state come to view the rock formations, whose beauty has become a thing of legend over time.
Charles Elliott Perkins recognized the holiness of Garden of the Gods in the 1800s. Perkins purchased two hundred and forty areas of the Garden of the Gods in 1879. He continued buy up the land around him, but never built on or developed the land. Before his death in 1907 he arranged for the land to become a public park on the condition that it would forever remain free and to the public for their own enjoyment.The park continues to remain free, but it has become much more than just a place to enjoy nature and take in the rock formations. It has become a museum, adventure land and shopping district.
In the past few years Garden of the Gods has turned into a site of consumption instead of a heritage site. It is now a combination of natural, scenic tourism with consumer tourism. Most people come to Garden of the God’s with the intention of viewing the beautiful rock formations, but how long they actually enjoy the natural world versus consume what the gift shop and cafe has to offer varies.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center offers exhibits on Colorado history and wildlife in addition to information about the rock formations. The Center just launched a new dinosaur exhibit as well, playing into themes of the greater Colorado area. The Garden of the God’s trading post, located right off of one of the main roads through the park boasted local pottery, jewelry, postcards and T-shirts. The Balanced Rock Cafe is also located at the trading post, where the hungry tourist can get a snack or a slushy and take a break from the outdoors.These places are more than effects of modern comforts for tourists and visitors. They are efforts to commercialize the site, creating other ways besides the rock formations themselves for visitors to consume the Garden of the Gods.
Garden of the God’s as a Colorado heritage site is evident in the number of people who visit the park. Everyone wants to say they have been to Garden of the God’s. I enjoyed my visit to the park but I wish it had not been so crowded, or that the crowd had somehow been better controlled. It was raining the day we visited so we decided to drive around and park at a few of the scenic overlooks and take a quick walk to some of the more unique formations. But it was so crowded the driving was miserable because there were so many cars that you could not get a good picture. There were no available parking spaces, we had to park in a ranger spot and pray we didn’t get towed. Walking along the path to the Perkins plaque I had to dodge other tourists and a large tour group and a few dogs. My boyfriend has been able to experience the true sacredness of Garden of the God’s at sunrise on his monthly early morning PT runs with Uncle Sam. I am envious of him that he has been able to take in the natural beauty, the real heritage of the site in solitude. I wanted to be left alone to enjoy nature in the peace that so many early visitors before me had been able to experience, but that was not to be.
Garden of the God’s visitors bring a lot of money into the Colorado area and I respect that. Everyone has to make a living. However, I wish there could be some way that some of the commercialization could be taken into the city and away from the park itself, allowing the site regains some of its heritage as a unique American space, emphasizing the attractiveness of Colorado scenery instead of focusing on Colorado products.