Garden of the Gods Facts

Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods
How the Garden of the Gods was Named

In 1859, gold was discovered in the South Park area of Colorado, and "Pikes Peak or Bust" became a popular slogan as vast numbers of fortune seekers headed west. Boom towns were created overnight; over 100,000 people arrived in the region in just one year! The Pikes Peak area became a funnel of humanity since it sat at the foot of Ute Pass, the only accessible route to South Park. The Pass funneled gold seekers from three major routes across the plains.

It was August of 1859, when two surveyors started out from Denver City to start formal action in locating a townsite, soon to be called Colorado City. While exploring nearby locations, they came upon a beautiful area of sandstone formations. M. S. Beach, who related this incident, suggested that it would be a "capital place for a beer garden" when the country grew up. His companion, Rufus Cable, a "young and poetic man" exclaimed, "Beer Garden? Why this is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods." It has been so called ever since.

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life zones and ecosystems | plains zone | foothills transition zone | associations | archaeology


Temperature and precipitation have a combined effect on plant and animal life. In the Pikes Peak Region, mountains influence precipitation and temperature in the same way latitude does as one goes further north. So, the life zone sequence is a vertical one changing with elevation rather than a horizontal one changing with latitude. As a result, the western mountains present a dynamic display of many life zones within a short distance. In the Pikes Peak Region, one can travel the ecological equivalent of 5,000 miles north while traversing only two miles up in altitude.

In the Garden of the Gods, the Transition Zone is a temperate but semi-arid region made up of pinyon pine and juniper. This life zone is typical of land from 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet in elevation between the plains and the mountains. Total annual rainfall in this zone is higher than the plains. Roughly 80% of the average 16 inches or less precipitation fall between April and September, and much of this is in the form of heavy downpours which accompany summer thunderstorms. Climate of the Transition Zone differs significantly from that of the plains. Average wind movement is less severe, but the Transition Zone is subject to periodic severe turbulent winds due to the effect of mountain waves generated by the flow of high westerly winds over the mountain barrier (Chinook winds). Temperature changes from day-to-day are not as great as the plains. Summer temperatures are lower and winter temperatures are higher. The Transition Zone is noted for wet spring snows as cold arctic air meets warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico along the Front Range.



ecosystems represented:
cottonwood-willow | prairie grassland | pinyon-juniper | mountain shrub | ponderosa pine

One of the most interesting aspects of the Garden of the Gods is its characteristic of being an ecotone, or blending place, where a number of ecosystems meet at the extreme north or south, east or west, edges of their range. An analogy can be drawn between the United States as a melting pot for people of many different lands, and the Garden of the Gods as a convergence of plants and animals from different regions and ecosystems.

The Garden of the Gods has two life zones represented. The Plains Zone (cool desert) extends from 3,500 feet to 6,000 feet above sea level. The Foothills-Transition Zone extends from 6,000 to 8,000 feet. Following is a description of both.


Plains Zone

Within the Plains Zone, two ecosystems are illustrated in the Garden of the Gods. The cottonwood-willow ecosystem is a meandering oasis of life-giving water. Within the semi-arid plains, the tall cottonwood trees lining waterways are in stark contrast to the grassland prairies which are otherwise devoid of trees. Cottonwood-willow ecosystems can be observed in two locations within the Park. Due in part to man's alterations of the stream courses for irrigation, surface flow is seldom seen along these waterways. Sub-surface flow, however, still occurs to support the cottonwoods and willows.

The prairie-grassland ecosystem occurs in areas too dry for trees and too wet for deserts. In a general sense, the height of the grasses is reflective of the amount of moisture they receive. The Garden of the Gods illustrates the short-grass prairie. Buffalo grass, prickly pear cactus, pincushion cactus, yucca, and sage are common plant species.


Foothills Transition Zone

Three ecosystems are found within this zone. The pinyon-juniper ecosystem found in the Garden of the Gods is within the northernmost reaches of its range. It is a typical open forest of the Southwest composed of low, bushy, round-crowned pinyons on dry sites. Resource allocation accounts for the evenly spaced intervals between the pinyons. The junipers vary from prostrate common juniper shrubs to the scraggly, gnarled, one-seed junipers to the symmetrical Christmas-tree-shaped Rocky Mountain Juniper. The plants associated with their ecosystem are xerophytes, connotating their climax state within a semi-arid environment. Tap roots of pinyon and junipers have a relatively rapid rate of root elongation and this part enables them to survive until precipitation occurs. Pinyon-juniper growth is dependent mostly upon soil moisture stored from winter precipitation, mainly snow. Much of the summer rainfall is ineffective, being lost in runoff after heavy thunderstorms or by evaporation. The juniper is, however, more drought resistant than the pinyon and will act as a modifier to the micro-climate, thereby providing a better site for the pinyon seedlings.

The mountain shrub ecosystem is located between the short-grass prairie and the ponderosa pine. Although water is more abundant than on the short-grass prairie, it is still not sufficient for tree growth such as the ponderosa pine. Interspersed with rock outcrops, the common plant species are Gambel oak, mountain mahogany, and skunkbrush. The ecosystem is quite diverse offering habitats for a variety of animals including magpie, scrub jay, towhee, coyote, mule deer, and gray fox.

The ponderosa pine ecosystem is represented in the higher elevations of the Garden of the Gods, especially in the southwest portions of the Park. Adapted to thrive in sunshine and fairly dry sandy sites, ponderosa grow in open stands with an intermingling of Douglas fir. The Douglas fir need more protected sites which offer cooler, more moist environments. This phenomenon can especially be observed on north-facing slopes.


Peninsula Ecological Associations

The large open rocks faces of the Fountain and Lyons formations create habitats entirely different than those occuring in aforementioned ecosystems. Using Odum's (1971) ecosystem definition, these peninsula areas are not strictly ecosystems since energy inputs are from outside the system. However, the ecological associations occuring are unique and merit special mention. The holes and crevices which were created in the rock faces by weathering offer roosting areas and homes for numerous animals. The white-throated swifts are probably the most spectacular, but swallows, falcons, pigeons, wood rats, and bats also use these natural homesites.


The land has not changed much in the past thousand years, but we have found evidence that the Garden has been visited and inhabited by peoples as early as three thousand years ago. Here is an overview of the findings...

In the summer of 1993, ancient hearths, or fire rings, of stones were found by an archaeologist. Perhaps "recognized" is a better word since the hearths are easily visible, but no one had before realized the significance of the stones or the charcoal coloring of the ground. Animal bones, including buffalo, and stone tools were found near the hearths. The nearby rocks would have provided shelter from summer sun or winter winds.

Who were the people who used these hearths? Some of the fire rings seemed relatively recent and were probably used by the Ute Indians who had visited the Garden on a regular basis. One hearth seemed much older, as it had been buried under several feet of sediment. Luckily, runoff water had later cut down a channel into the same sediment revealing the hearth in side-view. Charcoal from this hearth was carbon-dated to 3300 years before present.

From other archaeological sites of similar age in eastern Colorado, it has been deduced that the people of three thousand years ago were nomadic, that they hunted large animals on foot with spear throwers and that they used plants for food and basket-making. Small groups who lived on the High Plains and in the foothills shared elements of culture. These early hunters and gatherers found the same animals and plants in the Garden as did the Utes more recently. In addition to the buffalo, there would have been wolves, antelope, elk and grizzly bears, as well as today's fauna of deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes and rabbits. It is tempting to assume that ancient people were drawn to the Garden by its beauty, since people even 3300 years ago were basically like us in every way except for their technologies. Additionally, the Garden must have offered sufficient resources to attract visitors who lived completely off the land and journeyed on foot.

Another glimpse of the past was also found in the Garden in the form of an ancient piece of pottery. Sources reveal that it was probably from a shallow bowl or large vessel, in a style similar to that made in Mesa Verde from 575 to 900 AD. This artifact is important because it provides a clue to how widely people traveled on foot, as this was long before the Spanish brought horses to America. Thus, bringing this pottery to the Garden required quite a long walk. Not only was pottery traded great distances; buffalo meat and skins from the Plains were exchanged for corn, pottery, cotton and blankets from the southwest.

These traces from the Garden's past open a door to another time. Further study of the archeological sites may yield more information, but the culture of the early hunters remains a mystery.

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