Those Magnificent Rocks

Those Magnificent Rocks 

     Geologists claim that the story of the Garden of the Gods began nearly 300 million years ago, when sediment from the Ancestral Rockies was carried eastward and spread out into great alluvial fans. This sediment was then reddened by ferric iron and long covered by a shallow inland sea.

     Some sixty million years ago - when the modern Rocky Mountains began their upward thrust - the horizontal sedimentary rocks were elevated and tilted skyward. The forces of wind and rain then gradually stripped away the softer layers, sculpturing each rock into the form we see today: Gateway Rocks, Tower of Babel, Balanced Rock, Cathedral Spires, Three Graces, Sleeping Indian, Siamese Twins, Scotsman, Pig's Eye.

     Some of the whimsical names given to the rocks in the Garden of the Gods date back to the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush. They were preserved, changed and added to by generations of later tour drivers and tourists, and finally preserved for posterity by a Colorado Springs policeman named Robert Wraith. Wraith made a study of the names; every time he heard an old- timer talking about a certain rock, he asked to have it pointed out. When World War II brought thousands of servicemen to the area, Wraith began taking parties of G.I.'s through the Garden of the Gods every weekend. The names he gave the rocks on these tours have remained largely unchanged to this day.


The Gateway Rocks


     The two Gateway Rocks form a natural entrance to the Garden of the Gods. They both tower several hundred feet above the valley floor, and are composed of fine grains of red sandstone, part of the Lyons Formation that was originally laid down as an ancient desert. Their color turns a deeper red immediately after a rainstorm, while the rays of a rising of setting sun seem to bring out softer hues of unsurpassed grandeur.


     Early visitors to the Garden of the Gods often referred to the Gateway Rocks as the "Beautiful Gate." When James Meline rode though in 1866 he thought that the two walls of stone only served to heighten the illusion of a  grand portal. William M. Thayer described this gate in 1890 as "not a gate of human workmanship. There is an air of the artificial about it, because the massive portals seem to have been carved; but the workmanship is all divine. The plan, too, is divine. The pillars of the gate, on either side, composed of red sandstone, are three hundred and eighty feet high, - too high for any one but the Great Architect to think of rearing."

     Owing, perhaps, to its position at the eastern entrance to the Garden, the area surrounding the Gateway Rocks was a choice site for many of the early structures. As early as 1871 George C. Anderson found an abandoned dwelling there:

     "some fifty or sixty feet past the Gateway and to the right, some enterprising fellow has built a house about twelve by fourteen feet in size, the floor was laid, the windows and door frame were cased, the sash had not been put in, nor the door hung. The smooth woodwork within was covered with the names of visitors from all parts of the world, written with pencil, and to perpetuate the name of the Ohio Soldiers Colony we did likewise."


     Thirteen years later a promoter named Billy Bryan built a resort on the same spot. The resort was the subject of a glowing report in the 30 June 1883 issue of the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette. "Billy now has one of the most attractive little places in the country," the report read, "and should meet with liberal patronage." To further enhance his resort, Billy hired a local resident named Penton Hardwick to chisel steps to the top of nearby North Gateway Rock. The stairway was completed in time for a grand opening celebration on the 4th of July. Penton later claimed that he was never paid for his work.

     In 1915 an  Indian-style pueblo, called the Hidden Inn, was built near the site of the two earlier structures. This pueblo was built at a cost of $7,500 by the park commission in cooperation with the city of Colorado Springs. It featured fireplaces copied from early Native American design, reproduction of scenes from the Pikes Peak region on the windows, and lighting from bulbs hidden inside Indian wedding bowls. The red plaster which covered the exterior was chosen to exactly duplicate the color of the surrounding sandstone rocks.

     The Hidden Inn served visitors as a gift shop and snack bar for eighty years. Though still structurally sound, it was torn down in 1997 as part of a Master Plan recommendation to remove all manmade structures from the central Garden area.

     North Gateway has many natural and man-made features. High atop the rock is a natural sculpture known as the Kissing Camels.  On the north end is the  300-foot  Tower  of  Babel,  characterized  by a  fault-line  which partially
separates it from the main rock. On the south end is the Perkins Tablet, a memorial commemorating the 1909 gift of the Garden of the Gods to the city of Colorado Springs. On the backside - near the remains of Billy Bryan's stone stairway - is an area favored for technical rock climbing. And on the front side of North Gateway is a natural gutter that fills with water during rainstorms.

     This gutter was first written of by a young man named Calvin Perry Clark. Calvin was a gold seeker during the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush. He visited the red rocks during the summer of 1859. "I started off in a rain storm," he wrote, "which wet me to the skin to see some verry curios looking stone" After helping a fellow gold seeker down off North Gateway, Calvin paused for a moment to admire the great rock:

     "this rock is some six or seven hundred feet high and as is the custom with the rock here upon their sides or edges. and on the south end thare is a slide some 300 feet which runs down a streem of water when it rains about as big as a 6 inch stove pipe and has a decent about 70 degrees down and smothe as a rain troth as it had dug a hole about 3 f deep in the bottom, and when raining the water rushing into this hole forms a verry pretty water spout which is increased by quantity, but as the rain had ceased the running had nearly also."


     South Gateway features a myriad of formations, including the Lion Head, Old Rocking Chair, the Tomb, and the Weeping Indian. The Weeping Indian is a fifty-foot facial figure on the backside of the rock, more than a hundred feet off the ground. It is best viewed in late afternoon.

     Like its neighbor to the north, South Gateway is home to those unfailing harbingers of spring, the white-throated Swifts. The Swifts always arrive in the Garden of the Gods just before the spring equinox. They come in two flocks, a day apart - first a small advance guard, then the main group of several hundred. The birds are famous for never landing on the ground. They build their nests high in the inaccessible crevices of the Gateway Rocks, and catch all their food on the wing. When summer turns to fall, they abandon the Garden to fly south in one large flock.

                                                                            South Gateway Rock



1- Touring Kansas and Colorado in 1871: the Journal of George C. Anderson. Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No.4, Winter 1956.

2- Two Diaries, introduced by Malcolm G. Wyer. Denver Public Library, 1962. 3- Two Thousand Miles on Horseback by James F. Meline. Albuquerque: Horn and Wallace.

3- Marvels of the New West, by William M. Thayer. Norwich: The Henry Hill Publishing Company, 1890.



The Kissing Camels

     The Kissing Camels formation sits at the very top of North Gateway Rock. These love struck camels are often said to be engaged in the longest kiss on record. In fact, their rock-bound flirtation has given rise to the Legend of the Kissing Camels, first published by Laura Mecum in 1926. Laura attributed this legend to what she called the translation of hieroglyphics found in a hidden cavern in the Rockies.

     The story centers around two young lovers named Alpha and Omega, each of whom belonged to a different warring tribe. One day the two were caught in each other's arms. They were carried to the top of North Gateway Rock, where they were burned to death in separate funeral pyres. "And in the morning," so the legend ends,  "when the sun looked on the smoke blackened cliff, there was seen the kneeling figures of two camels with lips pressed together in a deathless kiss of love."

Source: Pike's Peak Yesterday and Today, by Laura T. Mecum. Colorado Springs: Gowdy Printing, 1926.




Signature Rock



     Signature Rock is a 15'X 20' rock that stands on the sunny side of North Gateway. This small rock is so unobtrusive that it is usually overlooked in favor of its more magnificent neighbors. Its claim to fame lies not in its size nor in its unique features, but rather in its many inscriptions. Covering its red sandstone surface are more than 600 names, many of which are historic in origin.

     The two oldest identifiable names in the Garden can be found in the very center of Signature Rock. Beside each is the date 1858. They were inscribed by members of the Lawrence Party of gold seekers, William Hartley and Andrew C. Wright.

     Above these Lawrence Party names is the name of E.C. Gard 1880. At the time he left his name on Signature Rock, 23-year-old Ernest Gard was an aspiring frontier newspaperman, with a home base in Palmer Lake, Colorado. He later established the Palmer Lake Herald, the Cripple Creek Crusher, the Pikes Peak Populist, and the Westcreek Gold Brick. He is said to have printed the first issue of the Cripple Creek Crusher in "gold ink."

Also on Signature Rock is the deeply-carved name of H. Rice. This was almost certainly put there by Helen Maude Rice, the eldest daughter of Phoebe and Edwin (Fatty) Rice. The Rice family lived just down the carriage road from Signature Rock at Fatty's Place, a combination private home, beer saloon, and souvenir shop.

Helen herself was born in 1888. She and her six brothers and sisters grew up near the Garden rocks, and always looked upon the area as their own personal playground. When she came of age, Helen married William Hart, a mineralogist, who owned a shop in nearby Manitou Springs. Together the two of them had a daughter named Phoebe. Helen died at age thirty-four, and was buried next to her father in Fairview Cemetery, within sight of the Garden they both loved so much.


     In recent years the historic names on Signature Rock have been threatened by the rock-climbing technique known as bouldering. Rock climbers have dug finger and toe holds into the surface of the rock, and unknowingly used their bodies to gradually wear away the carved signatures. Local historians finally notified the Colorado Springs Park and Recreation Department of the situation, and signs were erected to prohibit bouldering in the area surrounding Signature Rock. The signs read:  "Help protect and preserve the historic signatures on these rocks. No bouldering is allowed between these signs. No engraving of new names."



1- Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative, by Marion Savage Sabin. Denver: Sage Books, 1957.

2- "The Newspapermen," (a paper presented to the Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners) by Jan Petit. September 1992.



White Rock

     White Rock is the first large rock passed on entering the Garden of the Gods from the east. It is composed of white sandstone of the Lyons Formation, and is bordered by a crinkly limestone ridge and layers of soft gypsum.


     Perhaps the most distinctive feature of White Rock is the small cave that adorns its western face. The cave is
often called Ketner's Cave, in honor of the early trapper or trader who first left his
name nearby in 1731.

     The earliest written description of Ketner's Cave came from the hand of Calvin Perry Clark, a young gold seeker of 1859. Calvin had come to the gold fields with his father and several friends and relatives. After a fruitless search in the environs of Denver City, the party followed the base of the mountains south to Pikes Peak. Enroute Calvin had been fascinated by the many rock formations that lined Monument Creek. When he reached the trail up Ute Pass, Calvin could contain himself no longer, and rushed off to see the giant monoliths in the Garden of the Gods:

     "I started off in a rain storm which wet me to the skin to see some verry curios looking stone that looked some thing like a brick kiln in color but of singular shape and after passing some curious stunted trees of I do not know what over into a deep valley, I cam to a snow white rock perhaps 300 f long and 40 thick. here I found numerous names cut, and cut my own, and from a peace of this that was taken along I found that it was the finest artical of plaster Parris. when broken open it is streaked with a pretty coral red. here I came near breaking my neck climing a pole to look in a cavern that was about 15f above the ground and was about 12 by 20f in side and l7 high, with about 1 1/2 f of ashes in the bottom where some animil had been burnt out. the mouth of this was some 4 by 6f."


     The name of Calvin Perry Clark can no longer be seen anywhere on White Rock. There are some initials "C.P." but the name beneath is illegible. It was raining at the time of Clark's visit, and he was perhaps so hurried that he did not take the time to carve the letters of his last name very deeply into the rock. But several other 19th century names  surrounding Ketner's Cave  can still be seen today.

C.E. Palmer - a member of the Grey Eagle Company of five who left St. Louis for the Pikes Peak goldfieds in mid-October of 1858. The five reached Kansas City aboard the steamship E.A. Ogden on 18 October, and then left for the goldfields by way of the Santa Fe Trail. Their passing was noted by a reporter for the Kansas City Journal of Commerce, 19 October 1858: "These young men are all mechanics, and go out to the mines prepared to make money at the forge and anvil, with square and compass, as well as at digging."

W.H. Conner - a 26-year-old gold seeker from Kentucky, who prospected South Clear Creek west of Denver City.

A. Kendall - a 28-year-old miner from Maryland, who drifted down into South Park in late July of 1860. There he shared a dwelling with three other miners.

J.G. Yutsey and J.E. Crantham - early miners at Russell's Gulch in the mountains west of Denver City. They were among the 891 men working the gulch in late September of 1859. The gold yield at that time was $35,000 per week, or $39 to the man.

 A.H. Jones 1869, St. Louis, Mo. - This name is high above and to the left of Ketner's Cave on the west face of White Rock. It was engraved there by Albert H. Jones, born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1839. At the outbreak of the Civil War Albert joined the Haskins' Zouaves, Company B, Ninth New York Infantry. Shortly before the close of the war he was transferred to a gunboat and was so badly crushed by a falling mast that he was honorably discharged from the service with the rank of corporal.

    Jones came west almost as soon as he had recovered from his wounds. He arrived in Denver in 1866. His first business was a wholesale liquor store, which he opened on 16th and Market Streets.

     In 1876 Jones married and had a son, also named Albert. Two years later he organized the Chaffee Light Artillery Company. For a time he served as captain of the governor's guard, and for nearly fifteen years acted as brigadier general and inspector general of the Colorado National Guard.

     In 1890 General Jones was appointed U.S. Marshall for Colorado. After retiring from that office, he pursued mining interests until his death in 1910.

A.B. and Dora Sanford - These two names are engraved high above and to the right of Ketner's Cave. They belonged to a brother-sister tandem, Albert Byron and Dora Belle Sanford. They were the children of Colorado pioneers, Byron and Mollie Sanford, whose story is told in Mollie's gold rush diary, later published in book form under the title Mollie. The elder Sanfords had come west as newlyweds in the spring of 1860. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Byron joined the First Colorado Volunteers, and later fought in the battle of Pigeon's Ranch. Just before his return from New Mexico, Mollie gave birth to a son named Albert. Little Albert was born on 22 September 1862, the same day Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Mollie nicknamed her new son Bertie. "He has dark hair and large, wondering hazel eyes," she wrote, "and he 'coos' and 'crows' already. A regular little captain, already giving his orders, with no intention of having them disregarded."

     Albert grew up to study mining engineering at the University of Denver. It was in 1880, the same year he began his studies, that the 18-year-old carved his name in the Garden of the Gods. After graduation, Albert opened an assay office in Denver, and for twenty years was an assayer and mine examiner. In later years he found time to expand on his love for history by writing several articles for the Colorado Magazine and by serving as assistant curator for the Colorado State Historical Society.

     Just down and to the left of the A.B. Sanford name is the name of his sister, Dora. This was Endora Isabell Sanford - three years younger than her brother - and described by her mother as "a dimpled, blue-eyed, brown-haired darling." Dora was fifteen when she carved her name in the Garden of the Gods. She grew up to marry a major in the Colorado National Guard. It was to Dora's son that Mollie willed her diary, and it was this same son who later saw to its publication.


1- Mollie, introduced by Donald F. Danker. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959.

2- Two Diaries, introduced by Malcolm G. Wyer. Denver Public Library, 1962.

3- A.H. Jones Obituary, The Trail, Vol.3, November 1910.

4- 1860 Census of Arapahoe County, Kansas.

5- Report of Henry Allen and C.A. Roberts in the Rocky Mountain News, 29 September 1859.



Cathedral Rock



     Cathedral (or Gray) Rock is composed of the same white sandstone as White Rock. Features visible on top of the rock include Hound's Head and Stagecoach & Horses. Cathedral Rock received its name even before the founding of Colorado Springs. When George C. Anderson passed through in 1871 he thought it had "the appearance of a huge Cathedral with pinnacles and turrets pointing to the sky."


     On the backside of Cathedral Rock is a natural depression, which is thought to have been once used as a game run - with the elk or buffalo herded through the narrow entrance on the south side of the rock, to be shot with arrows by Native Americans who lined the ledges on either side of the narrow canyon. The many projectile points and scrappers found on the canyon floor seem to prove out this theory.

Source: "Touring Kansas and Colorado in 1871: the Journal of George C. Anderson." Kansas Historical Quarterly, Vol.XII, No.4, Winter 1956.



The Bear and the Seal


     The Bear and the Seal was a much publicized formation atop the Three Graces Rock in the central Garden zone. It was said to have originally been named "Seal Making Love to a Nun" by William E. Pabor, the original Secretary of the Colorado Springs Company and erstwhile promoter of the Pikes Peak region. Pabor's unfortunate choice of names got him into deep trouble with city founder, General William Palmer, and led to his premature departure from the area.

     Because it could be seen from various points along the main carriage road leading into the Garden, the Bear and Seal formation became a favorite point of interest for many of the early tour guides. "See there!" they would say, "the bear and the seal; the bear taking his ease, and the seal crawling up to keep him company." Unfortunately, the seal broke apart in the spring of 1942. Two days of continuous rain seems to have loosened the formation, and the main body of the seal fell to its death during the night. The crash was distinctly heard at the nearby Hidden Inn. When morning came only a small part of the seal's tail remained in place atop the rock. The bear, meanwhile, slept on undisturbed.


1- Marvels of the New Westby William M. Thayer. Norwich: The Henry Hill Publishing Company, 1890.

2- Rocky Mountain News, 21 April 1942.



 Balanced Rock



     Balanced Rock has often been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. However that may be, it has certainly been one of the world's most photographed rocks. Favorite photographs have included those of someone trying to push the rock over or of someone posed in front of the rock, sitting astride a burro or horse.

     Old-time tour drivers often told unsuspecting tourists that Balanced Rock rotated on its axis once a year; should they come back the following year they would see an entirely different face of the rock. Area children, for their part, often placed empty coke bottle under the bottom of the rock before a windstorm. On their return, they would find the bottle shattered to pieces. This practice came to an end at mid-century after a group of college students attempted to topple the rock, and the city park department was forced to add a stabilizing layer of cement around the base of the rock.

     Balanced Rock did not become a part of the Garden of the Gods Park until the early 1930's. Before that it was private property. During the 1890's a youngster of fourteen named Curt Goerke began taking photographs of visitors to the rock for a quarter of a dollar each. Soon he was making so much money that his father Paul quit his job, learning photography, and bought Balanced Rock and nearby Mushroom Park for $400. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the pair were taking pictures of tourists - often seating them atop the four burros kept nearby. The wet plates were developed in the Goerke Photography Shop attached to nearby Steamboat Rock. As business improved, stairs were cut into Steamboat Rock, and a telescope installed on the top.
     After the Kodak camera came into popular use, the younger Goerke felt compelled to discourage free picture
taking by building a high board fence around Balanced Rock and charging two-bits admission. He also plastered advertising signs along the neighboring road from Manitou. Neighbors began writing angry letters to the local newspapers, complaining of commercialism. Eventually the letter-writers won out, and Curt Goerke sold his land to the Colorado Springs Park Department for $25,000.

     In February of 1932 the Goerke fence surrounding Balanced Rock was torn down. Then began the work of restoring the site to its native state. Months later, the public was invited to see the restoration, with a general invitation published in the Colorado Springs Gazette:

     "Residents of the Pikes Peak region are invited today to 'see the Garden of the Gods.'

     "The invitation is issued by G. Hennenhofer, superintendent of the city park department, and is not intended as a joke.

     "Yesterday Mr. Hennenhofer and a crew of the park department completed the demolition of all the buildings, fences, shack, lean-tos and sign boards which have marred, concealed or made difficult of access one of the most beautiful scenic areas in this region or any other - the west Garden of the Gods.

     "The work of restoring the park to its native state was started last January when the city of Colorado Springs formally acquired ownership after payment of $25,000 to its private owner. The first act was the destruction of the unsightly board fence around the Balanced Rock, most famous scenic attraction in the area, during a jubilee celebration attended by thousands of citizens and representatives of the city and town governments of Colorado Springs and Manitou...

     "Since May 1 the park department has been busy restoring the new area to its natural state. Fences that separated disputed boundary lines of private and public land and made a confusing maze of the roads leading to the various attractions were removed. The unsightly store defacing the side of Steamboat Rock was completely torn down. The yellow booths from where hawkers shouted at passing motorists and exhorted them, at the price of a quarter a head, to view the 'privately owned' attractions, were hauled away to be broken into kindling wood. Glaring sign boards with their Coney island claims of wonders to be seen at the price of quarter were rooted up.

     "There were seven or eight structures which were torn down. Dozens of signs and two or three miles of fences were removed.

     "The work is completed with the exception of filling in the hole underneath the Steamboat Rock curio store and building an attractive iron stairway, if the park commission decides it would be desirable, to give access to the telescope on top of Steamboat Rock...."




The Siamese Twins


     This double formation is known by two different names depending on the point of view. When viewed from the east it is called the "Siamese Twins;" when viewed from the south the two rocks line up to form one, and together with a nearby rock become "Punch and Judy." The hole in the base at the center of the formation provides a splendid view of Pikes Peak. Over the years it has become a favorite spot for amateur photographers.



©1999-2009 Richard Gehling    

E-mail me at