The eastern Colorado plains is a series of huge stationary swells moving west toward the Front Range, up and down, up and down. Where the swells meet the Rockies, they bunch up into shorter, steeper waves. In Colorado Springs the rock waves break into pieces against the mass of Pike Peak, sandstone exposed and standing on end.
The best known vertical rock formations are in Garden of the Gods, a city park with comfortable walking paths, a museum, and roped climbers often visible on the rock monoliths.
The Fountain Formation sandstone, sometimes a pinkish-tan in the Springs, is beautiful and sought after as gravel and solid blocks. One huge quarry, visible from all over town, was an eyesore for years until it was abandoned and the mountainside reclaimed.
Another city park, 1474-acre Red Rock Canyon Open Space, lies a few miles south of Garden of the Gods, adjacent to Manitou Springs, a tourist town west of the Springs clinging to the rising bulk of Pikes Peak. Like Garden of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon has beautiful Fountain sandstone formations, less dramatic but more substantial. Hiking here is less crowded, more demanding, and more interesting.
What’s remarkable is that not long ago Red Rock Canyon was a damaged industrial-use site. A 53-acre landfill raised the ire of neighbors who complained of blowing trash and fires. Considerable sandstone blocks and gravel had been quarried from the area. It was a mess.
Though not the pristine place it had once been, Red Rock Canyon is once again beautiful and now fitted with an extensive trail system that makes it accessible to hikers and bikers. The landfill has been covered with soil and grass planted but here and there white plastic pipes release methane formed in the garbage below. The landfill injury, still there, is covered with a band-aid that’s off-limits to hikers.
In early October 2017, on a cool and sunny Sunday, we had a chance to hike the canyon with family, thoroughly enjoying the afternoon, spending three hours checking out an abandoned block quarry, huffing and puffing up steep paths, sitting at overlooks, and conversing about food, exercise, and park systems.
Boulder, where we had lived for 25 years, is super-serious about green belt, open space, parks, trails, and preservation of the environment. My sense has been that the Springs was dominated by rapacious businesses and land developers who were likely to ruin its beautiful setting in pursuit of profit and ignore park development. But that’s not what’s happened. Red Rock Canyon is the proof.
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