Most Viewed Stories
New book details 3,000 years of history at Garden of the Gods
As a kid, like millions before her, Toni Hamill was struck by the beauty of Garden of the Gods.
But it wasn’t until decades later, when she visited the park with the eyes of an archaeology student and historian, that she saw more than the scenery that draws 1.7 million visitors a year. She began to look at the park as a geologic and historical wonder, one that has captivated people for more than 3,000 years.
So she wrote a book about it. “Garden of the Gods,” part of the national “Images of America” series by Arcadia Publishing, combines more than 200 photos and Hamill’s research into a 128-page history of the park.
From the geologic forces that formed the red-rock towers and pinnacles to the Utes who revered it, from the settlers who claimed it to the city that has preserved it, she tells the story of how the park has impacted the community and vice versa.
“The (readers) who have never been here, I would hope they would come see it. Those who have, I hope they’ll learn more about it, the people who impacted it and were impacted by the garden,” said Hamill, 67, a retired Lewis-Palmer High School teacher living in Monument.
She took a course in archaeology in 1996 while working on her master’s thesis at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. On a field trip to Garden of the Gods, the class discovered pottery shards that were dated to around 250 BC. Earlier research revealed evidence of people in the area as far back as 1330 BC.
“It just dawned on me what an incredible place this is,” said Hamill. “If these rocks could talk, what would they say?”
She wrote her thesis on the history of the park, which became the basis for the book.
The history begins with the violent upward shift that formed the Rocky Mountains aeons ago and the erosion that give the rocky walls their shape. She tells of the Ute Indians, and later the Apache, Shoshone, Comanche, Pawnee and Lakota Sioux, who shared a powerful spiritual connection with the Garden.
To the settlers who heeded the call of “Pikes Peak or Bust” in 1859 and founded Colorado City, the dusty area was usually called Red Rocks. Many carved their names into the rocks, and more than 30 distinct names have been identified. Hamill tells as many stories as the historical record allows.
When one early resident suggested it would be a great place for a beer garden, another, Rufus Cable, said, “Why, it’s a fit place for the gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.”
Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer urged friend Charles Perkins to buy the land to preserve it, which he did in 1879. He gave it to the city under provision the city prohibit the sale of alcohol and “the erection of buildings except those deemed absolutely necessary for park purposes.”
That didn’t stop the city from creeping in around the park. A gypsum mine opened in 1879 on the back side of White Rock. One Fatty Rice (he weighed 600 pounds) opened an emporium selling food and drinks “of the strong type” a block east of Gateway Rocks in 1892. In 1903, a local businessman floated the idea of carving the faces of presidents into the rocks to draw tourists. In the 1940s, some suggested an amphitheater similar to Denver’s Red Rocks
And buildings crept in, including a camera shop and inn. Residents were outraged when in 1987 city officials began planning a lavish new center, gifts shops, snack bars, tram or monorail and a 350-car parking lot. The plan was scrapped after The Gazette reported on the scheme and officials instead embarked on a program of returning the park to its natural state.
That’s the way Hamill, who hikes, bikes and rides horses through the park, prefers things.
“I just like nature left alone. There’s not any place like this in the world,” she said. “Millions of people come here every year to see this. How many cities can claim that in a city park?”
Discover the history of Garden of the Gods
‘Garden of the Gods,” part of the “Images of America” book series, will be in stores March 26. Written by Toni Hamill and the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, it will be available locally for $21.99 at the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, Black Cat Books, the Old Colorado City Historical Society, the Manitou Springs Heritage Center and arcadiapublishing.com.
There will be a release party April 12 at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, 517 Manitou Avenue, starting at 5:17 p.m.