Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Garden of the Gods - Accessible Highlight in Colorado Springs

While in Colorado Springs last week, I visited Garden of the Gods to counter balance the rigors of an indoor conference. I can't recommend this park enough for a highly accessible outdoor opportunity in Colorado. It is a free city park with the scenic splendor of a national park, and a well planned accessible trail in the heart of the park's fantastic red rock formations.

Situated at the base of Pike's Peak, the easternmost 14,000 foot mountain in the U.S., the Garden of the Gods offers incredible panoramic views of the transitional environment where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. Geology is dramatically displayed everywhere you look. The various colored outcroppings of rock were once sea beds, covered over time by other layers, then lifted vertically when what is now Pike's Peak uplifted from the earth. Over more time, erosion exposed the formations we see today. Its pretty wild to consider all that movement of the earth's surface while strolling the intriguing landscape on a firm, slip resistant, stable surface!

An Autism Alliance group starts a hike on the
wheelchair accessible Perkins trail.
The Garden of the Gods Visitor Center overlooks the main entrance of the park. It is well worth stopping here to enjoy the panoramic view and wheelchair accessible facility with nature exhibits and cafe before driving into the park.

The Perkins Central Garden Trail is a 1 1/2 mile long loop of 8 foot wide sidewalk with an elevational change of 30 feet as it winds among well-named rock formations such as Kissing Camels and Three Graces. There is a lengthy gradual grade descending from the main parking area that may present more challenge for some, so assistance might be needed for manual wheelchair users if you park in the first parking lot. There is a separate "handicap access only" parking area with several parking spots for more level access to the formations past the main parking lot as you drive a one way route through the park.

A black-billed magpie along the accessible trail.

Among the varying rocks, junipers, pines and scrub it is easy to spot rabbits and a variety of birds as you explore, including black-billed magpies, spotted towhees, pinon jays and a few birds familiar to easterners like robins and chickadees. The high rocks are alive with birds like white-throated swifts and ravens making use of their many eroded niches and holes for nesting.

The start of the Canyon Cabin trail offers level access
into a dry wash.

Four other "handicap access only" parking lots offer additional access at other locations throughout the park. Other parking areas all seem to have accessible parking spots. The ones I saw had curb cuts onto the start of trails. The park is heavily used so hiking trails are well packed and worn which allows for some wheelchair exploration at the start. The Canyon Cabin trail is a good choice for another look into the park. This trail enters a dry wash and offers a view of the Siamese Twins, a formation outside the accessible trail area. Most trails soon become rocky with challenging grades or built-in steps. The continuous process of erosion from trail use keeps a layer of loose material on the surface which requires caution for hikers.

Drive all the way through the park and you'll pass right between Balanced Rock and Steamboat Rock, where you can also stop and take pictures. Just past that you'll find the Garden of the Gods Trading Post with gift shop and cafe.

Popular activities in the park besides hiking and nature observation are technical rock climbing, bicycling, and horseback riding, all easy to observe as you enjoy the scene. Lots of people make use of this great location, including disability groups. Don't miss it if you are in Colorado!