Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Roadside attractions tend toward hyperbole. World’s Largest Cross! Giant Head of Abraham Lincoln! Centre of the Universe!
But here is one—less a roadside attraction and more a shrine to nature’s incomparable beauty—that lives up to its name. Also, the weather helped.
Colorado Springs is one of those places where the weather, trapped or inspired by the mountains, is just passing through. Driving into the city in rain so violent I think it was hailing, we had a perfect triple rainbow on our left and sunshine so bright on the right I had to wear shades. Lightning was incredible and constant and it was putting on a show over Pike’s Peak as we rounded a bend and entered the Garden of the Gods to a soundtrack of long, low thunder.
The sandstone formations here are an orange and gold echo of the Badlands. One moment you’re in the windy bowl-shaped valley that makes up the Colorado Springs area, with low hills butting against jagged black mountains, evergreens larger than I’ve ever seen, deer jumping across roads … and the next moment you’re looking up at these giant god-painted rocks.
Most parks in the States are different from Quebec, where we park our car and hike to the attraction. Here, parks are a drive-through experience. There are turnouts and trails, but if you have a finally sleeping toddler, you can roll down the window and see the most important bits without ever unlatching your seatbelt.
Nevertheless, we parked awhile to climb on the sunset-coloured stone and count lightning flashes. We watched dark clouds ease their way toward our sunnier piece of sky. When the rain came, gentle at first, then with more determination, we darted back into the truck for more window-seat exploration.
The weather can be all sorts of dangerous, too. That lightning we were so impressed with can start wildfires that devastate the region and endanger homes. When the rains finally came, as they did while we were there, the newly bald mountains can do nothing to slow it washing into the valley.
Flash-flooding killed a man not far from Colorado Springs the day we got there. Warnings were issued and roads closed.
Nature is a gut-wrenching beauty, but she has a temper.
The Garden of the Gods is open year-round. There is no charge to visit the national lankmark. There are several hiking, biking and horse-riding trails and gentle climbing on some of the rocks is allowed. gardenofthegods.com.