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Guidebook of the Western United States: Part E. The Denver & Rio Grande Western Route


As most travelers on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad stop here to sample the mineral waters of Manitou and to explore the peaks and canyons of the near-by mountains, the more interesting side trips that may be made in a single day will be described.


The place that is first visited by most travelers stopping at Colorado Springs is Manitou, 6 miles to the west, at the foot of Pikes Peak. In order to reach Manitou from Colorado Springs the traveler must pass through the historic town of Colorado City, which sprang into existence as a result of the rush of gold seekers to the Pikes Peak region in 1859. A cluster of log cabins was built at the base of the peak, but no gold was found. In 1862 Colorado City again came into prominence, when the second legislative assembly of the Territory convened there, but after a four-day session it adjourned to Denver, the real capital of the State. It is said that the building in which the meeting was held is still standing but in a much dilapidated condition. In 1910 Colorado City had a population of 4,333; since then it has been consolidated with Colorado Springs. In the palmy days of the Cripple Creek camp it had four cyanide plants13 in operation treating the ores, but with the decline of that camp the mills have been allowed to fall into decay. At the present time only one of them is in operation.

13The cyanide process of treating gold ores was discovered in 1890 and is now used all over the world. It is best adapted to free-milling ores, especially after the bulk of the gold has been removed by amalgamation. The ore is first broken and ground as fine as flour. It is then carried to great vats, where the gold is dissolved by a weak solution of cyanide of potassium. After standing for several days the solution containing the gold is passed over zinc turnings, which precipitate the gold with other metals as a black slime. Similar results may be obtained by electrolysis except that the gold is obtained in a purer form on lead plates. The slime or lead plates are then treated to separate the gold from the baser metals.

The town of Manitou has a permanent population (1920) of 1,357, but during the summer it has many times that number. It was originally called Villa La Font, but this name was later changed to Manitou, which is the Indian name for the Great Spirit. It is said that the Indians were familiar with the springs before the advent of the white man, and that they believed that the bubbling was caused by the breath of the Great Spirit. In Manitou there are 16 springs whose waters differ widely in the composition and quantity of the mineral matter they contain. Some of the waters are strongly impregnated with soda, others with iron and magnesia, and some contain, it is said, lithia, lime, sulphur, potash, and other minerals.14 The principal springs are known as the Soda, Ute Iron, Ute Chief, Navajo, Geyser, Mansions, Soda-Iron, Twin Shoshone, Minnehaha, Magnetic, and Magnesia.

14An analysis of Manitou table water, made by the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, is as follows:

Parts per million.
Silica (SiO2)47.2
Iron and aluminum (Fe+Al)1.8
Manganese (Mn)1.7
Calcium (Ca)457.9
Magnesium (Mg)79.2
Sodium (Na)551.0
Potassium (K)71.3
Lithium (Li).23
Ammonium (NH4).05
Oxygen to form mangano-manganic oxide (Mn3O4)0.7
Bicarbonate radicle (HCO3)2,664.6
Sulphate radicle (SO4)219.2
Chlorine (Cl)250.0
Bromine (Br)Small amount.
Metaborate radicle (BO2)Faint trace.


The water is supersaturated with carbon dioxide (CO2).

The second most attractive natural feature of the region is the Garden of the Gods, which can easily be reached from Manitou or from the trolley line that connects Manitou and Colorado Springs. This interesting bit of wonderland is now a part of the Colorado Springs park system, to which it was transferred in 1909 by the heirs of the late Charles Elliott Perkins with the stipulation that it should be forever kept open and free to the world.

There are two entrances to the Garden of the Gods, but the traveler should by all means approach it from the lower entrance, the one nearest Colorado Springs, for he will there get his first view of it through the celebrated "Gateway," which is in itself one of its most striking features. Plate XIX shows the great upstanding ledge of red sandstone in which the "Gateway" has been cut by a small stream. The view here shown is not that which the traveler will get from the main road but is one he could get by climbing and walking a little distance to the north before reaching the deep cut. The white rock in the foreground is a thick bed of gypsum, which contrasts strongly with the deep-red sandstone beyond.

PLATE XIX. GATEWAY TO THE GARDEN OF THE GODS. Nature has here carved an appropriate gateway to the land of wonders that lies immediately beyond. The dark-red sandstone also serves as a frame or setting for the brilliant summit of Pikes Peak, which looms up in the distance. Photograph by L. C. McClure, Denver; furnished by Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

After passing through the "Gateway" the traveler will find himself in a wonderful array of tall spires of red and white sandstone and of many fantastic forms, which have been produced by the slow weathering of the massive rock. These features are shown in Plates XX and XXI. The rocks of the Garden of the Gods are of the same general character as the upturned red sandstones between Denver and Colorado Springs, but the forms are larger and more picturesque here than they are at any other place on the mountain front. These great natural monuments look as if they had been pushed up from below the surface by some giant force, but they are really mere remnants of great masses of red and mottled rock that were long ago tilted up on end and then were partly removed by the dissolving action of the atmosphere. This is a slow process, but it is always in operation, and each day a few grains of sand are loosened and carried away. Under this constant attack new and picturesque forms are being produced and the old pinnacles and towers are being worn away. All these interesting monuments of the activity of weathering processes will at some time be worn down to the level of the plain, but that time will be so far in the future that the loss of the monuments need not give much concern to the present generation.

PLATE XX. A (top). THE "SIAMESE TWINS." The "Siamese Twins" are still apparently bound together by solid rock, but close inspection shows a crack along which the weather is slowly accomplishing its work of destruction. A few grains of sand may be loosened and blown away each day, and this process repeated almost indefinitely will finally sever the connection and then the columns will stand separate and distinct. Photograph by L. C. McClure, Denver: furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

B (bottom). "BALANCED ROCK." This strange monument of nature's handiwork attracts the attention of most travelers. It was once doubtless connected with the pedestal on which it stands, but a soft layer near the bottom has been worn away until the mass seems to be ready to tumble at any moment. The red sandstone contains many pebbles and might properly be called a conglomerate. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

PLATE XXI. GATEWAY AND SPIRES OF THE GARDEN OF THE GODS. On approaching this wonderland through the gateway shown in Plate XIX the traveler is confronted with the great spires and needles of red sandstone standing on end as shown in this view. These monuments have been carved by the wind and weather from great beds of sandstone tilted up until they stand nearly vertical. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

The great ledges that give to the Garden of the Gods its picturesqueness extend to the north and are again strikingly exposed in Glen Eyrie, which for a long time was the chosen home of Gen. Palmer. Plate XVII, C (p. 33), shows one of the more striking rocks in this well-known glen.15

15The rocks in and about the Garden of the Gods and Glen Eyrie are more fully described by Prof. George I. Finlay as follows:

Few regions in the United States offer so much to the traveler and to the student of rocks as the country about Colorado Springs. The Rocky Mountains here meet the Great Plains with a bold front. At some places, owing to faults or breaks in the beds of rock, the old, strong granite of the mountains stands in direct contact with the young, weak rocks of the plains; at others, as at Manitou and in the Garden of the Gods, the sedimentary beds are upturned in a narrow belt that offers the traveler an unusual opportunity to examine and study them. The layers of rock that compose the foothills and plains are like books on a shelf which have fallen over toward one end, so that most of them lie at low angles, although a few are nearly vertical. (See fig. 10.)

FIGURE 10.—Section through Garden of the Gods. The spires and walls of the gateway are carved in the upstanding block of sandstone, and this block is separated from the rocks on both sides by faults. For explanation of letters see Plate XXII.

These rocks lie in distinct layers because most of them were laid down under the waters of shallow seas that from time to time invaded this part of the continent. Such seas were extensions of the Gulf of Mexico or were connected with the oceans that surrounded the continent. At one time, in the Cretaceous period, the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean were connected by a sea that extended across North America. The continent was then reduced to a number of islands, many of which were nearly continental in size. The shallow water between them became the settling ground for the sand, mud, and gravel which the streams brought down from these great islands. Along the shores the waves were cutting away the land and reducing it to mud and sand, and strong currents were carrying these materials widely over the sea floor. After this condition had prevailed for a long time the continent was uplifted and was restored to something like its old outline. During these changes sand was consolidated into sandstone, mud into shale, and gravel into conglomerate, all being cemented and welded together by the great weight of the layers above. In the sea limy shells accumulated in great beds and were in large part ground up by the waves and reduced to fine particles, which were cemented together by a part of their lime carbonate into beds of limestones. These several kinds of rock—shale, sandstone, conglomerate, and limestone—are the sedimentary beds which are so well represented near Colorado Springs, where their total thickness is over 10,000 feet. These beds of rock were not originally vertical or inclined but lay horizontal, and it was the uplift of the mountains, which occurred long after they had been formed, that disturbed them. Their edges are now exposed all the way from Manitou to Austin Bluff, east of Pikeview. The oldest of these beds are those which lie upon the granite of the mountains; the youngest are those which are exposed in Austin Bluff and beyond; and the beds of intermediate age are those in the Garden of the Gods.

The formations into which the sedimentary rocks of the Colorado Springs region are grouped by geologists and the names of the geologic periods in which they belong, as determined by the study of their fossils, are shown on sheet 2 (opposite p. 84) and in the general section on page II. The term formation is generally applied to a distinctive bed or a series of distinctive beds of rock, such as sandstone, shale, or limestone, that were formed continuously or in close succession during a certain period of geologic time, or to a group of beds that are of about the same geologic age. It is thus frequently applied to such an assemblage of beds as may be grouped together as a unit for convenience in mapping. The deposits made in a single geologic epoch or period are usually represented by several formations. In this region the Upper Cretaceous epoch, for instance, is represented by eight formations, though other periods are each represented by only one formation. Between the Manitou limestone and the shale at the base of the Fountain formation there are no representatives of the rocks that were formed elsewhere during the Silurian and Devonian periods. Nor is there any rock to represent the earliest division of the Carboniferous period. The absence of these beds means either that during these long periods of time the Colorado Springs region was dry land, upon which no material was being deposited, or that the rocks then deposited there bere later worn away. Between the Lykins and the Morrison formations no representative is found of the Triassic period, whose rocks constitute another of the geologic systems.

Not all the sedimentary rocks of the Colorado Springs region were laid down on the sea floor. The Dawson arkose, for instance, at the top of the column, was spread out on the land by the many eastward-flowing streams, which brought quantities of disintegrated granite and gravel down from high lands, on the west. As these streams shifted from side to side over the country they spread gravel somewhat evenly over the slope until they had thus deposited considerably more than a thousand feet of coarse material. The Fountain formation is similar to the Dawson arkose, and much of it was no doubt similarly deposited. The Lykins formation is made up of beds which were laid down in land locked bodies of water in a region that had an arid climate. The Laramie formation is made up of beds of sandstone and shale between which there are layers of coal that represent accumulations of vegetal matter in swamps. When a tree dies in the forest it quickly decays, but when it falls into a pond of water, as in a swamp, the water protects it in a great measure from decay, so that its carbon is stored up and accumulates as coal.

Colorado Springs is built on the nearly horizontal Pierre shale. The road from Colorado Springs to Manitou leaves this shale just west of Colorado City and in the succeeding 3 miles crosses the steeply upturned beds of the Cretaceous formations. Beyond Quarry Spur it passes over the Fountain beds, which underlie Manitou. These relations will be understood from a study of the map shown in Plate XXII and the cross section forming figure 10.

PLATE XXII. GEOLOGIC MAP OF MANITOU AND THE GARDEN OF THE GODS, COLORAD. By G. I. Finlay. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

On leaving Manitou a walk of less than a mile up Ute Pass as far as Rainbow Falls takes one past the sedimentary rocks into the granite. On either hand, resting on the granite, are the lowest white layers of the Sawatch sandstone, of Cambrian age, the oldest sedimentary rock in this region. The contact between the granite and the sandstone is everywhere so remarkably even as to indicate clearly that before the sand which formed the sandstsone was deposited the granite had been worn down to a smooth surface or a nearly perfect plain. About 50 feet above the granite the dove-colored Manitou limestone (Ordovician), over 200 feet thick, succeeds the sandstone and forms the bulk of the ridge between Ute Pass and Williams Canyon. In Williams Canyon (Pl. XXIII) the walls are composed of the same two formations, overlying the granite.

PLATE XXIII. WILLIAMS CANYON, MANITOU. The rugged scenery about Manitou is well illustrated by the view, which also shows the good roads that make all the interesting places accessible. Photograph by L. C. McClure, Denver.

The Cave of the Winds, in the Manitou limestone, compares favorably with the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky and the Luray Caverns of Virginia, though it is by no means so large. The limestone in which the cave has been excavated was honeycombed by the solvent action of rain water, which sank into it along cracks and passed through it in small streams. Later the streams left the caverns which they had made, and the dissolved lime carbonate in the water that dripped from the cracks in the roofs of the cavern produced icicle shaped forms known as stalactites. Water dropping on the floors of the caves similarly built up stalagmites. Queens Canyon, 3 miles north of Colorado City, is in the same formation.

East of Manitou and north of the railroad track there are fine exposures of the Fountain formation, which stretches over to the Garden of the Gods. The red rock series—made up of the Fountain formation, the Lyons sandstone, and the Lykins formation—is about 5,000 feet thick. Near Manitou the Fountain beds dip 11° E. In the Garden of the Gods they were tilted until they stand vertical, and in the intervening ground they stand at intermediate angles. (See fig. 10.) Interesting erosion forms may be seen in the Fountain formation in Mushroom Park and just west of the great masses of Lyons sandstone in the Garden of the Gods. Some of these forms rise 200 or 250 feet above the adjacent ground.

Just to the east of the gateway to the Garden of the Gods the gypsum layer of the Lykins formation is prominent. (See Pl. XIX.) This gypsum undoubtedly crystallized out of a land-locked body of sea water which had been reduced by evaporation in an arid climate to a state of supersaturation. Gypsum, a mineral so soft that it can be scratched by the finger nail, is used in making wall plaster and as a fertilizer. The Morrison formation, which is made up chiefly of maroon and green limy shale, is best seen near Colorado City in the railroad cut just east of Quarry Spur. This formation, which generally extends along the Rocky Mountain Front, has yielded many bones of huge reptiles, such as the Ceratopsia. One skeleton was found in the Garden of the Gods. This is the same band of rock in which remarkable reptilian remains were found west of Denver and north of Canon City. (See Pl. XXXII, B, p. 70.)

To observe the outcrops of the formations of Cretaceous age as high in the column as the Niobrara formation it is necessary to leave the railroad track just west of Colorado City and climb about 100 feet to the level of the gravel bench. These outcrops form perfectly straight hogback ridges between Fountain Creek and Bear Creek, and the beds in them stand nearly vertical. The western hogback is made up of Dakota sandstone and the Lower Cretaceous rocks that are associated with it. The eastern hogback carries along its crest the sandstone member of the Carlile formation and the overlying Niobrara limestone, which are also well exposed.

The traveler should visit the mesa, the large mass of gravel overlying the Pierre shale in the V between Monument and Fountain creeks. This is but one of many remnants, all sloping away from the mountains at much the same height, of a great deposit of gravel which has been cut through by such streams as Fountain Creek. One who restores in his mind's eye from mesa to mesa the gravel plain represented by the surface of these remnants can get an idea of the former extent of this stream-laid gravel, which was spread out by streams flowing from the mountains, and can understand the mode of formation of the Dawson arkose, which was similarly laid down millions of years earlier than this gravel.

To the south the ragged crest of Cheyenne Mountain rises more than 2,000 feet above the sedimentary beds at its eastern base. This sudden change in the surface features is due to the different rate of weathering of the sedimentary beds and the great granite mass, which was upraised along the Ute Pass fault for more than a mile and at the same time thrust forward about 4 miles. By this faulting movement the sedimentary rocks between Manitou and the southern end of Cheyenne Mountain were sheared off as shown in figure 13 (p. 53). The detached masses of sedimentary rock that once lay upon the upthrown block of granite were carried up with it and were long ago worn away and lost by erosion. Plate XXIV, B, and figure 13 show the Ute Pass depression, which marks the fault-line break where it continues northwestward through the granite of the Front Range. This is the greatest fault or dislocation of the rocks in the Colorado Springs region. As these faulting movements took place in geologically recent time the Rocky Mountains, which were brought into being by them, are therefore recent features in the geologic sense. They were probably raised up after the deposition of the Dawson arkose.

PLATE XXIV. A (top). PIKES PEAK AND THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN PENEPLAIN. The appearance of Pikes Peak depends largely upon the point of view and the setting. From Colorado Springs it seems to be a mass of mountains piled one above another until it culminates in the main peak. Viewed from the north, as in this picture, it is clearly a single mountain mass standing on a plain (Rocky Mountain peneplain) left by the erosion of the surrounding rocks. The plain has an elevation of about 9,200 feet, and this peak rises nearly 4,800 feet above it. Photograph by G. B. Richardson.

B (bottom). UTE PASS. This view is taken from a point near the falls, looking south to Manitou, which may be seen in the distance. Above the fine automobile road over which the traveler passes on his way to the summit of Pikes Peak are beds of quartzite (hardened sandstone) resting directly on the granite. This unusual contact is not due to a fault but to the fact that the sand was deposited on the granite surface which then formed the floor of the sea. Photograph furnished by the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad.

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Last Updated: 16-Feb-2007