As I’ve talked about in previous posts, one of the many blessings of living in Colorado is the unfettered access to nature. In just 20 minutes, you can drive from Denver to a secluded creek or in 30 minutes you can find yourself at the base of a large peak. I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about hikes, but something I want to focus on now are the places and the moments that make those hikes worth it. I’m talking about the natural wonders. Those vistas and geological formations that instill a sense of wonder and appreciation in those that come across them. Here’s a look at three of them:
Maroon Bells – Aspen
Nestled between Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak (the “bells) is my favorite slice of the world. And slice is an apt choice of words. Thousands of years ago a glacier sliced a basin into the region. There today, you’ll find Maroon Lake, which when caught in the right light reflects the sky and the surrounding peaks. On either side of the lake are slopes covered in snow or grass depending on the time of year. It’s like something straight out of the Lord of the Rings.
In the fall, the surrounding aspen trees turn to a gorgeous brown. But this beauty also comes with danger. Unlike other mountains that comprised of sandstone, limestone, or granite, the surrounding bells are comprised of a metamorphic sedimentary mudstone that is known to fracture. In the summer of 1965, eight people died in five separate incidents related to slipping or the fracturing of rock. Ever since then, the bells have carried the name of the “Deadly Bells”. But don’t let this caution scare you off. You can easily enjoy the Bells without risking your neck. There are a number of hikes that explore Maroon Lake and the bases of the mountains.
Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs
The Garden of the Gods is sure to make anyone’s list of the top natural sites in Colorado. It’s been a registered National Natural Landmark since 1971. Instead of having a beautiful array of flowers, this garden has a beautiful array of giant rocks tossed up by some geological maneuvering many years ago. Sure, there is greenery (and there even are bound to be some wildflowers), but the Garden of the Gods is a garden on a cosmic scale. Visitors here are in for a treat of some truly beautiful rock formations, which to me resemble non-euclidian lodgings of some mysterious beings. And they’re large too. Some of the rock formations get up to 300 ft tall.
In the distance away from the park, you’ll be able to spot the 14,1115 ft. summit of Pikes Peak. If you do end up visiting the Garden of the Gods, there’s a plenty of hiking, rock-climbing, and biking opportunities to be had. Another neat thing about the park is that there’s a Visitor’s Center replete with exhibits, food, and a theater that screens all sorts of neat educational films.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
In Colorado, you can expect to find mountains, forests, wetlands, meadows, but did you know that we also have sand dunes? And these aren’t just any sand dunes. The Great Sand Dunes make up the tallest dunes in the whole entire North American continent! Standing in the middle of these, you’d almost think you were on Tatooine more so than Earth. Almost.
The thing is, unlike the dunes of the Sahara or the Mojave or Tatooine, which seem to stretch on forever, the Great Sand Dunes are situated in between mountains and and a host of greenery. Standing at the top of one the sandy peaks, you can see the Rockies in the distance or the Medano creek flowing by. If you’ve never tried out sandboarding or sandsledding, this is the place to do it. Just make sure that if it’s summer you get there early. The sand can heat up to 150° F! Also, make sure it’s not storming. The tops of the dunes are particularly vulnerable to lightning strikes.
All of these places are unbelievably beautiful natural treasures that set Colorado apart. Stay tuned for more wonders in future blog posts.