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On Walkabout At: Red Rock Canyon Open Space

Basic Trail Information

  • Name: Red Rock Canyon Open Space
  • Where: Colorado Springs, CO
  • Distance: About 3.5 miles
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate (400 feet elevation gain)
  • Time: 2.5 hours round-trip
  • More Info: City of Colorado Springs website

Google Terrain Map of the Trail:

Narrative

There is few cities in the US that compare with Colorado Springs in regards to the incredible public parks they have littered around the city.  The crown jewel of the public parks in the city is the Garden of the Gods due to its incredibly beautiful red rock walls backdropped by one of America’s most famous mountains, Pikes Peak.  However, there is another public park in the city that features beautiful red rock walls just like the Garden of Gods that few people from outside the city know about.  The Red Rock Canyon Open Space is located just a short drive from the Garden of the Gods, but it is definitely a favorite for locals to go hike, jog, or take their dogs for a walk.  There are many trails that traverse all areas of the park:

I decided to take a circuitous route that traversed most of the park using a number of the trails:

I started my hike at the parking lot that is located just off of Highway 24 before reaching Manitou Springs.  Here is the view from the parking lot of the beautiful Pikes Peak as I was about to begin my hike:

The first trail I went down was the Contemplative Trail that goes around some of the smaller red sandstone formations in the park:

The trail also passes through a large open area of prairie grass:

The Contemplative Trail eventually turns into the Roundup Trail and begins to ascend up the sloping terrain towards the mountains.  From higher up on the hill instead of looking up at the red rocks, I was often looking down on them:

Along all the perimeters of the park besides the West side that slopes up towards the mountains, there are houses that surround it.  The folks that live in these homes are extremely lucky to have such a beautiful park literally as their front yards:

From up on the hill I was also able to get a view of the before mentioned Garden of the Gods, which even from over at Red Rock Canyon is still quite a sight:

What I found interesting from this view is how the red rocks from the Garden of the Gods literally runs right through various Colorado Springs neighborhoods and then up into Red Rock Canyon:

The Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon though are easily where the largest rocks are located.  However, I think it would still be cool to have even one of these smaller red rocks in your backyard like some of these fortunate homeowners in Colorado Springs have:

As I walked up the hill side I found the plant life to be interesting because it shows how Colorado Springs really is the place where the prairie meets the mountains because desert plant life like yuccas and cactus are all intermingled with various pinon and ponderosa pine trees that are found in the mountains:

Eventually the trail began to weave through some of the rock formations as I continued to hike upward:

As I continued to hike up the trail I actually had to be quite careful in a number of areas because of the ice on the trail, which I nearly fell twice on during my hike:

I eventually came to the intersection with Mesa Trail where I could have continued higher up into the mountains but I decided to head over to Greenlee Trail that would take me down towards an old quarry:

Before heading down Greenlee Trail, I stopped to take in the views.  The first view I had was looking back towards the Garden of the Gods:

The second view I had was of the Rampart Range to the North:

As I headed down Greenlee Trail I crossed at first over a wide grassy plateau:

Eventually the plateau gave away to a beautiful canyon rimmed with red rocks:

Some of the red rock walls were really beautiful:

Eventually I came to Quarry Pass Trail that lived up to its name by taking me through one of these red rock dikes that had once been a quarry:

Humans are believed to have inhabited the canyon since 7000 BC, but it was only in the canyon’s recent history that humans have made such an impact on its signature red rocks.  In the 1870’s Anthony Bott who was one of the founders of the nearby neighborhood of Colorado City quarried sandstone from the largest rock wall in the canyon known as the Hogback.  Up until the late 1880’s the mining of the red sandstone was simply to provide for the needs of the growing community.  The slabs of stone were cut out from the rock and hauled into town by wagons:

However, in 1888 with the arrival of steam powered tools the cutting of the sandstone became an industrialized operations that provided enough stone to export neighboring towns and even states.   The red sandstone was highly sought after for the construction of grand public structures and mansions at the time.  However, it was later discovered that the sandstone was prone to weathering and erosion an thus was no longer sought after as a building material.  By 1910 this caused all mining activity in the canyon to cease.  Today if it wasn’t for this large gap in the Hogback rock wall no one would even know this canyon was once a major industrial area:

As I crossed through the opening in the red rock I saw another beautiful valley that was once the heart of the canyon’s mining operations:

Besides this valley being home to the quarry a large mill was also set up here to refine ore brought from the gold mines up in the mountains at Cripple Creek.  So one can imagine what a mess this valley must have been back then with both the quarry and mill operating.  As walked down into the valley the extent of the quarry operation was more obvious on this side:

It is really amazing how much rock was cut and removed by hand and steam tools over the 40 years of mining activity in the canyon.  From the quarry I walked down Red Rock Canyon Trail back towards the parking lot.  On the way towards the parking lot I passed this structure that was being used as a picnic area:

This picnic area actually used to be the home of John S. Bock who along with his dad, John G. Bock are the two people most responsible for the existence of this park. John G. Bock first purchased property in the canyon in the 1920s and over the decades continued to buy adjacent land to add to his spread.  He also systematically went to work removing all the old structures and waste left by the mining industry.  He eventually willed the land to his oldest son John S. Bock who continued his father’s work to repair the landscape.  It should be noted that the reason the Bock’s were repairing the landscape was because they had big plans to develop the property into a resort community complete with high rise towers, a golf course, and a convention center.  Unfortunately for them the development never happened which ended up being a good thing for the citizens of Colorado Springs.  In 1967 John G. bock built the modern home that is now the picnic area and lived there until his death in 2002.  Before he died Bock was only able to build a few residences and outbuildings, two dozen mobile home sites, a 53-acre landfill, and two gravel quarries. In 2003, the City of Colorado Springs purchased the Red Rock Canyon property to be used as public open space.

Next to the old Bock home there is a dam that was constructed to provide water for the residence:

After a short walk I found myself back at the parking lot where I noticed that park for bike riders was built:

It was a pretty nice park for people to try and navigate various obstacles with their bikes:

From the bike park it was short walk back to my truck.  All in all I had a great time hiking through the park.  It may not be as spectacular as the Garden of the Gods, but its has more hiking trails and less visitors which is why this park is a favorite for locals in the area.  For anyone visiting Colorado Springs and only having time to hike in one park, then I recommend going to the Garden of the Gods, but for anyone who has time to see even more red rocks than Red Rock Canyon Open Space is definitely worth checking out.

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