Question: Why is it so long and skinny? It parallels the river but doesn’t benefit from river access at all. Answer: It was the first man-made tourist attraction, of course!
When General Palmer decided to make Colorado Springs a draw for the east coast tourists, the location pretty much had the geophysical attractiveness of the high prairie we see east of town. After a few decades of progress, this part of town was unattractive and made a very poor first impression. The tourists would be arriving by train from a connection in Denver, so he built this park filled with beautiful trees, landscaping and small structures to dress up the last couple of miles of their travels into town. What an oasis in the high prairie!
Two miles long and just a few hundred feet wide, Monument Valley Park stretched from the far northern limits of the city (south of current Fillmore Street) all the way to the his train station by his Antlers Hotel. It was a real estate marketing ploy that has remained a gem for the city. It didn’t have to be wide, but it is long enough to parallel the tracks and give the impression of a lush city to travelers arriving via Denver.
I suggest taking the time to explore the park from one end to the other looking for clues. By keeping this one fact in mind, I guarantee that you will see the park in a whole new light! Envision the park in a time of no freeway, no walls and fences, and very little development.
Stone work from the 1930’s WPA also appears in unique locations. The steep walls of the creek were not there at the time. The levee style walls were added after the big 1935 flood, so the train passengers and potential real estate customers would have seen a meandering creek with the park on the opposite bank. The Tahama mineral spring was drilled and a gazebo built. The Colorado College’s sports fields are next this park, also dating back to very beginning as a converted reservoir. Picnic pavilions and ponds also date from the era. Don’t miss the geologic column, built in 1907 near where Fontanero Street dead ends at the park.
Find the low stucco walls at the south end of the park (just north of Bijou Street). This elaborate flower garden could be seen from the windows of the stopping train. It was the perfect place to stretch your legs after a long train ride and contemplate purchasing a plot of land from Palmer’s real estate company. From the train station you would see the landscaped Antlers Park and a wide walkway leading to the beautiful Antlers Hotel. At that time, the hotel faced the railroad tracks to make that same great first impression!
General William Palmer had required that every home should have a tree planted in front. He imported trainloads of cottonwoods from the east coast to create a town of trees in his prairie locale. Irrigation for his village and all the trees is a whole story in itself, but not covered here. By viewing the city from the Gold Camp Road or the top of the incline or from Austin Bluffs, you can see what a beautiful city of trees we have become.
Explore – While walking or running the levee, stop, hydrate and note the slope of the land. In many places, you can see the natural slope dipping to the historical river level, with the levee interrupting this historic gradient.
The longest chapter in my book, Easy Hikes to the Hidden Past, is about Monument Valley Park. You will find photos, directions, more detailed history, and maps with finds marked along the way.