A Tall Turtle Tale In The Garden Of The Gods

July 8, 2021
The rock formation in Garden of the Gods that inspired Matt Cavanaugh's tall tale in this week's episode of Peak Past.The rock formation in Garden of the Gods that inspired Matt Cavanaugh's tall tale in this week's episode of Peak Past.Matt Cavanaugh
The rock formation in Garden of the Gods that inspired Matt Cavanaugh's tall tale in this week's episode of Peak Past.

The following is part of KRCC's 'Peak Past' essay series.

There’s a tall, tall turtle in the Garden of the Gods, and I’d like to tell you a story about it. 

But first, we should recognize that American tall tales—even ones about turtles—served a purpose. Exaggerated stories made the early pioneers feel a little better as they faced loneliness and new lands. If legends like John Henry, Paul Bunyan, or Davy Crockett’s fictional wife—Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind—could make it, so could the pioneers.

Which brings us to the Garden of the Gods.

The rock formations there have always had nicknames tied to strange stories. Old brochures reference a “Baked Potato,” “King Arthur on Horse,” and the area near Balanced Rock was once called “Mushroom Park.”

Wikimedia Commons
This archival photo from 1908 shows the area of Garden of the Gods once known as "mushroom park."

Over time, these all have changed. 

Which means we’re free to make up our own names and tales for those rocks.

Just west of Parking Lot 7, next to the Scotsman Trail, is an enormous, van-sized turtle with its head reclining.

Here’s how that Tall Turtle came to be, according to me:

The story goes that in 1820, Dr. Edwin James stumbled on a giant turtle, very old. Edwin had a habit of wandering off his expedition, like when he discovered the Rocky Mountain Columbine, Colorado’s state flower. 

The old turtle had much to say. The last of her bale (or group) of turtles, she told Edwin about the lake that was once there, that as the water ran out, the bottoms of their shells carved the sandstone into the Garden we see.   

The next day Edwin went off to climb Pikes Peak, and when he got back, the old turtle had turned to stone. The water was all gone. Edwin never forgot her or the beauty those tall turtles had shaped with their shells.

At least, that’s my own tall tale for how that Tall Turtle got there.

What’s yours?

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

Peak Past with 2 logos Pueblo Recycleworks and Gold Hill Mesa

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Pueblo Recycle Works and Gold Hill Mesa.

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