Have You Seen Any of These National Natural Landmarks in Colorado?
Having extremely scenic and unique natural areas, wide variations of terrain, and picturesque landscapes are just some of the characteristics that make Colorado so beautiful and also so special. In fact, there are 14 locations within our state that have been nationally recognized as places where geological processes have occurred, creating natural sites of raw beauty and wonder.
These 14 sites found in Colorado help to make up the list of National Natural Landmarks. These locations range in size from 60 acres to 380,000 acres, and have been preserved in order to provide people with a glimpse into the natural history and geologic progression of Colorado. National Natural Landmarks are not national parks. A location with this status does not indicate public ownership, and many sites are not open for visitation and can only be viewed from afar.
Big Spring Creek
Big Spring Creek spans over 440 acres and can be seen when visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Located in a predominately dry and arid setting, the creek has formed as a result of groundwater seeping from an unconfined aquifer, and now provides a natural wetland habitat, supporting a diverse range of plant and animal species. Big Spring Creek was designated as a NLL in 2012 and serves as an wonderful example of natural geologic and hydrologic patterns.
Garden of the Gods
Its easy to see how the unique, rusty-colored rock formations that make up the impressive 862-acre Garden of the Gods landmark, create both an exciting and scenic attraction for visitors to explore in Colorado Springs. A mixture of the Ice Age and erosion left behind sedimentary rock formations that have been morphed throughout history by Earth’s natural pressures, from once appearing as horizontal rock beds to now standing vertically high above the ground. Garden of the Gods is very appealing to rock climbers, and is also a perfect place for hiking and mountain biking.
Garden Park Fossil Area
Garden Park was once the home of many dinosaurs, and has since received recognition for producing the three most complete Stegosaurus skeletons ever to be found, along with many other remains and evidence dating back to the late Jurassic Period. Fossil hunters and scientists travel to this park with hopes of digging up another tidbit of geological history in one of the remaining quarries. Garden Park was formed by erosion of sedimentary rocks that have been distorted by uplift of the Rocky Mountains, resulting in valley surrounded by cliff-like formations.
Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon serves as a popular tourist destination as well as a stunning example of Colorado’s beauty. The aqua-blue water, so vibrant it almost seems fake, is this color as a result of mineral deposits dissolving in the water. It’s important not to actually touch the water though, as doing so could negatively effect the lake’s sensitive ecosystem. Even with over 120,000 people visiting here each year, the area still allows for a peaceful escape while experiencing a natural wonder.
Indian Springs Trace Fossil Site
Indian Springs Trace Fossil Site is recognized as being the best place for finding trace fossils in North America. Trace fossils aren’t the actual preserved remains of ancient species, but display evidence of past life through examples such as footprints and burrows. There are also a ton of fossils found and now displayed onsite, representing an abundant marine life that once inhabited the lagoon millions of years ago. The landmark is private but the owners offer guided tours of the property on occasion.
Lost Creek Scenic Area
This gorgeous wilderness area features unusual granite rock formations, a disappearing/reappearing creek accurately living up to its name, and steep ridges and narrow gorges filled with many species of wildlife and wildflowers. The rocks structures are shaped the way they are from streams and pressures underground causing movement above the surface. Lost Creek Scenic Area was designated as a natural landmark in 1966.
Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas
Located just west of Denver, this is one of the most famous sites to produce evidence of dinosaurs, as hundreds of fossils and footprints dating back to the Jurrasic and Cretaceous Periods have been found here. Now, visitors are welcome to hike the preserved rocky trails in the area or check out the exhibit hall, both displaying important examples of ecological and geological history.
This site includes miles and miles of flat-topped mesas– it’s the highest point on one mesa that is actually considered to be the landmark. Fishers Peak sits at an elevation of 9,633 feet and has been preserved because a thick lava cap still remains despite experiencing centuries of weathering and erosion.The surrounding mesas are now just sedimentary rock formations, but Raton Mesa actually shows the volcanic origin of the area.
Roxborough State Park
Hikers and photographers love visiting Roxborough State Park, where they can take in views of jagged sandstone hogbacks, see many different plants and animals, and also check out archaeological sites. Millions of years of erosion occurring has left the rocks sitting at a dramatic 60 degree angle.
In order to restore habitats, much of this site is closed February through July. A boardwalk/viewing trail is open year round where visitors can see extensive wetlands and waterfowl. There is also one of the few remaining large, high-altitude, alkaline marshes onsite.
If you live in Larimer County or have driven across the border to Wyoming, you might have seen this natural landmark that is one of the most amazing examples of cross-bedded sandstone and topple blocks in the entire USA. All of the distinct geological, paleontological, and botanical features that make up this 5,118 acre area illustrate why it was selected to be a NLL in 1984.
Slumgullion Earthflow (Slide)
About 700 years ago, large masses of materials from the earth, including volcanic rock, slid down the San Juan Mountains and began to flow into the valley, forming Lake San Cristobal. A second earthflow in the same place began 300 years ago and continuously moves at a rate of about 23 feet per year. Normally landslides aren’t such a great thing, but in this case, it’s pretty awesome to witness how it has formed the surrounding landscapes and continues to change the area year after year.
The two peaks, located in the San Isabel National Forest, were formed by huge masses of molten rock that were later exposed from erosion. The name that the Ute Indians gave to this area translates to “Breasts of the Earth.” Easily visible from the highway are unique rock formations called igneous dikes, that stick out from the mountains like spokes of a wheel. There are over 500 of them protruding from the peaks.
Sitting on Mount Evans at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet, Summit Lake is one of the highest lakes in America. This area is also an example of an artctic/alpine tundra and provides a habitat for many rare wildflowers that can’t be found anywhere else. A flowing glacier helped to form the lake, and because it gets so cold that high up and is icy and snowy even in the summer, trees are not able to grow at all. Mountain goats are really common to see at Summit Lake, which is easily accessible to hike and take in views. .