Geography, Geology & Botany of El Paso County

El Paso County received its name from nature's highway, Ute Pass -- The Pass of the region. One of the central counties, it lies west of longitude 103 57', and east of longitude 105" 13' 40", and between the parallels of 38" 31' 18", and 39 7' 49" north latitude, save that seven townships in the southwest belong to Fremont County. Its area is 2,646 square miles, of which 1,890 miles are east of the mountains, 567 miles are mountainous, 189 square miles pasture and farm lands in mountain valleys and table lands, and the remaining 546 miles are timber lands.*

The general altitude of the county varies from five to seven thousand feet above sea level, while its peaks rank from 10,000 feet in height to the monarch Pike's Peak, with an elevation of 14,147 feet. In El Paso, the great plains and mountains meet, thus combining lowland and lofty beauties. Where the lowlands join the mesas, the picturesque boundaries of the plain, they break into buttes or bluffs, and in these ridges are found fantastic formations of rock, worn by erosion and set in clusters of pine. The southwest is occupied by a group of mountains, commonly known as the "Cheyenne Spur." In the center Pike's Peak lifts its lofty head; Monte Rosa, Red Mountain, Mount Garfield, Pisgah and other inferior peaks cluster about the knees of their king to do him honor. The southern boundary of this range is Cheyenne, rising in scorn from the lowly plain without intervention of bluff or foothill -- the " broadest mass of blue and purple shadow that ever lay on the easel of nature." The northern boundary of El Paso is the purplish green line of the pineries of the divide, separating the tributaries of the Arkansas and Platte. "Crystal Peak" and "Slim Jim," are the well-known summits of this elevated region. The county contributes its quota of those high, level tracts of land, hill-surrounded, which are known as parks. Manitou, and Hayden Park are representative of these. In considering the topography of El Paso, invalids in especial should recall the fact that the eastern portion of the district is tilted to the south, with an angle of two degrees, so it receives rays of the sun with less obliquity in winter. This is thought to make a difference in temperature, equal to two degrees south latitude.

El Paso has a fair supply of water, though none of its streams are large. The South Platte River flows through its northwestern corner and receives as tributaries Twin Creek, West Creek, Rule Creek and Trout Creek. Four Mile Creek, which has its source amid Pike's Peak snows, after describing a very irregular course, empties into the Arkansas. But the chief tributary which the Arkansas receives from this section is the "Fontaine-qui-Bouille" (thus christened by French missionaries), with its boiling bubbling, foaming waters, the clearest and most picturesque of El Paso streams, and the most valuable to agricultural interests. The Fontaine's sources are 14,000 feet above the sea, and at Pueblo it joins the Arkansas. Ruxton Creek and the "Muddy Monument" are its important tributary streams. The intermittent streams are the Big Sandy, Horse Creek, Black Squirrel Creek, Chico, Jimmy's Camp and Sand Creeks. These are tributaries of the Arkansas. A chain of seven small glacial lakes is to be found near timber line on the flank of Pike's Peak. Their outlet is Beaver Creek, which flows to the Arkansas.

Lake Moraine of glacial formation covers some ten acres in area, and lies to the east of Pike's Peak at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, and is eight miles from Colorado Springs -- this and Palmer Lake on the divide's crest are spoken of on another page. Several artificial lakes have been recently constructed, notably those at Cascade Canyon, the Ute Pass Park, and Cheyenne Lake, near the canons of that name.

This county, like the rest of the State, has lost almost all its game. Colorado Springs extends over the old feeding ground of the antelope of eighteen years ago, and Manitou's cottages are perched where Ruxton saw the Rocky Mountain big horn on the heights, and sheep pasture on the buffalo plains, rabbits and prairie dogs, coyotes and swifts continue to people these last, but antelope on the plains, and deer and elk in the mountains are rare, and rarer still when a brown, black, or silver tipped bear, or a mountain lion -- even a lynx or wild cat, ventures down from the peaks.

Hayden's Survey printed in 1874 a synopsis of the "Flora of Colorado," by T. C. Porter and John W. Coulter. The latter in 1885 issued a manual of the botany of the Rocky Mountain region. From the earliest lilac anemone to the late gentian, the " procession of flowers in Colorado" has been painted in glowing word pictures by a writer whose home was in El Paso County, but whose fame is worldwide. The artist, Alice Stewart Hill of Colorado Springs, was the first to make a complete series of water color sketches of the Colorado flowers.

The mesas of El Paso are dotted with a plant of historic interest, the bristling yucca, commonly known as the "soap weed," or Spanish bayonet. Aside from the beauty of its stately cream white blossoms, it furnishes an excellent soap, and its fibre, resembling hemp, can be manufactured into paper. The Pueblo Lidians were used to register dates by knots in the yucca. The aboriginal race of Colorado employed it for rope, sandals and cloth. The yucca is supposed to be the " Fusang" of the ancient Chinese books, which tell the legend of the "Empire of the Fusang" far to the westward.

The indigenous trees of El Paso are the yellow pine, foxtail pine, pinon, Englemann's or white spruce, Douglas spruce, blue or silver spruce, white fir, balsam, red cedar, junipers, dwarf maple, scrub oak, willow, diamond willow, sandbar willow, wild plum, Chickasaw plum, wild red cherry, thorn, black birch, speckled alder, cottonwood, white Cottonwood, narrow-leaved cottonwood, and aspens. In Ute Pass, the red-hearted and white-hearted cedar, the oriental and the occidental, found respectively on the Atlantic and Pacific slopes, here meet and are seen growing side by side. The grasses which feed the stock include buffalo grass, bunch grass, sand grass and gramma grass.

Said Professor Hayden: "Around Colorado Springs is a tract of ten miles square, containing more materials of geological interest than any other area of equal extent in the West." This region is rich in fossils, particularly in saurian, baculites and insects. Here learned professors may chase extinct lepidoptera, hymenoptera, as boys do butterflies. The rampart or front range of the Rocky Mountains extends north and south through the center of the county with a gradual slope toward the eastern boundary. The mountains are of metamorphic granite formation, with the exception of Mount Pisgah and Rhyolite Peak in the southwestern corner, which are eruptive rocks of rhyolite.

In the northeast we find the tertiary formation and from the center to its eastern boundary, according to Hayden's survey, extensive beds of Laramie shales or coal formation, and to the south of these beds is a Colorado cretaceous area, triangular in shape, the upper angle including Colorado City and Colorado Springs. In the southern part is a small Silurian area, red beds, of the jura-triassic and the Dakota groups of the cretaceous. By far the most interesting geological formations are found about Pike's Peak. Here from the cretaceous we come to the jura-triassic. Then the upper and lower carboniferous, and an area of about nine square miles of the silurian. Manitou is situated upon these last three formations. The quaternary cenozoic is seen in Lake Moraine, and Seven Lakes. Thermal springs are found at Manitou. At Florissant we see the tertiary formation. Seven of the sixteen known fossil butterflies have come from Florissant.

Remarkable specimens of smoked quartz are found in Crystal Park, Cameron's Cone, and on Crystal Peak on the Divide. In an opal bed at Austin's Bluffs several opals large as beans have been taken out. There is another opal bed near Florissant. In the Bijou Basin are beautiful specimens of wood jasper, and opalized and agatized woods. A "petrified forest" exists near Florissant, -- sequoia trees turned in the tertiary to stone. In a sunny morning of the bygone world nature took some photographs, prepared her negatives, and then forgot about them. Near the " Petrified Stumps" they are stowed away in thin, laminated plates. They can be drawn out from the crumbling shale, marked with some odd leaf, never more to dance with its fellows in the morning breeze, or a bug, fly, or fish, with bony frontlet and fan-shaped fins.

About fifteen miles from Falcon are curious colored shales of the uppermost Laramie formation, known as the "Paint Rocks," or "Pink Rocks," -- iceberg-like pinnacles of rose, gray or salmon, fringed with stalactitic points, rising from a depressed area of white sand to the smooth green level of the prairie. These have been worked for mineral paint.

Near Colorado City are found large gypsum beds, and quarries of red and gray sandstone. Also beds of green and gray magnesian limestone, and lithographic stone is found at .Manitou. The stones (semi precious and precious) found in El Paso are chalcedony, topaz, chrysolite, garnet, Amazon stone, fluorite, phenacite, sardonyx.

Columbite is found near Pike's Peak. There have been discovered on Cheyenne Mountain the minerals astrophyl Ute, arfvedsonite, bastnasite, tysonite, thomsenolite, and cryolite, which have never before been found save in limited areas in Norway, Sweden and Greenland.

Franceville and McFerran are mines of lignite coal, which are extensively worked, and much of this coal is consumed in the county. Their limitations are undefined, but it has been stated by experts that they extend from the southern part of the county northward for some sixty miles. These beds were discovered by Matt France, from six to fourteen feet below the surface. Hayden's last survey reported over one-third of El Paso as a coal area. Such are manifestations of the varied development of the region, from laurentian granite in Ute Pass, to glacial boulders on the Fontaine's banks.