Updated: June 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm
Vibrant red sandstone soaring over numerous walking, hiking and biking paths, a living-history museum and a picture-perfect cropping of Pikes Peak are a few of many descriptors that set apart the more than 1,300-acre regional park.
And now it's up to the public to set apart the park for others.
Garden of the Gods Park has been nominated to be VirtualTourist.com's "8th Wonder of the World," the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau announced this week.
"I think it deserves the eighth," Bob Nicholas said. He and his wife Chris, both retired, stopped at the park while road tripping from their home in Waxhaw, N.C., just south of Charlotte. "Put it in the top four."
Garden of the Gods joined nearly a dozen other in-state attractions on the list of nominees, including Glenwood Hot Springs, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Rocky Mountain National Park, among others.
"We can leverage our beauty and assets and don't have to pay for that coverage," said Chelsy Murphy, director of communications with the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau, which nominated the park.
"It's the city park. When most people come to the area, the experience that they have there - they think there would be a charge," Murphy added. "It truly is a natural wonder."
Jon and Kyra Roach, a couple traveling for a week from Lenexa, near Kansas City, stopped at the park with their two young children.
"It's pretty fantastic," said Kyra, holding the couple's 2-year-old son while their 4-year-old daughter tugged on the stroller. Garden of the Gods is kid-friendly, said Kyra, who was visiting the park for the first time.
"The fact that it's free, really, opens it up a lot more to people," said Jon, who's been to the park about seven times.
VirtualTourist.com, a travel research website and part of TripAdvisor Media Group, opened the nomination process for attractions around the world to be considered for eighth wonder honors. The site boasts 1.3 million members, according to its website.
"The opportunity originally came through us at the state level," said Carly Holbrook, a public relations representative with the Colorado Tourism Office. Holbrook said that the state office notified industry partners that had top offerings across the state.
The winning attraction will be featured on a national broadcast of the TV program Extra, Holbrook said, and receive a "massive" media relations campaign boost from VirtualTourist.
U.S. nominees for the 8th Wonder of the World include Mount Rushmore, Space Shuttle Atlantis at Cape Canaveral, The Everglades in Florida, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Yellowstone National Park and the “World’s Littlest Skyscraper” in Wichita Falls, Texas, among others.
Nominees were chosen by tourism boards, chambers of commerce and visitor bureaus. Members of the public can vote once every day until Sept. 30 by visiting virtualtourist.com/8thwonder.
The state tourism office doesn't know what the impacts might be if any of the dozen Colorado locations is chosen, Holbrook said, but the sheer number of nominations on the travel website is sure to generate web traffic.
"It's a good promotional effort, but as far as people in the United States, I think that just about everybody knows about Garden of the Gods," said Charlie Hurd of Minnesota while he and Susan Pheney examined a park map. The two stayed in Manitou Springs the night before and took the scenic drive to the park the next morning.
"Anybody that goes to Colorado, pretty much, puts it on their list," Hurd said, remembering when his mother brought home slides 30 years before from her trip to the park.
A former councilman in his home town of Mankato, Minn., Hurd, now retired, looked at climbers on the rocks and said he appreciated the fact that Garden of the Gods is a multi-use park.
"We're bikers, so it was really nice to see the dedicated bike lane," Hurd added, noting the number of people walking and running. "It's a real gem for those living in the area.
"I don't know about the eighth wonder of the world - there's a lot of competition," Hurd said. "It's beautiful, it's just much smaller scale," Pheney, from Florida, pitched in, mentioning national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion that might deserve the honor instead.
Jordan Nahabetian and Savannah Woods, 16-year-old juniors at Sand Creek High School, spent the morning walking Woods' year and half-old dogs, brothers Mato and Saba, both a Border Collie and Australian Shepherd mix.
The two Colorado Springs natives described the park as "pretty" and "really relaxing."
"The sound of nature is really prominent," Nahabetian said. "It's pretty much just you and the trees," Woods chipped in.
On the possibility of the site being a Wonder of the World: "It would bring in a lot of tourists," Woods said, adding that people would come for the wonder and stay for other attractions and also shop at local businesses.
Garden of the Gods has been recognized as an embellishment of Colorado Springs since 1859, when two surveyors from Denver City came across an area with sandstorm formations that they deemed fitting "for the Gods to assemble," according to the city's website. It has been labeled Garden of the Gods ever since.
In 2011, Garden of the Gods was runner-up for TripAdvisor's "Free Unheralded Attraction in the U.S" list. The park is one of nearly 300 worldwide attractions nominated for the "8th Wonder of the World" title.
Seven wonders of the world
1. The Great Pyramid at Giza (Cairo, Egypt)
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Al-Hillah, Iraq)
3. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Selcuk, Turkey)
4. Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Olympia, Greece)
5. Tomb of Maussollos at Halicarnassus (Southwestern Turkey)
6. Colossus at Rhodes (Rhodes, Greece)
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria (Pharos Island, Alexandria, Egypt)
Source: The Travel Channel