January 5, 2006
PALMER LAKE - Members of Maj. Stephen Long’s 1820 expedition described Palmer Lake’s Elephant Rock as a “grotesque” geologic formation, a description to which Pat Sheridan takes exception.
“It’s not grotesque. It’s stylish,” said Sheridan, who owns the property on which the elephant’s rocky head rests. Elephant Rock is a 70-foothigh, several hundred-feet-wide sandstone formation north of Colorado Highway 105 between Monument and Palmer Lake. The stony elephant faces southeast, appearing to look over the valley beneath it toward Monument. It has a distinct bumpy, round head, pits created by longfallen rocks that resemble eyes and triangular jutting sections of sandstone that form small ears. A wide arch divides the space between its trunk and head. No one knows who gave it its name, but historic photographs and documents indicate it was christened Elephant Rock in the late 1890s. Before then, it was called Castle Rock, Arched Rock, Wing of the Devil’s Kitchen and Phoebe’s Arch, after a small bird that nested in the rock’s many pockets. In the late 1800s, when Palmer Lake sprang to life as a resort, tourists took day trips to the town by train and walked the 1½ miles to Elephant Rock to picnic in its shadow. The massive rock inspired the names of the annual Elephant Rock Ride, a bicycling event that starts in Castle Rock and typically brings riders through Palmer Lake, and the Elephant Rock Texas Hold ’Em Poker Club. The club made headlines last year when several of its members were cited for illegal gambling in a raid on a Palmer Lake restaurant. Elephant Rock has a place in history, and in the hearts of Tri-Lakes area residents. The rock compelled Palmer Lake Town Board Member Chuck Cornell, whose home is within view of Elephant Rock, to move to the town. “We were looking for places, and when we went into Palmer Lake, we knew this was it right away,” said Cornell, who moved to the area from Washington 10 years ago. “Elephant Rock was one of the reasons.” Although Cornell and the Sheridans have unobstructed views of the formation, few others do. Trees have obscured it from points along Colorado 105 and the Santa Fe Trail. The Sheridans, who married beneath the arch in July 2003, say they want the rock to be seen. They allow people to hike up to it if they call and ask permission. They’ve placed benches along the path and underneath the arch that invite visitors to enjoy the view. The Sheridans plan this summer to begin leasing the area at the trunk’s base for weddings and private functions and will build a 3,000-square-foot addition on their small cabin to house small wedding parties. Pat Sheridan bought the house and the land with the rock eight years ago. The 1,300-square-foot dwelling needed to be remodeled, but that didn’t give him pause. “I bought the elephant, and the house came with it,” he said. “I’d live in a tent in the driveway just to live here.” Nikki, too, waxes poetic about Elephant Rock. “The first time I ever saw that rock, to me it said something beyond human hands actually sculpted it,” said Nikki, an artist who has painted the rock several times. “I see it as a work of art. I think it should be preserved and admired as art.” Catherine McGuire, who owns the land between the highway and the rock, said she’s reluctant to cut the trees blocking the view. “People have been mentioning it to me since the ‘80s,” she said. “I’m not saying never, but those are like 400-year-old Douglas fir, and I really don’t want to cut them down.” Like the Sheridans, McGuire has strong feelings about the rock. “I love Elephant Rock,” said McGuire, who placed the 240 acres she owns near the rock in a conservation easement. “I’m kind of protective of it.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4817 or firstname.lastname@example.org