Heller Center

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The Heller Center at Eagle Rock, Colorado Springs, Colorado is a nature preserve bequeathed to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs to support local arts and humanities education.


Eagle Rock’s rock-pillar crown rises as a steep backdrop behind the Heller Ranch. The Golden Eagle, along with the hawks, circles upon thermal lifts where sunshine warms the southerly rock faces. The Heller’s spread is being restored in establishing the Heller Center for the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.


From the 1930s Dottie and Lawrence Heller homesteaded a 34-acre (140,000 m2) land parcel in the pinion-pine grasslands at Austin Bluffs, settling directly below Eagle Rock’s rocky outcrop. The young couple humbly named their place "Yawn Valley," in contrast to the fantastic rock palisades that rim the basin. The Hellers entertained Larry’s fellow artists from the Broadmoor Art Academy at garden parties held under the watch of the hoodoos of Eagle Rock. Urban development has claimed much of the mesa formation near Eagle Rock since the Hellers’ time. Nowadays rooftops from big houses built in the University Park subdivision peer down upon the Heller Ranch from Austin Bluffs.

At the end of a 60-year residency, the Hellers bequeathed their ranchland with the architecture and art collection to the University, for use as a nature preserve to support local arts and humanities education. Geography field study classes are held at the Heller Ranch in its Eagle Rock setting. Students engage in birdsong-listening, wildflower identification, and dendro-chronological investigations. Eagle Rock offers data about the region’s geological events.

Form and setting[edit]

Sandstone palisades of hoodoo ribs erupt into stacked terraces, up to six-layers high, intermittently situated across the northern wall commanded by Eagle Rock and the neighboring Pulpit Rock. With its high white stone columns easily visible from cars travelling on Highway I-25, archeologists[who?] tell us that Pulpit Rock attracted an encampment of nature-loving hippies in the 1960s. In a wedding-cake array, Eagle Rock’s three steep stone terraces step down the hillside. Each grey stone terrace maintains its hold against weathering erosion, where strengthened by a top stratum composed of a more resistant sedimented rock in a streak of golden-reddish tint. Chunks of broken rock pillars, the debris from downslope falls, salt the ground.


Eagle Rock participates in the Austin Bluffs area’s soil type of the "Travessilla-Rock outcrop complex," as mapped at the scale of 1:24,000-ft., (ref. USDA, 1974.) To understand the area’s soil characteristics in more detail, we may consider a field-study lecture on site at the Heller Ranch, where Prof. Thomas P. Huber explained the geomorphological origins of Eagle Rock. The Eagle Rock cliff resulted from several long cycles of mountain-building (termed "orogenies,") followed by erosion. Heat and pressure energies that had thrust up the mountains produced igneous rock, such as the Pikes Peak pink granite, which eventually degraded. Natural forces dispersed and deposited particles of the rock debris. Over time, the sediment collected and consolidated into new sandstone at the Garden of the Gods, producing a geologic layer known as the Dakota Formation. The Dakota sedimented sandstone later came to be inundated by the waters of a shallow inland sea. From some 66 to 70 million years ago and episodically continuing for millions of years, uplift from the Laramide Orogeny exposed the old sandstone seabed, by tilting up to 90-degree angles the steep red megaliths which we now see in the Garden of the Gods (Huber, 1998, pp. 7 and 130.) Portions of the Dakota Formation again cycled into episodes of erosion, allowing a detritus of coarse-grained sedimentary sand to be displaced some three miles (5 km) eastwards, to land at the site which we now know as Austin Bluffs. The feldspar-rich sedimented particles of "arkose" sand consolidated into new sandstone, i.e. the Dawson Formation, which shows Eagle Rock’s characteristic color, ranging from grey to reddish. At Eagle Rock, the sandstone cliff we see today has survived further erosion for a longer time, than the less-resistant background soils could have withstood. Eagle Rock lies exposed to view, as a weather-sculpted geological form (Huber, pp. 6 and 55.)

View to Heller Center from Eagle Rock[edit]

The view straight down from the chink in the hoodoo wall at Eagle Rock looks onto the Heller’s garden paradise to see the ranch house, guest house, and art gallery. The buildings nestle among lilacs, a domestic flowering shrub favored by the founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer. Wild prairie, with some invasive vegetation like the classically pyramidal juniper tree, extends past the Hellers’ architectural landscape. Our gaze sweeps further southwards over sculpture gardens set onto the front lawns of an old art colony which appeared along Stanton Road when the Eagle Rock suburban neighborhood was first developed. Since the university was established in 1965 at the old Cragmor Sanatorium on the Bluffs’ southern slope, campus development continues to edge around toward Eagle Rock’s precincts. Far to the south, blips of skyscrapers signal the downtown at Colorado Springs. The strong edge of the Rocky Mountains Front Range delineates the western horizon. Sparkling white snow caps the 14,115 ft (4,302 m).-high cone of Pikes Peak, except in mid-summer. Below, our view skims the thin fin-walls of the red Gateway Rocks and grey Cathedral Rock, up-turned slabs of ancient seabed at the Garden of the Gods. The jagged skyline drops past the hollowed-out Cheyenne Mountain, where a pink granite cavern pulled back by rock anchors houses the North American Aerospace Defense Command's Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The view to the east from Eagle Rock cannot lift beyond the basin’s rim to see the Great Plains, where the antelope used to play before they got crowded-out by urban growth’s housing subdivisions and commercialized arterial streets.[citation needed]

Access to Eagle Rock[edit]

Eagle Rock can be climbed by bushwhacking directly up the hill from the Heller Ranch, carefully avoiding spines from prickly-pear or tiny barrel cactus. Alternatively, there is a scenic drive from Union Boulevard and the Rockhurst Boulevard neighborhood to find the Pulpit Rock Open Space trailhead at Butler Court. Starting out on the official hiking trail, there is an informal spur that runs down the southerly ridge, to find Eagle Rock with its splendid long-range views.


  • Huber, Thomas P. (1998) "Colorado: The Place of Nature, the Nature of Place" University Press of Colorado, Niwat, Colorado.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, (surveyed 1974,) "Soil Survey of El Paso County Area, Colorado."
  • U. S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, F. V. Hayden in Charge (1877) "Panoramic Views – the Pikes Peak Group from Bluff East of Monument Creek" at the scale of 4 miles (6.4 km) to one-inch, in "Atlas of Colorado and Portions of Adjacent Territory." Washington D.C. Electronic image from the collection of the Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado. Item. 1965:10003:A19. < http://swcenter.fortlewis.edu/images/C004/C00419.htm> Accessed 2007 Oct. 4. Note copyright which allows use for private scholarship and by university presses engaging in non-commercial publication.