Just 16 miles west of Denver in Morrison, Colorado, at an elevation of 6,450 feet, you’ll find the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world. The geological phenomenon that is Red Rocks Parks and Amphitheatre has hosted decades of music legends — from the Beatles and Jimi Hendricks to the Grateful Dead and U2.
The park extends across 738 acres where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains, and was once listed among the Seven Wonders of the World. It officially opened June 15, 1941, but the first performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre dates back to May 1911, when acclaimed opera singer Mary Garden performed “Ave Maria” and later prophetically wrote of the venue, “I predict that someday, 20,000 people will assemble there to listen to the world’s greatest masterpieces.”
My son, Ben, saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers there in May. Concert-goers filled all 9,525 available seats both nights Petty was in town. Ben says he’ll never again experience a concert quite like it. “It was one of the best audio-visual experiences I’ve ever had,” he told me.
I had a chance to visit this park two month’s prior to my son’s visit, while in town for my daughter’s volleyball tournament. My husband and I, along with several other volleyball parents, walked to the top and gazed upon the stage and its magnificent, mountainous backdrop.
Red Rocks’ Geological History
Around 200 million years ago, moving platelets in the earth began pushing up twin 300-foot sandstone ledges from the prehistoric ocean floor that, today, provide acoustic perfection during performances at the park. This movement created an alluvial fan that preserved dinosaur tracks and fossil fragments representing different stages of the Jurassic period. Geologists and archeologists have studied these areas to uncover important timelines for and proof of the existence of giant sea serpents, flying reptiles and other primitive creatures.
Ship Rock and Creation Rock, the names of the two monoliths, tower dramatically over both sides of the stadium, blending layers of sandstone in rich reds, oranges and browns created by iron oxide. Both formations are taller than Niagara Falls and nearly as tall as Big Ben.
Creating a Landmark
During the early 1900s, George Cranmer, manager of Denver Parks at the time, convinced the City of Denver to purchase what is now Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre for $54,133 from John Brisben Walker, who had produced numerous concerts on a temporary platform there between 1906 and 1910. Cranmer then persuaded Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton to build onto what was already there by enlisting the help of the federal Civilian Conservation Corps and the Work Projects Administration for labor and materials.
Denver architect Burnham Hoyt modeled the amphitheater after the Theatre of Dionysus at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, and completed plans for it in 1936. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre was dedicated on June 15, 1941, though construction took more than 12 years. The park was named a National Historic Landmark in 2015.
Rocks at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre tilt in different directions and angles — some as much as 90 degrees. These angles prove challenging for fitness enthusiasts who visit the park regularly to run up and down the stadium, do pushups or participate in yoga classes. There’s even a Fitness on the Rocks festival in July offering POP Pilates, BODYCOMBAT, Zumba, Camp Gladiator Bootcamp, a tug of war, a water balloon fight and more — plus free beer all day long.
No trip to Denver is complete without a visit to this magnificent natural phenomenon. Of course, you can also make it the focal point of your visit to Denver, like my son did, by attending one of the many legendary acts scheduled to perform there.
Fun Facts About Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
- Red Rocks was discovered in an Army expedition led by Stephen Long in 1820.
- Widespread Panic holds the title for most shows at Red Rocks.
- Red Rocks is considered sacred by 32 American Indian tribes.
- In 1909, a cable railway was completed that could carry 100 visitors to the top of Mount Morrison, but it was discontinued 20 years later.
- The highest seat at Red Rocks has an elevation of 6,435 feet.
- Red Rocks Park was initially called the Garden of the Angels, given that nickname by Jefferson County Judge Martin Van Buren Luther on July 4, 1870.
- U2’s 1983 concert film “Under A Blood Red Sky” was a turning point for both the band and the venue, launching both into international acclaim.
“100 years of historic shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre” by The Denver Post
“75 Facts about Red Rocks” by The Denver Post
Friends of Red Rocks