The Rockies: Eagle Rock, Johnson’s Gulch, The Bear’s Cave and Staunton State Park

Chas, Ellen and I enjoyed leisurely morning at Estabrook while we waited for Tanya to arrive. We set out on our hike around 11 or later. We had a 7 miler planned, so we were pushing our luck with the ongoing afternoon thunderstorms, but we expected to be off the highest points early and in the cover of boulders within two hours.

We passed by the barn, blacksmith shop, ice house, and milking shed before we reached the children’s hole, where the kids learned to fish. After passing through the pines and crossing the log bridges, we climbed the logging road to Eagle Rock to enjoy the view of the houses 300 feet below in the valley.

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We backtracked just slightly to follow another logging road through a meadow of purple, yellow, white, and red wildflowers. Soon we passed through an aspen grove and just as we entered a lodge pole pine forest, a hawk swooped by with a squirrel clutched in its talons.

We followed the lightly defined logging road wending through the forest for another mile before we left the trail to enjoy a magnificent overlook at Johnson’s Gulch. Ridges of mountains afar surrounded the bright green meadow. We took a short rest on the lichen covered boulders as an ominous storm approached. With a view of dark clouds and the booms of rolling thunder, we chose to only have a snack versus enjoy our full lunch.

We continued on following the road all the way down to the valley we were just admiring. We had completed about half the loop and were now walking with a quickened pace directly toward the dark sky as the meadow didn’t offer any cover. Aside from a short stop at the pond to see the muskrats that seemed to be hiding we continued a mile in a light rain to the cover of the trees and rock overhangs by Craig Creek.

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We were now to my favorite part of the hike along the water. We slid down some wet boulders, climbed through rock crevice on the hanging bridge and eventually made it to the Bear’s Cave where we enjoyed the rest of our lunch…PB&J, goldfish, apples, and cookies. With the rain subsiding, we ate at a leisurely pace. We also walked at a leisurely pace for the next mile home.

We checked out all the mushrooms. I’ve never seen so many kinds…Red capped, white, red capped with white speckles, brown capped, fat, thin, rounded, little, tall, gilled, ruffled and more. They were everywhere, and it seemed like the two days prior when I took this hike half of them weren’t there. Chas, being a fisherman, also stopped to look at all the pools along the creek. With all the rain and snow melt, the creek has been a good level to fish.

As soon as we arrived at the house, we took the car to the Platte as Chas wanted to fish a couple of holes. The rain had returned, so a nice drizzle was going, but it was fine for us girls. Tanya had brought some cheese and crackers, so we cracked open the beer Chas had brewed and enjoyed Happy Hour in the car!

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Since we were already out, we drove up to the mountain behind the house in hopes to spot some wildlife, but the animals were probably smarter than us and were hiding in the rain. Luckily upon return, the rain let up in time to grill lamb and veggies from my garden for dinner which was delicious!

The next morning we had to bid farewell to Chas, but the girls helped me close up the house, and we decided to visit Staunton State Park. Located just off 285 between Conifer and Denver, the park is only a year old. We didn’t arrive until noon, so we had hoped to complete a six mile hike or so. Interestingly, the way the trails are designed, there is a 2.15 mile option or relatively long options, so we picked around 8 miles. It seems like it may cater to mountain bikers, though we only saw two on the trail today.

Just as we began, we greeted about 4 or so hikers and beyond that, we had the trail to ourselves. I’m not surprised. The sky was overcast and dark in places. It sprinkled on our way over, and of course we were starting our hike when most people try to get off the mountain. Little did we know in Denver there were flash floods all day!

Aside from about 20 minutes of a drizzle strong enough to force us to pull out the rain coats, we enjoyed a cool hike along a variety of trails. We started out on the nicely groomed Staunton Ranch Trail with views of the towering Staunton Rocks that climbers scale. From Staunton Ranch Trail we took the hikers only Old Mill Trail to the Old Mill Site. Most of the Old Mill Site consisted of a collapsed building, though remnants of a few old vehicles, and another building stood nearby. From the mill, we followed Border Line Trail to the Staunton Rocks Overlook. By now we had gained about 1,000 feet over four miles, though most of the elevation changed was in the last 1.5 miles.

The view of the ongoing mountain ridges was lovely, and we chose to share this location with the chipmunks and ground squirrels for lunch. From the overlook we descended another 1.5 miles down Boulder Line Trail and completed 2.8 miles of the Staunton Ranch Trial back to the parking lot. The hike was a perfect way to end my week at Estabrook, and the week was a good precursor to my first 14er of the season…coming soon, Mt. Elbert. ETB


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