The Rockies: Hanging Lake and Mike the Headless Chicken Festival

Today I headed out to Fruita, Colorado, around 18 miles from Colorado’s western border. Fruita is well known for its mountain biking trails, but I planned to visit for a different event, Mike the Headless Chicken Festival! I’ll get to the history of Mike later, but first I thought I would break up the four hour drive with a hike to hanging lake.

Hanging Lake may be one of the most popular hikes in Colorado. Everyone I’ve ever heard speak of it has found it beautiful. In the same breath, everyone tends to add, “but it is a long drive for only a two mile roundtrip jaunt. Find something else to do.” So, stopping on the way to Fruita fit into my plan perfectly. I even chose a Friday as to avoid some of the crowds.

I arrived around 10 am to find the parking lot 3/4 full…WOW! Then I was sorely disappointed when I found myself walking on a sidewalk wide enough for a motor vehicle. How could all my friends think this is so great, I thought to myself? With all the hikes available in Colorado, they like a commercialized spot with a sidewalk? It just didn’t seem right.

Much to my relief, after a quarter mile on the sidewalk system, I found a sign off to the left pointing the way to hanging lake. The dirt trail immediately ascended up the canyon beneath a canopy of trees! This path was much different from the flat, smooth sidewalk. Much of the mile long trail was narrow and steep. As I lunged up the chiseled rock steps, all I could think was tall men must have made this trail as the steps weren’t easily suited for women or short people.

By the same token, I’m glad there were some tall, strong men to build the trail as walking on a trail beats the alternative of scrambling over boulders and wading through the creek! When I reached the third bridge, a man who was resting after finishing the climb, claimed there were seven. I didn’t even notice I had crossed two bridges already. I must have been busy admiring the crystal clear water undulating down the creek bed. Or perhaps I was distracted by the towering canyon walls on either side of me. The rocks that looked like ocean bed fossils were quite cool too!

For as many cars that were parked in the lot, I was surprised to feel like I didn’t encounter that many people on the one mile trail. I came to a slight bottle neck just before reaching the lake as this portion was very steep. It reminded me of scrambling up the last bit of a 14er, though the scramble included stationary rocks and a handrail and only lasted a few seconds! It felt like the site was built for a tourist. The rock ledges and nearby tree were polished smooth with each passerby’s handprint. Upon completing my lunges and squats to reach the top (I’m glad I missed my gym class yesterday), I crossed a boardwalk built by Boy Scouts that led me to the lake.

The boardwalk was built to protect fragile plant life, and it provided a lovely platform to view that waterfalls that flowed into the 1.5 acre lake formed by a geological fault. The lakebed fell away from the valley floor above, and its edge is built by dissolved minerals deposited by the water. While the aqua waters were not only beautiful, but also clear enough to spot fish swimming below, what I found surprisingly cool was “spouting rock”.

I passed by the sign and path pointing up to “spouting rock” on the way to the lake because I wanted to see the lake first, and I’m glad I did. The stairs led to stepping stones through the creek to the cliff side where where spouted directly out of the rock. I counted four or five spouts (including the falls coming over the top) while standing on the left hand-side. Then I walked behind the falls and to the other side. It was a pretty amateur move on my part to forget to pack my rain jacket in my backpack. I could have used it. Both my camera and I got a good soaking, but it was worth it. From the right-hand side, I counted six or seven spouts! I loved it!!

Colorado has had a snowy winter and lots of rain the last week, so I’m guessing I arrived at a good time for strong flow. I don’t know if there is always this much water gushing out of the rock or not. From the right side, I ducked under some rocks and walked toward the lake and admired it from the falls above. It was so nice to be able to see this National Landmark from so many angles, except from in the lake. No swimming allowed…though it would have been too cold for me anyway.

I turned back the way I came and somehow passed several folks on the way down. This is a rarity! Usually, I’m a slow downhiller. I was hungry, however, and I could see the clouds rolling in from the West. I suppose I was the only one that didn’t want to get caught in the rain storm given people were walking up as the sprinkles hit just before I reached the parking lot.

From hanging lake I continued on to Fruita where I found my campsite and James M Robb Colorado River State Park (Fruita Section). The park is located just off 340 and a stones throw away from downtown Fruita and its famous festival. I can’t claim that I got the best site, as there was no privacy next to the bathrooms and the public congregation area, but it was the only reservable site available a month ago. All the other areas were BLM land available on a first come, first serve basis, and from what I heard later in my trip, they were snapped up by lunch today. Having said that, the campgrounds were nice, and I saw baby geese!

IMG_4157 geese

The festival featured a variety of events Friday evening and all day Saturday including a 5k, a disc golf game, and a car show. The theme of the festival was Mike gets Country-fied, so country bands headlined. I hung out at the festival early Friday evening so I was treated to Michael Alridge. He was quite good. I browsed the shops, ate some funnel cake, and listened to music while watching people trying to ride the mechanical bull. It had to be one of the funniest events I have ever seen. Kids and adults clutched a plastic handle that looked like a limp dildo, and proceeded to slide off the bull turning in slow motion in seconds. If anyone managed to hang on for an entire circle around, the operator sped the bull up to a snail’s pace where most everyone fell off within 15 seconds. The girls did better than the guys as they tended to hold on with their legs more than their upper body. One little boy was on his third spin when he started shrieking because he was about to fall off. Thankfully the obese man in a Texas Rangers T-shirt and plumbers pants fell off before his crack made a second appearance! If I didn’t have my hands full of junk, I totally would have tried it. That had to be one slick saddle, as I’ve never seen a bull move that slowly and dump everyone. I must say it was definitely the best entertainment of the backyard kids games which also included washers, cornhole, ladders, and roping a hay bail steer. Not only was it fun to watch, there was a line to ride, so the participants enjoyed themselves too!

It was a great day in Fruita. While I loved the festival, I plan on a hike tomorrow. Oh, and about Mike, the headless chicken, here is a link to his history… He actually lived for 18 months without a head in 1945 and 1946, went on a nationwide tour and earned recognition in Life and Time Magazines! ETB


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photographic note card, cowboy boots on fence
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