A Day at Devil’s Backbone

I took the nicest hike with Ellie today.  I take care of her Mondays-Thursdays, so she sort feels like mine.  She loves humans, but isn’t quite as fond of other dogs.  Ellie is a Plott Hound, a breed of which I have never heard.  She is an extremely well behaved dog.

Unfortunately, my friends couldn’t join me this week.  They were headed out of town, have friends in town, renovating their house, and training a new puppy.  But it was good, because it gave me a chance to play around with my DSLR.  I haven’t used my good camera for over six months, as I don’t want to slow people down on hikes, though I have recently been inspired to practice as a friend asked me if I would photograph their wedding in Montana!

I feel so flattered and nervous at the same time.  I’ve never shot a wedding, nor do I spend too much time with people as my subjects.  Nature is my bread and butter.  Anyway, I’m very excited about it.

On to the hike…today I decided to visit Devil’s Backbone Open Space.  It is located near Loveland, just south of Fort Collins.  We don’t generally travel north for hiking unless we head a little west as well toward Rocky Mountain National Park.  I definitely was not familiar with the area.  The forecast called for a windy day.  As such, Ellie and I waited until 9am to drive the hour north to give the air temperature a chance to warm up.

Upon arrival at the open space, I studied the posted map.  There were a variety of trails that connected to one another.  I opted for a combination of three loops, Wild Loop, Hunter Loop, and Laughing Horse Loop.  The total mileage added up to 4.9 miles.

We started out on the red, sandstone path on the interpretive Wild Loop Trail.  Generally I’m not that fond of interpretive trails because they feel commercialized, but this trail felt different.  The uneven, rocky path along with a simple numbered posts and brochures available at the trailhead were very well done by Larimer County Open Lands Program.

The Devil’s Backbone is composed of gray-brown to tan Dakota Sandstones of the Lytle Formation which is between 100-115 years old.  It is home to a variety of nesting birds, including red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, swallows, a pair of ravens, and a great horned owl.  Apparently, it is rare to find a pair of nesting ravens in this area.  Today, I saw hawks soaring in the cool breeze over the rock formation.

In fact, the cool breeze was most welcome.  It turned out to be very warm for a November day beneath clear, blue skies.  I made several water stops for Ellie, who seemed to always have her tongue swinging in the wind as she trotted along with me.

The rocks that create the Devil’s Backbone sure look like they would be fun to climb, though climbing isn’t allowed.  I was happy to find that the trail did lead us quite close to the keyhole so we could get a better look at the formation and the views to the west that include Long’s Peak, a 14er.  I can’ only imagine how pretty the view would have been if there was a bit more snow in the mountains, but as a non-skier, I’m not complaining about the unseasonably warm weather.The keyhole was formed by erosion of coarse-grained rocks that were weaker than the rocks around the hole.

From the key hole and rock formation, we continued on to Hunter Loop and then to Laughing Horse Loop over rolling prairie peppered with dormant bushes, golden praire grass, and cacti that had finished blooming.  I bet during the right season, the flowers and color along the trail would be lovely.  Since we were quietly strolling along the trail, we were blessed to spot a few deer!

I really enjoyed going at my own pace and testing out different settings on my camera. It has been a while since I hiked alone.  I think I did a substantially good job of wearing out Ellie as well.  It was quite a peaceful day!  ETB

websites: http://larimer.org/parks/bbone.cfm


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Beautiful Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop

Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail
Fees: None
Website: http://www.gohikeco.com/2012/03/beaver-brookchavez-loop-genesee-park.htmlElevation: 8,605-10,744 feet (below treeline)
Distance: 3.9 miles
Elevation: 6,552 to 7,641ft

Today Tanya and I went for a hike in Genessee Park. What I love most about Genessee Park is how close it is to Denver, yet all the views are of the mountains and none are of the City. I feel like I have driven a few hours into the mountains instead of 30 minutes.

We opted for a short hike this week and tried out the 3.9 mile Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop. I had read that the Chavez Trail was marked with braille signs for the blind, so I made the poor assumption that the path would relatively flat. It was not! I had brought along Toby, a beautiful Great Dane/Lab mix, and with his steady pull on the leash, I didn’t feel that safe climbing down the steep, rocky terrain, so I let him off the leash.

He went wild! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog go so bonkers on a trail. Generally, if they need to get some energy out, they run back and forth on the trail. Toby, however, ran in loops while going up and down the mountain (way off the trail). He leapt over fallen trees like a deer and splashed through the creek. Most of the time I could hear or see him, but sometimes I wondered if was coming back! Fortunately, there wasn’t in the parking lot on this chilly morning, so he had the freedom to run.

Speaking of chilly, when we driving up to the trail, my outside thermometer suggested it was 36 degrees outside. What?!? We didn’t gain that much altitude. Both of us were in denial thinking something was wrong with my car, but we didn’t even make it to the trailhead before we added layers, a hat, and gloves! It was our first cold morning of fall I think.

Our hike was absolutely lovely. We followed the path all the way down through the conifer forest to a quaint creek. We were happy to be hiking this trail at the end of the season as several places required creek crossings without a bridge. The water was low enough that we could walk across beaver dams and rocks without getting our feet wet.

Not long after we made it to the bottom of the canyon, we had to climb back up. This was good because I could finally put Toby on the leash (and get a little help ascending). It was warming up a bit, so we expected to see fellow hikers soon, and we did. We also saw a nice waterfall and enjoyed expansive views through the trees.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Beaver Brook/Chavez Trail Loop. For place to go near Denver, this hike might be one of the prettiest. I highly recommend it! ETB


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Beautiful Hike to Upper Cataract Lake

Surprise Trailhead
Fees: None
Website: http://www.protrails.com/trail/450/summit-county-eagle-county-clear-creek-county-upper-cataract-lake-and-cat-lake
Elevation: 8,605-10,744 feet (below treeline)
Distance: 10.9 miles
Hours: Any…Careful for hunting season

I had such a great weekend! On Saturday, I went up to Schussbaumer, a ski chalet in Breckenridge, for a work party. There was hardly any work to do, so I just got to enjoy a relaxing day in the mountains and got to catch up with my friend Cat. I love that its just a short roadtrip for me to enjoy the Rocky Mountains…no flying across the USA.

I stayed the night at the chalet, and met up with Cat the next morning. We started out with a great breakfast at Clint’s. We were good and got eggs, but the muffins and cinnamon rolls sure looked delicious!! It was probably better to load up on protein since we planned on a 10.9 mile hike to Upper Cataract Lake.

Uniquely, just a month ago, a few of my fellow hikers and I aimed to hike Lower Cataract Lake, but accidentally ended up on the Upper Cataract trail (Surprise Trailhead), but we were limited on time and weren’t able to get to any of the lakes on the route. The last time I hiked the trail, we stopped at the trail intersection at mile 2.7 for a 5.4 mile jaunt as we admired the colorful aspens. This time, we climbed up the steep trail peppered with aspen leaves as they had already fallen. Then we entered the conifer forest laden with fallen trees.

The sun was out and the sky was clear on this 65 degree day. We worked up a sweat as we tackled the sharp grade. At the trail intersection, we turned right and continued climbing, though the terrain began to level out. As we were walking along, it was about time for a bathroom break. We scanned to our left and were surprised to see a lake concealed by thick timber! The name of the lake was appropriate…Surprise Lake.

We didn’t expect to reach it so soon, nor did the landscape seem to suggest we’d stumble across a lake here. Lily covered, it was quite different than the alpine lakes we generally strive to reach. We stopped for a short while, but the sweat on our backs coupled with the cool breeze encouraged us to continue.

It wasn’t long before my stomach started to grumble. Of course, we wanted to reach a lake but we stopped for a snack. We originally thought Surprise Lake was just a random pond, so we thought we would be at another body of water within the hour. Not so. We kept going and going while crossing a few streams. We even descended over the ridge toward a talus field.

On this side of the ridge, the wind was relentless. We gave into the elements and stopped for our hat, gloves, and puffy jacket. We also decided on a snack because we weren’t certain when we’d see the lake. Then Cat pointed to the right as she looked through the trees below and questioned, “Wait, is that a lake?”

Sure enough, it was! We threw our packs on and headed down the trail as we admired Eagles Nest Peak lightly dusted in snow. Soon we turned the corner and enjoyed a remarkable view of Cat Lake. At the time, we thought this was Upper Cataract Lake, but when we reached another trail junction, the sign suggested otherwise.

We were pretty cold at this time and weren’t willing to hike much farther, so we figured we’d actually read the description of the trail that we had on our phones! We warmed up a bit at the trail junction as we stood in the sun with some protection from the wind. This new warmth coupled with the good news that Upper Cataract Lake was only a tenth of a mile up the trail rejuvenated our spirits.

First we found a small pond and then a large lake tucked beneath the towering mountains. As much as we would have liked to sit by the lake for lunch, the wind was brutal! We climbed over a small, rocky ridge to find shelter and enjoyed a lovely view while we soaked in the sun. It’s amazing how cold 65 can feel with 40 mile per hour winds!

On our way back, we opted not to explore Cat Lake though the shore sure looked beautiful. We climbed back up the trail past the talus field and soon descended to the other side where we began shedding layers and enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the parking lot. It was a great day and gorgeous hike. We were pleasantly surprised by all the lakes! I’d highly recommend this trail especially during the fall color change. ETB


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Meridian Trail, Kenosha Pass, Ben Tyler Trail, and Estabrook

What a great week I had with friends and fall colors! On Thursday, Belinda, Tanya, and I hiked the Meridian Trail. Normally, I wouldn’t find this trail too exciting as it is an out and back path that climbs to a saddle with little view, no lake, and not much of a stream to speak of (all things I prefer on a hike), but for the fall this hike was a treat.

The trail is lined in several golden aspen groves. Occasionally we were treated to some orangy red aspens too. When we weren’t enjoying the intermittent groves that we walked through, we were admiring views along the way of green hillsides peppered with yellow and red. It was a lovely six mile hike on a gorgeous day.

On Friday, Tanya and I visited Kenosha Pass, known for its fall beauty and it didn’t disappoint. The golden hillsides were simply spectacular! I’m not sure my words or pictures could do it justice. Golden leaves floated to the soft ground in the strong wind while we stayed bundled up in the cool temperatures.

Our view from lunch on the ridge was magnificent. We hiked far enough in (a few miles) that we got to enjoy the solitude. For a Friday, the pass was quite crowded with cars parked along 285. I’m glad we made it there before the weekend!

Saturday, Erin, Brian, Mario and I hiked the Ben Tyler Trail, also known for its fall colors. This is another trail I wouldn’t normally find too exciting as it starts immediately with switchbacks up the mountain next to highway noise. But then, it weaves it way back through several aspen groves with views of a nearby hillside blanketed in fall colors.

What made the 2,500 foot climb over four miles even better was the dusting of snow near 10,500 feet. The fallen leaves in the snow was an added bonus to the lovely views. We felt lucky to hike when we did, as the aspen were already succombing to the winter weather that blew in overnight.

The cold weather also made Estabrook a little nippy! We hung out by the fire and had an awesome night…tacos and margaritas! Our final hike of the week was to the Bear’s Cave. I do it just about every time I go to Estabrook. It’s such a serene place to me! I had so much fun with my friends! ETB


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Surprise Lake…Sort Of!

Tanya, Ann, and I set out to enjoy the fall colors today. We had some time restrictions, so we thought we would just take a short 2.25 mile hike to Lower Cataract Lake and then grab lunch somewhere in Silverthorne.

Lower Cataract Lake Trailhead and Surprise Lake Trailhead are both off the same dirt road and probably only 100 yards apart. Unfortunately, we weren’t sure of this at the time we arrived at Surprise Lake Trailhead that also leads to Upper Cataract Lake. Tanya’s book was more official than my directions so we ended up stopping slightly short of Lower Cataract Lake Trailhead. Usually, the lower and upper lakes with the same name are on the same trailhead which is what caused the confusion.

In the end, it didn’t matter, except we never made it to a lake because Surprise Lake was too far to hike with our time limitation. Our goal, however, was to see fall colors and we were rewarded with lovely yellows, reds, and greens along the path and on our drive out to the hike. In addition, we got some extra exercise…always a plus for the long drive from Denver. We logged 5.5 miles instead of 2.25 while making our destination a junction at two trails.

Lunch was quickly kicked out of the equation as we took a leisurely stroll through the aspen groves and pine forests. There was a bit of an incline as well, so the hike turned out to be a bit harder than we expected, but nothing too bad. The wind was cool, the air crisp, and the sun warm; so needless to say, we seemed to layer and unlayer regularly over the 3 hours on the trail.

I love the fall and am looking forward to more leaf peeping over the next week! ETB


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Lovely Fancy Pass Loop

Well, I have to say, hikes to alpine lakes in Colorado are just spectacular. This was my third hike in the last ten days to an alpine lake and each one has been awesome. Today David and I decided to tackle the Fancy Pass and Missouri Pass Loop. We left the house at 6:30am to make the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. It was a bit disconcerting when we ran into sprinkles before we even reached Bakersville. We hoped that once we made it over Vail Pass the weather would change to the forecast…cloudy, with a high of 67.

At first it seemed like the drive was a bit long and wished we stayed the night or weekend in or around Vail. But the beauty of this hike more than made up for the five hours of driving. In fact, the beauty started soon after we exited Highway 24. Neither of us had driven through Minturn which was a cute little town. And the 8.5 mile drive on Homestake Road #703, a dirt road that passed through meadows and several camping areas was lovely.

Eventually we reached Fancy Creek Trailhead. Several cars lined the road. We expected the trail to be busy, but we actually enjoyed a quiet beginning as we followed the path though the conifer forest. We gained about 500 feet in elevation the first mile and probably 800 feet the second mile as we climbed the switchbacks. The dirt path turned to a flat rocky terrain as the creek cascaded through a narrow gorge.

Soon we made it to Fancy Lake, though we were traveling at a somewhat slow pace. What a picturesque lake tucked beneath the granite crags. Utani, the dog we are caring for, David and I stopped for a quick snack by the placid water before it began sprinkling. The cool weather encouraged us to continue on to keep warm. Upon reaching the trail junction we turned left up the rocky pass. We gained 1,200 feet over the next mile while marmots and pikas chirped and scampered around their nearby homes. The rain picked up and by the time we reached 12,400 feet it turned to sleet.

Despite the wet weather and low clouds, the view of Cross Creek Valley dotted in wildflowers and lakes on the other side of Fancy Pass was incredible. We maneuvered down the wet rocks and followed the path nearest the closest lake, Treasure Vault and admired Blodgett Lake in the distance. Here, the trail turned up Missouri Lakes pass, far less steep than Fancy Pass. Remnants of mining equipment peppered the surrounding peaks.

The view from Missouri Pass didn’t disappoint. We passed by a small patch of snow before we headed down to the largest of the lakes surrounded by patches of trees where we snacked again as the rain and sleet stopped momentarily. We sat there until the thunder boomed. This was our sign to mosey.

We passed by several more lakes of all sizes. The Missouri Lakes basin was quite a treat. And it didn’t stop there. The path crossed the creek down the mountain. We stopped several times to admire the tumbling cascades. The rain started again toward the end of our hike, but amazingly for walking through the rain or sleet for probably 3-4 miles of the 8.1 mile hike, we weren’t that wet.

On our way home, we detoured to Red Cliff and stopped for dinner. It was surprisingly good. Then, we decided to take the ten mile drive over Shrine Pass back to I-70. The dirt road was watered down and the surrounding peaks were enveloped in fog. I suspect we may take a weekend trip out this way again sometime. There was so much to explore in this alluring part of the state. ETB


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Fantastic Forest Lakes!

Wow…we are two for two for picking good hikes on Thursdays recently. Last week, Mohawk Lakes was amazing, and this week Forest Lakes was a pleasure!

Diana, Tanya, and I made it to the trailhead of Forest Lakes shortly have 9:30am. For some reason it seemed like forever to get to the East Portal of Moffat Tunnel. We went through a short construction zone, drove behind a hay truck, and finally reached the long dirt road at Rollinsville which led to our destination.

It was slightly nippy in the parking lot, so we added a few layers before we started up the trail. The path took us through an aspen grove, past an old house, and across a creek at during the first minutes of our hike. In about a mile, we reached a junction where we could turn right to go to Forest Lakes or go straight to Crater Lakes.

After shedding a layer and indulging in a few wild raspberries, we took the right turn up the mountain. We gradually gained altitude as we criss-crossed log bridges over beautiful waterfalls. A few purple and yellows wildflowers dotted the green, lush forest. The mushrooms were profuse. We worked up a sweat as we continued climbing through the evergreens draped in moss on this humid day. We were surprised to reach the lower Forest Lake so quickly. I suppose we hiked 30 minute miles which is normal, but last week we took so many detours it took forever to reach the lake. This time, 1.5 hours later, we were enjoying the reflections of the mountain peaks in the placid waters, as a nearby fisherman cast his line in search of a hungry trout.

From the lower lake, we hiked another 0.75 miles to the upper lake. We were admiring the contrast of the green forest, blue sky, and gray boulders when we suddenly noticed the upper lake. It was so big, it was kind of funny we didn’t even see it at first, but now we know why they are called Forest Lakes. The lakes were really tucked in beneath the pines and camouflaged by the greenery.

After stopping for a few pictures, we climbed up on an awesome boulder with a lovely view of the lake for lunch. The only downside to our lunch spot was having to watch the only other hikers at the lake fly a drone over their friend who was fishing. I don’t know if they were trying to spot fish or to just capture the action, but the constant buzz was a bit disappointing. We had just discussed how tranquil it was on this hike. It was far less crowded than Mohawk Lakes…in fact we had most of the trail to ourselves.

Fortunately, they only made a few passes with the drone, but in the short time we snacked, the clouds rolled in and socked down. While it was amazing to watch the surrounding peaks disappear in minutes, we also knew we shouldn’t admire the change of weather for long. We were already chilled from the sweat on our backs, the overcast skies, and cool 50 degree temperatures. I found myself in a puffy jacked, wool hat and gloves as I finished up lunch!

Soon, a sprinkle started, which turned into a steady drizzle. The tree cover didn’t seem to keep us clear of the rain, but we stayed dry enough with our raingear. It’s funny because the only other times Tanya and I have ever hiked in this area, it was cold and damp too. We wondered if this location attracted more moisture. Despite the early rain, we enjoyed another great hike. ETB


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Soloed Segments 11-13 on the Colorado Trail

Day 1 – Segment 11 (Miles 0-2.1)

Tonight I started my first solo backpacking trip. I did a practice run with some of my new stuff and the help of David the prior weekend at Conundrum Hot Springs. I felt good about everything except for the possibility of getting lost and hanging my food bag in a tree and away from bears.

The trail is well marked in these sections, and it is also well traveled, so getting lost likely wouldn’t have been an issue, but it always feels better to know there are backups in place. David gave me a short lesson on his GPS, and I had the Colorado Trail app on my phone with a battery that required regular charging. I decided to purchase an Ursack to protect my food, so I was good to go, as I had already arranged a shuttle to the trailhead.


St. Mary’s Glacier

I finally made it to St. Mary’s Glacier! I’ve been wanting to do this hike for some time as I have heard such nice things about it. The hike, however, is short, so driving there and back actually takes longer than the actual activity, so I suppose that is one reason why I haven’t been. While the hike can be extended to James Peak, a 13,000 foot mountain, it becomes extremely long, so I just hadn’t made the time. Ideally, I think it would be nice for a leisurely morning and lunch in Idaho Springs.

I joined Scott and Belinda’s family who were visiting from the east coast on our short trek. The paid parking is easy to reach and has a decent amount of spots. From the lot, we walked up the road and found the trail on the left. I can’t say the beginning of the hike was that picturesque. We followed several other hikers up a wide, rocky path or road before it eventually turned into a single track.

It is only three-quarters of a mile to the lake that sits below the glacier. We stopped here briefly to watch a few people jump off the cliffs across the way. Then we weaved through a variety of trails to the glacier. The summer flowers were lovely as was the view, but our failure to remember bug spray kept us from remaining idle too long. Those mosquitoes were relentless.

Anyway, it was a nice, somewhat steep walk that I finally got to enjoy! ETB


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Great Hike Around Walker Ranch Loop

Walker Ranch Loop
Fees: Free
Website: http://www.bouldercounty.org/os/parks/pages/walkerranch.aspx
Elevation: 6,500-7,800 feet (we walked downhill)
Distance: 7.8 miles for loop, 1 mile on connector trail
Hours: daylight

The Walker Ranch was once one of the largest cattle ranches in the region. The original 160 acre homestead grew to 6,000 acres between 1882 and 1959 when the Walker Family sold its property. After a succession of owners, the county began purchasing the land in 1976. Now it is a part of the Boulder County Parks & Open Space.

Tanya, Diana and I set out to hike the 7.8 mile Walker Loop Trail. After about an hour drive from Denver, we arrived at Ethel Harrold Trailhead, a new access point into the park. What we didn’t know, is this added a mile to our journey, so our total distance traveled turned into 8.8 miles in just over four hours.

The trail started by descending through the evergreen forest. Our first thought was that we would be finishing going up hill. It didn’t take long, however, to get distracted by all the wildflowers. Several varieties lined the trail and sometimes blanketed the hillside. This trail will be gorgeous in a few weeks.

We dropped 300 feet in the first mile of our trek where we crossed a narrow creek. Over the next 2.5 miles we climbed 900 feet. Some of the ascent included rock and log stairs overlooking the now raging creek. We passed a fisherman and asked if he caught anything. He replied, “No, they must be letting water out from the dam. The water is murky, and it is running twice as fast as normal.”

Little did we know there was a dam nearby, but we ended up spotting it after we rounded the lush, green hillsides and admired the snowcapped mountains from afar. The Gross Reservoir was completed in 1954 and receives water through the Moffat Tunnel.

By this point in our hike, we had descended another 700 feet in 1.5 miles and climbed 500 over the next mile. Being so close to Denver, I thought the trail would be undulating through the foothills. Instead it was somewhat steep. I suppose it was good warm-up for hiking the part of the Colorado Trail this summer.

With at least half the hike complete, we stopped for lunch in the limited shade. We continued down through the forest to the creek again before we reconnected with the Ethel Harrold Trail to finish the last half mile. The loop provided lovely views, both rocky and smooth terrain, open space and forest for a dynamic hike on a super, sunny day. ETB


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