This week’s training hike begins and concludes at another great Jefferson County Open Space Park, called Matthew/Winters. The middle of the hike will take us to the infamous Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.
This park has quite the Colorado history associated with it. As the Jefferson County Open Space’s website states, ” ‘Chief’ Colorow, a ubiquitous, half-Ute, half-Apache Indian, held councils with his renegade band on the Hogback area of Matthews/Winters Park. Colorow loved biscuits and molasses, which pioneer housewives baked whenever he and his followers appeared in the area. The Matthews/Winters area has been used since settlers arrived for agricultural production, ranching and mineral extraction. The Indians first mined clay from the Hogback for mud baths. Settlers mined the Hogback extensively for clay, sandstone, limestone, marble and coal. Clay mining continued in the area until the 1960s.
Dr. Joseph Casto founded the Town of Mount Vernon in 1859 on what is now Matthews/Winters Park. A lay preacher and land promoter, Casto came from Ohio to make his fortune in the gold rush. He reputedly grubstaked John H. Gregory on his prospect in Gregory Gulch, and later discovered the famous Casto lode near Central City. Casto hoped Mount Vernon would become a supply town for the mines. He advertised in the Rocky Mountain News and The Golden Mountaineer that building lots were available at no cost to anyone who would build on them.
Gov. Steele settled in Mount Vernon, which became, de facto, the first state capitol. Having no official building, the new legislature met in various buildings, including the Mount Vernon Stage Stop, near Steele’s residence in Mount Vernon. By January of 1860 Mount Vernon boasted 44 registered voters.
Mount Vernon boasted the first Wells Fargo Express stop, probably located in Matthews House and was the first opportunity to change horses. Morrison House served as a toll station for the Denver, Auraria and Colorado Wagon Road Company. Their toll road climbed Mount Vernon Canyon and then ran southwest to Bergen Park (Evergreen) and Bradford Junction (Conifer) , and on to Park County (Fairplay) . Travelers on it paid $1.00 for their first span of horses and 25¢ for each additional span. The Denver, Idaho and Georgetown Express Company inaugurated service on June 20, 1867, via Mount Vernon. Wells Fargo Express originally offered twice-weekly service, but by 1869 provided daily service to Georgetown via Mount Vernon.
In 1888, William Matthews bought four full town lots and fractions of five other town lots (total value $825.00) at a tax sale for $315.00. Apparently, William gradually enlarged his holdings, buying more land whenever possible.
The 1885 U.S. Census for Mount Vernon lists William E. Matthews (farmer, age 65), his wife, Elizabeth F. (47), and their seven children, Thomas G. (13), Elizabeth (11), Rowland (9), John (8), Robert (6), Clara (3), and Rose (9 months). William and Elizabeth were born in England, and the children were born in Colorado. In 1974, Nick Matthews, William’s descendent, sold 353 acres to the new Jefferson County Open Space System. June, 1972, William Winters bought 520 acres of Hogback land, which he sold to Open Space in 1974.”
As you can probably tell, I really enjoy history. Now, on to today’s beautiful hike.
After leaving the trail head you immediately come upon a heavily wooded area adorned with park benches and picnic tables. After crossing a small creek you start climbing through the old town of Mt. Vernon. All that remains are a couple of homes (still occupied to this day) and several flattened hillside homesites. After hiking up to a ridge you come across a very old cemetery. There are only four markers still standing, but they all are from the late 1800’s and they describe the deceased as in their 20’s and 30’s. It really must have been difficult living back in those gold and silver mining days.
Most of the trail is wide and easy, while there are also some amazing red rock sections that require clear thinking and steady balance. Soon after this photo was taken we watched as an inexperienced mountain biker took a spill trying to navigate down this steep portion.
After about 2 miles on the Red Rocks Trail, you leave Jeffco Open Space and cross into the Denver Mountain Parks system. This photo shows the rocks that comprise the famous Amphitheater in the background.
After hiking to the lower parking lot, we used the main entry road to climb the remaining distance to the amphitheater. Once on top, you get to experience how this venue is used by so many people other than concert goers. There were tour busses dropping off folks who were walking around wide eyed and filling the museum. There were at lease 50 people working out on the seats. Some of the workouts involved running the rows, others involved running up the 69 bench seats to the top, while some MMA hard core athletes were seen doing “inchworms” up the seats. It reminded me of the scene at California’s “muscle beach”, only 100% cleaner – Colorado style.
After lunch, we packed up and headed back to the trail head. All tolled, we hiked 7.1 miles on a simply beautiful Colorado day.