Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hiking in Colorado National Monument

This week’s hike took us to western Colorado to hike the magnificent Colorado National Monument. The monument’s plateau rises over 2,000 feet above the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. The 32 square mile monument is part of the Colorado Plateau, which also includes the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park.

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The monument was first a dream of John Otto. Otto lived in the desolate area near the monument in 1907. He relentlessly promoted the land to become a national park. He convinced the town folks of Grand Junction to petition congress and in 1911, the Colorado National Monument was established. Otto started on the roads into the area, but much of the heavy lifting on the road within the monument was conducted by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. When you drive up to the top, along the plateau and back down you will be forever thankful for these men and all they did for a $1 per day salary.

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We were lucky to spot our state’s animal, a big horn sheep ram getting ready to play on the steep cliffs.

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This photograph shows the Monument Canyon Trail as it switchbacks down 600 steep feet from the plateau to the canyon below. The trail is a total of six miles in length. Our goal was to hike down to the four mile mark and back, for a total of 8 miles.

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Photographs do absolutely no justice to the massive rocks carved out by centuries of water and wind erosion.

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The trail was challenging and was cut through the red rock formations in a masterful way.

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When you stop and take in the enormity of the wilderness, you realize just how small you are in the whole scope of things.

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The trail offers amazing views and scary drop offs.

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I have never had a bad day hiking, nor have I ever experienced an angry fellow hiker. Hiking is happy time for sure.

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Spectacular scenery.

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Close up of the rock formations.

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This photo location made Sandy get a bit nervous.

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Lots of these little critters all along the trail.

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Huge drop offs all along the trail. Whatever you do, don’t look down!

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Amazing! I will just let the next four photos speak for themselves.

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This is the two mile point, where we met a parks ranger. He advised of some pending storms which could result in flash flooding on the canyon floor. The trail crossed several semi-dry river beds, which had flowed heavily when a morning storm hit earlier in the day. We made the decision to turn back as we saw the large thunderheads beginning to form. The rain hit as we were climbing the steepest portion of the trail. Later in the afternoon, flash floods hit he canyon floor. Good decision.

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The 2014 Camino calendar is out!

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August 26, 2013 · 07:54

Short hike and tour of Colorado’s best preserved ghost towns

This week we decided to take a bit of a break on our weekly hikes by heading up to Chaffee and Summit County, Colorado and the historic towns of Nathrop, St. Elmo and Breckenridge.

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Our first stop was beautiful Agnes Vallie Falls. Only a mile round trip, the hike up was really fun. The beginning of the trail consists of about a quarter mile of well groomed granite steps. The waterfall is in an interesting area where the rocky terrain tilts sideways in all direction and the falling water is the only way to get your balance bearings. Sandy and I sat back and watched the falls for several minutes. It was a very relaxing time.

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On he way down we were presented with a great view of Mt. Antero, one of Colorado’s 54 – 14,000+ foot peaks.

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After hiking back to our car, we headed up the road to the best preserved ghost town in Colorado, St. Elmo. The townsfolk are boastful that the little mining camp is not “restored”, but preserved.

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This is one of two narrow gauge train cars which were abandoned in the town when the rail lines ceased to run to St. Elmo and beyond.

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Here is a neat link that shows the history of the town:
http://www.st-elmo.com/townhistory.html

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We stopped in at the Miners Exchange and bought some ice cream. It was one of a few open businesses in the town.

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After leaving St. Elmo we headed to the resort at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs. It is really neat. It has several hot springs which heat about a total of fifteen pools. Several of the pools are in the river, so you adjust some loose rocks to allow just the right cool river water into your really hot spot. It is a real engineering feat to get just the right amount of mix so the temperature is just right.

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After a relaxing night, it was off to Breckenridge where we volunteered as Course Marshall’s for the 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

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The pro cyclists are amazing athletes. They rode from Aspen, over Independence Pass (12,000 foot elevation, over Hoosier Pass and Boreas Pass before sprinting to the finish.

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The top three at the finish stage.

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The Camino de Santiago by helicopter

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Ben Tyler Trail, Lost Creek Wilderness, Pike National Forest, Colorado

This weeks big hike involved a short trip south of our ranch on US Highway 285, near Bailey, Colorado. We are finally hiking the Ben Tyler trail. After living along the 285 corridor for the past 31 years and passing its trailhead hundreds of times, we finally get the opportunity to hike it!

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Forest Service Trail #606 was named after the original owner or the property, local lumber mill owner, Ben Tyler. Tyler harvested timber from the mountainside and operated a lumber mill during Colorado’s gold rush. He provided many a mine with shoring timbers, transported over the Kenosha Range mountains to the mining town of Fairplay, Colorado. His property is now a part of the 11,600 acre Lost Creek Wilderness Area within the Pike National Forest. The trail is rated “difficult”, its length is 11.4 miles with a elevation gain of 3,390 feet.

Directly across the highway from the trailhead is a beautiful high country meadow and three ranches. This may be the reason that lots of hikers have missed the parking lot over the years. The trailhead’s parking lot is tiny, so just a second of inattention and you can easily drive right past it. After finding a parking space we hit the trail and made a steady climb above and away from noisy US 285.

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After a series of switchbacks we entered the first of several mountainside meadows, lined with sage, then heavily populated with mountain mahogany.

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Then, the sound of a fast rushing stream could be heard, and the hillsides converged to form a narrower wet canyon. There were an amazing number of unique plants such as the blood red mushrooms, ferns, and many wildflowers and plants we have never seen in Colorado before. It was an interesting portion of the trail, for sure.

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All the while we were hiking along side a beautiful little stream. The layers of green colors were just amazingly wonderful. I really enjoy hiking alongside a stream. It is totally relaxing to me.

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Then the trail took us through a huge aspen grove. The grove was formed after a wildfire swept through the area in the early 1900’s. I remarked to Sandy how beautiful this area will be when the aspen trees turn golden this fall. We both agreed to hike this trail again come late September.

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The weather forecast for the day predicted another day of heavy monsoon storms and sure enough they came as advertised. When a heavy thunderstorm rolled by us and literally shook the ground, we decided it was time to turn around on the trail. At this point we had covered 3.2 miles and gained over 1,500 feet in elevation, up to 9,450′.

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So, we covered our backpacks with our rainflies and threw on our rain jackets and down the trail we went.

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Sandy looking well prepared for the storms that rolled through. Luckily, most of the heaviest rain came down north and south of our location on the trail.

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Our last stream crossing as we headed back down to the trailhead. Just as we reached the car, the heavens opened up and the rains came. Off came our heavy packs (20# for Sandy and 22# for Mark) and into the car we went. Overall, we hiked 6.4 miles with packs and lots of elevation gain. Another nice training hike for sure.

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Invasive weeding then an Alderfer/Three Sisters hike

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This week’s hike was a bit shorter than those in the past as we needed to work on some invasive weed mitigation on the ranch before heading out on the trail.

We keep a close weed watch on our pastures and recently noticed a few musk, Canada, and bull thistles popping up. All are class B invasive weeds and according to Colorado Revised Statutes all property owners are required to remove them. When we first purchased the ranch many years ago, it had been a bit overgrazed by the “save the wild mustang” organization which was operated on it. Overgrazing tended to open up our high country meadows to many bad weeds. There were some portions of our property in pretty bad shape, to say the least. Over the years, even before the weed statute became law, we began to mitigate weeds. Most of the hard work is over, so for the past 10 years or so we have been in a maintenance mode. Factoid: The average musk thistle plant’s seed head will distribute up to 20,000 seeds which can live dormant for decades before dropping into the soil and turning into an invasive weed.

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Anyway, after a morning of chores we decided to take our hike at a nearby Jefferson County Open Space park, called Alderfer/Three Sisters. It is located between Conifer and downtown Evergreen off of County Road 73. As you can see from the above photograph, this park has beautiful meadows mixed with amazing rock formations. The original property owner settled on the land in 1873. The Alderfer family purchased the land in 1945 and raised silver foxes, Angus cattle, ran a saw mill and did custom haying. The “Three Sisters” name comes from the three rocky peaks, all side by side. The park consists of 1,128 acres and 13.9 miles of trails.

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One of the “Three Sisters” rock formations.

We decided to hike on some of the park’s lessor known trails, well away from the common dog walk paths, so we ventured north on Mountain Muhly Trail. Most of this trail is an old two track which goes right over a small stock dam and spillway. It was there we saw a great looking young bull elk. His summer coat was reddish brown and shined as if he were just groomed. He was eating grass, just below the spillway and we were able to get quite close to him before he scampered off into the woods. I commented to Sandy that we were likely the first humans he saw on this less traveled trail.

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After climbing a steep portion of the trail we rounded a bend and the popular Evergreen Lake came into view. Fed by Bear Creek, Evergreen Lake is a very popular mountain getaway from Denver. Summer offers hiking, boating, fishing and lots of special events at the Lake House, while winter brings ice skating, hockey and ice fishing.

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After another half mile or so, we came upon a neat cabin district. Some of the cabins were very large, like the one pictured above. It was interesting to see all of the amazing rock work on the roads and cabin as well as the work it took to bring running water there. Well, pump house, wooded banded water tank above the cabin, etc.

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As you can see from this photograph, this cabin would make a nice rental lodge or even a ranger house today.

Just as we passed the cabin district, our daily Colorado monsoon’s dark clouds roll in and we decided to take the remaining trails back toward the main parking lot. Lots of lightning associated with the monsoon season, so no need risking our safety for an extra mile or two. We made to within a quarter mile of our vehicle when the rain began, so our decision was wise. Overall, we walked 3.5 miles on a 20 minute per mile pace, so we are definitely increasing our pace as we continue to ready ourselves for the Camino.

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