Where Utes Once Roamed

  • Day 186: November 16, 2016
  • Hike 51: Where Utes Once Roamed
  • Location: Lincoln Mountain Open Space
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 421.12 miles

I have been interested in the history of the Ute People for a long time. The Utes were the first continuous occupants of the beautiful mountains, foothills, valleys, and high plains of Colorado as well as parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. They were the original Mountain People in these areas, and they believe that their ancestors lived here from the beginning. Traditionally, the Utes roamed throughout the region in family units or sometimes larger bands, especially after their acquisition of horses from the Spanish. Throughout the year, the Ute People traveled to different environments based on their knowledge of the availability of food, water, or sheltered areas. Both their culture and their spiritual beliefs are closely tied to this land–indeed, they are inseparable. The arrival of the Spaniards in New Mexico in the 1600’s and the advent of white explorers, missionaries, hunters, and eventually settlers and armed troops over the next two centuries had a huge impact on the lives of these previously peaceful and isolated people. However, the Utes attempted to continue their traditional lifestyle as best they could for as long as they were able.

Unfortunately, in the late 1800’s, our federal government, continuing a long established pattern of broken treaties and disregard for Native Americans, forced the Ute People to leave the land of their ancestors behind and move onto three newly created reservations, two in the southwestern corner of Colorado, and one in Utah. And what has happened to those ancestral homelands since? Those who came after the Utes have left an imprint on this beautiful land that is disturbing. Rivers where Utes once fished have been polluted by mining and industry or diverted by dams to create water supplies for homes, industries, or agriculture. Trees that the Utes consider sacred have been cut down for wood to build homes for our growing population. Housing developments and shopping malls now creep across the prairies where Ute hunters once searched for bison on annual hunting trips in order to feed their families throughout the long, cold, Colorado winters. Wildlife and man must now compete for use of the remaining open land. All of this, of course, is called “progress.”

And yet, the spirit of the Utes still remains throughout the sacred mountains and foothills of Colorado. How can we all help to preserve some of the remaining open space so that future generations, both the descendants of the Utes who once lived here and our own descendants, can enjoy walking quietly on a dirt trail instead of a paved sidewalk, observing wildlife in its natural environment, standing in the shade of towering trees that have survived for generations, and observing native plants in bloom? We can begin by teaching our young people the history of this land and the people who lived here before us. We can encourage our children and grandchildren to love the outdoors and preserve wildlife and native plants. We can go outdoors with them and participate in activities that will help them develop an understanding of the importance of land conservation. Here in Douglas County, the Douglas County Division of Open Space and Natural Resources and the Douglas Land Conservancy (DLC) partner to preserve and protect open spaces. We can participate by using this land in an environmentally conscious way, by volunteering our time, or by donating our financial resources so that additional conservation easements on both public and private land can be purchased. These things will not bring the Utes back to their traditional homeland, but they will help to ensure that there will be opportunities in the future for all of us to join together to honor each other’s cultural and spiritual beliefs and share our love for the land.

And so, on this warm November morning, I led a Douglas Land Conservancy hike at Lincoln Mountain, just one of several protected open spaces in Douglas County where long ago the Utes set up seasonal camps in order to hunt for antelope or bison to feed their families. Today I invited the members of our hiking group to remember the Utes who came to the area where we were walking for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. Why did the Utes come here? What might it have meant to them? How does this area differ today from the way it would have looked when the Utes were here? Why should we protect special open spaces like this? How can we encourage a new generation to continue the land conservation efforts that our generation has started? That was the focus of this hike, and I leave it to each of the hike participants and anyone who is reading this post to answer those questions in his or her own way.

november-2016-hike

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  • Day 185: November 15, 2016
  • Hike 50: The Road Less Traveled
  • Location: Upper Cheyenne (above Perry Park) and Side Road
  • Distance: 4.5 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 416.62 miles

Today Ransom and Sophie (my canine companions) and I hiked up Cheyenne Road and a side road that I had not hiked for many years. At the end of the side road, we encountered an archer who was target practicing in the woods. He and I had an interesting conversation about the history of the area. Other than that, it was a peaceful and uneventful hike.

 

Kindred Spirits

carpenter-peak

  • Day 181: November 11, 2016
  • Hike 49: Kindred Spirits
  • Location: Carpenter Peak, Roxborough State Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 408.12

Earlier this year, I wrote about hiking in Roxborough State Park as part of my 70-at-70 Challenge. During a time span of about a week, I hiked all of the trails in the park by myself. Sometimes I enjoy the peace and solitude of hiking alone. However, this park is a special place, which is not only an official “Colorado Natural Area,” but also the first state park in the United States to be designated a “National Natural Landmark.” This is a park that inspires me to share it with others. Therefore, today I returned to Roxborough State Park to introduce my daughter Teresa to this unique and beautiful park.

Teresa and I have a common interest in the relationships that Native Americans have with trees. For example, Teresa is drawn to Cherokee beliefs and spirituality. Cherokees call trees the “Standing People.” I have a similar interest in the beliefs and customs of the Utes related to trees. As a result, Teresa and I decided to hike the trail to Carpenter Peak this morning. The upper part of this trail features an abundance of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir trees, and it is possible that at one time the Utes walked among them. While we were in the park visitor center, we met a man from Boulder who was going to hike the same trail, and we all set out together. As we walked towards the trail head, Teresa and I told him that we were going to be on the lookout for trees that might be Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs), specifically, the trees that are known in this area as “Ute Indian Prayer Trees.” He seemed intrigued and asked us to tell him more about them. Then he told us that he had grown up in India, and within his personal and cultural belief system, trees hold spiritual significance, just as they do for the Utes and many other Native Americans. We hiked on and continued sharing information about our very different backgrounds and our remarkably similar personal beliefs. Although we found no trees that we thought were CMTs, we stopped often to share our appreciation of the trees we encountered. By the time we reached the peak at an elevation of 7160 feet, we felt like old friends, people who were united by our shared reverence for all trees.   On the top of Carpenter Peak, we paused to eat lunch and enjoy the lovely views. Then we reluctantly turned around and hiked back down to our starting point near the visitor center. Although Teresa and I may never see our new friend again, we felt like we had all been destined to meet, hike together, and share this memorable day.

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  • Day 169: October 30, 2016
  • Hike 48: A Calm Autumn Day
  • Location: Upper Cheyenne
  • Distance: 4.66 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 390.12

This morning our canine family members, Ransom and Sophie, took Curt and me on a peaceful hike on Upper Cheyenne road. Although Ransom and Sophie seemed to think we all needed some exercise, we had no particular goals or objectives for this hike other than to spend some time outdoors and enjoy this autumn day together. Goal met. Objectives accomplished.

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  • Day 164: October 25, 2016
  • Hike 47: A Different Perspective on Red Rocks
  • Location: Red Rocks Park
  • Distance: 7.6 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 380.46

Most people know about the Red Rocks Amphitheater near Morrison, Colorado, the well-known venue where many summer concerts and other events are held. However, many people are not as familiar with the trail system at Red Rocks Park. Until today, I was among this latter group. This morning I hiked several of the trails at the park with a hiking group led by my friend Irina. This is an interesting place to hike, especially in cooler weather. However, there is little shade to provide relief from the sun on hot days. The spectacular red rock formations are the prominent feature of this park. However, many people also climb the stairs to the amphitheater itself or climb the bleachers within. Hiking here gave me a different perspective on Red Rocks Park and a new appreciation of the natural beauty of the location.

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  • Day 158: October 19, 2016
  • Hike 46 – In Search of Ute Indian Prayer Trees
  • Location: Mount Falcon, Jefferson County Open Space
  • Distance: 5.5 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 367.86

Today my daughter Teresa and I hiked three trails at Mount Falcon and encountered several trees that had characteristics indicating that they might be Ute Indian Prayer Trees. It was a lovely day and a wonderful way to share these discoveries with my daughter. Later I contacted some Jefferson County Open Space staff members who promised to check the trees and let me know what they think. Also, they told me that they would try to find out why one of the trails at Mount Falcon is named the “Old Ute Trail,” since no Jefferson County Open Space staff members with whom I have spoken seemed to know anything about the origin of the trail name.

 

Climbing a Pebble

  • Day 157: October 18, 2016
  • Hike 45 – Climbing a Pebble
  • Location: Ice Cave Cliffs
  • Distance: 8.5 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 360.36 Miles

On a beautiful but cool October morning, three friends and I set out on a hike to the Ice Cave Cliffs in the Pike National Forest. My friend Barb, who is very familiar with the terrain and the trails in the area, led the hike and pointed out many interesting plants, birds, and landmarks along the way. We started the hike at the Palmer Reservoir Trailhead and hiked up the jeep trail past the Lower Palmer Reservoir. Then we took a switchback up the Ice Cave Creek Trail and followed it until we reached the Swank Trail. Proceeding on the Swank Trail, we eventually reached the seldom-used trail to the Ice Cave Cliffs.  Ascending the mountainside on this trail, we arrived at a saddle that we followed until we arrived at the Ice Cave Cliffs. The upper stretches of this trail were steep, and the loose gravel on its eroding surface made the footing somewhat treacherous. I was truly glad that I had followed Barb’s advice and brought my walking poles. They proved to be invaluable in saving me from slipping and sliding both on the ascent and later on the descent.

While exploring the impressive granite outcroppings of the Ice Cave Cliffs, I found that it was easy to forget the difficulties that we had encountered en route. Huge boulders capped the cliffs, and in order to see the spectacular views that we had been assured would await us at the top, we would have to scramble up the steep side of one of these massive rock barriers. I looked with some trepidation at the rock face of the large boulder I would have to climb. I hesitated and almost decided that any rock scrambling that would require me to pull myself up the face of a rock by using both of my hands as well as my feet should not be on the agenda for my day. However, Barb went first, and once safely situated, she provided the encouragement that I needed to make the attempt. With her moral support and a helpful hand at the top, I was able to climb the boulder. Although by any true rock climber’s standards this was a mere pebble, with my inexperience and my somewhat impaired sense of balance, this feat had been quite a challenge. I was elated that I had faced my fears and successfully scrambled up the boulder. And was it worth it? In addition to the boost to my self-confidence, the view at the top was breathtaking, and I felt exhilarated to be there. However, the wind was blowing hard with occasional body-rocking gusts, and the sheer drop on the far side of the boulder made me stay safely seated rather than approaching the cliff’s edge for a closer look.

On the way back down the mountain slope, I noticed a couple of trees with unusual shapes that I thought might possibly be Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs), which are also known in this area as “Ute Indian Prayer Trees.” Several of these trees have been identified previously at a lower elevation close to the Palmer Reservoir Trailhead. I hope to return to this area someday with someone more expert in identifying CMTs, perhaps John Wesley Anderson, author of Ute Indian Prayer Trees of the Pikes Peak Region, whom I have heard speak on this topic several times.

As we neared the end of our hike, I felt invigorated and somewhat proud of myself for completing this hike along with my younger companions. Of course, as the old saying notes, “Pride goes before a fall.” Deep in conversation with one of my fellow hikers, I was not paying close attention to the trail. As a result, I tripped and fell flat on my face on the gravel surface and painfully scraped the palms of my hands. My friends checked to ensure I had no broken bones, helped me to my feet, bandaged my scratches, and attempted to patch my wounded dignity.   And all during this process, nobody said, “You should have….” It is good to have friends like these!

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  • Day 147: October 8, 2016
  • Hike 44 – Ute Indian Prayer Trees of Spruce Mountain
  • Location: Spruce Mountain Open Space
  • Distance: 5.23 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 342.86 Miles

On a pleasant Saturday morning, Curt and I went with a large group on a hike led by John Wesley Anderson at Spruce Mountain Open Space. John showed us a number of trees that he has identified as Ute Indian Prayer Trees–the Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) that are found in a number of places in our part of Colorado. In addition, he showed us other signs that Utes had lived in the area many years ago. John’s instructive comments during the hike were extremely interesting and added to the knowledge we’ve gained from previous presentations of his that we have attended.

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  • Day 146: October 7, 2016
  • Hike 43 – Introduction to Mount Falcon
  • Location: Mount Falcon Park, Jeffco (Jefferson County) Open Space Park
  • Distance: 6 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 336.63 Miles

My friend Pam was surprised to learn that I had never visited Mount Falcon Park, one of the Jeffco Open Space Parks. As a result, she volunteered to take me on a guided hike at Mount Falcon. I soon discovered that this special park holds many treasures. The park is on mountainous land that was once owned by John Brisben Walker. He built a huge stone home high on a mountain top in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, the house burned down in 1918, but visitors to the park can still see the extensive ruins. In addition, Walker planned to build a summer home for the U.S. presidents on a high mountain ridge. The ambitious project was never completed, but hikers can visit the beginnings of the foundation and the marble cornerstone for this proposed effort. While these somewhat modern relics are interesting, to me, the spectacular views and the varied plants and wildlife species are what make this park so special. In addition, I observed a number of trees that I suspect may be Culturally Modified Trees, perhaps from the time when Utes lived in the area. I anticipate returning to this park frequently.

Bear Signs

  • Day 144: October 5, 2016
  • Hike 42 – Bear Signs
  • Location: Dome Rock State Wildlife Area (SWA)
  • Distance: 7.13 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 328.63

On a cool fall morning with frost on the grass and thin layers of ice skimming the surface of puddles and ponds, my friends Pam and Barb and I went on a 7-mile loop hike at the Dome Rock State Wildlife area. We hiked the Willow Creek Trail to the Dome View Trail and then turned off onto the Sand Creek Trail. We took the Dome Rock Trail along Fourmile Creek back to the parking lot. A couple of stream crossings were somewhat tricky, but we were glad that water levels were low. In the spring, these stream crossings could be dangerous. Although we had hoped to see Aspens at their peak fall color, in many areas, the aspen trees were already losing most of their leaves. Fortunately, there was one large area where the aspens were definitely cooperating with us. Their beautiful leaves painted the slopes in brilliant fall gold. Aspens also bore the signatures of black bears that had come to visit previously. Distinctive claw marks were clearly visible in the bark of several trees. It was easy to imagine the bears hiding close by in the brush and watching us as we inspected the claw marks….  Fortunately, they did not decide to join our hike.

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  • Day 141: October 2, 2016
  • Hike 41 – Family Hike on the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail
  • Location: Lincoln Mountain Open Space
  • Distance: 4.5 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 319.5

On a lovely Sunday morning, Curt and I took Ransom and Sophie for a hike at Lincoln Mountain Open Space. Since I had hiked the Lincoln Mountain Trail recently, we decided to take the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail instead. At one point on the trail, there is a designated picnic area located close to West Cherry Creek. Here we paused to let Sophie and Ransom get a drink from the creek. As expected, Sophie wanted to stay and play in the creek and was reluctant to leave. Ransom just took a quick drink and then patiently watched until we were able to convince Sophie to continue down the trail by offering her a bribe. Of course, Ransom also received a dog treat for his patience. It was a peaceful hike, and we met just two other hikers and one small group of horseback riders on the trail. However, when we returned to the parking lot, it was completely full of horse trailers with many riders preparing their horses for an organized event. We were glad that we had decided to hike earlier in the day.

Autumn Snippets

As the cooler days of autumn arrive, I am tempted to spend more and more time outdoors communing with nature and less and less time indoors sitting behind a computer. Hints of the approaching winter make me anxious to enjoy as much time outdoors soaking up the sun and observing the fall colors as possible. My hikes have continued, but my blog posts about hikes have been on hiatus. Here is a brief summary of some of my later September hikes.

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  • Day 123: September 14, 2016
  • Hike 35 — Engaging a Rock
  • Location: Hidden Mesa Open Space
  • Distance: 3.3 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 281.41 miles

My good friend, geologist Pam Schulz, led a wonderful geology hike at Hidden Mesa Open Space for Douglas Land Conservancy (DLC) and Douglas County Open Space. After telling us about the geological history of the area and showing us evidence of how some of the rocks we saw arrived there, Pam asked us to engage with a rock. Each of us picked up a rock and contemplated the path it took from its origin. Then we shared what we knew about our chosen rocks. It was an intriguing way for me to look at a “humble rock,” and it renewed my interest in the geological history of Douglas County at a broader level. In the future, I hope to spend more time engaging a rock!

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  • Day 127: September 18, 2016
  • Hike 36 — The Tween Season
  • Location: Barr Lake State Park
  • Distance: 5.6 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 290.01 miles
  • Photos by Curt Frankenfeld

Curt and I spent a lovely sunny morning hiking at Barr Lake State Park. Many of the summer avian residents had already begun their long trips south for the winter. Their absence at Barr Lake appeared to be a sign of fall. However, the leaves on the trees on the shore of the lake had not yet turned to autumn gold. It felt very much like the “tween season”—neither summer nor fall. It was a peaceful morning, with little wind and only a few bird calls to break the silence. We did see 18 great blue herons lined up on sand bars expectantly waiting for their dinners and some other residents as Curt’s pictures show. We hope that the next time we visit Barr Lake, the winter residents–including a number of bald eagles–will have arrived.

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  • Day 129: September 20, 2016
  • Hike 37 — Hiking with Friends
  • Location: Spruce Mountain Open Space
  • Distance: 4.36 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 294.37 miles

Although sometimes it seems that I tend to measure the value of a hike by the number of new discoveries I encounter or the observations of seasonal and other changes, there is also great value in hiking with long-time friends in familiar places. This was one of those hikes—good friends, a much loved location, mild weather, and observations of small things. We enjoyed finding summer flowers that were unexpectedly still blooming, sampling ripe chokecherries, and viewing autumn colors that were just beginning to make an appearance. This was a feel-good hike with no need for dramatic discoveries. It left me with the memory of renewed friendships and peaceful time spent together.

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  • Day 131: September 22, 2016
  • Hike 38: 3 Generations
  • Location: 3 Mile Creek Trail, Mt. Evans Wilderness Area
  • Distance: 3.68 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 299.05

At last the brilliant gold of Colorado aspens has arrived in all of its autumn glory. My daughter Teresa, grandson Christopher, and I took a leisurely hike along 3 Mile Creek for a short distance into the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area. A golden canopy shaded us from the rays of the sun as we ate lunch at the edge of a mountain meadow. I treasured the time we were able to spend together. This was a memorable way to experience the brilliance of a Colorado fall day.

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  • Day 134: September 25, 2016
  • Hike 39: Making Lemonade
  • Location: Flat Tops
  • Distance: 3.5 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 304.55
  • Photos by Curt Frankenfeld

Curt and I planned to spend the weekend enjoying the fall colors near the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. As we drove up into the mountains on Friday afternoon, the temperature dropped below freezing and the snow started to fall. We feared that our travels would be hindered by snow and that gray days and snow would ruin opportunities for photographing the spectacular aspens that paint the mountainsides in autumn. Saturday it snowed off and on all day as we drove along the northern edge of the Flat Tops. Skies were predominately gray and a chill was in the air. However, the combination of snow at our feet, golden aspens on the mountain slopes, and snow covered peaks in the background was enchanting. Instead of being depressed by the weather, we were thrilled by the opportunity to see fall colors in a whole new light. Out came Curt’s camera, and the images he captured were lovely. When the sun finally came out on Sunday, we were blessed by the combination of clear blue sky, icy evergreen trees, golden aspens, and snowy peaks. Again, Curt was blessed with photographic opportunities that would not have been possible without the snow. Next fall, if the weatherman says that it is going to snow during aspen season, I’m heading for the mountains!

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  • Day 138: September 29, 2016
  • Hike 40 – Are you smarter than a 4th grader?
  • Location: Prairie Canyon Ranch Open Space
  • Distance: 3.4 Miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 312.95

As I drove through the gate at Prairie Canyon Ranch for a 4th grade field trip, I was focused on things that I wanted to teach the young students I would be leading on hikes that day. Their teachers wanted them to learn more about the various ecosystems in Colorado, and I knew that the diverse habitats at Prairie Canyon Ranch would provide an ideal location for the topic. During the two hikes I led, I tried to engage the students in understanding the characteristics of the different ecosystems. This I was able to do with some level of success. However, the wonder in the eyes of 4th graders as they surveyed the residents of a small pond, the excitement they exhibited when they saw not one but two garter snakes, the intelligent questions that they asked, and their constant enthusiasm made me soon realize that they were teaching me some lessons that I could not learn by reading a book. As I drove out of the gate at Prairie Canyon Ranch at the end of the fieldtrip, I found myself anticipating the next opportunity that I would have to spend time with these young students. I know that I have much to learn from 4th graders!

 

Gratitude Mountain

gratitude-mountain

  • Day 122: September 13, 2016
  • Hike 34
  • Location: Lincoln Mountain Open Space, Lincoln Mountain Trail
  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 278.11 miles

It was a cool morning with low clouds and patches of fog. I had hoped to head up into the Pike National Forest to see if the aspens on the mountain slopes were beginning to show off their autumn gold, but weather reports predicting afternoon showers convinced me to stay closer to home. I decided to drive to Lincoln Mountain Open Space, the latest jewel in Douglas County’s Open Space system. Arriving in the parking lot, I noticed just one other vehicle. Evidently, not too many people were interested in hiking the trails on this gray and somewhat dreary morning. However, I was eager to continue pursuing my goal of completing 70 hikes during the year that I’m 70. As I set out, I initially planned to hike the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail. On warm summer days, that is my preferred route at this open space, because there are many spots where a hiker can pause in the shade of a tree for a moment of relief from the hot rays of the sun. However, when I arrived at the fork in the trail where the Lincoln Mountain Trail and the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail split to go their separate ways, something made me pause and reconsider. Certainly, there was no need to purposely seek out shade when there wasn’t enough sun to create a shadow. Also, I thought that there was a possibility that once I reached the top of Lincoln Mountain, I might be treated to a magnificent view of Pikes Peak or Longs Peak through a break in the clouds. And so, I turned left onto the Lincoln Mountain Trail instead of continuing on in the other direction.

As I climbed the slope leading to Lincoln Mountain’s flat mesa top, I began to feel sad. Summer flowers were no longer blooming, and the leaves of the abundant Gambel oak had not yet changed to their autumn hues of red, orange, and yellow. The grass that was blowing gently in the breeze was a uniform light tan color, relieved only occasionally by the yellows, whites, and purples of the few early fall flowers that were in evidence. It soon became apparent that a break in the persistent mist and ominous clouds was unlikely. I feared that the beautiful views I had envisioned would not appear. Nearing the top, I met a lone hiker. As he approached, he greeted me with a smile, and commented, “Nice day, isn’t it?” I wasn’t sure if he meant it or if it were a facetious remark. Regardless, I smiled back and agreed that it was indeed a nice day. After all, his smiling face was the high point of my day so far.

Continuing on, I reached the beginning of the loop that encircles the top of the mesa. The flat trail stretched out before me with little to break the monotony or relieve the melancholy in my mind—no trees, no flowers at this time of year, no birds or wildlife evident, and no view in any direction because of the fog and clouds. Why, I asked myself, had I decided to take this hike on this particular day? As light rain began to fall, I wondered what I was doing out hiking, when I could have been at home sitting in front of a fire and reading a good book. On I plodded because I could not allow myself to give up once I’d set the intention to complete this hike. I was beginning to feel a bit like a martyr, although the task at hand was one I had assigned myself. Nearing the far west end of the loop trail, I was puzzled to see a shape ahead of me that I had never noticed before. Coming closer, I realized that it was a beautiful stone bench. Curious, I approached the bench and looked down at the engraving on its smooth surface. I read it quickly and then read it again much more slowly. Then, as a few tears began to flow down my cheeks, I realized that the message on this bench was telling me why I was hiking on this lonely trail on this gray day. On the bench was written a message that I needed to receive:

REST, ENJOY, APPRECIATE

YOU MADE IT TO THIS SPOT

NEVER FORGET THOSE WHO CANNOT

At first I felt ashamed for feeling sorry for myself. I am so blessed and so fortunate to be able to hike to any place that I choose. Then a wave of gratitude began to replace my gloomy state of mind. My thoughts turned to those who will never be able to hike to special places like this. So many wonderful people I have known and people I have never known will not be able to do so. Some of those people gave their lives in distant wars so that I and others would have the freedom to do the things we want to do in this great country. I am so thankful to them and to their families for their sacrifices. Other people were wounded in those same wars, some so severely that they will never be able to hike again. I am thankful to them and their families for their sacrifices too. I thought of beloved friends and family members who gave me so much before they passed on. I am thankful for them and the roles that they played in my life. I thought of friends who are still playing an important role in my life but are unable to hike because of health challenges. How grateful I am that we can still share other experiences. I thought of my friends and family members who are in good health and how fortunate we all are that we can still choose to pursue the things we love to do, including hiking to special places like Lincoln Mountain.

As I hiked back down off the mesa top, the sun broke through the clouds. Rounding a bend, I saw one beautiful Gambel oak that was displaying its vibrant fall colors—a promise that autumn would soon arrive and other oaks would follow suit. I smiled to myself, and thought what a perfectly beautiful day this was. As I neared the parking lot, I realized that I will never look at Lincoln Mountain quite the same way again. To me, it will always be “Gratitude Mountain.” I will return often, and hopefully I will be able to share the experience with family members, old friends, and new friends I have not yet met.

a-promise-of-fall

Roxborough State Park

roxborough-view

Roxborough State Park is unique among state parks in the United States in that it has been designated a National Natural Landmark. This special recognition was granted because a primary goal in establishing the park was minimizing impact on the natural resources in this beautiful location and preserving the spectacular scenery. It is also a recognized Colorado Natural Area.   What does this mean for visitors? There are no picnic tables or playgrounds or campgrounds in the park. Visitors will see no dogs or horses or bicycles on the well-planned and maintained trail system. They will not find rock climbers on the magnificent red rock cliffs or any other off-trail activities, and they will not see drones or model airplanes flying through the air. In addition, this is a wonderful place to enjoy the sounds of nature. Hikers can enjoy the peace and serenity of the park without noise from vehicles such as snowmobiles or four wheelers.

So what does the visitor to Roxborough State Park see? While visitors will have unique experiences dependent on which trails they hike and their individual interests, no one can visit this special place without being awed by the majestic red rock formations that tower overhead in many areas. They are perhaps the most noticeable feature in the park. However, there is much more to Roxborough State Park than rocks. There are historic buildings and artifacts that help to tell the story of people who lived in this area in the past. A well-developed trail system in the park takes the visitor to varied ecosystems that support an abundance of wildlife as well as native plant species that are normally found in prairie, montane, and riparian habitats. What each visitor actually sees will be dependent on the time spent quietly observing nature, the season of the year, the time of day, and chance. None of us can predict with certainty which of the less common flowers may be blooming or which wildlife species may cross our paths in the park.

I have been to Roxborough State Park many times, but I usually hike on three of the most commonly used trails, Fountain Valley, South Rim, and Willow Creek. However, I have an adventurous spirit, and I suffer from “around-the-next-bend syndrome,” an affliction that affects many hikers. There are several trails that I have bypassed a few times because of self-imposed time restrictions. Often I have made the wistful comment to my hiking companions, “Someday I’m going to hike that trail.”  With the goal of taking 70 hikes during the year when I’m 70, what better time than now to do just that? And so, I decided that I was going to hike all of the trails at Roxborough State Park. As a result, I recently spent three days hiking at Roxborough Park with this goal in mind. Here is a report on my progress, starting with the most recent hike and then covering the preceding two hikes.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

  • Day 114: September 5, 2016, Labor Day
  • Hike 33
  • Location: The Sharptail trail from the trail head in Sharptail Ridge Open Space into Roxborough State Park; Douglas County Road 5, which connects the Sharptail trail to the other state park trails; Willow Creek Trail; and the main park road all of the way to the park entrance
  • Distance: 8.11 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 262.51 miles

Imagine my distress when I arrived at the entrance to Roxborough State Park today in our truck, only to discover a sign saying the park was full and there could be a considerable wait before more vehicles would be allowed into the park. This was sad news for two reasons. First, I had planned to hike the segment of the Sharptail Trail that is within the boundary of the south end of the park, and that objective now seemed out of the question. If I couldn’t drive the road into the park, how could I hike there? Second, I am not fond of hiking within a state park that has so many visitors that the park is considered to be full! I prefer solitude on the trails that I hike, or at least encountering just a few other hikers. Now I must admit that my plans for this hike were not well thought out. After all, it is Labor Day, and where are many Colorado citizens on a sunny holiday weekend? They are outdoors enjoying the many state and national parks and city and county open spaces in Colorado.

After a few moments of disappointment, I discovered a second right answer. On my way to Roxborough State Park, I had passed the parking lot for Sharptail Ridge, a Douglas County Open Space, and I happened to notice that there were no cars in the parking lot, just one horse trailer and some construction equipment that was not in use on this holiday Monday. I had not yet hiked in this Douglas County Open Space, but I knew from studying open space maps that the Sharptail trail starts in the open space and after about 3 miles, it enters Roxborough State Park and continues on through the same segment of trail that I had hoped to hike today. I drove the truck back to the Sharptail Ridge Open Space parking lot and began hiking the Sharptail trail. The trail meanders through prairie and low hills with no shade available on this 90 degree day. At first I wondered about the wisdom of my decision. However, I began focusing on the beautiful views of Roxborough State Park in the distance, and the patches of early fall wildflowers in bloom. From the top of one hill, I took in a wonderful view of the distant landscape in every direction, including looking down with a new perspective on the rock formations at Roxborough. Also, I took time to revel in the peaceful solitude on this holiday Monday when so many parks are crowded with people. I did not see a single hiker for the first three miles, although I did encounter three friendly people riding horses. Such is the blessing of choosing the road less traveled! Once I reached the border of Roxborough State Park, I proceeded on some uncrowded and less popular park trails until I reached the main park road. Then I hiked on the park road to the park entrance. There, my wonderful husband Curt picked me up in the car and transported me back to where I had left the truck in the Sharptail Ridge Parking Lot. All and all, this was a most enjoyable unplanned hike!

CARPENTER PEAK

  • Day 109: August 31, 2016
  • Hike 32
  • Location: Carpenter Creek Trail with Willow Creek Trail on the return trip
  • Distance: 7.4 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 251.4 miles

Carpenter Peak is the highest point within Roxborough State Park. Although it is less than 1000 feet higher than the park visitor’s center building, park personnel have designated the trail to its summit as “strenuous.” I came to the park today expecting the hike to be a workout. Actually, the trail has a gradual incline that did provide a bit of exercise on the way up, but it was not what I would call a “difficult” trail. Most of the change in elevation seemed to occur in the first couple of miles of the trail, and on this warm day, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the last mile or so of the trail before reaching the summit was relatively level and shaded by cool green woods. As the trail ascends, there are spectacular views looking down on the Roxborough rock formations and the rest of the park. Once at the peak, there are beautiful views of the mountains to the west as well. The trail was not busy and I passed just 2 other hikers while I was on the way to the top and 4 or 5 as I descended. I will return and repeat this hike in other seasons, when the views will look much different and the plant species, which are in their early fall colors now, will present their spring or summer colors.

WHAT’S FOR DINNER?

  • Day 106: August 28, 2016
  • Hike 31
  • Location: Fountain Valley, South Rim, and Willow Creek trails, and Douglas County Road 5, which connects the other Roxborough State Park trails to the Sharptail trail (the latter being a trail for another day)
  • Distance: 7.88 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 242.00 miles

For the first hike in my quest to hike all of the Roxborough State Park trails, I decided to hike those trails that I have hiked before, so that I could observe them during the same early fall season as my other Roxborough hikes. As I hiked these familiar trails, I was amazed at the abundance of Gambel oak acorns. There were large clusters of extraordinarily large acorns on many of the Gambel oaks. I have been told by some of the “old timers” that this is the largest acorn crop that has been seen in this area in years. In addition, they have noted that this is a sign that we will have a long, cold winter with heavy snowfall. I do not know if that is the case or not, but I do know that the bears, squirrels, birds and other animals that enjoy acorns in their diets will not be disappointed. In addition, chokecherries, wild plums, three-leaved sumac berries, currants, and other fall fruits are plentiful this year. There should be an abundance of food for wildlife to eat in preparation for winter.

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BEING PRESENT IN THE MOMENT

  • Day 102: August 24, 2016
  • Hike 30
  • Location: Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space
  • Distances: 5.8 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 230.88 miles

I have written about several hikes at Dawson Butte in previous posts. On this hike, I was focused on being completely present every moment, just for the pleasure of being outdoors. I made a conscious decision before the hike that I would not blog about the hike. This one was just for me to focus on the here and now.

HIKES CLOSE TO HOME

  • Days 100 and 101: August 22 and 23, 2016
  • Hikes 28 and 29
  • Locations: Undeveloped Cheyenne Road into the Pike National Forest; Back roads of Perry Park
  • Distances: 5 miles; 3.5 miles
  • Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 225.08 miles

Since these two hikes were close to home and I have already described similar hikes in these locations in previous posts, I’m not writing posts about them again now. However, I did note that there are late summer flowers blooming now, and soon we will be observing the first signs of fall.