Tag Archives: Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Summer Persists


I have been fascinated by the weather my entire life.  When it comes to our atmosphere, there is always something interesting going on.  The weather seems to find a way to continue to surprise people, behaving in different interesting ways each season, each year, each decade.  Our lives are impacted by the weather every day.  It is something that is impossible to ignore.  It is always on our minds, particularly for those that of us that love travel and outdoor activities.

At times, our plans can be frustrated, or even cancelled by changes in weather conditions.  It is the early season baseball game that was cancelled due to a freak April snowstorm.  Or the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe that had to close due to the lack of snow.

At other times, unexpected opportunities can arise.  I remember one year, when I was in college in Northwest Indiana, a place that is typically quite chilly in the wintertime, we had a series of unexpected 60 degree days in late January.  I unexpectedly found myself in Lake Michigan (albeit only knee-deep) on the 27th of January, a time of year I could normally expect to be huddled indoors.

Across much of the country, the story this September was the persistence of summer.  Some places are experiencing one of to their warmest Septembers on record.  Here in Denver, it has been the same story.  September’s temperatures this year, largely resembled what is typical in August.


A sensible response to hot weather in Denver is to travel up to the mountains, where it will be cooler and more comfortable.  So, in addition to my hike near Breckenridge on the 11th, I made trips up to the mountains both of the following weekends.

September 19th was a repeat hike, to Windy Point at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which is actually less than an hour’s drive from Denver.  The first time I hike this particular trail, in October of 2013, the upper portions of the trail were already covered with snow.


This time, I got to experience the trail without such snowpack.

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My other late season hike in the mountains involved a trip to a place I had never been before, but had been meaning to check out for quite some time, the Fourth of July trail outside of Nederland.

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This hike in particular, on September 26th, represents the kind of opportunity that would not have been available had it not been for the unusual resistance of summer.  This trailhead is at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet.  By late September, one would expect high temperatures only in the mid 50s at this elevation, and not the warm conditions we experienced that day.


One thing I have come to notice during periods of abnormal weather is how the trees never seem to be fazed by the abnormal conditions.  In the Midwest, when we would have a mid-winter thaw, like the one I had perviously mentioned, none of the trees would start growing leaves or anything.  They would continue to stay the course, knowing what to expect from the rest of the season.  Here in Colorado, the trees are still changing colors largely on schedule, with the later part of September being peak season for fall colors at these elevations.


I have actually come to realize that the most magnificent fall colors occur when there is a warm and dry fall.  As it was last year, without windy, rainy, or even snowy weather early in the year, the leaves stay on the trees longer.


In a month where we sweated through 90 degree weather for Tour de Fat,

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And one could attend a concert at Red Rocks without needing a jacket,

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It is hard not to feel as if summer just has’t ended yet.  We simply got to experience summer longer than anticipated.

Whether it be a season of the year, like winter or summer, or a chapter of our lives, we all anticipate change.  We know that a change is destined to occur, and often have an idea in our heads as to when that change is destined to occur.  However, sometimes, changes do not happen at the time they are anticipated.  Sometimes in life, we are caught off guard by an unexpected change before we had fully prepared.  We all have heard of at least one person who had endured an unexpected layoff, or an unplanned medical emergency.  Other times, as is the case with the switch from summer to autumn across much of the United State this year, it takes longer than anticipated for the next chapter of our lives to begin.

As someone who loves hiking, cycling, and water sports, and is generally not too negatively impacted by hot weather, it is easy for me to welcome the unexpected extra month of summer.  It is easy for me to say, in this case, that the best way to handle this delay, in the transition from summer to autumn, is to go out and enjoy it, take advantage of the opportunities, and be patient for the next season to start.  But, I know that this is not the case for everybody.  I also remember being the one frustrated by the lack of change.  I remember one March in particular, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, that winter just seemed to never end- and I was beyond sick of it!

Fall is going to come.  According to the weather report, by this coming weekend, October 2nd and 3rd, most of the country will be experiencing weather more typical of fall.  Those that have grown tired of the heat, although they had to wait longer than expected for the cooler air to come, knew all along that it would, and that the changing of the season is inevitable.


At some point in time, we all end up in a place where we feel our lives have stagnated.  We enter a place where our current situation, whether it be our job, or what we are doing on a day-to-day basis, has simply run it’s course.  We have gotten what we need to have gotten out of the experience.  Maybe it has become frustrating, or maybe it is just simply not inspiring to us at all.  In these situations, the cycle of winter-spring-summer-fall we all live through on an annual basis serves as a reminder that the change we desire is inevitable.  Sometimes it just takes longer than we had hoped.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park


Only half an hour outside of Golden, Colorado, Golden Gate Canyon State Park represents one of the easiest hiking places to get to from the Denver metropolitan area.  It is definitely a lot shorter of a drive then Rocky Mountain National Park, but is probably a little bit longer than The Flatirons in Boulder.  My visit to this park was not in peak season, on the 19th of October, but it was on a weekend.  Based on what I saw today, it appears that this park is significantly less crowded than both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Flatirons, and therefore may represent a more tranquil alternative to those two destinations for day hikes.

Yesterday, we visited the east side of the park, parking in the first parking lot in the state park off of Crawford Gulch Rd.  At this parking lot, our elevation was just short of 7,800 feet.  I have to admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about doing a hike this high in elevation well into October.  Last spring I came to the conclusion that the in-between seasons, when it is not warm enough to for activities at high elevations, but not quite ski season, are the best times of year to explore areas at lower elevations.  But, I knew that it was going to be a warmer day in Colorado, with southwest winds, and highs in the 60s in Denver, which would mean temperatures could be tolerable at this elevation.

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Upon exiting the car, I immediately noticed two potential hazards.  One was the wind, which was quite strong that day, and made the temperatures, near 50 at the time, seem quite a bit chillier.  It did not help that our hike’s destination was a place called “windy peak”.  I kept thinking to myself, if it is this windy at the trailhead, I am in for an unpleasant summit.  Second was the fact that hunting is permitted in pretty much the entire area where we would be hiking.  Most likely, this is one of those irrational fears that we all seems to have.  It’s kind of like all of those posts we see that indicate that more children get injured by trampolines and swimming pools than by strangers, yet, most parents seem way more afraid of their kids talking to strangers than using their backyard trampolines and swimming pools unsupervised.  But, for some reason I did get a little nervous when I saw this sign.  Luckily, I was able to put this out of mind pretty quickly.  We would only see one group of hunters on this hike, and they seemed like they knew what they were doing.

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On this hike, we dealt with the remnants of two recent weather events.  First was the major flooding event last month.   In fact, one of the roads to the trailhead was washed out by this flood and closed.  We had to park right by the main road, and hike a little extra to get to the trail.  This was no big deal, and based on this, we could see why repairing this road would be a relatively low priority for the State of Colorado (compared with, say U.S. highways 34 and 36 near Estes Park).  We also had to traverse through some snowy areas.  Friday morning, Denver actually received it’s first snow of the year (which seems really early to me).  There was more snow in the mountains, and parts of the trail, especially those in the shadowy areas, and near our highest elevations, were snowpacked.  The snowpack, however, did not exceed 6″, where it would start to make the hike tougher and eventually impassible.  It did, however, make some downhill stretches a bit slippery and more hazardous than normal.

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Somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of the way up, we saw a couple of neat rock formations, like this one, and decided to go off trail and take a few side excursions.  This mostly meant physically climbing up the rock, and then rejoining the trail the next place we see it.  It’s the kind of thing I periodically do with hikes that are not going to completely exhaust me (like a “14er”) to add a little extra spice to the experience.  Upon completion of the second of these side excursions, I saw the tall peaks in the distance for the first time.  These peaks, which I would later be able to identify as Mt. Evans, Mt. Bierstadt, Gray’s and Torrey’s Peaks, showed up in the southwest sky.

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The end part of the hike involved traversing through a fairly uniformly snowpacked and fairly dense forest.  We arrived at Windy Peak, whose elevation is just shy of 9,100 ft.  The views from windy peak are pretty spectacular, but, as promised, it was quite windy here, and quite chilly.  It was definitely windier than it was at the trailhead, and this hike seemed to follow the similar pattern of the summit being significantly windier than even places a mere 50-100 feet down the mountain.  Due to the conditions, we did not remain at Windy Peak too long.  Basically, we remained there long enough to eat a cliff bar without feeling like we were rushing through it, and to take a few pictures.


On the way down the mountain, we actually noticed significant snowmelt.  In fact, the road to the park was icy in the morning, but clear in the afternoon.  We also came to the conclusion that Golden Gate Canyon State Park is one of the best signed hiking destinations we had ever been to.  Every trail junction has signs like these, with a complete map of the park, and arrows pointing to where to go.  I’d say getting lost at Golden Gate Canyon State Park is next to impossible!

Colorado is full of places to explore.  In fact, as a relative newcomer, it is somewhat overwhelming.  I think I am finally well versed on all of the skiing options in the state, and I am getting a handle on all of the whitewater places.  But, hiking, climbing, and bicycling, it seems like can be done almost anywhere.  And nearly every trail area seems to have trails varying from easy to very difficult like this one.  How any Coloradan chooses where to go on a particular day remains a mystery to me