Tag Archives: Jefferson County

A Moderate Hike at Reynolds Park

IMG_6790I became interested in the weather at a young age, in part, because its impact on all of our lives is quite evident, almost every day.  While the weather has an impact on nearly all aspects of our lives, it has the greatest impact on many of the activities we take part in for enjoyment and fulfillment.  Activities such as hiking, playing on a friendly softball team, or having a family picnic in the park take place outdoors, and require a certain type of weather conditions, otherwise they are either not possible or not enjoyable.  For many, including me, activities like these make up an essential part of life, an essential part of feeling “alive”, and an essential part of the human experience.

The weather also behaves in a sort-of predictable but sort-of not predictable manner.  From sheer observation, we can recognize certain patterns in how the weather behaves.  But, there are always some surprises, some deviations, something to keep us on our toes.  If we always knew what exactly what weather conditions to expect, some aspects of life would be easier to plan, but the weather would be far less interesting.

In Colorado, each season presents a different set of considerations.  In winter, we watch the snowpack grow, as well as when and where storms that make travel perilous hit.  In spring, we watch as the snowpack melts and the runoff produces both rapids, and potential floods.   In the summer, an issue for some in places close to Denver, Fort Collins, Pueblo, etc. is the heat.  Mid-summer in particular can get quite hot in these locations, with most days reaching highs in excess of 90 degrees.  Those looking to avoid this heat can do one of two things; wake up early or travel to a higher elevation.

I needed a calmer weekend.  The summer had been active, and I still have to expend some energy in order to make a living.  I am not extremely lucky or extremely wealthy.  But, I am hardly one to sit inside all weekend in the middle of the summer.

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Luckily, there are places one can get to from Denver in roughly an hour, sometimes less, that offer moderate intensity hikes at a high enough elevation to escape some of summer’s heat.  One such place is Reynold’s Park, close to Conifer, where we were able to find a set of trails that offer a six-and-a-half-mile loop, with a vertical climb of just over 1000 feet.  This hike is described as “moderate” in difficulty (as opposed to the hanging lake trail, with a similar vertical climb that is described as “strenuous”), and I would certainly agree with the assessment.

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We took the loop in the counterclockwise direction, using the Raven’s Roost Trail to connect to the Eagle’s Nest Trail.  I am actually glad we decided to take this loop in this direction.

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We spent roughly an hour getting to the summit, and were fortunately enough to be shielded from the sun for part of the time, due to both sections of denser forest, and partial cloud cover that afternoon.

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However, hiking the loop in this direction, we actually saved the best for last.  After “summiting”, there was a section of the hike that was generally flat, and also densely packed with pine trees.

I guess we “descended” a little bit, meaning 150 feet or so into the valley of a small creek.  When we popped out of that valley, we actually encountered the best view of all, as a clearer (from trees) section of the trail gave us clear views of some of the more interesting rock formations in the distance, including “cathedral rock” in the background of this photo.

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As we descended, I thought to myself about how sometimes I do get disappointed when I do not “save the best for last”.  What a letdown it is indeed when the best part of any hike happens within the first 45 minutes!  In fact, every time I eat a meal there is always a battle going on in my head.  I genuinely want to save the best for last, meaning, saving my favorite parts of the meal for the end.  But, I also do not want to get full on the other stuff, and not have enough room for what I enjoy the most.  This is what makes collecting the proper food at Indian Lunch Buffets a particularly daunting task.  Anyone going to one should know their appetite.  In fact, I suggest only going when there is a robust appetite, particularly for those with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I’ve been trying to, of late, capture some better pictures of wildlife.  While I haven’t necessarily been out in search of it recently, I have been trying to keep my eyes out for it, as opposed to just looking for waterfalls, unique rock formations, summits and the like as I typically do.  The previous week, in Glenwood, I took this photograph of a chipmunk eating a little cracker (also posted in my previous entry).

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At Reynolds Park, I got a chance to take this amazing close up photo of a butterfly in the parking lot after the hike.

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In fact, this particular butterfly chose to land on a yellow colored post and sit there with its wings out, color coding herself in a manner that almost felt like it was purposeful, as if the butterfly somehow thought there was a possibility it would get famous from this photo; possibly ending up as the July photo in a 2017 Butterflies of Colorado calendar that people will see at the mall, or at Barnes and Noble.

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Add to that the craziest sap discharge I have ever seen (okay, trees really aren’t wild but you get the picture), and, well I was pretty successful in trying to expand my photo-taking to new horizons.

In a divine sort of sense, sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons for changes in seasons, changes in weather patterns and such is to ensure that people are forced to go to different places, try different things, and have some kind of a variety in their lives and activities.  It is easy to do the same thing over and over again, but it is also the least satisfying way to live.  But, sometimes we need a push.  Whether that be some sort of tough situation at work, an unwelcome new presence in our community, a terrible breakup or anything else, sometimes the silver lining in all of it is getting involved in something new, something more satisfying than what was before.  While 95 degree temperatures and exhaustion are certainly less extreme than any of these situations, I know it helps push people towards variety and is giving at least some other people a chance to select a more moderate activity while taking time to appreciate nature, have a nice chat with friends, or, in my case, both.

A Weekend to Remember for Under $100?

Genesee Park is a place I had never really thought too much about.  For most of my first year and a half in Colorado, I was barely aware of it’s existence.  I mostly knew that there was some kind of park at the spot along Interstate 70 where the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains first appear, which is about half an hour west of Denver.  But, on most of those trips I would be on my way to the ski resort, or some other destination that is more well known, and farther West along the interstate.  With about half a day’s worth of spare time, and little appetite for a long drive, as holiday travels await, I decided to explore this area and see what I would find.

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Not surprisingly, I was the only person at Genesee Park today.  Not only is it off-season for places like this, but it is also a weekday, a time when most other people are working.  In addition, the park was closed for the season.  Being alone in a place like this is somewhat of a strange experience, especially for someone who is accustomed to an urban environment, with a plethora of noise and crowds.  However, being completely alone was what allowed me to truly tap into my imagination and discover what could come of a place like this during the summertime.

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What surprised me about this mountain park were the plethora of available activities.  The two short red poles are obviously for horseshoes, and the two taller metal poles are for setting up a volleyball net.

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Additionally, the park had a pretty wide open softball field, which even included a home plate and a backstop.  Combined with a subtle smell of wood near the stoves adjacent to the picnic tables and I instantly imagined myself here on a warm summer’s day, with groups of campers taking part in a multitude of activities.  I pictured not only the activities the park is specifically set up for, but a multitude of others, such as Ultimate Frisbee, or just simply goofing off with all of the logs and pine cones all over the ground.  Children seem to never run out of things to do at a place like this, but sometimes a weekend up here can bring out that imaginative side of adults as well.  With the right group of people, a simple weekend away at a place like this could prove to be quite memorable.

It also dawned on me that the experiencing I am currently imagining at this place would also be quite inexpensive, at least compared to many other activities.  I did not do the math, to calculate the cost of gas, food, tents, etc., but I could not imagine it coming out to more than $100 per person.  In fact, it could end up being quite a bit less.  Just the thought of having an incredible weekend like this for such a small price demonstrates what is really important in this world.

It is odd that Christmas time, a time originally designed for people to reflect on what is really important in life, can now have the opposite effect.  Regardless of what people think of the practice, few people avoid the stress involved in purchasing Christmas gifts at this time of year.  But, what is it that people really want?  And what do people really need for Christmas?  After a quick mental survey of the people I know, as well as society as a whole, I came to the conclusion that while a new shirt may help someone’s confidence, and a new game may prove fun to play with, we are generally looking in the wrong places to satisfy ourselves.  What many of us need is not a new gadget, or an expensive coat.  What we need is more subtle.  We need things like companionship, appreciation, a sense of purpose, and security.  These are the things that we can often find at places like Genesee Park when we share experience with one other, and share ourselves with one another amongst the breathtaking backdrop of some unexpected mountain views.

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However, it seems to me that all too often, rather than looking to places like Genesee, or to the people around us to fulfill what we need in life, we look to places like this.

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I will certainly give and receive presents this Christmas.  Some may even excite me quite a bit.  But, in the long run, the things that matter most will be more reflected in the way we view ourselves, the way we view life, the people around us, the way we treat one another, and the experiences we all have.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

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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.

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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