Monday, May 25, 2015

Red Rocks, It's More Than Just a Music Venue

First things first on this Memorial Day...We want to wish all current and former military a great big Thank You for your service to our country. You sacrifice a lot to keep our country safe. 


We've relocated to Chatfield State Park for a week. Located on the Southwest corner of the Denver metropolitan area, it's more peaceful than our last stop: Cherry Creek State Park. This location also puts us closer to the foothills, with more opportunities to hit the trail...if it would only stop raining for a few days. You see, we keep getting afternoon thunderstorms, which is perfect for keeping things brilliant green, but makes for some very muddy trails so we've got to be choosy.

Taking the advice of a local, we decided to check out Red Rocks Park; it's the site of the world famous amphitheater nestled within red rocks. It's a stunning place to take in a concert under the stars, but by day it's an exercise mecca. Miles of trails traverse the hills among the red rocks and hardcore fitness fiends make up elaborate routines among the bleachers and stairs of the amphitheater.

We figured the red rock sandstone would provide a less mucky surface for hiking than other trails we'd tried lately, so we headed out to Red Rocks on a sunny morning. Our goal was the 6.5 mile loop utilizing Red Rocks trail, Dakota Ridge, Village Walk, Morrison Slide, then back to Red Rocks trail. Tack on another mile or so to climb the stairs at the amphitheater and we ended up with an 8 mile hike under our belts.

First though, we had to get out of Chatfield. We'd already noticed the reservoir was quite high, in fact it is currently 8 feet above the normal high water line. Exiting the park from the East entrance on this morning we had to cross the South Platt River as it flows into the reservoir...and it was now flowing over the road by a few inches! There's been concern the past couple of years about what would happen if a plan was implemented to raise the reservoir level, perhaps this was a sign of things to come?

The South Platte River has breached its banks and the road!

Once we made it to Red Rocks, we couldn't help but be impressed by the massive red sandstone formations jutting out of the verdant green landscape.

There's an amphitheater hiding in those rocks!

One of the most interesting parts of our hike was the Dakota Ridge, also known as the Dakota Hogback. This ridge of hard Dakota Sandstone is a natural barrier between the plains and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. From the West side it doesn't look like much, but once you get on top of it the sharp, slanted ridge provides dramatic views of both the geologic wonder itself and the surrounding countryside.

From the East side of the Hogback you can easily see the ~45 degree angle of the formation.

Atop the Hogback we could see it continuing South of us and, across a small valley, the foothills rise up to the West, including Red Rocks Park.

Walking the razors edge!

Amazingly mountain bikers ride the Hogback, and once we started down the North end of our trail
we could see the trail was built by mountain bikers with log ramps to help them through the steep sections.

Leaving the Hogback behind, we crossed highway 93 and entered the verdant green valley of  Matthews Winters Park.
We'll be zig zagging our way up the boulder strewn hill in the center of the photo.
Notice the sun and blue sky we started with has disappeared...

All the creeks and rivers in these parts are running strong.

As we headed up the Morrison Slide trail we enjoyed great views across the valley of the Hogback we'd just traversed.

Walking among the rocks on Morrison Slide, we also had great views into the canyon West of us.

Brilliant lichens covered the rocks atop Morrison Slide.

A meadow atop Morrison Slide provided a respite from the climb and provided great views.

Looking over the edge.

There's the Hogback!

The slanted rocks of Red Rocks Park come in to view as we head down the South side of Morrison Slide.

Massive red rocks dominate the near view, while Denver stretches out to the East of us.

Once we finished our loop it was a short walk from the Lower North Parking Lot to the amphitheater. Since there was a concert scheduled for that evening we had only a few minutes to enjoy the spectacle of the amphitheater itself and the hordes of exercisers and sightseers before they closed off the venue for a sound check.

This is maybe one third of the stairs into the amphitheater!

Halfway to the stage!
Those red rocks enclose both sides of the amphitheater, providing incredible natural acoustics.

The stunning view from the top of the bleachers.

We returned to Chatfield State Park to find the South Platte River had risen a few more inches, but they were still letting people drive through single file.

We made it home before the rain started again, and enjoyed only mildly muddy trails. Even though there is a lot of road noise while hiking on the Dakota Hogback, the amazing views did a good job of distracting us from the racket. All in all, a great day on the trail!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Denver Part 1: Cherry Creek State Park

We split our time in Denver, CO between two state parks. First, a week at Cherry Creek State Park. This park may have been on the edge of town at one time but now it is fully engulfed in the big city. Fortunately, beyond the dull roar of busy streets surrounding the park, it is a green oasis full of wildlife and trails.

Colorado is still experiencing a very wet spring and that worked in our favor to keep the crowds down during our stay at Cherry Creek. This park gets very busy on nice days but with rain in the forecast every single day we generally had the trails to ourselves.

On our only sunny morning of the week we took a gorgeous 7 mile loop walk around the South end of the park.

The Rockies as seen on a rare clear morning from the Wetlands Trail..
That's the Dam Road slicing across the photo, drive it if you get the chance, the views are incredible!

Deer are abundant throughout the park. 

At the South end of the park we left the paved trail for a walk through prairie.
We didn't see the sun very often during our stay, the vivid colors of the sky,
the prairie and the mountains took our breath away.

Cherry Creek has the largest dog park we've ever encountered.
It's 107 fenced acres of off-leash fun with multiple access points to Cherry Creek.

Trail along the edge of the giant dog park.
Lots of happy dogs spread out across this acreage!

The campground is located in the North East quadrant of the park and has easy access to paved trails near the lake, perfect for the last stroll of the day or a quick walk between storms...

All types of water sports are allowed on Cherry Creek Reservoir, but the cold,
damp weather kept folks off the water during most of our stay.

The reservoir is very high due to the excessive rain lately, making some picnic areas off limits except to the water fowl.

Bullock's Orioles were bright flashes of color everywhere.
Who needs a fishing right from the stairs!

Denver has a bustling downtown, lots of great looking places to eat and drink, it reminded us a lot of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter...but my photos did not turn out all that great. Instead I'll share with you a great spot for happy hour: Adrift Tiki Bar.

Adrift, the only tiki bar in Denver.

We enjoyed a couple of tasty rum drinks for happy hour.

Replacing our toilet was a good rainy day task. Of course, being a plumbing project, a trip to the local hardware store was included.

It's like working in a closet...

This Dometic 310 replaced our old Thetford toilet.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge sits on the North edge of Denver and is a 15,000 acre story of transformation. Native Americans hunted bison on this land hundreds of years ago. Western settlers began farming and grazing cattle here in the 1800's.

World War II brought immense change when the Government bought out 200 farmers and turned the land into a weapons development site and later a weapons storage site. Nasty weapons, such as sarin and mustard gas. Agricultural chemicals were also developed here by Shell.

Over time all these chemicals needed to be destroyed and were stored based on the accepted practices of the time. Eventually extensive environmental cleanup was necessary to mitigate the effects of inadequate destruction/storage of these hazardous materials. In the 1980's the US government and Shell teamed up to properly handle these materials (based on current knowledge) and the discovery of a bald eagle roost led to the creation of the Wildlife Refuge on the property.

The Refuge has a nine mile driving route plus a few miles of trails through wetlands and short grass prairie. The excellent visitor center provides historic detail on the property.

Bison have been reintroduced on the Refuge.
How about the juxtaposition of bison and big city?

Wetlands dot the Refuge.
There are swallows, by the hundreds, flying over the water.

Prairie dogs cavort on the short grass prairie.

We've been doing a lot of city stuff due to all the rain including doctor appointments, REI sale and various other shopping. Thanks to the doctor in Littleton we learned about the Littleton Museum, a combination of indoor historical exhibits and two living history farms, one from 1860 and another from 1890. This museum would be especially interesting for families but we enjoyed the sites and animals too.

1860 cabin and outhouse.

Blacksmith shop.

The back view is just as pretty... the front view!

Combine the museum with a walk through Ketring park next door and you've spent a nice couple of hours in the city.

Goslings in Ketring park.

Ketring Lake.

Wood duck with young.

Cherry Creek State Park was a convenient place to stay in Denver. There's 4,200 acres of park including trails, water sports on the lake, horseback riding and the enormous dog park. There are 135 camp sites, most with full hook ups and decent separation. Each camp site has a picnic table and fire ring.

We had back in site #29 in the Coyote Loop with lots of space between us and our neighbors and a view into a grassy meadow where we saw deer every day. We had decent Verizon signal during our stay but the campground wifi was pretty slow.

Site 29 was extremely deep, though the unpaved access got kind of muddy since we had so much rain.
Many other camp sites had full paving from the street.

View of our site from the neighbors site...good spacing!

Deer came through our site daily and hung out in the meadow beyond the trees.

Next up: Chatfield State Park, also in Denver.