Saturday, November 16, 2013

Castlewood Canyon State Park

This weekend we decided to go to Castlewood Canyon State Park ( to hike.  The directions are from the Park Bulletin. There is a daily charge to get into the park although we decided to get the annual pass so we can get into all state parks for the next year. Being a state park, some of the paths are marked and there are even bridges and stairs in places -- other places you are on your own!

We found a 6 mile hike on everytrail here: and followed it to the best of our ability.  We couldn't find any GPS downloads of the trail, but I downloaded the Everytrail hike onto my phone.  It appears that either my location data on my phone is off or the track on Everytrail is off because even when we were on the trail we were way off the trail according to the Everytrail track on my phone. We tried to follow the track that the Everytrail download showed, but ended up off trail and had to find our way back.  This wasn't difficult because the trail we took basically follows the canyon edge in the beginning. Even though it says it is rattlesnake country, we didn't see any and the park ranger admitted none had been sited. In the parking lot it was pretty windy and cold both coming and going, but one you got on the trail the wind/cold was not noticeable.  I started with my new down-like jacket and ended up in short sleeves before we were done.  By the time we got to Inner Canyon Trail I could have added a long sleeve shirt.  Even though the modern restrooms  were closed for winter, there were restrooms we could use - an improvement over Fox Run Park last week.

Looking at the pamphlet we got from Castlewood Canyon State Park, we started at the parking lot on Lake Gulch Trail (L), took Dam trail (H) up to Rim Rock Trail (M), then took Creek Bottom Trail (G) back to the Dam, then back to the parking lot on Inner Canyon Trail (K). This route ended up being a figure eight. The pamphlet rates Rimrock Trail as difficult, but we didn't have any problem with it. If you try it you should know your limits. We were both happy to have our hiking sticks.

Here are our hike stats by our GPS:
Distance: 6.9 miles
Elapsed Time: 3:44:39  (Willy blamed this on my picture taking - I blame it on his stubborn insistence that we follow the Everytrail track at the beginning.  lol!)
Total Ascent: 1475
Elevation Gain: 462

Cherry Creek runs through the canyon so you get a lot of nice rushing water sounds, especially on the way back toward the parking lot.  We had to cross it at the beginning.  There is an old dam that burst in 1933 flooding Denver with a 15 foot high wave.  The remains of the dam and the lake bed still exist.  In the second photo Willy is standing on one side of the dam remains.

 Here is the entire dam remains. You can see the ruins on the right (where Willy was standing) and left. We hiked across the top of the canyon on the right and came back on the left (the first half of the figure 8).  That part of the hike took us across Rim Rock trail and back on Creek Bottom Trail. We first saw the falls on Creek Bottom Trail.

I love the trees.


The falls were very pretty.

To finish the second half of the figure 8 we took inner canyon trail.  Just lovely.

 Towards the end of the trail we were confronted by a vicious animal.  lol!

We loved the hike - I'm wondering if it might be hot in the summer. There is a little something for everyone here - water, rocks, trees, a canyon, snakes, history, and geology.  It would be great to hike this with a geologist. We ran into a amateur naturalist that said we would see rhyolite (a pink rock) from the volcano erruption in Salida where we hiked to the rim of a couple of weeks ago. I think we did. He gave us the name of a couple of books to read up on geology in Colorado; "Geology Underfoot Along Colorado's Front Range" and the other I will have to get from Willy when he gets home -- it may have been "Ancient Denvers".  There were a lot of huge rocks with small rocks embedded in them that once would have been a river or lake bed.  Some of these were turned on end - like the Garden of the God's rock although not nearly as magnificent.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Mountain Hiking Supplies

The last time I was up on a mountain and wondering what we would do if we ran into a bear, I decided I was going to buy some bear spray.  I've heard people say that bears are shy creatures and that even if you wanted to find one -- say if you were hunting them, they are HARD to find.  Somehow, that doesn't make me feel better.  I think of people who feed bears and how those bears begin to look at humans as a source of food.  If they become habituated they may become aggressive.  Just this year there was an aggressive bear in Bear Creek Park near Colorado Springs.  I was reading a blog where the writer told the story of hiking on Seven Falls Trail when a crowd of people came running down claiming a bear had stolen their lunch.  I'd link you to it, but I can't find it.  The same writer also ran into two young mountain lions one morning in Garden of the Gods.

Actually, our experience on the Beaver Creek Trail made me realize that you are always about 2 seconds away from disaster on a mountain -- a fall, an injury, heatstroke, illness. When you are hours away from civilization and out of cell phone range it is kind of scary to think about what you would do if something like that happened!  Another experience we had made me realize that I don't in any way, shape or form want to be stuck on a mountain at dark. We were hiking Black Forest Section 16 which is an easy four mile trail where you are never far from a road.  We left a little late and it started to get dark after we got about half way around the trail.  Every pile of wood started to look like a bear to me (I have bear on the brain).  There are no bears in black forest that I know of.  Before long it was pitch dark and you couldn't see at all.  We had a small flashlight, but it didn't help much.  We were able to find our way to the road and walk it back to the car. At least we weren't tripping over tree roots. It made us realize that if we were on a mountain as it started to get dark and no where near to getting off the mountain, you only have a small time before it will get very difficult to find wood, build a fire, a place to build one, etc.  It also made us realize we'd want more than a little flashlight if we had to stay on the mountain at night for any reason.

So, we made up a list of things to have when we are out hiking in the mountains.

GPS:  I would say this is essential. Willy carries the GPS.  Before we got it, we got lost on Beaver Creek Trail and we weren’t sure we were on the right track to get back to the car.  Stress causes funny things and being lost on a big mountain causes stress.  So after that experience we got a GPS and it has saved us from getting lost dozens of times.  It is extremely comforting to know you are on the right track.  Just last weekend we took some alternative trails on the Dome Rock trail to avoid water crossings and weren’t entirely sure we were heading the right direction.  The GPS let us know we were.  I used to download the trails on to my phone, but it always went dead before we could finish our hike.  Not useful.  Willy also carries a compass and a trail map.  The trail map is very important because the GPS could lead you on a path (as the crow flies) that is impassible.  You have to have a topographical map to help you find your bearings among mountains.

WATER: We both always carry a water bottle.  For very long hikes we both pack extra water – 2 bottles.  I’m thinking that for a moderately long hike that you’ve never been on it is also a good idea to pack extra water.  We could have used extra water at Beaver Creek.  Willy carries water purification tablets as well.

FOOD: We pack snacks - usually grapes and cheese. For very long hikes we pack a lunch.  I have to eat every couple of hours or I can get low sugar and I start to feel sick.  I carry candy for my low sugar episodes.  We also pack 3 – 4 protein bars for each person for emergencies.   

FOOTWEAR: We always wear hiking boots.  We both shopped around and ended up getting the same kind at Dicks.  I think the brand is Keen.  It has a hard toe and high tops and is very comfortable.  I think it’s better if they are a tiny bit larger to compensate for socks.  We both wear hiking socks.  Willy’s feet get really hot and he is still experimenting with socks.  He just bought some really thin silk socks to wear under his wool ones hoping that it would help with his specific problem.  When we start running into more snow in the mountains (it’s already there in small amounts), I am going to get some yaktrax that fit onto your shoes and help with walking through snow and ice.   In the summer when I was wearing shorts I got a lot of rocks in my shoes.  Willy is going to buy me some hiking boot covers to prevent this.  Since I am diabetic I have to be careful of my feet.  There have been a couple of trails that we have had to cross rocky creek beds – once several times over.  If I know about it I carry my watersocks.  Last weekend the water was freezing so I don’t know what to do if we run into that in the winter.  I’m guessing we will have to avoid those trails until we figure it out.  I’ve looked online for water proof shoe covers; most are not completely water proof or are too bulky to carry along hiking.

EXTRA CLOTHES:  I take a light rain/wind breaker that rolls up into its own pocket (summer).  I carry a similar coat, but warmer in the winter. I have a fleece lined bandana that can be used in a lot of ways – around the neck, over the head, to cover the face.  I also carry a winter hat (in winter) and a hat with a bill. We carry extra face masks.  I didn’t have a hat at Beaver creek this summer and I think I got some heat sickness.  I found last weekend I needed the winter knitted hat in the freezing weather of the morning along with the bandana and would have liked the billed hat in the afternoon to guard my eyes from the sun (by then I had packed the bandana).  I carry a light pair of gloves because my hands get hot when I hike.  I have a light pair of mittens to wear over them when it's really cold.  When we hiked in the summer I rolled up some long armour wear (top and bottom) just in case we got stuck overnight.  All extra clothes go in a Gallon zip-lock to keep them dry.  Now that it is cold in the mornings I wear my extra clothes.  I wear layers – usually have a short sleeved t--shirt, the under armour, a thin long sleeved shirt over, a hooded sweater over that, and a hooded coat over that.  On the lower half I wear under armor and jeans.  I’d like to get some convertible hiking pants one day.  During the summer, some of the extra clothing goes in the bag in case I need it.  During the fall and winter I wear it and I end up stripping parts of it off as we warm up and then it goes in the near empty backpack in a plastic ziplock bag. We always check the weather and decide what to wear and pack on the day we are to hike.
HIKING STICKS:  My sister-in-law insisted I get these.  I did not want them and didn’t see how they could be helpful – stubborn me.  I thought they would just be one more thing to carry.  After I fell a couple times and I got vertigo on the edge of a mountain I was having second thoughts.  My sister-in-law got some for me for my birthday.  I got the Black Diamond brand from REI.  They were a little more than $100.  It took a hike or two to get used to them, but now I REALLY like them.  They have saved me from a couple more falls.  Lots of trails are gravelly and have scree – it’s easy to slide on it.  The sticks are invaluable in keeping your balance on uneven terrain, climbing hills (distributes the burden to your arms and legs), and coming downhill (spares your knees and helps you to negotiate steep downward steps).  Even on even terrain they assist in distributing the work and help you to keep an even pace.  I feel they help me to work out my whole person.

PHONE:  I still bring my phone, but most of the time we are out of range on our hikes.  I figure if someone got injured, if we were close to the top of the mountain, the other could hike to the top and call for help (if there was service).  Plus I can use it for pictures if I am tired of carrying my camera.  The pictures aren’t as good as when I use my camera though.

EMERGENCY STUFF:  We each have a tiny emergency blanket and poncho.  I have a swiss army knife, matches, flashlight and extra batteries (for the GPS and flashlight).  We still don't have good flashlights. I want to get us each a head lamp.  We each have a lighter and small candle in case we need to start a fire.  We each carry an extra pair of socks in a sealed plastic bag.  We both fell in the creek at Beaver Creek.  It doesn’t help to carry extra clothes if they get wet.  Lol!  We have a Cord/rope we could use to tie food up away from bears, make a tent out of our blankets, or whatever. I like to have extra ziplock gallon bags for shed clothes, trash, etc.  Willy has a small plastic sheet.  This could be used to separate us from wet ground if necessary.  I carry basic first aid and CPR instructions.  I just copied them off the internet.

FIRST AID KIT:  We packed a first aid kit up with bandaids, medical tape, a bandage, some Tylenol/motrin, roll-on benedryl for itch relief, clariton for allergies, and an ankle brace.  I have a few wet ones and a small bar of soap as well.

SAFETY:  We take bear spray because I’m totally paranoid about bears-- have I said that before?  I got some bear bells and may get one of those really loud whistles.  It could come in handy to garner attention if we are in trouble.  We do have normal whistles for that purpose. I carry sun block lip balm.  The lip balm comes in handy if you get a little dehydrated or the sun burns your lips. We haven’t done it, but I think it would be a good idea to carry important pills that you take in case you end up in the mountains overnight.

COMFORT ITEMS: I always bring sun glasses and a case for them too. I bring Kleenex.  Noses run when it’s cold.  (-; I have a tiny spray bottle of hand sanitizer we use before we eat. Toilet paper comes in handy.  I have a small bottle of bug spray, but I have only needed it once – on the Beaver Creek trail.  We also have those little disposable toothbrushes that come with toothpaste pre-applied that you can get at the commissary.  We carry a small face towel for our feet at stream crossings.
CAMERA - I have carried my SLR camera on many hikes but it is a pain.  Now I have a small Nikon I bring that is much more practical, but the pictures aren't as fantasti, just super great. lol!

PACKED IN THE CAR: We also put a 2nd pair of shoes, socks and an extra outfit in the trunk.  We haven’t used the extra clothes, but use the shoes and socks almost every time.  It feels good to get the hiking boots off after a long hike.  Willy likes to pack a cooler in the trunk with extra waters/sodas for after the hike.  At Beaver Creek it totally saved us.

I sent this list to a friend who was going on a very long hike - like 16 miles or so up a mountain. His hiking companion told him he didn't need all this stuff -- you just needed to go!  Well when my friend returned he told me that they saw scratch marks on the trees and smelled a musky bear smell and he and his friend were very glad to have the bear spray.  lol!  He also said that the hiking sticks saved him from falling many a times.  I feel vindicated.  (-;

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fox Run Regional Park Trails

This weekend we decided we only had time for a short hike and so we chose to go to Fox Run Regional Park where we hiked a loop inside the park.  It was pretty and had some hills so you felt you were getting a workout. 

Distance 3.3 miles.
Elevation gain: 326 ft
Total ascent: 1029 ft

 Here's some pictures:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Volcano Crater Hike in Salida, CO

This weekend we decided to participate in a guided hike of a volcano crater near Salida, CO. We took Hwy 24 to Hwy 285 on the way there and Hwy 50 to 115 on the return drive home.  Here we stopped at Wilkerson Pass to enjoy it's beauty.  One year when Willy, Meg and I drove through the valley on our way to skiing the road was lined with 5 feet of snow on either side. It was astonishing. We never saw it again or since so perhaps it was before the drought or was an anomaly. It is too early to have snow like that now.

We arrived the night before to find the meeting point and because we had an 8:00am meeting time. Just outside of town we saw this meadow and a very large gathering of deer -- more than I've ever seen in one place together.  It turns out that these deer are smart enough to come inside the city limits where hunting is prohibited to avoid getting shot!

We stayed at the Comfort Inn which turned out to be very comfortable.

In the morning volunteer naturalist Bob Hickey led us and 17 others up the trail to the volcano crater.  It took longer hiking out than the return because Bob stopped several times to let us in on some very interesting geologic information.  On the way back we separated from the group and hiked on our own.

GPS Readings:
Distance: 8.1 miles
Elevation Gain:   395 ft  (8865 to 9260)
Total Ascent: 1818 ft

Elapsed time
2:57 outbound
1:31 return
The Directions and Hike Overview are paraphrased versions of the email we got explaining the hike.
 Directions to Trail head:
Turn east off CO Hwy 291 onto County Road #175. Proceed east on County Road #175 for 6.6 miles.  At the Y bear right continuing on County Road #175.County Road #175 leads up through Ute Creek Canyon to the intersection of Forest Service Road # 181 on your right. We met Bob and the other hikers in the large parking lot on the right.  From there we drove up the smaller dirt road branching off the parking lot another 0.7 mile south on US Forest Service Road #181 to begin the hike. We parked our cars when we reached the large meadow and began our hike down the dirt road.

Hike Overview :
We began the hike in an open meadow with nice views of the surrounding area and soon entered the forest, walking along a west facing hillside with periodic open views.  For this entire first segment of the hike we were in the lower (Kerber Formation) to middle (Minturn and Sharpsdale Formations) Pennsylvanian sedimentary rocks.  As we dropped into upper Cottonwood Gulch we entered the volcanic rock zone of the Salida Volcano Field.  We encountered a beautiful pond as we cross to the south side of the Gulch and began our climb out beside Rick Mountain (a large volcanic deposit). The dirt road then followed the west slopes of Big Baldy Mountain (the main volcano in this area) to a saddle connecting Big Baldy with “The Crater” (a side vent volcano of Big Baldy) through mostly varying kinds of volcanic deposits (some Pennsylvanian deposits and a Granodiorite lacolith do protrude the volcanic covering in spots).  We followed the trail across the saddle and up the southeast side of the cone to the top of “The Crater” where we had lunch before returning via the same route. 
We weren't sure whether to expect snow or not, but we saw very little. It was a perfect day weather wise -- the temperature reached into the 60s.  Initially we were cold waiting to get started on the hike.  It was a good reminder that the only reason we are warm enough hiking in the winter is because we are moving.  For this reason I pack extra clothes in case something happens where we can't move.  We did hear some hunters firing away on the mountain, but there were no bullets buzzing overhead like on Mt. Herman.  On the way out to the crater we made several stops to learn about the geology of the mountain.  It was what we came for, but it prevented us from getting into a hiking rhythm. Because of this when we had to hike a hill we were not warmed up to do so efficiently. The hike was well worth it to see the views along the way and at the top.  Most of the "trail" was a dirt road and only parts were gravelly. 

Here's where we started the hike.

 These golden plants really glistened in the sunshine; much more than this photo shows.

The pond.
 This is a back view of the crater.
 Here you can see the town of Salida down below.  We are sitting on the rim of the volcano.
 Here's a photo-merge I made of the entire crater.  The flat tan part is the crater with the black rocks in the center right being the rim. The white rocks on the middle far right is where the last explosion originated from.  He said the volcano blasted out of the side similar to Mt. Saint Helen's which is why there is no rim left on the left side of the crater.

 These were some geese we saw in the Arkansas River on Hwy 175.
The drive back home on hwy 50 was extraordinarily beautiful, but I have a hard time asking my husband to stop along the way so I can take photos.  Next fall I want to make that drive just for that purpose. 

I'm glad we took this hike because there will be others that we can tag along on also.  There are apparently a number of dead volcanoes in Colorado.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mount Herman Loop

Today we went to Monument and hiked Mount Herman Loop.

We used Every Trail's directions, description and map of the hike (  It is a pretty good description. I read many online comments about people who became lost on Mt Herman.  It made me recall the problems we had at Beaver Creek and I was wondering if I really wanted to hike this mountain! We found it essential to have a GPS because there are a ton of trails that branch off of this one and it was extremely useful to compare our track to the one we downloaded.  I think we would have gotten lost without it, but it was easy with it.

It was windy and cold at the start of the hike, but we didn't hike far before the extra layers came off. It will get close to 60 degrees today.  This wind flag was in front of the parking lot we parked in - the first one we saw after turning onto Red Rocks Drive from Herman Rd.

Here are the stats from our GPS:

Distance: 8.9 miles
Elapsed Time: 4:48
Elevation Gain: 1121 feet
Total Ascent: 2315 feet
Average moving speed: 2.2 mph  Max 4.4 mph

We somehow missed the fact that we were to hike the road (Mt. Herman) up and so initially we were a little confused.  A check of the track Willy downloaded on to our GPS and we knew we were good.  One thing Every Trail didn't mention is that the first three miles are uphill. The incline of the road was gradual though and not difficult -- we tolerated it very well. Plus, because it is a road, the walk was level and not as demanding as climbing up an uneven trail. There were some nice views glancing down.  You can see the road we just hiked up on the left side.

Here is evidence that plants are very hardy and can grow just about anywhere. The roots are grown right into the rock.

Towards the top of the road where trail 715 departs from Herman Road there is a shooting range - at least we heard lots of gunfire.  See the "No Shooting" sign with all the bullet holes in it?  This was a sign of things to come.

We hiked a little more uphill from the trailhead and then started into Limbaugh canyon. Here's a site we don't often see on trails:
A burned out car.  Wonder how that got up here? When we got to a nice rocky spot further down, we decided to take advantage and have a small snack - grapes and cheese -- our favorite.  When we were nearly finished, I heard a bullet whistle over our heads.  I looked at my husband and he confirmed what I thought.  Then two more.  I would have been happy to get off the mountain at this point.  "Hey, there's people down here." I yelled. I would have hiked back the way we came except that was where the shots were coming from. We continued on down the trail, talking a bit louder to make our presence known, and soon walked out of range. It was a little too close for comfort, but now that I'm safe at home I'll admit that I've never heard bullets whistle past before (just like on tv) and that was an experience.  lol! Willy thought these shots had ricocheted off of something up at the shooting range.

Now we are really enjoying the beauty of the canyon not to mention that much of it is downhill which after three miles up is much appreciated.  Much of the trail is covered with a carpet of aspen leaves.  This bridge was NOT to be trusted. lol!

There was a little tiny creek (Monument Creek) that trickled along side the trail and as we walked it was growing a bit bigger.  We had to cross it several times.  Luckily it wasn't very wide, maybe 6 feet or so at its widest and there were either rocks to skip across or trees laid across for us to walk on. Our walking sticks came in VERY handy here! This was the first crossing.

We were surprised to see that there were still some aspens with color left.

We left the woods and entered into a meadow.  We saw plenty of prairie dog mounds, but no snakes!

This trail is popular with mountain bikers.  They looked like they were really having a good time! We did not see any other hikers.

We eventually hiked back into the woods where there were some really large boulders with the creek running through them.  It was very pleasant to hear the bubbling water.

And there were more creek crossings. The second picture actually shows 2 crossings, one on the left and one about 20 foot further where we crossed back again.

A couple of times we saw snow on the path. We were on the shady side of the valley all the time through here -- it felt good -- you get pretty hot hiking.  At Everytrail's Point of Interest 7 we saw Trail 715 Palmer Lake overlook which is so pretty it startles you when you come upon it.

This is a nice view of the south side of Spruce Mountain which is also a very nice hike. It's scary when you can recognize mountains by name.  lol!

After this you have a couple of trail changes - HZ and White Ghost.  Both of these are marked with a sign post.   HZ has you climbing again to avoid private properties.  This trail is very rocky and was hard on my ankles.  I started to trip up on the rocks.  My walking sticks saved me a couple of times.  I'm guessing I wasn't stepping high enough because my legs were pretty tired at this point. Willy was fine. There was some pretty fall colors here still, especially with the light shining through the trees, and woody woodpecker made an appearance.

Close to the end there are some enormous red rocks that are pretty impressive.  Around the corner we found some pretty jovial bikers, one who had popped his tire and was replacing it.

At the end of the hike we saw these leafless bushes that look like they have been lit on fire by the colorful grasses.

When we arrived at the end of the trail it met Red Rocks Dr and there was the parking lot, but not our car!  Yikes! Looking down the street we saw a second parking lot and our car. Whew! The flag on the pole is still now. This hike had a little bit of everything and it's closer to home than some of the others. I can think of a time when the intensity of this trail would have given us pause, but we are feeling pretty good about it! You could shorten this hike by driving up Mt Herman Rd.  There is a small place to park at a trail head shortly before you get to the trail head for trail 715.  Of course you'd have to have two drivers, one to park at the lot where the trail drops you off at the end and one to park near the trail head for trail 715. It would cut off about 3 miles (of uphill climbing) I think.