Friday, August 28, 2015

New Mexico Road Trip Planning

Inside Loretta Chapel in Santa Fe
I had planned to get out a few days with my wife and enjoy the New Mexico scenery. We only had 4 days for the entire trip and had to really keep our expenses low. I planned to travel to 4 different areas where we could enjoy the sites and scenery and actually spend a little time in the great outdoors. Santa Fe would be the hub. Hotel planning came last and we found a room in Santa Fe online for 3 nights for a great rate, with breakfast!
We packed lunch and snacks, our backpacks, my plan and drove. No backpacking, but plenty of cool places to visit.
Day 1 - Drive to Pueblo, CO and tour the River Walk. Continue to Trinidad and tour the Baca and Bloom houses and History Center. Drive south to Capulin Volcano National Monument. Drive to Santa Fe.
Day 2 - Drive to Roswell, NM and tour the International UFO Museum and the Arts Center. Return to Santa Fe.
Day 3 - Drive to Bandelier National Monument, visit Los Alamos having lunch with our friend Ruby, return to Santa Fe.
Day 4 - Visit Loretta Chapel, drive to Taos visiting the San Francisco De Assisi church and Kit Carsons home, drive through Cimaron Canyon State Park, returning home to Castle Rock.
Whew! That is a lot of driving! But it does get us in the great outdoors, into historic sites and gets us a needed vacation.
You have already read about Capulin Volcano, check out the rest of our Road Trip in the upcoming weeks.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Road Trip - Capulin Volcano National Monument

The Volcano Rim
Capulin Volcano National Monument sits in New Mexico's northeastern corner, about 30 miles west of Raton, NM off US 64/87 and NM 325. I found it while searching Google Maps a few years ago and was excited to visit the 800 acre park.
About 60,000 years ago, Capulin Volcano erupted, forming the cinder cone volcano we see today. This area is home to the 8000 square mile Raton-Clayton volcanic field. The cinder cone rises over 1300 feet above the plains to reach 8,182 feet elevation. Mostly made up of loose cinders, ash and other rock debris from the eruption, Capulin preserved its cone-like symmetry because the later volcanic flows came from its boca (spanish for mouth) at the cones western base. Mountains all around are capped with volcanic ash and tuft.
They say Capulin is "extinct" but I have my doubts. I believe we live in a worldwide volcanic 'pause' that may someday restart. When that day will come, who knows. Regardless, I chanced it and drove to the volcano's top and descended into its crater on a short hike.

Looking west across New Mexico from the rim
The visitor center at the bottom of the volcano is where you pay the $7 per car admission. There are displays with the site history, a film, bookstore and restrooms. Picnic tables are near the parking lot. To get to the top you must drive. No trailers are allowed. Closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years day. Open 8 AM to 4:30 PM, and until 5 PM during the summer months. After closing, you may walk or bicycle the road to the rim of the volcano.  Pick up a trail guide and hike one of the lava flow or boca trails from the visitor center to learn more about the volcano.
Local legend says that Capulin was named for the Spanish word for chokecherry, which grows throughout the park along with mountain mahogany, scrub oak and three-leaf sumac. Chokecherry pies are an awesome local treat, if you have never had one. Pinyon pine, juniper and ponderosa pine grow throughout the park along with prairie grasses and abundant wildflowers. From the volcano top you can see New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma on a clear day. The views from the parking area are nice too!

Windy photo of yours truly from inside the crater, next to the vent
We hiked down a steep but short trail to the crater. Near the bottom, the volcanic rocks look rough and gnarly. The wind was swirling down into the crater. While being really cool, it also had a strange feeling there. I pulled out my iPhone and opened the compass app. After it loaded, it showed north was actually pointing east about 50 degrees. I walked partly back from the vent, closed and re-opened the app and got the same reading. At the visitor center, the ranger confirmed my findings, saying the mass of volcanic rock would effect all compasses this way. Interesting! By the way, the views and trails along the volcano rim are awesome, and I can now say I have hiked to a volcanic vent, inside the crater. However, for those with a fear of high places, you may want someone else to drive you up the steep corkscrew road with no guardrails. Built in 1925, it will require a little nerve to safely drive to the top.

Inside the Capulin crater
To get to Capulin Volcano, from Denver go south on I-25, exiting at Raton, NM. Follow US64/87 east 28 miles to the village of Capulin, turning north on NM325 for 3 miles. The park entrance is well signed and is on the right. On NM325, watch for cattle crossings as they can be rough if you are driving too fast. There were no services in Capulin when we were there, so plan for gas and food in Raton.

Looking north from the rim

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bicycling the Cherry Creek Trail

Cherry Creek
I had not been hiking or bicycling much the past few weeks due mostly to my schedule, so instead of planting myself in front of the computer screen all day, I went for a bicycle ride along the southern end of the Cherry Creek Trail.  A map is available HERE.
I unloaded my bike at the Hidden Mesa Trailhead just north of Franktown on CO 83.  The park was quite busy over to the left with people working in the greenhouses and tending the flowers and plants around the log cabin in the parking lot.
I rode down the dirt farm path toward Cherry Creek, crossed the bridge and joined up with the Cherry Creek Trail at the half mile mark.  My hybrid bicycle navigated the dirt path just fine.
From here, I followed the trail less used, turning south to see for myself if the trail reached Castlewood Canyon State Park.  The plan with building the trail had been to connect Denver and the Cherry Creek State Park with Castlewood Canyon State Park, some 40+ miles to the south.  Many years ago, I had once tried to bicycle the Trail from my home in Castle Rock all the way to Confluence Park at the junction of Cherry Creek and the Platte River in downtown Denver.  What I found then were dead ends, long re-routes around private land all along the trail and lots of road riding throughout Douglas and Arapaho Counties.  The few miles of the trail from the Platte River Junction to Cherry Creek State Park were in place at the time and were a nice ride, finishing at the then new REI store.

Farmland along the trail
Today I followed alongside some hills I had never noticed before and passed through farmland with baled hay drying in the field and "working ranches" while bicycling above and west of the creek. The trail then took a left down a dirt road and joined another gravel path along a water storage pond, then turned right back onto the paved trail again.  Passing through an area with some trees I spooked a flock of birds from the ground who squawked and chirped loudly, like they didn't expect me at all.  I also felt no one else had been here in some time, like I was an intruder in the birds paradise.

Dead End
I soon found out why, when I came to the trails end just south of the highway 86 bridge.  The trail just ended there and didn't offer any way out, no connection to Franktown or to CO 86.  I turned around a little disappointed after riding only 2.75 miles from the trailhead.  Oh well, maybe the land owner will allow the trail access to Castlewood Canyon Road, providing some closure and connection.

Frog and Beetle
39.5 Mile Marker
I turned around after photographing a frog and beetle on the pavement, and pedaled back north, crossing Cherry Creek, passing under CO 86, crossing the creek again and following the path through the trees.  After going left onto the gravel path, I realized a person could bicycle on the gravel road to the left out to CO 86, turn left, then follow the highway about half a mile and turn right onto Castlewood Canyon Road to get to the park.  While the trail was well signed to keep users on the path, there were no signs showing how to get to the park.

Promoting Hidden Mesa
I quickly passed the farm path and continued north, climbing a small hill.  The trail junction up to Hidden Mesa was at the top of the hill and was well marked.  I know from hiking there, my bicycle tires and gearing are a bit narrow and weak for the route, so I continued north.  Turning right you descend Castle Oaks Road to cross under the bridge.  This section I had just ridden had not existed when I lived here before, so now I was now riding somewhat familiar ground.
I followed along the trail here which travels through private land and has some gates to be opened and closed.  Today all gates were open, no cattle were grazing here and the trail was smooth and fast. I bicycled past Bayou Gulch and the new connector trail to highway 83, then was routed behind a neighborhood that had just started construction when I rode there before.  At the end of the neighborhood, I left the trail to follow a gravel path east and up to another gravel farm road where I turned left and pedaled by another field and some farmhouses.  There are development signs everywhere along here, announcing this former farm will be developed into another neighborhood. While sad, it is inevitable that any wide open place like this will either become a neighborhood or an open space park.  The neighborhoods are winning.

Looking east across the old wooden bridge
I turned left again to go around the north side of the farm, this time onto another gravel path that crossed a wooden bridge.  The worn boards were rough with bent nails protruding from the railroad tie-like logs.  Cars are forbidden to cross this bridge and it may be one of the last wooden farm bridges left in the area.  On the good news side, the Cherry Creek Trail will most likely be completed through the future development, removing the farm bypass.
The paved trail continues along across more farm land, passes the side trail to the Pinery and continues to follow Cherry Creek northward.  My goal today was to ride to Stroh Ranch Road and turn around there, giving me a 20 mile ride.  I turned around at the Stroh Road bridge and rode back south, planning to take a short break at a bench I passed.  It was a beautiful day today and was nice except for the headwind I encountered on the way back home.

Turnaround Point Trail Sign
Working Ranch Trail Signage
Break spot on the return trip
View from the break spot
Back to the farm path at trails end
Cherry Creek under the Farm Path Bridge
I was tired at the end of the ride and was happy to be out of the wind.  I passed several bicyclists today, on both road and mountain bikes, and a couple people walking.  The trail was as nice as I remembered it and I hope to ride more of it again soon.
To start at the southern end of the Cherry Creek Trail, drive south from Denver on I-25, exiting at Founders Parkway, exit 184.  Go left and follow to CO 86 where you go left/east.  Drive to Franktown and turn left on CO 83 about a mile and a half to Hidden Mesa Open Space just past the historic Pikes Peak Grange.  Turn left into the parking area and start your ride here.  There is a porta-let, picnic tables and shelter here.  The parking area is open from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Road Trip - Rocky Mountain National Park

Lone cloud above Longs Peak at Rocky Mountain National Park
It was past time for a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  Neither my wife nor I could remember the last time we were there over a dozen years ago.  RMNP was one of our favorite places to take our children when we lived here.
On our first Colorado visit in 1989, RMNP was were we tent camped two nights, receiving snow the second night.  That inch of snow at our campsite made it impossible to climb Long's Peak, and drove us to drive across the mountains of the state to spend the rest of our vacation time at Mesa Verde National Park.  That was a fantastic vacation, and led me to apply for jobs in the west which eventually resulted in us moving to Colorado 3 years later.
It was a 2 hour drive for us today and we arrived in the park well before lunch.  At the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance, we bought an annual pass for only twice the price of the daily admission (we only need to visit twice in a year to get our money's worth).  Our plan is to return to RMNP many times during the year, camp, hike and enjoy the area.

Across from Forest Canyon Overlook
As we had done several times in the past, we just drove up Trail Ridge Road, stopping at the Forest Canyon Overlook first.  Here the overlook clearly shows glaciation with signs showing what the area used to look like under all the ice. That was 10,000 years ago.  All that time has done well to heal the wounds of the incredible weight of the ice.  Some micro glaciers still occur in the park, but mostly what you see are snowfields only with no movement of the ice.  You cannot see it, but the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs just behind the peaks across from you here along its route from Canada to Mexico. Those peaks are also the actual continental divide, which you can cross at Milner Pass on the way down the west side of the mountain towards Grand Lake.

View of Never Summer Mountains from Gore Range overlook
The roads were crowded with high summer attendance today.  The partly cloudy skies held back the rain for some time, but soon the wipers were on.  We stopped again at the Gore Range overlook, where the Ride The Rockies crew had setup the first official stop in the tundra some 15 years ago.  I'll never forget bicycling up the mountain all morning, and the openness of the area as I bicycled along the sharp edge of the road.  It was cool that day, but not raining like it was today.  I snapped some photos and we got back into the car.

Cirque at Alpine Visitors Center
Next, we headed to the Alpine Welcome Center, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car before touring the store and native American items for sale there.  The gravel Fall River Road comes out here behind the building, but it was closed for maintenance today.  Thunder and lightning prevented us from hiking the Alpine Ridge Trail where you overlook mountain upon mountain, across the Mummy Range, Comanche Peak, Neota, Rawah and Indian Peak Wilderness areas to as far as you can see in any direction.  The Alpine Welcome Center sits atop a cirque where a glacier used to run 8 miles east to end at Horseshoe Park.  Just west of us, the Kawuneeche Glacier used to reach south over 20 miles to Grand Lake.
We drove back down Trail Ridge Road to the Many Peaks Curve where we got out and walked the trail along the roadside to see the parks below us.  It was so very green, with all the rain we had experienced this year.  The rain had paused for a few minutes, then began again.

Sprague Lake Trail
We drove on to Bear Lake Road, where we drove up to the trailhead and stopped for views along the way.  The road had been thoroughly reconstructed during our absence.  Longs Peak had a cloud around it's top all day.  Sprague Lake was a beautiful stop and a quick walk in the rain around the lake.  There was too much thunder and lightning to hike in Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake and the rangers were warning everyone away.  It was sprinkling there too.
With nowhere else to hike, we the went north to Horseshoe Park and drove out the Fall River entrance back into Estes Park, passing the historic Stanley Hotel.
Next we drove south of Estes Park on CO 7 and toured the Longs Peak campsite, our first visit back there since 1989.  This is due west from the Twin Sisters Peaks.  Hiking a short way up the trail brought back many good memories. The rain was holding off on this side of the mountain and we tarried a bit while reminiscing.  Our drive back down the mountain took us through Allenspark and Lyons.  We had a great time visiting here, even during the rain!
To find Rocky Mountain National Park, drive west from Denver along US 36 to Boulder.  Continue north on US 36 to Lyons, turning left on US 36 to Estes Park.  Follow the signs through town to reach RMNP.  TrailRidge Road becomes US 34 and it ends on the west side of the park in Grandby, at US 40 (another way into the park).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Lincoln Mountain Open Space Trail

Lincoln Mountain Open Space Trailhead Parking
Lincoln Mountain Open Space Trail sits about 18 miles south of Franktown just west of CO 83. From the parking area, the Lincoln Mountain Trail loop climbs almost 400 feet up the mesa with views in all directions, and runs 4.2 miles.  The Palmer Divide Ranch Trail runs 4.5 miles through lower elevations and loops along west Cherry Creek through meadows.  The trail is multi-use so expect hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders along the way.  A map is available HERE.

Trail Junction
Easy climb through a flowered meadow
The climb gets steeper once you get in the scrub oak
Flowers are all along the trail
The trail continues to the left of the first junction and crosses a runoff ditch that feeds a pond, then moves into scrub before climbing steeply up in switchbacks across a drainage.  There are 3-4 places where the area had been very muddy when horses last came through, and dug some holes in the trail. Please allow the trail to dry a little or you will get bogged down after a heavy rain.  You will zig here and zag there as you climb, a walking stick is helpful.  You will know the steepest part is over when you pass a bench on your right with lots of views.

Drainage wall at pond
Beware when the trail is wet and muddy
Trail climbs to the top
View below
Trailhead view from near the top
Loop sign on Lincoln Mountain top
The trail then climbs to the loop portion along the side of Lincoln Mountain for about one half a mile. Once I reached the loop at the mesa top, I was greeted with the elevation of 7,394 ft etched into the sign (West Cherry Creek where you cross over on the bridge at the entrance is at 7000 feet elevation). I turned right for a counter-clockwise circumference of the mesa meadow top.

And the views were awesome in all directions. Eastward, you could see hill tops almost to Elizabeth. Looking North you could follow the mountains along the front range until they disappeared.  West you could see the mesas between Lincoln Mountain and the Front Range.  And to the South you could see from Pikes Peak to the Black Forest. Ranches and homes looked like tiny toys in the fields below.  An experimental airplane motored above, a white triangle against the rich blue sky.  A hawk flew from the ground to circle above me.  A moth kept following me, lighting on my hiking pole repeatedly as I walked.  It was very nice and was almost silent.



The trail along the mountain top was littered with small rocks.  I noticed small white quartz stones all along the trail, even when going down through the meadow.  The field atop the mesa was awash in blooms with almost every flower present blooming.  Orange Indian Paintbrush, white Yucca, yellow cactus, reds, purples, whites and yellows of every imaginable shade.  A botanist's dream.

Back of the top of mountain trail sign
Crossing through the old fence
Hiking down the mountain
I circled Lincoln Mesa and turned back downhill, passing through the old fence posts.  Once at the bottom, I turned to the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail, but gave up when I noticed the time.  I'll hike this trail soon.

Bench at Dewey's Hill on the Palmer Divide Ranch Trail Loop
To get there, follow CO 83 south 18 miles from Franktown.  Turn right on Jones Road, County Road 80, follow the gravel road to cross West Cherry Creek and take the second right into the parking lot. The approach trail runs .2 miles to where it splits for Lincoln Mountain and Palmer Divide Ranch loops.  Bring your drinking water, wear sunscreen and insect repellent.