Friday, December 26, 2014

Daniels Park

My favorite stone picnic shelter, designed by J. Benedict in 1922
Some of the Denver areas best mountain views are found in the older Denver Mountain Parks.  Daniels Park, south of Denver keeps this promise, providing an unlimited view of the entire front range, from north of Longs Peak to the south at Pikes Peak.
Denver Mountain Parks began as an idea in 1909-1910 by John Brisben Walker and Robert W. Speer, Denver's mayor.  The idea not only included parks, but roads to connect them, so everyone could travel to the parks easily.  Over many years it grew into the huge park system we now know, including Winter Park and O'Fallon Park.  The famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was hired in 1912 and he planned the system of mountain roads and parkland of 41,310 acres. Genesee Park was the first to be developed, Red Rocks Park among the last in 1927-1928.  There is much history here, and a few of the great, local auto-tours to enjoy also.
The best picnic is from the picnic table on the edge of the bluff

One of my favorite stone picnic shelters is here, designed by J.J.B. Benedict in 1922.  It's use of native stone and timbers is wonderful.  While they have sealed up the fireplace, it is still nice to sit on the old stones and ponder the view.
The bison (native buffalo) herd here is also pretty neat to watch.  It was transplanted here from the herd in Genesee Park in 1939.  You can see how huge these animals are.
Looking north along the front range to Wyoming.  Bring your telephoto lens for mountain close-ups.

The view goes on forever.  The day we were here there was no wind at all, not even a breeze.  That is unusual, as it is almost always very windy here.
Hiking in the park is available as trails along the bison fence and the views above the bluffs.  It is still very pleasant here, a nice diversion from the fast pace slam of the Interstate.  It is a good place to rest and look out at the geologic wonder of the front range of Colorado.
To get to Daniels Park, go south on I-25 from Denver, exit at #188, Castle Pines.  Travel west on Castle Pines Parkway, turning right onto North Daniels Park Road.  The picnic shelter is on your left at Wildcat Point, bison are in  the fields to your right.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gateway Mesa Open Space

The Trail Head with my shadow 
Sometimes you find a trail that is just right.  For a nice, mostly flat 2 mile hike along a mesa top in Castle Rock, I found the Gateway Mesa Trail.  We hiked Chucks Loop, a 1.8 mile trail which crosses the mesa to the bluffs overlooking Franktown and Cherry Creek.  This is that same Cherry Creek that flows north, where the town of Denver began at Cherry Creek's confluence with the Platte River.
The trail follows along a horse farm fence for half a mile before coming to the cap rock area near the bluffs.  Here the Mitchell Creek Canyon Trail intersects Chuck's Loop.  We hiked south along this trail another half mile and stopped to enjoy the view at an overlook.

The overlook, Franktown below
More overlook.  It all drops away from the cap rock
Cap Rock.  This looks just like you are on top of Castle Rock, except for the trees

Pikes Peak

We walked back north to rejoin Chuck's Loop Trail.  The plan is to tackle Mitchell Creek Canyon Trail on another day.  Back on the main loop, we followed the trail along the cap rock via cairns.
With more trees in this area, bird life was everywhere.  From smaller than a couple fingers to full size hunting hawks, there were so many different types of birds I needed an identification book to name them.

An old gnarly cedar
Hoodoos, old and gnarly cedar trees, and a few well-placed wooden benches, this trail was interesting.  Once we got as far back as the bluff area, all sounds of traffic had disappeared and with only the sound of the wind in the trees, it was very peaceful.

Trees, Clear Sky and the Colorado Sunshine
Benches provided by an Eagle Scout Project
A cute door knocker added to a tree
Juniper berries, more than I have ever seen.  That's why there are so many birds here
We sat on a bench and enjoyed the solitude as the trail rose out of the trees and into a meadow.  There were remains of a barb wire fence to the right, lots of different grasses and the distant mountains to ponder.  I really like this trail!

A long view of Longs Peak and the front range.
And Mount Evans

A close-up of the grass
And more back-lit scrub and grasses
The trail follows along, well-marked and easy.  When wet there could be some mud, but it is mostly natural surface and rock.  We encountered some traffic noise as we rounded the north side of the trail from highway 86 and headed back to the Trail Head.  

A bluebird house.  Many were built along the trail
That small dot in the sky is the rising moon
Parting shot at the end of a fine hike
The Trail Head is located on highway 86, as you travel east from Castle Rock to Franktown, and is the last turn off to the right before dropping down to Cherry Creek.  Since the trail is short, you can hike it in less than 2 hours and still take your time.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The MAC - Purple Trail Loop

The MAC from the Purple Trail.  The Challenge Trail climbs to the top of the ridge
Today's hike was along the Purple Loop Trail at the MAC in Castle Rock.
This natural surface trail climbs quickly and provides views of Castle Rock and the new MAC site. This is the shortest of the 5 hiking/bicycling trails and it is interconnected to the Gold Loop Trail, the Red Loop Trail and the Green Loop Trail, all of which add up to over 8 miles of hilly hiking or bicycling.  This trail starts to the north of the site and is across the street from the Challenge Hill, a 200-step staircase similar in design to the Manitou Springs Incline. Challenge Hill also has the Blue Loop Trail which climbs to the top, in case you need a break from the steps.
The community park site includes a zip-line course and an adventure playground area.  The MAC is a world-class fitness facility with indoor and outdoor lighted synthetic surface fields, activity classes, a pool, classes of workout routines, a golf simulator and a trampoline.
Awesome new trail construction
Trail construction is recent and is done well with water bars and a downhill slanted trail bed for drainage.  Some sections are steep, so you need to watch your step and not slip-slide away.  A couple in front of us slipped into a trail side cactus on the loose gravel, so do be careful.
Mostly scrub cover, there is a little shade along the north side near the top of the ridge
The weather "is what it is" this week with the temperatures in the lower 60's for our hike.  The sky is perfectly clear and from one vantage point, we could clearly see a sliver of mountains over 70 miles away.  Usually December is colder here, but we will take the clear, warm weather.  Our sea-level lungs are still adapting to the altitude, and we stopped to catch our breath a couple times.
The trail markers are colored per trail, this one showing the Purple Trail loop junction
The trail is shared with mountain bikers, and it has that straight-up/straight-down feeling of most off-road bicycle trails in Colorado.  Other than seeing that other couple, we had the trail and the views to ourselves for our peaceful walk.
Future plans call for connecting these trails to the Ridgeline Open Space and the Stuart Trail network to the west.
View of the ball fields (to the right of the first photo) and the towers for the upcoming zip lines
These trails are located at the new Phillip Miller Recreation center (or MAC for Miller Activity Complex) at 1375 West Plum Creek Parkway.  Parking and hiking are free.  You can access the center off Interstate 25 at Plum Creek Parkway.  Go uphill (west) and the MAC is that massive field house on the left.
Trail Head shows you the way back to the MAC.  I love these signs!