Friday, January 30, 2015

Plum Creek Trail South

The Plum Creek Trail, walking north from the Plum Creek Parkway bridge
Castle Rock's East Plum Creek Trail continues south along Plum Creek from the Wolfensberger Road exit to end at Perry Street, just below Plum Creek Parkway.  I had previously walked two other sections of the trail (1 here) and (2 here) and completed this one the first day that the snow had melted enough to walk it without snow boots.  In all, the trail runs 6 miles from the north end of the Meadows to south of Plum Creek Parkway and connects to two other trail systems in town, the Hangman's Gulch Trail and Sellars Gulch Trail.

Fair Street connection
Nice, tree-lined area near the space provided for the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse
A bench to enjoy the solitude and watch the wildlife

I accessed the trail at the Plum Creek bridge.  Walking north, the first thing I noticed was how it got a little quieter once I was walking below the road bed.  Pools of frozen water told how cold it had been recently.  There was a little snow on the trail, but nothing that couldn't be managed with tennis shoes. I wore a windbreaker and a sweater for warmth.  It didn't reach into the 50's this day.  A cool 42 degrees was what my car thermometer reported as I started.  Needless to say, my water stayed cold. This walk was about a mile and a half one way.  A trail map can be found HERE.

Interpretive Materials explains the plight of the endangered mouse
I had known about the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse from when I lived here before.  In Douglas County, they have set aside special places for the species to thrive and have worked to protect the mouse and its habitat from development.  Discovered in 1899 by Edward A. Preble, in 1995 it was listed as endangered from creek erosion, non-stop commercial and residential construction, trail building, pollution and the highways.  What I learned here today was how CDOT (Colorado's Department Of Transportation) took up the problem and helped design and build the trail, and recondition the land and creek around the roads to better serve the mouse.  It looks like the rodent and river population may have improved since the work was completed.  Read HERE about the PMJM and the endangered species act.  The mouse still remains endangered due to development along the Colorado and Wyoming front range.  Further studies will show how we can continue to coexist with nature.

Castle Rock continues to impress me with their trail signage.  Turn left here
The trail continues under the I-25 bridge.  Note the rock structures added to the right to protect the town during floods
The trail passes the high bank on the west side of Plum Creek
Here it gets noisy, walking along the side of the Interstate highway
The shadow of the 5th street bridge keeps the snow from melting
The beaver have built a few dams along the creek.  A good thing!
Wall painting supporting Project Recycle, a group who gathers used bicycles and reconditions them for free
Wolfensberger Bridge and exit at Castle Rock.  My turn-around point for today.
Just north of here the trail turns away from the noise of the Interstate
I continued north along the trail which now is just below the level of the Interstate and is only 30 to 70 feet away.  To say it is loud is an understatement.  I know there is little they can do to lower the whoosh and roar of noise from the traffic and trucks on I-25.  I closed my mind to the noise and continued along.  The roar decreased a bit with more room and trees between us.  I know the trail and Interstate turn away from each other just north of Wolfensberger Road and the noise level just drops and becomes peaceful again.  If you are bicycling this area, the noise may not be as bothersome to you.  If you prefer hiking in nature, just know the sounds get better the farther you hike away from the Interstate.
As for the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse, the nocturnal animal won't be bothered by the noise along here during the reduced traffic at night.
The retaining wall near the Wolfensberger Road bridge is hand painted with signs about Project Recycle.  It is a group that collects used bicycles and reconditions them for free.  These bicycles are given locally and are shipped around the world.  I volunteer there occasionally as a bicycle mechanic.
To get to today's hike, from I-25, take exit #181 onto Plum Creek Parkway.  Turn left and cross Wilcox Street, then take the next left and park in the Safeway parking lot.  The trail entrance is just across Perry Street and to the left of the store.  Other trail heads with official parking are located at Meadows Parkway and Festival Park in Castle Rock.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Project Recycle

Project Recycle
The retaining wall along Castle Rock's Plum Creek Trail near the Wolfensberger Road bridge is hand painted with art supporting Project Recycle.  This is a non-profit group that collects used bicycles and reconditions them for free, mostly as gifts for children and families.  These bicycles are given away both locally and they are shipped around the world.  I volunteer here occasionally as a bicycle mechanic.

Wall hand-painted art supporting Project Recycle
When I lived in Castle Rock before, I did this same thing on my own.  I would pick up child's bicycles or bike parts left out with the trash, throw it in my truck and would later recondition them and give them away.  Occasionally, I would purchase parts on sale and donate them to the cause of repairing a bike.  I called it ReBike.  A grown man in tears, accepting a reconditioned bicycle for his child at Christmas is something I will never forget.  I will gladly help an organization to do that same thing over and over.
I am an OK bicycle mechanic, am mostly self-taught and even own a few bicycle tools.  I used to own a bike repair stand until I wore it out.  Just rub me up in lithium grease, put some bike wrenches in my hands and point me toward a bike, adjustment, love...  I'm happy!
Project Recycle has several sets of professional work stations, and many bicycle tools available to use.  Spare and new used parts, lubes, oil and bearings are shelved and stored in cabinets and drawers.  Usable wheels, forks and frames are hung on racks so they can be easily located and reused.

The view of the wall looking north
Most of the 20,000 square feet of donated space at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital is split between repaired bicycles that are ready for shipment and bicycles waiting to be fixed.
The work process works like this:  There is a pile of bicycles is in the middle of the repair area.  You pick a bicycle and test it to see what it needs.  Usually, the headset may be frozen, the chain is rusted, the cables are loose.  You check brakes, pedals and the bottom bracket.  Pull on the wheels and handlebars to make sure they work OK.  There is a checklist to follow, just like at a local bicycle shop.  They even have shop aprons to keep your clothes clean and hand cleaner available to spiff up before you leave.
The people here are really nice.  Kent, the shop manager oversees the volunteers and makes sure we know the rules and sign the paperwork.  Then he helps us locate parts.  Patrick also has much bicycle repair experience, and he helps with the adjustments and the difficult, detailed repairs.  Both are very knowledgeable and are incredibly helpful. They even hold classes to teach students about bicycle repair.
I repaired two bicycles the last time I was there; a child's bike with training wheels and a mid-1980's hybrid bike for an adult.  And yes, I took some parts down to the bearings to get them right.  They weren't new, but they were safe and ride-ready.  Both will bring pleasure again for a long time.
This is a great place to volunteer your time Wednesday nights or Saturday mornings.  You can donate your old bicycles or your money to buy grease, tools and spare parts.  I'll be here routinely, fixing something children can enjoy for free.  And I'll be happy!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Garden of the Gods

Forever Free to the Public

What can you say about a place too beautiful to:
A. Capture with photographs?
B. Exist within a city?
C. Actually be a city park?
Well, the answer is "never enough".

Lots of places for climbers to enjoy and birds to live
From near the original park visitor center, looking north
That's the Kissing Camels rock formation above

Garden of the Gods was one of the first places we visited as a couple touring Colorado the first time in 1989.  There have been many changes since then, mostly with improvements in the arrangement of traffic flow through the park.  The city park is a National Natural Landmark and you will see why the first time you visit.  The Visitor and Nature Center is a museum of geology with an HD film about "How Did Those Red Rocks Get There".  You can eat with a view of geologic time and explore the shop, all without braving the weather outside.

View from near the Visitor Center (From Garden of the Gods website)
The gap near the Forever Free sign above
The nice paved trails offer outstanding views
Juniper berries feed the plethora of birds here
Many different kinds of rocks are on display

By the way, this is all free of charge.  You have to pay for your food and gifts, but you can walk, bike, picnic and take all the pictures you want, even visit the Nature Center for free.  The park is only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days.

The Three Graces
Just past the Kissing Camels formation
The Trading Post

Once you have your bearings you can drive through the park, or mountain bike or hike the available trails.  There are classes in rock climbing, geology and park history.  A paved trail leads you to many of the rock formations like the Three Graces.  There are picnic areas to spend time with family and friends, many with tables and views.  Visit Rock Ledge Ranch.  Pikes Peak rises above it all.  There is even a very rare dinosaur skull that was found here.  Do check out the balancing rock and visit the Trading Post.
Most of all, relax.  The views here are outstanding, the breezes are cool, birds circle above you in the rocks.  Your camera can never convey the spiritual feeling here, much less show the scale or detail of the rock.  This is a place to be peaceful.  Enjoy it.
Directions are easy.  The route is well marked.  From I-25 in Colorado Springs, Exit onto Garden of the Gods road.  Drive west until the road ends, turning left onto 30th street at the sign.  Follow about a half mile and turn left into the visitor center to enjoy your day.
(Map courtesy Garden of the Gods website)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Plum Creek Trail Continues

The always present Castle Rock

We hiked south along the Plum Creek Trail in Castle Rock, south from Meadows Parkway to Wolfensburg road, the next overhead bridge crossing.  This 2.5 mile section of trail meanders alongside Plum Creek and is far enough away from traffic to be peaceful.  I tend to walk slowly and stop and look at the trees, the plants and everything.  My hiking partner is in it for the exercise, so our talks get somewhat humorous at times.

Plum Creek 
Nicely paved trail
Some rock placed to keep the creek in the right channel
View from the hiking bridge over the creek

There are several spots to relax and watch the creek flow north to Chatfield Lake and the Platte River Trail.  We met some horses grazing along the trail where we cross private property.  A big thanks to the folks who allow this trail to pass through their property.

Horses grazing

Hole above

At one point along the trail I noticed a "hole" in the sky above us.  Cloud formations are always interesting in Colorado.  The weather would worsen the next few days keeping us inside to stay dry and warm.

The Beatles : )

There were many birds here along the creek, even "the Beatles" welcoming us to the trail.
There is also a cross trail that connects up to the Castle Rock itself called Hangman's Gulch Trail.  It too is paved.  Signage is very good.

Excellent signage
And good directions
Trail adopters

We have now covered about half of the Plum Creek Trail system in town.  The trail continues south to a point past Plum Creek Parkway, another 2 or so miles to go.  It also connects with the paved Sellars Creek Trail to go through town, and then ends just south of the Parkway.  This trail is part of the future Colorado Front Range Trail, ultimately connecting front range communities from Wyoming to New Mexico.  That would be an awesome hike or bike ride!

Castle Rock...
...and closer...
Eventually we will finish the south portion of this trail and will write about that.  To begin where we started, exit I-25 at #184, Founders Parkway in Castle Rock.  Turn west toward the Meadows, crossing Highway 85 (Santa Fe Trail).  Cross the bridge over Plum Creek and the railroad tracks. Turn left just past the bridge into the trail head parking area.  There is a trail head map on the Plum Creek Trail website above.  Bring water, wear a hat and enjoy your quiet walk!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dawson Butte

Dawson Butte overlooking the 5 mile loop trail

Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space is a 25 square mile plot of Douglas County open space land, just 7 miles south of Castle Rock.  The mostly forest-covered land was purchased to preserve the open space feel and provide recreation.  The loop trail runs 5 miles and is a favorite with area runners and bicyclists.  Horseback riders also enjoy the area and the 60 horse jumps placed along bridal paths.
The day we went was cold and we only saw a few other people on this usually popular trail.

Well marked, easy to follow trail

Bench by the trail

Open Space began in 1994, when it was voted in by the Douglas County residents as a way to preserve some of the quickly disappearing lands in the county.  As a past and present resident, I have enjoyed many of the county's open space lands.
The Dawson Butte Open Space Trail travels from trees to meadow and back to heavy tree cover, providing shade and peace.  A few benches are placed along the trail, with picnic tables at the start and at the halfway point.  The hike starts at the high elevation of around 6800 feet, drops over 2.5 miles to the lower elevation of just over 6500 feet, and climbs back almost 300 feet of elevation near Tomah Road to the trail head.  Front range views are nice, and the ever-present Dawson Butte looks over all here.  There are no trails (or access) to the top.  We all liked the hike, enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees, while listening to birds and watching the views.  At times you could smell the pines all around you.  It is a very different experience from the areas around Castle Rock, with so much timber here.
This actually felt like a "real hike".  Where the shorter trails and sections we had been hiking had been fine, they didn't provide as much of a workout, or an extended time "on Trail".  I did have some sore muscles afterward, and this was a good hike at a good time for my leg recovery.  For spring, this will be the trail that I can walk a couple times a day to get into shape for longer trips in the high country.  I highly recommend this hike for all.  I would like to come back and snowshoe here this winter.

Meadow walk

Benches are available

The Stairway to Heaven, Manger Meadow, Tomah Meadow and Fenceline trails are bridal paths and include those 60 horse jumps.  A dirt road provides emergency access through the park.  There is no water, so bring your own.  A Port-a-let is available at the trail head.  Trail maps are available HERE.
Peaceful hiking trail

Indian Head view
To get to Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space, take I-25 south of Denver to Castle Rock.  Exit at mile 181, Plum Creek Parkway, turn right under the railroad overpass, then turn left to go south on the frontage road (on the west side of the Interstate).  Follow south to the right turn on Tomah Road.  Watch for trains at the railroad crossing!  Follow Tomah Road up the hill, turning right into the trail head.  Park here and hike.  Following the trail clockwise will lead you alongside of Tomah road for the start, counter-clockwise will take you into the pines first.