Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hidden Mesa Trail

Hidden Mesa Open Space Picnic Shelter
To the east of Castle Rock is the trailhead for Hidden Mesa Trail.  This trail runs east-west from the farm valley floor of Franktown to the top of Hidden Mesa, near the Terrain and Founders neighborhoods.  Today I hiked the eastern portion of the trail that runs from highway 83 to the paved Cherry Creek Trail.
The trail runs over 7 miles round trip and winds through the rolling 1224 acre property. Cherry Creek runs through the property and brings the riparian area to meet the grasslands. The uplands include shrubs and forests along with the cap rock on top of the mesa.  4.7 miles of the trail are natural surface and the paved Cherry Creek portion runs .3 miles.  The valley portion of the trail is rated moderately easy with the mesa portion rated moderately difficult.

Trail sign along farm lane
Along with day hikers, this trail is popular with mountain bikers, horseback riders and families with children and pets.  Drinking water and a Port-a-let are available at the picnic shelter.  The parking lot handles cars and horse trailers.  The original farm house stands closed here, a reminder of simple architecture and of additions as the family changed.

R & D Center sign
At this trailhead, Douglas County is conducting a research project with the Tri-County Health Department and Colorado State University to study growing fruits and vegetables without using chemicals in the local climate.  The orchard trees include figs and hazelnuts, and an edible honeysuckle called heskap is also being studied in the garden.   The plan is to provide local farmers and gardeners potential groundbreaking techniques for growing foods from around the world naturally that have never been tried here before.  They will publish the agricultural details once they determine how well the plants and trees grow in the greenhouses and orchard here.  Last year 1500 pounds of natural produce was given to the nearby Parker Task Force to feed families.  Tours are conducted throughout the year if you are interested in seeing the garden or fruit trees. The inner gardener in me is pleased the county is willing to experiment and to grow the plants naturally.

The hike through the open field to Cherry Creek follows the old farm road as it slants downhill toward the trees by the water.  You pass an old pond on the left with a birdhouse perched on the dike.  As you near the creek the trail bends north, then turns back south before crossing it on a steel bridge.  

Cherry Creek flowing north from the bridge
Pausing on the bridge, I watched the water flow by and listened to the birds and the wind in the trees.  I could not hear the highway down here.  I continued on to reach the Cherry Creek Trail.  The paved trail runs north-south here.  To follow the Hidden Mesa Trail, turn right and continue following the trail over the rolling meadow.  At about one third of a mile, the Hidden Mesa Trail turns left and climbs toward the hills to the west.  The web site and trail sign mileages don't seem to match, oh well.  A trail map is available HERE.  This is where I turned around and returned to the trailhead as the sun was setting.  

Go right and turn left onto the Mesa Rim Loop
Even though I was just off the highway, the whole area was peaceful and I noticed I felt relaxed like I do when I hike in the forests.  Night birds were darting about, eating dinner from the bugs buzzing along Cherry Creek.  Several old trees stood tall and quiet as gray sentinels.  An owl hooted from a high branch.  Old, dried and decaying trees laid upon the ground, their age lines, cracks and wrinkles showing unusual bends in the fading light.  I was entranced and enjoyed it.  I will hike the rest of this trail soon!  I walked slowly back uphill to the car.

All of Colorado is a rattlesnake area, right?


To find the Hidden Mesa Trail, drive east from Castle Rock on highway 86.  At the intersection with highway 83 in Franktown, turn left.  The trailhead is one mile north.  Turn left by the large Hidden Mesa Open Space sign.

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