Friday, May 1, 2015

Spruce Mountain Open Space Trail

Spruce Mountain Open Space Trailhead.  Greenland is a great open area south of Larkspur
Spruce Mountain Open Space Trail runs about 8 miles and climbs a forested flat-topped mountain in southern Douglas County Colorado.  Similar to other multi-use trails in the county, Spruce Mountain used to be a wayside on old highway 85, called the Santa Fe Trail, about 6 miles south of Larkspur, Colorado.  On many bike rides I paused at the mountain's base, looking out over the great open expanse of land running south and east.  Thanks to groups like Colorado Outdoors and the Colorado Lottery, land like this plus miles of open grassland have been set aside to enjoy "as-is" forever.

Looking north across the meadow to Monkey Face Butte at Larkspur
Looking up the Oak Shortcut trail to the Greenland Overlook
Go straight on the Oak Shortcut trail or go left.  Both climb Spruce Mountain
The trail head is in a parking lot at an elevation of 7100 feet.  From there you can easily climb up switchbacks along the trail to the Windy Point overlook at 7605 feet above sea level.  The trail is natural sandy surface and is shaded.  It runs through thick woods for most of the way.  Mountain Bikes are welcome here and along the Spruce Meadows Trails throughout the open space north, east and southeast of Spruce Mountain.  Horseback riders are welcome too!  The meadow trails run for 8.5 miles.

Pine Junction Trail Sign
The Greenland Overlook
The first climb is about 100 feet to Pine Junction where a shorter and steeper trail called Oak Shortcut runs from the parking lot (go south instead of west).  My wife and I took advantage of the great weather and hiked the Spruce Mountain trail in this direction this time.  While this trail was OK for reducing trail time on the uphill climb, it is so steep that coming down the trail may lead to slips and erosion. Plus our knees enjoyed the more mellow altitude loss of the longer trail on the way back down. The way we hiked today, the trail was just under 5 miles.

There are two switchbacks below this one
Climbing switchbacks, the trail ascends past Greenland overlook.  Greenland is the group of ranches to the east of Spruce Mountain in the meadow and is Douglas County Open Space along both the east and west sides of I-25.
Further along, the trail splits at a jut in the trail out to the northwest so horseback riders can get by the overhanging rocks.  Here there is a marker celebrating Paddock's Point, for Warren Craig Paddock who practiced forestry and loved Spruce Mountain. Once you reach the upper loop road you will see that trees have been selectively cut from the mountain top, like someone used a measuring tape to cut the same size trees.  Just look around the area at how trees were selectively thinned, but never clear-cut.  Wood chips on the ground show they were trimmed and logged in select areas before being taken out along the road.  Thanks to Mr. Paddock for taking great care of the land.

View south with snow-covered Pikes Peak behind the front range foothills
Thanks to Mr. Paddock for his forestry service and love of Spruce Mountain
Eagle Mountain, to the north of Spruce Mountain, is part of a private conservation easement
We hiked on up to the upper loop junction at around 7400 feet.  There the trail joins an old service road which loops the mountain.  This loop travels through forest and undulates up and down past rocks and hoodoos.  There are three picnic tables spaced along here at overlooks with great views. Bring lunch and make it a day!

When you need a rest, there is a bench nearby
What an awesome trail!  You can smell the spruce and pines
Views amid hoodoos
Views south to Palmer Lake
One of 3 picnic benches placed about 2/3 of the way to Windy Point
Tree death by lightning.  Beware!
At 1.5 miles of the mountain top road, the loop road passes Windy Point, the southernmost part of the mountain top.  Here the views were exceptional.  Today there was no wind, but with this rock outcropping so near the Palmer Divide (Palmer Lake is the town you see below) this area could be incredibly windy with the weather changing rapidly.  Most severe storms are steered by the Palmer Divide, variously going either north or south.  The weather here still troubles meteorologists and ranchers alike today because they cannot tell which way the storm will go until the last moment when it passes the divide.

Usually it is windy here
Palmer Lake at the Palmer Divide
Interesting stone circle with a stone in the center
One last view southeast before turning north.  You can see the Black Forest from here
We turned back north along the loop road and enjoyed a beautiful view of the Colorado Front Range extending past Long's Peak.  We continued to enjoy the walk along the mountain top park.  The precisely thinned trees, mossy boulders and gently undulating ground looked like a professionally trimmed lawn.  Birds flitted from pine tree to pine tree, the air was heavy with scented spruce and pine, spring wildflowers began their blooms, damp moss covered shady parts of the ground, grasshoppers flitted about our legs.

Looking north into the red rocks of Perry Park
More awesome upper loop hiking
The service road down to Eagle Pass Trail
Wildflower lit just for me
About a third of a mile past Windy Point, we came to the service road which leads to the bottom of the hill on the west side of the mountain.  It was steep and we were enjoying the mountain top so much, we just continued along the loop road.  At the bottom of the hill this road connects to the east with the Eagle Pass Trail and Spruce Meadows trails along the open space in the grassland.  It also leads west to a picnic table and (I have heard but have not seen) a pioneer grave site.  I will come back to hike that trail portion another time.
Our trail sign to go back downhill.  The Slow Down sign is for mountain bikers
More wildflowers
Erosion in this sandy soil is a very bad thing.  Please stay on the trail
Trail on the way back down
Back side of the Oak Shortcut trail sign
We finally reached the Upper Loop Junction trail sign and headed back downhill.  We enjoyed the peacefulness of the trail.  We made our way back down to the trailhead and the awaiting (and hot) car.  What a great hike this was!
To find Spruce Mountain Open Space, go south from Denver on I-25 and exit at #173 Larkspur. Watch your speed going through town, they are serious about you driving 25 MPH.  Travel south 6 miles on Spruce Mountain Road.  The trailhead is one mile on the right past Noe Road.  To visit the Spruce Meadows Trailhead, turn left (east) on Noe Road and go 1.5 miles.  Pets are welcome but must be on a leash.  The trail is open from 1 hour before sunrise to 1 hour after sunset.  No camping is allowed.

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