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Archive for April, 2012

A Ponderosa Moon on the Rabbit Mountain Ridge

Footbridge over South Boulder Creek in Walker Ranch

The area in and around Boulder, Colorado offers one of the more extensive oportunities for urban and near-urban hiking in the nation.  Boulder County owns and oversees 99,000 acres of open space.  The City of Boulder owns and oversees an additional 45,000 acres.  All of this wonderful natural land surrounds the city of Boulder and straddles the transition zone between the High Plains and the Rocky Mountains, intermingling with the urban core of the beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado.

These long-standing efforts have resulted in the opportunity for a wilderness-like experience accessible literally from our backdoors and local businesses.  An etraordinary nework of maintained trails provides access throughout the area to the foothills and high plains natural environments.  There are flat, easy walks along streamsides, like the Boulder Creek path or the Bobolink trail.  There are multitutes of potential short loop hikes that dip in and out of the ponderosa forests that drape the hills above Boulder.  There are rigorous hikes to the summits of local peaks like South Boulder, Bear Peak and Mount Sanitas.  There are trails that access world class climbing routes on the Flatirons or in Eldorado Canyon State Park.  There are trails that follow meandering clear streams full of trout.  There are even extensive long-distance opportunities covering dozens of miles at a time.

I like to explore these areas when I can on those nice days we get in early spring or even winter, when the higher mountains and foothills are still blanketed in snow.  Following are some short descriptions of a few local walks/hikes I’ve done this year:

1.)  Dry Creek Trail – City of Boulder Open Space – 1.5 Miles

This short lollipop loop trail (about 1.5 miles) is accessed on the south side of Baseline Road just west of 76th.  This is flatland with views of the nearby foothills and the trail stays below the dam for Baseline Reservoir and partially along the Dry Creek streambed.  Not a highly exciting or spectacular hike by any means, what this trail offers is local access to a nice trail for someone who has an hour or so to get out and get some excercise and fresh air right in the urben environment of East Boulder.

2.)  Bobolink Trail – City of Boulder Open Space – 1.5 Miles

The 1.5 miles here represents just the round-trip distance from the trailhead to the bridge over S. Boulder Creek.  The trail system here, which consists of a combination of hiking, multi-use, and paved paths, offers the possibility of much longer hikes, walks, or rides.  The Bobolink trailhead is accessed on the south side of Baseline road just west of Baseline Reservoir in East Boulder.  This is high planes semi-urban territory, but the hiking-only trail follows closely along the banks of the riparian environment of South Boulder Creek.  It makes for a unique and pleasant little hike right in the heart of the East Boulder area and perfect for those nice mild winter days.

3.) Walker Ranch -Boulder County Open Space – 2 miles

Walker Ranch may be the gem of the Boulder County Open Space system.  James Walker arrived to Colorado in 1869 in poor health with $12 in his pocket, and in 1882 he and his wife filed a homestead claim to 160 acres of land in the hills above Boulder.  They made a self-sufficient living off the land, expanding their property until the Walker family finally sold 6,000 acres in 1959.  Ultimately, ownership of about 3,500 acres of the land was acquired by the County of Boulder in 1976 and designated the Walker Ranch Open Space.  The Walker Ranch is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Source:  Boulder County Open Space Website.

Now, Walker Ranch offers a superb environment for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, sightseeing, wildlife viewing and trout fishing.  Miles of South Boulder Creek flow through the  middle of the ranch, it’s clear waters home to hard fighting rainbow trout sought by many fly-fishermen.  The ponderosa forest of this area offers a natural escape from the city just a few miles up the road.

There are three main access points to Walker Ranch:  The Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead and the Meyers Homestead Trailhead are both off of Flagstaff road.  The Ranch can also be accessed from Eldorado Canyon State Park on the south.  The Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead is only about seven winding miles above Boulder on Flagstaff Road and the usual starting point for the 7.8 mile Walker Ranch Loop Trail.  I had intended to hike the entire loop, but the nice March weather had me fooled.  I was reminded that it was still late winter when the open and sunny trail from the TH down to the river was soon covered in a couple feet of snow as it entered the north facing slope opposite the stream.

Instead, I spent some time ambling along the streamside of S. Boulder Creek, watching some trout swim around in the clear water and admiring the tall ponderosa trees and rocky granite outcrops gracing the streambanks.  Because the access points to this area are well away from the stream, once you reach the stream, you can really immerse yourself into the wildness of this environment – sun, trees, mountains, rocks and water in a quiet setting.  A combination that is a rare treat so close to the city.

4.)  Rabbit Mountain Loop – Boulder County Open Space – 4 miles

Rabbit Mountain is an oddity.  The foothills of the Front Range are typically very uniformly a north-south oriented uplift from the flat plains to the east.  Because of a fault, the hills of Rabbit mountain were thrust eastward along the faultline, creating an east-west ridge that juts out into the plains.  The result is a foothills environment that is cast off a bit to the east, east of the town of Lyons.  This oddity provided a winter home for Arapaho Indians who used the ridge to shelter them from the winter winds.  They looked to the twin summits of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak from here as navigational guides.  Mountain species such as elk and mountain lions also follow this ridge to the east using the cover of the ponderosa forest.

Over 2,700 acres comprises Rabbit Mountain.  I hiked a nice 4-mile loop that took me up through grasslands to the ponderosa-graced ridge and back.  From this ridge are some of the best Front Range views you will find anywhere.  The sights of the twin summits of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak are fantastic from here.  And, from this easterly vantage point, you can see down the length of the Front Range foothills for many miles to the south and north.

Rabbit Mountain Open Space is accessed off of Higway 66 just east of Lyons.

5.)  Betasso Preserve Canyon Loop Trail – Boulder County Open Space – 3 miles

Betasso Preserve has perhaps the most pleasant of trailheads I have yet seen in the Boulder County and City Open Space systems.  The TH is up on a plateau, graced with a fine “ponderosa park” setting.  From the trailhead, the Canyon Loop Trail sweeps down into the ponderosas in a carefree meandering way, gradually curving its full circle through trees here and open meadows there.

When I hiked this trail in late March, the sunny parts of the trail were dry, but the sheltered parts were full of mud, snow and ice.  We’ve had a dry warm spring, so I imaging this trail is often covered in feet of snow well into April some years.

This area has an odd regulation, allowing mountain bikes on some days and designating it as hiking only on other days.  When mountain bikes are allowed, they are required to take the loop counter-clockwise.  The reasoning for this rule becomes clear as parts of this trail are narrow with some steep slopes off the sides.  It’s easier for hikers and mountain bikders to pass when they are heading in opposite directions.

The Betasso Preserve is accessed by taking Highway 119 a few miles west of Boulder, turning right on Sugarloaf Road, and then another right on Betasso Road.

6.) Walden Ponds – Boulder County Open Space – 2 miles

The iconic name “Walden Ponds” invokes imagery of a pleasant Vermont lake surrounded by verdent forest… Not so much.

These ponds were old stone quarry pits that, in the 1970’s, were filled with water and transformed into an attraction for birds, fish and fishermen.  Stocked primarily with warm water species like bass, these ponds are popular with fishermen as well as joggers and walkers who enjoy the pathways that wind around the several ponds.

The scenery outward from the ponds is not inspiring–office buildings, piles of rocks, suburban neighborhoods.  But, inward is a pleasant environment of water, various trees and plants, and numerous birds.

I walked in a figure-eight pattern from the main access point around three of the ponds.  If you have an hour or so for a quick hike or jog, this is an easily accessed oasis in Northeast Boulder.  Walden Ponds is right off of 75th street north of Valmont Road.

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