Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Magic of the Hidden Mesa

Saturday morning dawned very bright but very cold in the Front Range of Colorado. Despite the chill in the air and the brisk breeze, Zack and I were determined to get out and do a new hike. Our destination for today’s hike was Hidden Mesa Open Space in Douglas County. Hidden Mesa is located about 7 miles to the south of Parker, Colorado near the old town of Franktown. This open space was created to build a buffer between the growing towns of Parker and Castle Rock. The centerpiece of the open space is a series of high mesas that rise up from the Cherry Creek flood plain and mark the start of the Palmer Divide. The Palmer Divide is a high outcropping of mesas, bluffs and hills that rise about 2000 feet above the plains on which Denver and it’s suburbs are located. The Divide provides a natural separation between Denver and Colorado Springs to the south. We arrived at the parking lot for the open space around 11:20AM to find that we were the ONLY people there. No other cars were there. We had the entire 1200+ acres of the open space to ourselves – how cool!!
After suiting up in all our cold weather gear we started our hike through the low flood plain of Cherry Creek. After walking for ½ mile we came to a bridge by which we could cross Cherry Creek. The creek was actually frozen over and Zack decided that he just had to go out on the ice. This provided me a great opportunity to teach him about the dangers of walking on the ice. I showed him how weak the ice was and how easy it is to fall through it.
After crossing the creek we entered prairie dog country. For the next ¾ of a mile our walking was accompanied by the constant chirping of literally dozens of prairie dogs. They clearly were not happy with our presence! As we began the twisting climb up various gulches and ravines the prairie dog colonies were left behind and we entered a landscape filled with copses of small oak trees and pines. There was a picnic table situated in one of these copses and after we brushed the snow off of it, we sat down and enjoyed the view. After that we resumed our hike we experience something absolutely magical. As we wound up the trail through a number of ravines and gulches we were stunned to see a herd of elk coming down from one of the ridges crossing the trail right in front of us and then running up the side of another hill. There must have been 20 - 30 of them. It was amazing to see! They were running fast as I guess they were startled to see us. Once they got up on the top of the next ridge they all stopped and just watched us. As they stood there watching us they were breathing heavily and had huge amounts of steam rising from their noses and mouths and hanging over them like clouds. We must have stood there for 10 minutes just watching them. Zack was so captivated by what he saw. He was dumbfounded by the beauty of it. We clearly did not expect to have this kind of encounter. It was absolutely beautiful and wonderful. I am so glad that I was able to give Zack this kind of experience as it is not something that happens every day. After we saw the herd of elk we decided that our hike couldn’t get any better, so we turned around and headed back to the trail head. On the way back we were walking into a stiff, very cold wind. Despite how cold we got, we left Hidden Mesa with our hearts warm and alive from what we saw. If you would like to learn more about Hidden Mesa you can go to the Douglas County open space website. The address is: The topo map below shows the route that we hiked. Our route is illustrated by the red line on the map. Some of you might know this about me, but I am a RABID GPS fanatic. I use GPS devices to track each and every hike I take. It is just my own personal little hobby! Thanks and peace to all!

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