Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Weekend Hiking Adventures

It's been a bit - almost a year since I have been able to write a blog entry that has describe any serious hiking that Zack and I have done.  We did manage to hike to Devil's Head in July but we didn't follow that up with any other kinds of hikes.

This past weekend we hiked two days in a row!  Slowly but surely I am working through the back and leg pain enough to allow me to get out and do some actual hikes.

Our first hike came as soon as Zack got home from school on Friday.  He had nothing taking place after school, so as soon as he got off the bus we hopped in the car and made our get away to the hills.  Our destination for this hike was Waterton Canyon on the far south western side of the Denver Metro area.

Waterton Canyon is where the South Platte River finally leaves the mountains and emerges on to the plains.  It is a very important location as most of Denver's drinking water comes from Waterton Canyon in one form or another.  Much of the water from Denver's holdings on the Western side of the continental divide eventually flows through the Waterton Canyon.  In the case of water coming from Summit County on the western side of the divide, the water is taken out of Lake Dillon and then pumped through the Roberts Tunnel to be dumped in the North Fork of South Platte river not far from Kenosha pass.  This water then follows the route of the South Platte and enters Waterton Canyon near Sprontia Springs Dam.  The Sprontia Springs Dam stands at the top of Waterton Canyon and serves as the last reservoir for Denver's water before being put into the city's water pipes.  The water that is not put into the city pipelines is eventually released from the Sprontia Springs Reservoir and flows through Waterton Canyon. From there it is caught in the reservoir formed by the dam at Chatfield State Park before eventually flowing the whole way through Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan and into Denver.

Hiking Waterton Canyon is an easy proposition as the hike is along the road used by Denver Water to access Sprontia Springs Dam.  That is not to say that the hike is not beautiful as it is.  A short distance after you start into the canyon you tend to forget that you are near civilization as you are absorbed into the gash in the earth surrounded by the high walls of the canyon sides.  There is a large amount of wild life to be found in the canyon from small chipmunks to the much more majestic big horned sheep, bears and the occasional mountain lion. 

The Waterton Canyon trail is also the starting point for the Colorado trail.  This trail run across the western 2/3 of the state and after approx 470 miles it terminates near Durango.  Each time Zack and I walk into Waterton Canyon I tease him saying that we are starting on the Colorado trail and we won't be home for another 2 months.  He is now old enough that he doesn't bite at that joke anymore but I still have to try.

Our planned trip for Friday was to hike in about 1.8 miles or so and then turn around and come back.  The hike went exactly as planned except for the fact that Zack didn't bring sunglasses and we were walking directly into the sun.  As a responsible, loving parent - you can imagine where things went.  Yes - that's right, I gave Zack my sunglasses and he wore them most of the time and I ended up with sore eyes.  Teenagers!!!

Throughout the hike I kept my eye peeled to see if we could spy any big horn sheep, but luck and the fact that the sheep don't come down to the river until later in the evening prevented us from seeing any.  Oh well - it's not like we haven't seen hundreds in the past.  We had a great time for the hike as there were hardly anyone around.  The weekdays are the most enjoyable time to hike Waterton Canyon as on the weekend, the place is crawling with tons of people.

The hike wasn't anything fantastic but it was sure a lot of fun to get out there and enjoy the outside.  I have been missing that for so long.  I can't go back to not exercising - it has to be a constant in my life again.  Despite the continuous pain I have from my back injury I will press through it so that I can be in the outdoors!

That was our hiking experience for Friday!

Our experience on Saturday was combination yearly adventure and hike.  Every Autumn I always try and have at least one Saturday or Sunday to go to Rocky Mountain National Park and experience the autumn leaves and the elk rut.  To ensure we could get there and have some really good sun for photos we got up early and were on the road by 6:30AM.  I had to take care of feeding the eating machine (Zack) and getting gas for the Explorer, so by the time all that was done the time was closer to 7:00AM when we were headed north on I-25.  The drive was simple and easy with absolutely no problems.  We took I-25 until we reached Colorado Route 66 a little past Longmont.  Heading West on Colorado 66 we traveled about 15 minutes until we reached the small town of Lyons.  From there we joined up with highway 36 that would take us directly into Estes Park.  Given the early hour of the day we did not run into any traffic problems at all.

Arriving in Estes Park we quickly noticed the signs for the Estes Park Elk Fest.  Needless to say we had no desire to get involved in that as it was just a giant draw for crowds.  Instead we headed straight for the park and entered via the Fall River Entrance Station.  My National Park Pass expired in July so I was expecting to buy another.  The ranger at the entrance station informed me that Saturday was a free day for the park - so we didn't even have to spend a cent to get in.

Driving through the Sheep Lakes area things were very quiet as it was early and there were no elk around.  Heading up to the Deer Ridge Junction we came across a bull and his harem of 10 or so female elk and a yearling.  They were contently grazing in small meadow among the pine trees.  Given that these guys were what we were here to see, we pulled over and spent about the next 20 minutes hanging around taking pictures and just observing.  The big bull was keeping farther from the road and it made it difficult to get a picture of him.  The best I could do was to see his huge rack as he was bent down grazing away.

After a bit we moved on towards the Beaver Meadows and Morraine Park areas.  Along the way we came across another big bull just sitting among the trees.  He didn't have a harem with him and he just looked like he didn't want to be messed with.  However, stupid tourists being stupid tourists there were a number of people getting within 20 feet or so of him and he was showing his displeasure - moving his ears, jerking his head around as they moved towards him etc.  Why do people have to be so stupid to try and get close to these magnificent animals?  Messing with an elk could get you really hurt!  Thankfully the offending tourists were quickly drawn away by something else and left the area.  That allowed the rest of us the opportunity to snap some fantastic photos of the elk.  I was using my zoom lens on my landscape camera, so I think I got some really good photos of him.  The light wasn't optimal as he was in the shadows but I still think they came out pretty good.

The main road to Bear Lake was only open to park shuttle buses because of construction, so Zack and I headed as far into Morraine Park as we could go.  Eventually the road ended at the parking lot for the Fern Lake Trail Head.  We knew we wanted to take a hike so given the Fern Lake Trail was right a head of us, we decided what the heck.  I hadn't hiked this trail before but I had heard that it was quite beautiful and lead to some wonderful overlooks of the Big Thompson River.

Looking at the topo map at the trail head we decided that we would hike 1.7 miles in to the "The Pool".  We didn't really know what this geological feature was, but the name sounded neat so we decided to go for it.

Immediately after leaving the parking lot, the trail begins to run parallel to a medium size stream that is the head waters of the Big Thompson River.  For the first 3/4 of a mile the sound of the stream fills the air as you hike to the west.  Eventually the trail separates from the stream and enters and area filled with huge boulders.  These boulders are massive with each one being as big as a house.

After the giant boulder field the trail leveled out and we spent the rest of the hike weaving in and out of standing of aspen and pine trees.  With all the colorful leaves cloaking the aspen trees the hike was beautiful.  To top it off the temperature was perfect!  Neither Zack or I broke a sweat even though we were moving at a good pace and most of the hike was up hill.

Forty minutes into our hike we reach "The Pool".  This hydrological feature is a pool of deep clear water after the river has gone through a series of cascades and waterfalls.  It was beautiful and I am sure in the middle of summer it must be a wonderful place to wade or swim.  However the water appeared to be a bit cold and we had no desire to climb down the rocks and take a plunge.

A sturdy bridge crossed the river at The Pool.  It was a great place to stop and admire the beauty of the river and Zack and I hung out there for awhile.  Staying in the same place for 15 minutes allowed us to see how busy the trail was.  Numerous parties of hikers passed by us continuing further up the trail.

We spent 20 minutes hanging out by the bridge before we started back down the trail to the parking area.  The hike back to the car went quickly as most of it was down hill.  Despite some of the pain I was feeling in my lower back and hip, it felt wonderful to be out on the trail again.

Returning to the car we packed up and headed into Estes Park for some lunch.  We ate at the normal pizza joint on Elkhorn Avenue that we normally eat at when we are in Estes Park.  I have no idea of what the name of the place is, I just know where it is and that Zack and I like the pizza.

Afterwards we headed back home.  We took a different route home as we headed down Colorado Highway 7.  Zack didn't really care which way we went as he had his nose in his Nintendo DS but I was interested in seeing some more scenery.  Taking Highway 7 offered me the opportunity to stop and take some pictures of "The Chapel on the Rock" near Allenspark, Colorado.  This chapel is a great photographic location and I really enjoy shooting pictures there.

Here are some of the photos that I took on our day of hiking, elk watching and leave gazing in Rocky Mountain National Park.

It was quite a nice weekend and it was quite nice for me to actually get out into the wilderness for a change.  Though I do continue to deal with lots of pain in my back I am not going to let it keep me from doing the things that I want.

The week ahead will be pretty nondescript as we don't have much going on other than school and work.  We are into the midst of the "fall slog" as we have a good 4 weeks until we reach Zack's fall break from school.  Between now and fall break we won't be having any days off, so we just have to slog through each work/school day after another until we can get to our next break.

We hope everyone has a great week!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

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