Monday, May 25, 2009

South Valley Park

Tucked behind a hogback ridge in the Ken-Caryl Valley is the stunning South Valley Park. Of the three cloudy days this Memorial Day weekend, this one started out the least overcast and seemed a good day for a dog hike.

Trail testing was provided by the energetic and youthful Lucy, a beautiful yellow lab I was taking care of over the long holiday weekend. She contains much of the beauty and spirit of my Lily (see first post) and it was a joy to have her leading this trek. We were joined by another human, and glad to have the company and the supplies he provided, which would prove later to save the day.

We parked at the larger parking lot at the north end of the park and headed in on the Coyote Song Trail.

About a half mile along the trail, I led us up a little connector trail called Lyons Back, which includes some nice natural rock steps to help one traverse the steep bits. This little stretch leads to the Pass Trail, which descends to the Columbine Trail, which in turn connects to the Cathy Johnson Trail. We decided that we had left the more beautiful valley behind and retraced our steps to rejoin the Coyote Song Trail. Although it provided a nice view back out of the valley, we would pay later for that detour!

Continuing on for another .8 miles, we ended up at the south parking lot. Not desiring to return by exactly the same route, we tried half-heartedly to find the advertised creek bottom trail, but didn't linger longer, deciding to start back where we were more confident about the route, as a dark storm was a-brewing.

.4 miles back up the trail, we took the left fork .2 miles to the Swallow Trail. Sho 'nuff - less than a mile from the car, we were caught in the downpour. If we were a little closer to one of the spectacular rock formations, we might have holed up in a cave. Instead we took cover under some dense brush, and as the lightning got closer I was sure we were going to be tomorrow's crispy headline.

The next thing we knew, it started to hail, beating my friend on the head even through his hat! After we were pretty much soaked to the skin, he remembered the solar blanket his father insists he carry in his pack. It was sufficient to keep the chill to a tolerable level and to shield the camera bags from further soaking. Thanks, Josh's Dad!

After 30 minutes, the worst of the lightning had moved past, the hail had stopped and the rain was letting up enough to high-tail it back to the car. Still wrapped in the tin foil blanket, I made a heck of a racket trying to hustle along the trail. I didn't even realize it had stopped raining with all that noise in my ears. Back at the now empty parking lot, we had mixed feelings about being the only fools caught out in the storm.

Foothill Community Park/Wonderland Lake

The unplanned hike

How could it possibly disappoint?

With no preset expectations.

And the icing on the cake - 

To round the corner and stumble on a lake 

One didn't know was there.

Hiking trails run along the base of the foothills...

Offering access to the hills themselves...

And views of the hang gliders soaring past.

And the bonus feature - 
they connect to the loop around Wonderland Lake.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

RMNP Trip 1

On the road again. Mid-way through today's trip, I wondered what had possessed me to add 5000 feet and subtract 20 degrees, when I was finally getting warm after six months of winter at Denver's mile high altitude.

I can lay partial blame on the dog. At 13, his life resembles a typical mammal's early days - eat, sleep, poop, lather, rinse, repeat. Approximately every 2 hours he awakes, struggles to arise, and engages in a vigorous round of "I can bark louder than you and I will not stop until you give in", which is my reassurance that despite his weakening body, his spirit is still alive and kicking!

As he has no interest in the treasures of his youth, stuffed squeaky toys and chicken flavored nyla-bones, we are left with two options - food or walk, and walk is only acceptable to the beast if it is followed by food. We have now added a third approved activity: road trip. Unfortunately, his favorite road trip activity is barking. Sigh. Someday soon I will wish for that bark, so I try now to let him go for it, until I just can't stand it anymore.

Today's destination was Rocky Mountain National Park, hopefully the first visit of many. I have traded, figuratively speaking, my ski season pass for an RMNP annual pass, and I hope to continue my pattern of venturing out mid-week once weekly, as part of my promise to myself to enjoy unemployment, or at least do some things that I won't be able to do regularly when I begin my next 20+ year working stint.

Checking out the park web page a day or two ago, I was pleasantly surprised to read that my canine co-pilot could accompany me into the park. I had previously believed that state and national parks were especially prohibitive in that regard. Of course, he isn't welcome in the back country or on hiking trails, but "wherever cars are allowed" seems reasonable and is good enough for me and my geriatric companion. I don't dare let him out anyway, lest he not be able to load back up again. I can't exactly lift his 100 pound mass.

Approaching Estes Park, I was excited to encounter this scene. Two hours later, my frame of reference was reframed.

Having left my map at home, I flipped a coin in Estes Park and followed the signs to the south park entrance, which led me to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. On a future visit, I will go the other way to the Fall River entrance, only a short way further on Highway 34. Or maybe not - it appears that I can enter at Beaver Meadows on Highway 36 and head northwest from there, connecting to Highway 34. Of course I will do it both ways eventually.

Heading southwest into the park, we passed Moraine Park, and made a mental note to stop there on the way back. It looks like one of those obligatory photo spots. At Hollowell Park, I used the facilities while the hound sounded the alarm. Being mostly deaf and partially blind, he totally missed my return, and I had to make a giant fuss until he realized I was back safely.

Wildlife spotted at this stop included a magpie (I love their bold black and white outfits) and a couple of what I am going to guess were mountain blue birds. I didn't have the equipment to capture the shot, and I wasn't close enough to see precise detail, but it seemed that it was almost completely blue, matching internet pictures labeled "mountain blue bird", and I was in the mountains after all. Plus I know I can believe everything I read on the internet, so there you have it, proof positive.

The end of the road today was at the Bear Lake Trailhead. Time to stop and smell the photos.

Now tilt your head to the right.

Tilt back to center.

Hazy gloom up top - will try for better images on a future trip.

Driving back down the mountain, I pulled over again and again, to the increasing frustration of D O G.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

I'm an "arm-chair" photographer, or maybe just plain lazy, typically shooting through an open window, or standing on the center console to pop out through the sunroof. Occasionally on a road trip I will actually park and get out for a better angle. Occasionally I will even stop driving before shooting.

I keep an eye on the dog with a fish-eye mirror. Boy was he ever pissed when I pulled over on a side dirt road and killed the engine to quietly watch and shoot the wildlife (no hunting allowed in the park - I was shooting with a Canon Rebel).

This is the road-side scene that trivialized my earlier excitement.

It wasn't easy to get them all to pose this way.

After repeatedly breaking my promise to barky boy to head for home, I finally hit the highway and stopped stopping (well, just one more stop). He was relieved. Wildlife patrol is exhausting when your eyes and ears are useless and your nose is your primary patrol tool.

Back at home, Network waits for me to unload him. After maneuvering him onto the blanket, I pull it until his front half clears the edge, then gently lift him out the rest of the way. He is too unstable to use a ramp - he is, after all, the human equivalent of a 90 year old man.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bear Creek Lake Park

Does it seem to anyone else like there are extra words in the name of this park. It could be Bear Creek Park or Bear Lake Park, but Bear Creek Lake Park? I'm confused. It's like having 2 first names.

I guess it all started with Bear Creek, flowing into a lake, that must logically be called Bear Creek Lake, and then if you make a park around the lake, it has to be called Bear Creek Lake Park. 

Well, call it what you will - it's a great place, and this trail was Triple Lab Tested!

From the Skunk Hollow Picnic area, we crossed back over the road we rode in on to access a lovely, shady trail along the Bear Creek, or is it Bear Lake Creek? On a warm summer day, this must be a wonderful oasis of cool.

Coming out of the trees, we found ourselves in a fitness area. We headed up a hill on the right side of the trail and came out alongside a paved road that winds through the park. From this vantage point we could look back down at the paths below.

My human tour guide pointed out the local landmarks, including the Fox Hollow Golf Course, Bear Creek Lake, and the campgrounds across the other side of the park. Before exiting the park, I drove past the lake and horse corrals and through the campground. They even have a couple yurts available to rent in the campground! Unfortunately, there are not many shade trees in the campground; fortunately, campers can escape to the Bear Creek Lake Park creek or the Bear Creek Lake Park lake to cool off.

Van Bibber Open Space Park

Lab testing of the Van Bibber Open Space Park was provided yesterday by "Buddy", available for adoption at Safe Harbor Lab Rescue. I took Buddy out of the kennel for the day so he could stretch his long legs and get some fresh air.

This is a local park that is easily accessible year round. It offers a great feeling of being far away, right in the middle of Arvada. It lies between Ward and Indiana, 52nd Avenue and 58th Avenue. We entered the park from Ward, and there appeared to be open access from the surrounding neighborhoods.

There is a paved path running up the middle of the park, but we started off on the unpaved side track because it looked like it would offer good views from its higher vantage point. We were right.

We remember now to turn and look behind us to see where we came from, so this is the view back towards the parking lot, showing the dirt trail we are on, and the paved paths down below.

I was so impressed by the wide open space with a couple peaceful trails passing through.

If I knew my local landmarks, I'd label this one. Maybe it's the fabled Table Mountain? Kinda sorta looks like one.

Up yonder under those lovely trees, one can rest a spell on handy benches, or have a picnic at the picnic table.

Yes, this is a wetlands! And a creek runs through it. They say the first gold in Colorado was discovered on a creek near here, but further research shows me that it is a bit north of here, so there must not have been much happening on this particular spot of land worth writing out. But it sure is a great place to enjoy nature in somebody's backyard. (I think I need to find a better WYSIWYG blog editor, or get instructions on how to use this one. Suggestions anyone?)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Peak to Peak Highway

Is it safe to say that spring has truly arrived in the Rockies, or does that just tempt Mother Nature to send more snow?

Spring fever hit our house today when Network decided it was time for us to see what's in back of the Front Range. He tricked me into thinking we were headed out for a walk this afternoon, then led me straight to the car and explained in no uncertain terms that it was a great day for a drive. And as it turns out, he knew what he was talking about.

Thus we start the lab-tested driving trips in the Rockies. This is something even an old lab can participate in, as opposed to lab testing hiking trails which led to this blog. 

After filling the gas tank and treating the driver to a chocolate shake with $1.93 in dimes, nickels and pennies (and a very friendly greeting from the cashier who wasn't put out in the least to count the change), we hit 72 west up into Coal Creek Canyon. I love how soft the hills look with fresh green peach fuzz on their cheeks. Less than 30 miles from home we were embedded deep in the forest, but I was surprised that it is more like the Mendocino National Forest near the California coast than the Sierras.

About 3 miles before the town of Nederland, we hit the Peak to Peak Highway, which was as much of a destination as I had in mind. From this vantage point, I was able to see the expanse of snow-capped peaks that are hidden from my view at home, being too close to the Front Range.

I must have blinked and missed the town of Ward, including access to Lefthand Canyon, which sounded like an interesting way to return to civilization. I remember a sign to Peaceful Valley, which sounds like a peaceful place to look at sometime. At Hwy 7, I decided to turn right and return via Lyons, saving Estes Park for another day. 

Returning on South Saint Vrain Drive was an especially picturesque drive through another canyon, following a stream the whole way down, and there are many turn-outs offering access to the stream. These turn-outs are very spacious, and I imagine during the summer they are pretty full. A few had picnic tables under the trees.

The terrain changed as we came out of the back country. The camera isn't tilted - the landscape is.

We were dumped out at the edge of Boulder on Hwy 36, just in time to join all the other folks heading home after a hard day at work. Network reports that lab work is exhausting for an old man. He also suggests Mom shouldn't try to take pictures over her shoulder while driving (I was stopped at a red light!).