Adventure 2019: Red Mountain Open Space (June 16)

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Red Mountain is a Larimer County Open Space on the far northern edge of Colorado. Together, with the adjoining Big Hole Open Space (City of Cheyenne) and Soapstone Prairie Open Space (City of Fort Collins), it forms part of a large network of hiking and mountain biking trails through the foothills. The tag line for the open space is “Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie”, and it lives up to its name. I had hiked here numerous times in the past, but always with the family. One of my Father’s Day presents was a day to go off on my own and cover more mileage than I can with Nate or even Dorinna.

Undeterred by clouds at the trailhead, I started with a fast and even pace, clearly on a mission. I passed numerous groups on the way through the red rock canyon on the K Lynn Cameron trail. The canyon was as scenic as I remembered it, but I still made it all the way through before stopping to take my first photo.

After passing through the canyon, I crossed a large open meadow. Remains of a small dam hint that this was perhaps a small reservoir in the past. On the other side, the trail begins to follow a big sand wash upstream. I was passing into terra incognito just as I approached the tease of a red-rock canyon. At the last minute, the trail veered away, leaving me a bit disappointed.

I needn’t have worried. This wasn’t called the Ruby Wash Trail for nothing. As I followed the wash, it approached and then entered another red-rocked chasm. The canyon twisted and turned through multiple different layers— mudstone mixed with sandstone and siltstone. There were even fun-looking pour-offs in some side canyons.

Climbing out of gorge on the Cheyenne Rim trail, I met two mountain bikers, which turned out to be the only people I saw between the starting loop and my eventual return to the trailhead. The trail climbed up switchbacks, the views getting better and better as I completed the climb up to the top of the hills.

Except it wasn’t actually a climb up to the top of a hill. When I reached the “top”, I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t on a hill at all. I was on “top” of the Great Plains. Almost perfectly flat short grasslands extended to the north- a straight shot to I-80 and the transcontinental railroad.

The trail continued along the rim. I stopped for lunch, and I would have extended my stop for meditation and journaling, but the clouds to the west were significantly less friendly than at the start.

At around the seven-mile mark I noticed I was getting tired, but right around then the trail started sloping down. I was shocked at how much elevation I lost before reaching the next trail junction. I had been on this trail before and thought that it had been the top, but it was substantially below the rim.

The clouds continued to gather and the rain started as I kept hustling down. Thunder rumbled with greater frequency and volume. I was off the top, which was great, but still aware that I was the tallest point on the prairie. I just kept trucking and praying through the thunder booms, and reached the trailhead just as the skies opened up and the hail started. I crawled into the back of the Subaru hatch for a few minutes to watch it all.

The hike was a great 11.7 miles of solo exploration. I’m looking forward to my next hike in the Red Mountain Open Space.

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