How many times have I said, "I intended this post to be mostly photographs ..." and then fall down a rabbit hole of history and random anecdotes and end up posting a novelette? Well, I don't know the actual number of times, but it's a pretty big number. But today, I am sticking to my intention! I just wanted to show you a very interesting hike we took up in north-central Colorado, just a hair beneath the Wyoming border near Wellington, CO.
Red Mountain Open Space has several loop trails that intersect, so ultimately you can make quite a hike of it. We walked about 8.5 miles. It's very easy terrain (a necessity for my knees), so including lunch and stopping to take photos, we took roughly 4 hours. Plus about 4 hours round trip driving, it made the perfect day trip. I was a little worried that the hike wouldn't be worth all the driving, but it definitely was. I imagine we'll return to pick up a couple of the other loops and I've since learned there are buffalo you can see in the area (not accessible directly from the Open Space, but in the area).
So I'm just going to take you along on our hike, in chronological order, to share this interesting place. I could have included fewer photos, but I wanted to give you a real feel for the varied terrain and how surprising it is to be packed into what is ultimately a relatively small space for such diversity. For the record, these are the trails we took, linking together to make our loop, though I can't tell you when we transitioned from one trail to another in the photos: Sinking Sun, Big Hole Wash, Salt Lick, Ruby Wash, short stretch of Bent Rock. I'm glad we walked the direction we did, as my favorite part of the hike was at the end, and it's always nice to end with the best. You can see immediately where the "Red" comes from in the naming of the Open Space.
This was mid-May, and at our house spring had not yet sprung. The aspens had not leafed out and only the earliest wildflowers had begun to poke their heads up. So we were pleased to get a flower fix. We don't see cactus much up in our 'hood either.
The path goes on very gently through this scrubby meadow through pale dirt heading toward pale hills. We started with blue sky.
Some more wildflowers to brighten our day along the way. The bottom is larkspur but I don't actually know what the lovely white flower is. (Not going to look it up; might fall down a rabbit hole.)
The terrain becomes a little more undulating with small arroyos and pinkening dirt. It acquires a distinctly Southwestern feel. Clouds begin to form on our horizon.
Back up into the grass and white rocks to the side.
Red starts to enter the landscape again in the distance. I'm beginning to think about the fact I didn't put any rain gear in our day pack, even though I brought it in the car.
Then just like that, within the space of one stride we are back in the Southwest but now with a deep red-colored dirt exposed and another set of sandy arroyos.
And ta-dah! The span of another stride takes us back onto a pale path and greening meadow. It is about now we are thinking about lunch and wondering what options for shade we will have.
This next transition may have taken two or three strides to complete, but once again we abruptly enter another landscape as if we have transported over to southern Utah or something. We were completely unaware that this type of landscape existed in northern Colorado. I'm hoping that wherever we stop for much might also provide shelter from rain should we need it! But the clouds did make for a very striking atmosphere of red, white and blue.
Alas, we did find a perfect alcove in which to have lunch, nice and shady. In spite of the name, Red Mountain Open Space, I have to confess, we still did not expect to be eating lunch in surroundings quite like this. I imagined more of a red mountain looming above a pine-treed forest or something. I only saw reference to this place from a post on Facebook, I really knew nothing about it except it had easy trails.
The eroding sandstone walls look like a giant game of Jenga being played by a whimsical Nature.
Now we emerge from the red canyon into another landscape of cottonwood trees lining a dry riverbed. The trail meandered in and out of the riverbed, and suddenly looks more green than the land we started out on.
Erik was stopped looking back down the trail the way we had come as I approached him and he blurted out a surprised, "Whoa!" "What?" I asked. "Look behind you!" he said. And ... whoa! An unexpected sight indeed. Enormous windmill blades rotating across the horizon. Maybe it's just the giant who plays the Jenga game sitting in front of his fan ... it was, after all, a pretty warm day.
Now we head into an area more lush, the path lined with very tall bushes. It must be gorgeous when they're in full bloom.
We head into a delightful, cool canyon lined with an unassuming babbling brook. Is this tiny stream the ancestor of the thing that carved down through this rock? Now the exposed layers give us an interesting glimpse into the geology that lies beneath the rolling hills and meadows. One doesn't always think about all the layers that lie below them, about how ancient our landscapes are and how dynamic our planet is — adding layers here, tilting layers there, flooding with seas, drying into deserts, all the while subtly shifting.
And from here we soon emerge back into open plain and our parking lot. Never a drop of rain fell on us. Or maybe one or two, I can't remember now. So you have completed a virtual hike through a large portion of Red Mountain Open Space. Hope you enjoyed!