Friday, February 13, 2015

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge: Lake Ladora Loop

Distance: 1.8 miles loop
Elevation: 5,279 ft
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Dogs: Not allowed
Bathrooms at the Trailhead: Yes
Date Hiked: 19 October 2014

Lake Ladora in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal north of Denver, Colorado
The Lake Ladora Loop is a short trail around an irregularly shaped, but seriously serene lake in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Map showing the Lake Ladora Loop in reference to the visitor's center
Standing on the edge of the lake. Trail starts just to the right, outside of the frame.
Leaving the larger road and heading off onto the single track
The Arsenal, as the locals call it,  is an oasis just north of Denver that used to be a WWII chemical weapons plant. Now it is a series of small lakes and trails, a fenced compound filled with rambunctious Buffalo, and a appealing visitor's center with interpretive displays and lectures. I took my parents there when golden grasses stood in stark relief to a deep blue Autumn sky. It was a great family day!

Picnic area
Rabbit Brush in bloom
The Lake Lador Loop starts up the road from the visitor's center at a small pumping station sandwiched between Lake Mary and Lake Lador. The former has very pleasant boardwalk through a forest of cattails, while the route around Lador Lake is more open. Waterfowl hugged the shorelines and cruised in and out of weeds in a cacophony of honks and screeches. We didn't see any of the resident Bald Eagles, but plenty of Ravens and other small birds.

Heading towards the marshy southern end
Crossing the marsh on the pontoon bridge
The route varies between dirt road, single track, and boardwalk depending upon where you are. Signage is limited, but a little thought enables you to take the correct turns. On the southern end of the lake the trail gets very close to the water and several picnic tables grace the shoreline for anglers and their picnic lunches.

Looking at the marsh from the pontoon bridge
On the east side of the lake
The route does step out on the paved road briefly before diving back into the marshy side of the lake. A pontoon bridge claimed by some local Raccoons, leads to the other side, which is mostly atop an embankment.

Looking northwest
On the wide path on the eastern side
There are plenty of trails in the Arsenal and I would love to return to explore them all. I am always looking for shorter, easier trails to enjoy with my parents. After our hike, we did drive through the Buffalo compound where a group of yearlings were frolicking in the dust right next to the road. Snide comments from the back seat about children, mud, and the perils of parenting were deftly ignored.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Browns Canyon: Turret-River Bench Trails

Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation: 7,318 ft -7,689 ft
Elevation Gain: 877 ft cumulative
Dogs: Off leash, BLM land
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Date Hiked: 24 October 2014

The Turret Trail in the Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area is a study in diversity. 
The Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area near Buena Vista is a 22,000 acre chunk of transitional land that is part open grassland, part scraggy forest, and part granite hoodoo. This route travels through all three of these zones in a dizzying display of diversity. The Collegiate Peaks (Mt. Princeton, Harvard, and Yale) block the western horizon. They rise a dramatic 5000 ft above the surrounding valley in a wall that Nature surely put in place to keep out the teaming hordes from the western slope.

View of Mt. Princeton from the trailhead
Heading up the initial slope
On the initial saddle
The trailhead is marked with large signs indicating the study area and even has a couple of interpretive plaques. The route starts up a rocky gully between two hills until it reaches a small saddle at only 0.2 miles. Be sure to turn left here. An old road/eroded ditch heads to the right, which is slightly confusing.

Turning left and heading away the mountains
A not-so-unusal trail segment. Rock and trees. 
The trail winds up and down small hillsides. This is the view from a top one of them. 
The trail continues to climb for another 0.5 miles to a high point (300 ft gain) before beginning a series of descents and ascents over rock outcroppings, down gullies, and along and across several washes. There is no signage or cairns, and in several locations we had to rely on tracks in the loose sand to guide our way.

On another hill looking out over the Collegiate Peaks
Coming out into the wash. Turn right here and follow it around the bend. 
The one trail sign. It points up the slope and out of the wash. 
At 1.2 miles is a very large wash. The route actually travels IN this wash (to the right) and around a bend to the southwest until one of the few signs (at 1.35 miles) takes the hiker out of the wash and up onto a open grassland plateau. From this point it is wide-open skies all the way to the junction with the River Bench Trail (at 2 miles). The Turret Trail heads left, while the River Bench Trail travels around to the right of an eroded hillside filled with more hoodoos. It was at this point that we came across several Mule Deer that leapt and flew, leapt and flew, across our path in an effortless ballet that would have made Mikhail Baryshnikov's nickers twist with envy.

Artwork on the fence post leading out onto the grassland plateau
The plateau was crisscrossed with small washes. 
Heading across the plateau
The River Bench Trail dead ends (at 2.9 miles) at backcountry campsite complete with a central fire pit and luxurious logs. The Arkansas River, charming and sedate in the fall, a tad more perky in the spring, flowed just out of reach down a steep embankment. With such a view, we had to drag ourselves away to return to the car. Next time I will bring a gourmet lunch and contemplate the river through a glass of wine.

Passing around the hillside
More hoodoos along the way. Mountain Lion territory. 
Mule Deer with Mt. Yale in the background
Browns Canyon is up for National Monument consideration. We only scratched the surface of this unique area on this trip but the unusual combination of granite outcroppings, Ponderosa and Limber Pine forest, and Sagebrush grasslands was really a treat. Colorado is blessed with so many interesting ecosystems. The one found in Brown's Canyon is both fun to play in and deserving of protection. I hope the powers in Washington, who don't always understand the West and our culture, decide to preserve it. Regardless, take a trip to Beuna Vista and check it out for yourself.

The campsite
The lovely view of the Arkansas River