Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rattlesnake Gulch (Eldorado Canyon State Park)

Distance: 3.6 miles round trip
Elevation: 6,050 ft - 7,250 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft
Date Hiked: 28 November, 2008
Dogs: On leash only, State Park
Bathroom at the trailhead: No
Critters: Mountain Lion

The dramatic cliff faces are the draw to Eldorado Canyon State Park.  The Rattlesnake Gulch trail is a great way to see them.
Rattlesnake Gulch is a short hike with Zen-like properties located in Eldorado Canyon State Park near Boulder. I like hiking this trail in the spring as a mid-week prepare-for-summer hike but on this trip it was Thanksgiving weekend and we needed a close in trail with some decent elevation gain to work off the feeding frenzy.

Fowler Trail

Gray Quartzite cliff face seen from the trail. This rock started out as eroded sand 1.6 billion years ago. Time, heat, and pressure compacted it into sandstone. This formation was eventually shoved closer to the Earth's core where the increased heat and pressure transformed it into metamorphic rock. How's that for drama?

The trail starts upwards immediately on the Fowler Trail, which is a short handicapped accessible trail with spectacular views of the rock walls and the many rock climbers that make Eldorado Canyon famous. Before these views, however, the Rattlesnake Gulch trail begins and heads sharply up to the right. It crosses a short meadow before climbing relentlessly up a series of switchbacks to the ruins of the Crags Hotel, which burned down in 1912. There is not much left but an interpretive sign, some social trails, and some nice views back down the canyon.

Ruins of the Crag's Hotel 800 ft above the trail head. Built in 1908, it was destroyed in 1912. Guests reached the hotel via an inclined railway from the canyon floor.

From the ruins overlook, you can see the trail head and cars far below.

From this point, the trail becomes a loop up to a lookout over the Continental Divide. You can take the loop in either direction but I prefer the far right loop because it hits the overlook early on. This is my Zen space. On a hot summer day, I like to lie down on the ground at this overlook and gaze up into the deep blue sky.

The overlook trail just as it leaves the Crag's Hotel ruins. This section is smooth. Other parts are much more steep and rocky.

For some reason I have never encountered other postulates on such excursions. This trip, however, probably due to the holiday weekend, was filled with revelers. The trail was packed with them. From the overlook, the trail continues to ascend sharply until it reaches the level of the railroad tracks that cut through the hills.

A cliff face of the Fountain Formation, which is sedimentary rock that was uplifted 300 million years ago. The redish color comes from an iron ore called hematite. This is the same stone that can be seen on Boulder Flatirons (see my snowy day at NCAR and Royal Arch posts) and at the Red Rocks Amphitheater (see my Matthew Winters post).

If you live anywhere near the area, then you know that coal trains are ubiquitous. They traverse the cut that the trail leads to.   Earlier in the outing we did see some folks walking on the tracks, and there is a social trail that leads from the trail up to them. I have never done this though and would be curious to know what kind of views you get from tempting fate.   It looks like there is another social trail near the tunnel, which might lead up to the top of hill.

Trail leading to the rail bed

Highly eroded rail bed

This part of Eldorado Canyon is home to a resident Mountain Lion. While we did not see it this trip we had a close encounter last spring. We had just turned a switch back and passed a mountain biker heading up. In short order, he came back round the corner screaming Mountain Lion!!!! The beastie was following us down the trail and we did not even know it. I was bummed because I have always wanted to see a Mountain Lion in the wild, through a telephoto lens of course, and here we were within 40 feet of one. I have another friend who reported being stalked by a Mountain Lion in that same area. I tell you this not to make you paranoid about this trail but to emphasize that even 10 minutes off the highway is wilderness in much of Colorado and Eldorado Canyon is no exception.

View of the canyon from the overlook trail

Sunlight glinting off the hillside on the way down

Rattlesnake Gulch is a short trail with nice vistas, so get out there and try it. Just don’t wear raw steak around your neck. If you see a Mountain Lion, “here kitty kitty” is NOT an appropriate response.


Nina said...

These are some gorgeous photos. I especially like the 2 of the Fountain Formation cliff face. The "highly eroded rail bed" looks extremely dangerous!

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Nina,
The trains don't seem to mind. Would be rough on a human trying to scramble up that.