Monday, May 18, 2009

Bitterbrush Trail (Hall Ranch)

Distance: 5.5 miles round trip out of a possible 7.4 miles
Elevation: 5,499 ft to 6,179 ft
Elevation Gain: 680 ft

The mesas of Hall Ranch Open Space

I used to hike Bitterbrush a lot when I lived closer to Lyons. It has an “old west” feel to it because of the large eroded bluffs near the trailhead. It also climbs over a large formation of igneous rock, which I found particularly appealing.

The beginning of the Bitterbrush trail

On this trip however, I felt like I was trying to hike on the Los Angles freeway, there were so many mountain bikers lunging down the trail or struggling up it. It really was a distraction. I know it was a very nice day and bikers have a right to exist too, but geesh, you would think they could at least have some manners. Half the time we were not aware of the bikers until they were practically on top of us. At one point I had to leap off the trail and into a large prickly tree trunk to escape total annihilation. The bikers must have recently “discovered” this trail because in all my time hiking it, I had never seen this many.

Igneous rock in the switchback section. This area is flat, much of the area was not.

Blooming cactus on the trail

Bitterbrush is a low elevation hike, which make it suitable for the spring and fall. Right now with all the hills green, it is particularly attractive. I was amazed too how much wildlife we saw. There was tons of Mule Deer, Cottontail Rabbits, Prairie dogs, and even a juvenile Golden Eagle.


Looking west from a view point on the switchback portion
Above the switchbacks, the trail becomes a wider road through open meadows

The trail starts out near a very nice picnic facility. I have always wanted to have a group BBQ there because of the large protected tables. After a half-mile traverse of the open meadows the trail ascends a large series of switchbacks. These switchbacks are imbedded into a large igneous rock formation. At times there are nice plateaus and at other times deep ankle twisting cuts. Throughout, Ponderosa Pines scatter the hillside. There were only a few wildflowers out but you could tell more were on the way.

Vista near the intersection of the Antelope Trail

At the top of the hill, the trees fade and the trail, now much wider, skirts a hillside with expansive views to the west and north. At 2.25 miles is the junction of the Antelope Trail. Continuing drops the hiker 100 feet or so down into a meadow. This is home to the highest Prairie dog colony in Boulder County.

Deer in the meadow

We decided to head down for another half mile and ended up turning around at one of the Prairie dog interpretive signs.

Looking north from the highest point. The Antelope Trail is off to the right through the trees. There is a bench along the trail in the lower left portion of the picture.

Because it is so open, Bitterbrush makes a great winter hike. Unless we have a major dumper, there is usually little snow.

Down in the meadow heading northwest

Please note, that this is a non-doggie trail, which is another reason I have not hiked it much lately. It may also be the reason that so much wildlife was present.

Even more deer on the return back through the switchbacks. I would have thought the continual stream of bikers would have disturbed them, but they seemed non-pulsed.

1 comment:

  1. At the risk of annoying cyclists, and with a cyclist son, I sympathise about the lack of trail manners. Here on the city's paved footpaths/cycle paths the lycra commuters blast up behind pedestrians with a testy 'ting ting', and then a frantic 'ting ting' if you don't leap out of the way immediately. I already walk well into the side, so I suppose they expect me to leap into the verge. It's a very scenic verge at this time of year, all cow parsley and bluebells, but with a good few nettles.
    Lovely to see the deer - will they move higher up the mountain with the spring, or is there less vegetation as you go higher? Here they move low in the winter and higher in spring.

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