Friday, November 28, 2008

Matthew Winters Park

Distance: 4.5 miles RT
Elevation: 6,200 - 6,771 ft
Elevation Gain: 1, 296 ft cumulative (lots of ups and downs)

The south side of the Morrison Slide Trail at Matthew Winters Park

Matthew Winters is a close in Jefferson County Open Space with unique views of Red Rocks and the Morrison Valley. It is a tour through geologic history. In the spring, the nearby Dakota Ridge Trail is home to migrating raptors. The best time to visit is during the week. On weekends and after work, hikers and mountain bikers mob the park.

Starting out on the Village Walk Trail

Looking back on the Red Rock Trail from the north side Morrison Slide Trail

The Morrison Valley from the middle of the Morrison Slide Trail. The Dakota Ridge is visible in the distance with city of Denver beyond.

My favorite route starts with the west side of the Village Walk Trail. This short 0.3-mile trail wanders uphill through waving grasses and passes an ancient cemetery. It connects with the Red Rocks Trail, which continues upwards along the side of a sloping hill. The views increase as the trail winds westward. Deer can be seen far below in the narrow shrub filled canyon that parallels the route. After 0.8 miles, the hiker descends into this canyon where two options present themselves. One can head steeply up to the Morrison Slide Plateau or head down below the plateau. I always choose to head upwards first. And return via the lower route. The upward route is the Morrison Slide Trail.

Another view of the Morrison Valley

Red Rocks from the Morrison Slide Trail

The Morrison Slide Trail (1.2 miles) if very scenic indeed. Once on top of the plateau, the views extend out into the plains and down the Morrison Valley. The uplift of the Dakota Ridge formation is startlingly evident and the observer can follow the layers of sedimentary rock going back to the Permian Age. These layers are now fins of uplifted rock that make up the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and they extend all the way down the valley. The far side of the Morrison Slide Trails takes the hiker back down the south side of the Plateau and wanders among large red rock boulders and fins. There are numerous lookouts and picnic spots along the end of the Plateau. This area is also exceptional for a full moon hike.

Looking back on the Morrison Slide trail

Morrison Slide trail

At the end of the Morrison Slide Trail, the hiker can loop back via the lower portion of the Red Rocks Trail, or continue southward for another 1.2 miles to Red Rocks itself or to the connection on the other side of Hwy 26 of the Dakota Ridge Trail. I have never done either of the last two options. The return via the lower Red Rocks Trail (0.8 miles to the junction) is somewhat anticlimactic after all the rock formations, but it is open to the wide sky, which is on of the things I love best about Colorado. I always take the east fork of the Village Walk Trail (0.6 miles) for variety and to make the route longer.

Red rock formations coming down the south side of the Morrison Slide Trail

Matthew Winters Park is a haven for runners, hikers, bikers, but not necessarily dogs. As with all Jefferson County Open Space, dogs must be leashed and the trail is narrow, which make trail passing a challenge. Choose an off-hour time, however and you will have the park nearly to yourself.

More rock formations

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