Monday, July 18, 2016

Soapstone Praire

Distance: 7 mile figure-eight loop
Elevation: 6,600 - 6,930 feet
Elevation Gain: 800 ft (cumulative)
Dogs: Not allowed at all
Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes
Restrictions: Closed in the months of December, January, and February
Tags: #hiking, #coloradooutdoors, #paleoindians, #prairie, #fortcollins, #archeology

Mummy Range viewed from the green grasses of Soapstone Prairie Open Space
Soapstone Prairie is a city of Fort Collins Open Space that is nestled right along the border with Wyoming (25 miles north of the city). It is covered in rolling hills, unique rock formations, Pronghorn Antelope, and skies that are as broad as the history of North America.

Route taken
Parking Lot 
This area was set aside to protect the Lindenmeier archeological site, a 10,000 year old ice age indian campground originally excavated in the 1930s. This site is the most extensive Folsom tradition site yet found. A shaded kiosk exists overlooking the site and is only a short 0.3 mile trip from the parking lot.

Heading up the Towhee Trail
Looking down from the first ridge
So while the Mammoths, Sabertooth Tigers, and paleo-Bison have long since disappeared, the scenic beauty of this untouched prairie remains. It is not hard to imagine bands of hunters or small family units traversing the area unmolested by the jangle of cell phones. 10,000 years is but a micro-second geologically speaking and so the mountain views, grasses, and seasonal flowers are the same today as they were for our distant neighbors. The memories this place holds whisper softly in the breezes that make the grasses dance.

Snowy locoweed
A grassy field near the start of the Magnolia Loop
The route profiled here starts on the left side of the Towhee Loop, crosses the top of the loop to a short connector trail and then on to the Mahogany Loop, taken clockwise, then back across the connector to the right side of the Towhee Loop. At each trail junction is a large metal post. These posts all have a unique letter identifier on them, which are also listed on the trail map. I wish every trail was so marked!

Loop back on the ridge
Starting out on the Magnolia Loop
Parts of this route climb up grass-covered drainages while much of it stays on the high ridges with 360 degree views. There are exposed sections of soapstone, which gives the open space its name. Soapstone is a soft talc, basically baby power, that has been used for carving for hundreds of years.

Views to the south
On this trip we saw Pronghorn Antelope, Cottontail Rabbits, raptors, Prairie Dogs, as well as evidence of Badgers. In 2014, a group of highly-endangered Black-footed Ferrets was released here.

A soapstone rock formation
Erosion in action
To get to Soapstone from I-25, take exit 288 (Buckeye Road) west to County Road 15. Go north on CR 15 and turn north onto Rawhide Flats Road. Follow Rawhide Flats Rd to the entrance station. Soapstone Prairie is not accessible via I-25 exit 293 (CR 126/CR 5). Many of these later roads are gravel, rough and bumpy put totally passable by a passenger car.

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