Saturday, May 23, 2015

Denver Part 1: Cherry Creek State Park

We split our time in Denver, CO between two state parks. First, a week at Cherry Creek State Park. This park may have been on the edge of town at one time but now it is fully engulfed in the big city. Fortunately, beyond the dull roar of busy streets surrounding the park, it is a green oasis full of wildlife and trails.

Colorado is still experiencing a very wet spring and that worked in our favor to keep the crowds down during our stay at Cherry Creek. This park gets very busy on nice days but with rain in the forecast every single day we generally had the trails to ourselves.

On our only sunny morning of the week we took a gorgeous 7 mile loop walk around the South end of the park.

The Rockies as seen on a rare clear morning from the Wetlands Trail..
That's the Dam Road slicing across the photo, drive it if you get the chance, the views are incredible!

Deer are abundant throughout the park. 

At the South end of the park we left the paved trail for a walk through prairie.
We didn't see the sun very often during our stay, the vivid colors of the sky,
the prairie and the mountains took our breath away.

Cherry Creek has the largest dog park we've ever encountered.
It's 107 fenced acres of off-leash fun with multiple access points to Cherry Creek.

Trail along the edge of the giant dog park.
Lots of happy dogs spread out across this acreage!

The campground is located in the North East quadrant of the park and has easy access to paved trails near the lake, perfect for the last stroll of the day or a quick walk between storms...

All types of water sports are allowed on Cherry Creek Reservoir, but the cold,
damp weather kept folks off the water during most of our stay.

The reservoir is very high due to the excessive rain lately, making some picnic areas off limits except to the water fowl.

Bullock's Orioles were bright flashes of color everywhere.
Who needs a fishing right from the stairs!

Denver has a bustling downtown, lots of great looking places to eat and drink, it reminded us a lot of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter...but my photos did not turn out all that great. Instead I'll share with you a great spot for happy hour: Adrift Tiki Bar.

Adrift, the only tiki bar in Denver.

We enjoyed a couple of tasty rum drinks for happy hour.

Replacing our toilet was a good rainy day task. Of course, being a plumbing project, a trip to the local hardware store was included.

It's like working in a closet...

This Dometic 310 replaced our old Thetford toilet.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge sits on the North edge of Denver and is a 15,000 acre story of transformation. Native Americans hunted bison on this land hundreds of years ago. Western settlers began farming and grazing cattle here in the 1800's.

World War II brought immense change when the Government bought out 200 farmers and turned the land into a weapons development site and later a weapons storage site. Nasty weapons, such as sarin and mustard gas. Agricultural chemicals were also developed here by Shell.

Over time all these chemicals needed to be destroyed and were stored based on the accepted practices of the time. Eventually extensive environmental cleanup was necessary to mitigate the effects of inadequate destruction/storage of these hazardous materials. In the 1980's the US government and Shell teamed up to properly handle these materials (based on current knowledge) and the discovery of a bald eagle roost led to the creation of the Wildlife Refuge on the property.

The Refuge has a nine mile driving route plus a few miles of trails through wetlands and short grass prairie. The excellent visitor center provides historic detail on the property.

Bison have been reintroduced on the Refuge.
How about the juxtaposition of bison and big city?

Wetlands dot the Refuge.
There are swallows, by the hundreds, flying over the water.

Prairie dogs cavort on the short grass prairie.

We've been doing a lot of city stuff due to all the rain including doctor appointments, REI sale and various other shopping. Thanks to the doctor in Littleton we learned about the Littleton Museum, a combination of indoor historical exhibits and two living history farms, one from 1860 and another from 1890. This museum would be especially interesting for families but we enjoyed the sites and animals too.

1860 cabin and outhouse.

Blacksmith shop.

The back view is just as pretty... the front view!

Combine the museum with a walk through Ketring park next door and you've spent a nice couple of hours in the city.

Goslings in Ketring park.

Ketring Lake.

Wood duck with young.

Cherry Creek State Park was a convenient place to stay in Denver. There's 4,200 acres of park including trails, water sports on the lake, horseback riding and the enormous dog park. There are 135 camp sites, most with full hook ups and decent separation. Each camp site has a picnic table and fire ring.

We had back in site #29 in the Coyote Loop with lots of space between us and our neighbors and a view into a grassy meadow where we saw deer every day. We had decent Verizon signal during our stay but the campground wifi was pretty slow.

Site 29 was extremely deep, though the unpaved access got kind of muddy since we had so much rain.
Many other camp sites had full paving from the street.

View of our site from the neighbors site...good spacing!

Deer came through our site daily and hung out in the meadow beyond the trees.

Next up: Chatfield State Park, also in Denver.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Campground Review and Hiking Report: Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado Springs,CO

After a 10 day stay, Cheyenne Mountain State Park has become our favorite state park to date!

Opened in 2006, the park has 51 full hook up sites located on four loops which are tiered up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. All sites have paved parking, tent pads, picnic tables and BBQ pit. There are an additional 10 walk-in tent sites and some of the RV sites include more than one tent site. There is decent separation between most of the sites. Some sites have a slope at the entrance, but the pad for every site looked level.

Amenities include multiple picnic areas, playgrounds, archery range, 20 miles of trails (dogs not allowed on trails). Restrooms with coin operated showers are available on each loop and the Camper Services Building includes a small inexpensive laundry room. Programs such as yoga and birding walks are held regularly. Verizon signal was decent, especially using our booster. There is a recycling bin at the camper services building.

We had site #2 in the Raptor Glen loop, the loop highest on the mountain. Our 180 degree view to the East looked out over the Colorado Plains for at least 50 miles. To the West we had an unobstructed view of Cheyenne Mountain. Birds and rabbits frolicked in the gambel oaks flanking our sitting area, deer passed through often as they foraged the hillside. Turkey walked the streets early in the morning.

We stayed here in early May during a very rainy stretch. We experienced thunder storms, hail, snow and even some sun. We had amazing views of the storms thanks to our perch on the hillside. The campground was at least 3/4 full each night and there were very few daytime picnickers so the trails were lightly used (once they dried out, which happened more quickly than we expected because there's a lot of sandstone around here).

The Hiking
I ran out of room on my Colorado Springs wrap up post and still want to share some photos from our excellent hikes here at Cheyenne Mountain State Park. We probably hiked at least 15 of the 20 miles of trails.

We loved the variety of trails here. There are short, easy trails near the campsites, perfect for the last stroll of the day. Many trails go through meadows where turkey and deer forage along the fringes in stands of gambel oak, then up into ponderosa pine, douglas fir, white fir and rocky mountain juniper forests with views out to the plains or up into the granite boulders on Cheyenne Mountain. Many different loops are possible. Prairie dogs gambol in the lowlands of the park. Coyote, bobcat, bear and mountain lion frequent the area.

We loved this state park and would definitely stay here again. Stays are limited to 14 days in a 45 day period. Colorado charges a $7 per day entrance fee on top of the nightly camping rate unless you hold a CO state parks pass.

Our site, #2.
Our view to the West.
No campsites behind us.

Deer up the hill behind our site.

Site #3.
Back in sites #4, 5 and 6 are beyond.

Site #10 with a panoramic view East.

A back in site.

The camper office and showers/restrooms/meeting room/laundry room/playground.
Another shower/restroom up the hill to the left.

A view towards Cheyenne Mountain and the campground (barely visible atop the right flank) from the Sundance trail.

Prairie dogs on the lowlands.

Coyote in a meadow.

Pygmy nuthatch.

We saw numerous turkeys and never failed to smile when we heard their gobbles in the distance.

We loved how this large hen saw us across a valley and instantly laid low so we could hardly see her!

Even from a distance a displaying tom looks fancy!

Our very best hike was an 8 mile lollipop loop that took us to the furthest reaches of the park (South and North Talon trails).
Amazing views, interesting layers of rock, and turkeys way up at 6,500 feet!

Granite outcroppings on the flank of cloud topped Cheyenne Mountain.
NORAD is somewhere in the bowels of that mountain!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wrapping Up an Awesome 10 Days in Colorado Springs

We've had a most excellent 10-day stay in Colorado Springs. Sure, the weather has been a little crazy in early May, with thunder storms, hail and snow, but we enjoyed watching the weather show right from the comfort of our home on wheels on our perch on the side of Cheyenne Mountain.

The morning after the intense hail storm was dry so we headed out determined to get a walk in before the next round of storms hit. We parked at the Cheyenne Mountain Library, walked a mile through a lovely neighborhood to the Penrose Heritage Museum, had lunch at the Golden Bee (an English style pub), walked through The Broadmoor resort and back to the library...and only got sprinkled on at the very end!

Spencer Penrose was a wealthy entrepreneur at the turn of the century in Colorado Springs. He lived life to the fullest and had great visions for the growing city. Among other things, he built the luxurious Broadmoor resort, forged a road to the top of Pikes Peak and founded America's second oldest motorsport event, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

The Penrose Heritage Museum has an extensive collection of vintage carriages and an equally impressive display of memorabilia from the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It's fascinating to read the stories of the evolution of the race from dirt track in 1916 to being fully paved in 2012. This was an excellent museum and it was free!

Many detailed interpretive signs tell the history of the race.

There have been a few crashes in the history of the Hill Climb, the most recent in 2012.

Dozens of carriages with detailed descriptions of their purpose and how they were typically used in Colorado Springs make up the carriage portion of the Penrose Heritage Museum.

In 1916 Spencer Penrose and his wife Julie purchased the existing 40 acre Broadmoor Hotel and Casino plus an additional 450 acres and set out to create the most beautiful resort in the world modeled after the elegance and opulence of resorts they had visited in Europe. Today, the resort is still a luxurious property and is fun to walk through. Fine art adorns the walls, beautiful grounds beckon, and the view of the mountains to the West provide a stunning backdrop.

Front view of The Broadmoor.

View of the West section of the hotel under threatening skies.

Those threatening skies did bring snow, we woke up to a winter wonderland the next morning. It didn't last long, but we had fun introducing Rosie to the white stuff...she actually enjoyed it this time around.

In 1879 Charles Elliott Perkins, head of Burlington Railroad, purchased 240 acres in the Sedona-like red rock country called the Garden of the Gods, on the West side of Colorado Springs. The property grew over time but he never built a home and preferred to keep the land open for the public to enjoy. Eventually his family gave the land to the city of Colorado Springs with the agreement it be forever free to the public. Garden of the Gods is now a very popular park, with a visitor and nature center, picnic areas and miles of trails. The rock formations are grand, but if you are looking for solitude you're not likely to find it here, not even on a weekday.

The Siamese Twins with Pikes Peak in the background.

From Garden of the Gods it's a short drive to the mountain hamlet of Manitou Springs. The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is accessible from Manitou Springs, as is a trail head if you wish to hike to the top. The town is a tourist stop with plenty of eateries and drinkeries and little shops to browse. There are several soda spring fonts located throughout town, give them a taste!

From Manitou Springs we took the scenic route home. Gold Camp Road follows the former railroad for mining operations between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek. Two tunnels, runoff from the recent rains, and plenty of potholes made for an exciting drive through the mountains on the North flank of Cheyenne Mountain.

Coming through tunnel 2.

The view into the mountains, that's a waterfall in the center.

For our last hike in the area we decided to check out the other red rock park in town. Red Rock Canyon Open Space has miles of trails among towering slabs of red sandstone, former site of a quarry. We ended up hiking a good 8 miles, well into the back country of the park, where we found waterfalls and terrific vistas as well as the amazing walls of red rock and the very interesting quarry site. Far less people at this park than at Garden of the Gods (on a weekday).

The Hogback rises out of a grassy valley.

A deer atop the Hogback imitating a bighorn sheep!

The Permian-age Lyon's Sandstone was quarried here in the late 1800's.
Several buildings still stand in Denver that were built from this stone.

Another large mass of sandstone rises up across from the quarry site.
Note the person on the trail cutting across the grass.

We'll miss Cheyenne Mountain State Park. It has been an excellent place to stay in Colorado Springs. In fact, we enjoyed Colorado Springs so much we easily could have spent a month in the area. But it's time to move on...Denver here we come!

Nature's bouquet at Cheyenne Mountain State Park.