We've relocated to Chatfield State Park for a week. Located on the Southwest corner of the Denver metropolitan area, it's more peaceful than our last stop: Cherry Creek State Park. This location also puts us closer to the foothills, with more opportunities to hit the trail...if it would only stop raining for a few days. You see, we keep getting afternoon thunderstorms, which is perfect for keeping things brilliant green, but makes for some very muddy trails so we've got to be choosy.
Taking the advice of a local, we decided to check out Red Rocks Park; it's the site of the world famous amphitheater nestled within red rocks. It's a stunning place to take in a concert under the stars, but by day it's an exercise mecca. Miles of trails traverse the hills among the red rocks and hardcore fitness fiends make up elaborate routines among the bleachers and stairs of the amphitheater.
We figured the red rock sandstone would provide a less mucky surface for hiking than other trails we'd tried lately, so we headed out to Red Rocks on a sunny morning. Our goal was the 6.5 mile loop utilizing Red Rocks trail, Dakota Ridge, Village Walk, Morrison Slide, then back to Red Rocks trail. Tack on another mile or so to climb the stairs at the amphitheater and we ended up with an 8 mile hike under our belts.
First though, we had to get out of Chatfield. We'd already noticed the reservoir was quite high, in fact it is currently 8 feet above the normal high water line. Exiting the park from the East entrance on this morning we had to cross the South Platt River as it flows into the reservoir...and it was now flowing over the road by a few inches! There's been concern the past couple of years about what would happen if a plan was implemented to raise the reservoir level, perhaps this was a sign of things to come?
|The South Platte River has breached its banks and the road!
Once we made it to Red Rocks, we couldn't help but be impressed by the massive red sandstone formations jutting out of the verdant green landscape.
|There's an amphitheater hiding in those rocks!
One of the most interesting parts of our hike was the Dakota Ridge, also known as the Dakota Hogback. This ridge of hard Dakota Sandstone is a natural barrier between the plains and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. From the West side it doesn't look like much, but once you get on top of it the sharp, slanted ridge provides dramatic views of both the geologic wonder itself and the surrounding countryside.
|From the East side of the Hogback you can easily see the ~45 degree angle of the formation.
|Atop the Hogback we could see it continuing South of us and, across a small valley, the foothills rise up to the West, including Red Rocks Park.
|Walking the razors edge!
|Amazingly mountain bikers ride the Hogback, and once we started down the North end of our trail
we could see the trail was built by mountain bikers with log ramps to help them through the steep sections.
|Leaving the Hogback behind, we crossed highway 93 and entered the verdant green valley of Matthews Winters Park.
We'll be zig zagging our way up the boulder strewn hill in the center of the photo.
Notice the sun and blue sky we started with has disappeared...
|All the creeks and rivers in these parts are running strong.
|As we headed up the Morrison Slide trail we enjoyed great views across the valley of the Hogback we'd just traversed.
|Walking among the rocks on Morrison Slide, we also had great views into the canyon West of us.
|Brilliant lichens covered the rocks atop Morrison Slide.
|A meadow atop Morrison Slide provided a respite from the climb and provided great views.
|Looking over the edge.
|There's the Hogback!
|The slanted rocks of Red Rocks Park come in to view as we head down the South side of Morrison Slide.
|Massive red rocks dominate the near view, while Denver stretches out to the East of us.
Once we finished our loop it was a short walk from the Lower North Parking Lot to the amphitheater. Since there was a concert scheduled for that evening we had only a few minutes to enjoy the spectacle of the amphitheater itself and the hordes of exercisers and sightseers before they closed off the venue for a sound check.
|This is maybe one third of the stairs into the amphitheater!
|Halfway to the stage!
Those red rocks enclose both sides of the amphitheater, providing incredible natural acoustics.
|The stunning view from the top of the bleachers.
We returned to Chatfield State Park to find the South Platte River had risen a few more inches, but they were still letting people drive through single file.
We made it home before the rain started again, and enjoyed only mildly muddy trails. Even though there is a lot of road noise while hiking on the Dakota Hogback, the amazing views did a good job of distracting us from the racket. All in all, a great day on the trail!