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Red Mountain Open Space, CO June 5, 2011

February 23, 2012


The first weekend of June, 2011 arrived.  I wanted to hike someplace, but the high country wasn’t open yet (not even close).  I’d spent the prior weekend hiking Lumpy Ridge, RMNP, so didn’t want to go back in that direction.  Hmmmmm.  But wait, there were some city and county maintained “open spaces” around Fort Collins that I’d heard were pretty nice.  So I took a look at the map and ended up deciding to go to the Red Mountain Open Space.  About 45 minutes north of Fort Collins.  Really not that far away, but you end up driving around 20 miles on some gravel/dirt roads, so you have to slow down a bit.

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard, rather longish, comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in that gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (plus there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. You will need to use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips. Please note that some of the links for the hikes are located somewhere in the hike itself, while other links on the map are the trailhead for the hike located on a road. The issue being, even if the link looks like it’s pointing to a road, that’s actually just the trailhead.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view the Red Mountain Open Space web page.  It has a link to a map . Please note that all links open a new browser window.


The day dawned clear and mild.  Perfect.  I did two things a little different on my way to the open space.  One, I drove Will’s car, one of my sons, in order to put a few miles on it.  He is doing a hitch in the military and it’s not good to just leave a vehicle sit too long without driving.  Two, I loaded up my pack with enough weight to equal what I’d probably carry backpacking for an overnight hike.  Around 40 pounds.  Heh, didn’t feel that much at first, but by the end of the day, my shoulders and feet could feel the difference.  Of course, I made my standard stop to pick up an Americano to drink and an orange cranberry scone to nibble on : )


In addition to the Google map link above, please see a live Google map below. Point B from Fort Collins is at the trailhead.  Note that when I posted this, the Google map was outdated and does not show the parking lot.  Also, the blue line may, or may not, have been the route I took from my home in Fort Collins, CO.   Sometimes Google takes a slightly different route : )  However, in this case it looks pretty close.  You can “grab” the map to scroll it around and use the “+” and “-“ icons in the upper left hand corner to zoom in or out to get more detail. You can also click on the “View Larger Map” link and it will bring up the map in a larger window (if you right click on the “View Larger Map” link and select “Open Link in new tab/window” then you can have both my blog and the map open at the same time).

Got to the parking lot pretty early.  I saw a few, very few, people around the parking area.  I saw no one on the trail itself.  Amazing.


The trail is quite well maintained.  Foot traffic, horses, and non-motorized bikes are allowed.  This would be an awesome place for trail running.  One thing to note.  NO dogs are allowed at all in the area.  Doesn’t matter if they are on a leash or not.  This is an important wildlife area.  In fact, no one is allowed on the trails from December 1 thru March 1.  More information can be found here


This was late spring and the grass was green, flowers were popping up, and the trees had that early bright green gloss that disappears later in the summer.  And the bees were out enjoying the day.


Oh, in case you are thinking, “what kind of dinky little trails can you find in this area”, Geoff?  Well, along with the work “many”, the word “long” can be used.  There are short ones, and medium ones, but you can stitch together a twenty mile loop without any problem.  There are two or three open spaces all together (with more planned), so if you want to do some serious hiking, there’s plenty of room.  I have no idea if overnight camping is allowed, so you’ll need to review the websites and/or make a phone call in order to find out.

This view is, I think, looking back towards the parking lot.  In the distance you can see the gravel road that brings you to the trailhead.


Here’s looking in the direction I was headed today.




I spent the first part of today’s “short” (close to 8 miles) loop (I love loops : ) hopping over a high plains area which drops down into a valley.  In case your wondering, I took the Sinking Sun trail up to the Salt Lick trail.  Followed the Salt Lick trail to the Ruby Walsh trail.  And then followed Ruby Walsh down to where it intersected and followed Sand Creek.  The trail then eventually loops back to the parking area.

I’m dropping into that valley here.  Up ahead the Sinking Sun trail runs into the Big Hole Walsh trail (love these names : ) which will take you to the intersection of the Salt Lick trail and another longer loop trail.  I seem to remember that they had pamphlets available at the entrance which included a good trail map.  You could also print off the one on their web site.


Here’s the beginning of the Salt Lick trail.  It heads off to the left.  To the right another trail goes up to the Cheyenne Rim trail.  I really wanted to do that loop, but after some consideration, decided that it would add too much to my “loop” for the day.  At least in my early summer condition and the fact that I was hiking with 40 pounds.  No problem, I’ll be back.


After going up the valley a ways, you finally gain enough altitude to get a good view of where you’ve been.


This is probably a good place to note the “haze”.  When I got to the area in the early morning, it seemed pretty clear.  But, as the day wore on, it got “hazier and hazier”.  I finally figured out that there must be a fire close by that was filling the sky with smoke.  Came to find out that was correct.  Only, the fires were not close by.  They were located in Arizona/New Mexico (I forget which exactly).  Pretty massive fires there for a good chunk of the summer.

The trail goes over a divide and you get to see Ruby Walsh in the distance.


As you are along the trail, you get a view of further down the wash and can see the “cut” in the red cliffs where Sand Creek enters Ruby Walsh.




Instead of heading directly towards that area, so, making a short cut, the trail continues towards the other direction.  It will intersect with Ruby Walsh far up above where Sand Creek intersects.  But it’s a very pleasant hike across some high rolling prairie.


The trail passes close to some “badlands” of exposed formations.  There is quite a large amount of archaeological studies in the surrounding hills.  Some of the native American traces they have studied in that area are up to 12,000 years old.  Removing any artifact from the area is against the law.  Per their instructions “……If you find an artifact take a photo, mark it on the map, or take GPS coordinates and contact the Department of Natural Resources at (970) 679-4570…….”


Saw this huge purple forest on a far distant red planet : )


Actually, this is what it looked like from a distance.


This all used to be ranch lands, but I don’t think cows are allowed on the property anymore.  But, either this water hole is for the elk that winter here, or it’s a left over from when ranchers ran cattle on the grass.  Or, it’s for people that are riding horses.


Distant view of Ruby Wash.  The trail stays high for a while before heading down.  Nice views, very pleasant hiking.  I would recommend doing this hike in the spring/early summer.  It could be, depending on the year and time of day, quite a dry and hot hike in the summer.  Pleasant again in the Fall season.


After a while the trail intersected with the Ruby Wash trail (an old dirt road, I think).  This is looking down the trail I’d be heading towards Ruby Wash.


A little closer look.  I love the trail signs here.  Centuries from now some human will walk up to them and go “what the….?” : )


Note that you can only head downhill towards Ruby Wash.  The section of trail going back uphill is currently (or, was at that time) closed to public access.  This entire area is still under development, so it wasn’t unusual to see such signs.  But, there is an enormous amount of trails and open areas even now.


The “entrance” into Ruby Wash happens quite quickly.  One moment you are strolling down a green pasture in Colorado, the next moment in Canyonlands, Utah : )  Okay, not quite Canyonlands, but the color is striking.


A lone pine tree.


Closer view cause I liked it.  It may have been the only pine tree I passed along the trail.


After approximately 30 minutes (or longer, can’t remember), the “wash” exits the Ruby part and becomes a sandy walk through the open spaces again.  The trail cut’s across some of the curves of the dry sandy wash.


After a mile (or so) I could see that the trail was approaching Sand Creek.  Off to my right was the “cut” through some red cliffs where the creek came through and into the prairie.


Zoom.  I wanted to go check it out.  I wanted to go real bad.  But, as I soon found out, such wandering was not allowed.


With some degree of expectancy, I saw the cottonwood lined creek ahead of me.


Zoom.  It looked cool and inviting (the day had grown a little warmer).


Oh look, a trail heading back up Sand Creek.


But, the sign sad no go.  I need to go back and see if they have opened it up to the public.  Cool looking place.


Sand Creek – Downstream


And, Sand Creek, upstream.  I took a bit of a lunch (delayed)  break here.  Very nice.  It’s possible that this creek may be dry later during the summer.   I may do a hike in the early fall to see what it looks like.  Especially if I can find out that they have opened up the access to the part that was closed to access.


The “trail” followed Sand Creek for quite a ways.  Very pretty, but the haze from the forest fires was pretty evident.


I almost wished, okay, I DID wish that I had not already had my break stop.  See those cottonwoods up ahead?  There was a moderately lengthy portion of the trail that went past these rather large groves of large cottonwoods.  All by the stream.  Lots of fallen ones to sit on.  Lovely spot.  Great hike (NOT during the heat of the day in the middle of the summer) for a family with children.  You could start from the parking lot and come this direction (instead of the direction I went).  Probably only a couple of miles (one way).


Alright, I really shouldn’t mention this, but, as I was walking along (won’t say where exactly) I just happened to glance around to one side of the trail.  Nah, couldn’t be!  But, yes, yes they were.  Columbines.  Just one very small bunch in the entire prairie.  Cool.




And close by, must be the ground, were some other nice looking vegetation.


I believe, but could be wrong, that this is Sand Creek prior to it going into a reservoir.  I believe that they did a bit of terraforming to force the creek to follow the direction that they wanted.  It doesn’t look like the natural drainage.  The trail, I’ll mention it below, eventually again meets up with the creek as it flows out of the reservoir.


There are a few “side” trails along this section that I decided not to partake of this day (my body was not appreciating the 40 pounds on my back and was telling me to get to the car, and do it NOW : )

The remainder of the hike cuts through an “anti-cline” formation.   A geological formation that Sand Creek has, over the last few million years, give or take, cut through.  The way to it was along a red line of a trail.


Here’s the approach to Sand Creek.  You can see the geological formation in the background.  To the “left” in this photo, so upstream, the steam emerges from an outflow at the bottom of a large dike.  There is a nicely constructed sign that tells why the reservoir was created.  If I remember correctly, and I may not be, Sand Creek used to flood occasionally.  To the point of killing people.  So, they built the reservoir to help reduce that possibility.  It was quite interesting in that it was surprising to learn that the “flood of ’97” in Fort Collins really wasn’t that unique.  The plains areas have had quite a history of floods.  Not to mention the ones down Poudre Canyon and the Big Thompson canyons.  There’s a lesson in there some where.  Maybe.


The crossing.  They really have done a great job on this trail.  Kudos to all the people that put so much time and effort into making it a reality.


A closer view of the anticline.  There was a very instructive sign along the trail here that detailed the assumed geological history of this formation.


This is close to the end of the trail.  The creek, and the trail, exit out of this small section of canyon just around the bend up ahead.  The parking lot is only a few hundred yards past that.  Somehow I’ve misplace the last few photos.  Had to change the card in my camera and forgot to get all the photos.  Or, something similar.


Summary?  Great hike that is close (relatively speaking) to Fort Collins.  A particularly good place to go in the spring/early summer when the mountains are still full of snow.  LOTS of trails.  Short trails, medium trails, and long trails.  Also, there are quite a few other open spaces in the Fort Collins area that offer lots of hiking.  One right adjacent to Red Mountain is the Soapstone Prairie open space.  It is, I think, even larger than Red Mountain.  Anyway, I plan to go back this spring (hopefully when there is no smoke from forest fires : )

– Geoff Weatherford

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 14, 2012 1:33 pm

    I really like this area too! By the way, I came through Haygood Canyon from the back side and never saw the sign until we were exiting the canyon. So, I will never be able to go back again until/unless they open it. If you want to see what it looks in the canyon, you can go to my website:

    Joe Grim

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