Living – Places: 14

2014

Today's hike was about soft winter tans and blues, a steep climb, and endless vistas on the Nighthawk Trail in Hall Ranch. We climbed up into this area.

Looking up valley linked with a rock cliff and dotted with sparse pines

Off in the distance a butte watched over everything.

Sandstone butte rises over rocky hillsides

The trail was pretty steep most of the way.

The trail climbing up a steep hillside towards pine trees

As we got higher, the vistas opened up. Here we could see out towards the east. The furthest foothill is the one across from our home.

Looking east across hillsides towards the beginning of the Great Plains

Looking towards the west up into the more rugged hills leading up to the Rockies.

The hills get more rugged as they rise towards the Rocky Mountains

Most of the time when we're hiking in the Rockies, we can't see much of the trail, but today at one point we could look back downhill and see where we had come from.

The trail far below winds up the hillside

After a few hours we crested a hill and finally saw our beloved mountains. This is where we ate lunch.

View of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak rising over the hills of Hall Ranch

We could see far into the distance in every direction.

A view to the east of the hills over Lyons

The grasses danced beautifully in the wind.

A big field of tan grasses with hills rising in the distance

Forested hills climbing off into the distance.

A view of the rugged canyon down which flows the South St. Vrain river

Walking down the trail back towards home.

Now we can see the back side of the butte that towers above the trailhead

The theme of today's hike was sky. And warmth. We enjoyed basking in a sunlit 60 degrees F, knowing that the snowstorm blowing into tonight will bring a high of 20 F tomorrow and low near zero tomorrow night. Ah, life in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains!

Stone hillside with rich blue sky above

Mountains and sky

A view east towards the mountains of the Continental Divide

Wispy clouds

Thin, flat, wispy clouds dominate the sky to the south

The Twin Guides, Mount Meeker and Longs Peak

The mountains are a beacon on the eastern skyline

Stone eagle

On a rocky hillside, one of the stones resembles an eagle keeping an eye on things

Today's hike was about a magical white landscape contrasting with an endless blue sky.

On Thursday night it started raining, then froze, and then snowed overnight, so that Friday morning we had to shovel out about 7" of very heavy snow. Friday night and on and off all day Saturday it snowed about another 10", though lighter and fluffier, so we ended up shoveling a couple times more on Saturday. We have a fairly steep and long driveway (about 150 yards), so we ended up feeling pretty sore by the time we fell into bed last night.

When we woke up in the morning, it was foggy and gray, so we figured it would be a good day to hang out inside and rest our aching muscles. But then the sun broke through and we had no choice but to grab our packs, pull on our gaiters, and head for the hills. From the moment we stepped out the door, we were in an enchanted wonderland. We went over to the nearby Hall Ranch, where the snow had transformed everything, and hiked up the Nighthawk Trail. By evening, we could barely move, but it was totally worth it! Here's the view stepping out our door.

Snow-laden pine trees in a snow-covered yard

The entrance to Hall Ranch.

A snow-covered fence underscores the hills of Hall Ranch

The butte near the entrance of Hall Ranch.

The sandstone butte looks quite dramatic rising out of the snow-covered hills

Old cabin beneath striated cliff.

The small, weathered-brown cabine stands out starkly in the white landscape

Climbing up into to trees.

The trail rises up through snow-covered Mountain Mahogany bushes and pines

The snow changes everything.

The snow-covered hills look so different than when they're showing their normal winter tan colors

Garima beside a snow loaded juniper.

I don't think a tree could hold much more snow than this

Hiking downhill through mountain mahogany bushes.

Garima is just visible hiking down a snow-covered hillside

Garima beneath a snow-laden ponderosa.

A splash of blue in a white world

Looking up into the ponderosa.

Looking up into the snow-laden branches

Looking up a hillside of mountain mahogany.

A world of white cotton candy

A barn provides a splash of color in a white world.

A bright red barn peeks out through snow-covered trees

I've been a bit in denial about the flood … it's hard for me to come to grips with the fact that so much of the beauty I appreciated has been ripped away. Yesterday, about five months after the floods, I finally was able to take a walk along a portion of the river I used to walk all the time. Even after all this time, I was pretty stunned by what I saw. On the other hand, I could tell that all of this is nothing new for the land and river itself. The river has returned to channels it has run in before; it's just not where I am used to seeing it.

Today we walked along the same way and I finally took some photos, the first I've been able to take of the aftermath of the flooding. All the upheaval does give us a chance to rethink how we treat the river corridor. Previously, we pushed the river into channels that were convenient to us. Perhaps now we can create a better design that allows the river to meander back and forth as it is wont to do, that makes room for more ponds and wetland areas, and that gives the river space to expand during normal spring flooding and even extraordinary flooding without causing lots of destruction. Garima and I are on a volunteer working group that is drafting initial plans for the long-term recovery and improvement of the river corridor, and I'm happy to see that almost everyone involved is thinking along these lines.

An iconic sculpture created by the flooding.

A bright red fleece jacket is stretched up in the shape of a person amongst the debris tangled in a barb wire fence

This was a lush field where grass-fed cattle grazed, an idyllic country scene. The river used to be over amongst the line of trees nearer to the cliff wall. Now you can see that it swings wide through the field. When it was flooding, it entirely covered the field, depositing tons of silt.

The river now runs across the field, which is covered in a thick layer of silt

This is the river in its new channel (at least in recent memory).

A view of the river in the new channel it has carved out

This shot is looking the other way down this field. The river used to be over in the trees on the left.

The amount of river rock it deposited as it rushed through this valley is astonishing

The river used to run through here. During the flooding, the asphalt road that used to be here was entirely washed away as the river swung across the valley until it was turned by a cliff wall. Here's a photo of that wall that I took a few years ago: goo.gl/JX8kcp. You can see that water has run along the wall at some time in the past.

A view of a valley full of tumultous river debris ... but no river

At the peak, the flooding covered this entire area, depositing countless tons of river rock around the trunks of the trees that stayed standing. This used to be a marshy area slowly being reclaimed by grasses, until the river created its new channel here.

The ground several feet above the river is covered in big river rocks left behind by the flood waters

Another view of the torn up banks and the tons of river rocks deposited high above the normal river level.

A lifetime's worth of river rock

One winter I took a photo of a magnificent beaver dam at this spot (http://goo.gl/NzOcrf). The river used to flow into this spot from the right side, with a little trickle coming from a marshy area on the left.

Looking upriver at where it used to be and is now

This is a pretty typical scene along the river, with the river carving out a new channel and lots of downed trees.

A view of fallen trees crossing the river

I'm pretty sure these two images are from the same stretch of the North St. Vrain river in Buttonrock Preserve. The left image is one I took in early March of 2013. The second is a satellite image in Google Earth from October 6, 2013. While the perspective is a bit different, you can get a sense of the before and after.

Photograph of the river last spring compared to a near-ground-level satellite image of the same area showing the destruction caused by the flooding

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