Away from the Grind

Red Mountain Open Space, Colorado and The BIG Hole

by Roger Ludwig

Want to take a spring hike? Search for that first bluebird of happiness?

Our favorite hiking though–around Vedauwoo—is still cold, 2,000 feet higher than Cheyenne. Let me tell you about a good spot “on the level”, its trailhead equal to our altitude. I’ve found, spring or fall, whatever the weather is doing here it is likely doing there, with just a bit more wind. The spot? Red Mountain Open Space just across the Colorado border, about a 45 minute drive.

In Cheyenne we live on “The Gangplank.” It is so normal to us that we don’t realize how unique it is. It’s the very reason our city exists.

Do you know those desserts called “impossible pies?” Baked in a casserole dish, there is a layer of hard crust at the bottom, gooey fruit filling on top of that–like strawberry-rhubarb yumm, then maybe some crumbly sweet crunch topped with a dollop of unhealthy whipped cream. 

Imagine some mysterious pressure lifting the center to the point where that underlying crust breaks through, exposed. That crust is the Rocky Mountain granite. Then imagine somebody spraying it with water from the kitchen sprayer, washing away all that yummy goo and crunch, leaving the crust high and dry. That is the Front Range after eons of rain and wind.

Except for Cheyenne and the Gang Plank. This is the one spot where no one washed away the layers of fruit and crunch. Vedauwoo and Pole Mountain are really high mountain peaks. It is just that here the layers of “overburden” are still in place allowing the Union Pacific to make a gradual ascent over the Rockies in the shortest, most direct route. And we came into existence to service those trains. We live on it. We climb it driving I-80 to the summit.

It is a geologic miracle.

Walk the plank? How about walking under it?

Would you like to get a view into the basement beneath Cheyenne, to see the remains of the strawberry-rhubarb yumm, eons of layered sediment? For a hundred years people wouldn’t let you.

It was a private ranch, closed to the public, those canyons where the south edge of the Gang Plank washes out into Colorado prairie.

But in 2004 Larimer County, Colorado purchased 13,500 acres with $7.85 million dollars of Colorado lottery funds and $1.85 million of local sales taxes. We added to it with Cheyenne’s 2005 purchase of the northern end from the Nature Conservancy for $525,000. That piece is “The Big Hole.”

These acres were opened to the public in 2009. 

Cinerama of Color

From the parking area two trails diverge in the yellow prairie. Each leads to a variety of loops and options all worth exploring, including some new paths built in 2011. To my tastes the Ruby Wash Trail is the most interesting. 

To get to Ruby Wash follow the left hand trail, Bent Rock. At the first fork stay right and at the second fork stay right. Then go right on Big Hole Wash until it reaches Ruby Wash. Continue straight on Ruby Wash. 

If all of that sounds a little confusing free maps are usually available at the trail head. The junctions are marked and from time to time there are “you are here” maps on post tops.

This path heads straight for the first small canyon, strata like a layer cake laying bare the history of our little piece of planet. The rock makes a surprisingly sharp 45 degree downward bend. The trail then comes back into the open for a couple of miles with fine views of Red Mountain. Then the trail enters a second canyon, this one a little deeper and longer with rich maroon walls. At the end of this one you may wish to turn back.

If you are game for a good, long ten–mile day you can continue to the Salt Lick Trail which will take you back to the parking area via a section of the Big Hole Wash and then the Sinking Sun Trail. Or take the Cheyenne Rim Trail to the top of the Big Hole itself.

Wildlife is plentiful. I’ve seen elk, deer and antelope, bluebirds and hawks, listened to coyotes in the evenings. But the real treat here is the color. The rock bands are rust-red and cinnamon, burgundy and cream. The prairie is fine sage green, the yucca almost neon. Groves of old cottonwood provide shadow. A blue sky is never bluer than when paired with red rock. 

Getting there: Take I-25 south to the Buckeye Road exit, # 288. Go west toward the mountains on CR82 to its end, then right on CR15. After the curve go left on CR84, (turning away from Soapstone Prairie), to its end, then left on CR19. In a short distance turn right on CR21 where the sign says “Red Mountain Open Space.” Continue a ways to the second parking area.

Unfortunately no access is available from the north at this time. The Big Hole is closer to Cheyenne, both by car from Harriman Road and then by foot, horse or bike over the Belvoir. Hopefully the City of Cheyenne will open it to us soon.
Regulations: Access is free. Dogs are not allowed, even on leash, to avoid troubling the wildlife. Travel off-trail is prohibited. No drinking water is available. The parking area has two pit toilets.

Current conditions and maps can be found online at: www.larimer.org/naturalresources/red_mountain.cfm.

This is superb horseback country with parking for trailers in the first lot. Stock tanks provide water as does the creek.

For mountain bikers looking for a big cross-country experience it doesn’t get better than this. You will need to take the Sinking Sun route though as the Bent Rock Trail is closed to bikes. 

Comments

Manfred Kirchhoff

Jul 14, 2013

Great website !
I am from Germany and look for some advise how to spend a weekend in September before a fligh back from Denver. I first thought to spend the 2 1/2 days in Rocky Mountain NP but: I assume it will be extremely crowded on a weekend and it will look pretty similar to the Alps in Europe and those I know very well.
After seeing the places on your website I think some of these might be more rewarding. I am a fotografer, so spectacular sceneries is a priority but if possible somewhere where the crowds don’t go.
What advise would you give how to spend this limited time ?
Thank you and kind regards
Manfred

Reply

Roger Ludwig

Jul 15, 2013

Manfred – In September most photographers will be looking for the changing autumn colors, especially the large stands of Aspen trees that turn a beautiful yellow and gold. Rocky Mountain NP is one of several good spots for it. The weekend of August 31 – September 2 is a holiday here, Labor Day, and many people will head to the park. Any other weekends in September should not be too crowded.

I’m understanding that you may be more interested in red rock or badlands country similar to the Red Mountain Open Space. Red Mountain is about 1 1/2 hours from Denver and there really isn’t a lot around it of interest for a long weekend. I would suggest you look into the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. (http://www.gardenofthegods.com) It is about an hour’s drive from Denver and is very photogenic. From there you could go up into the Rockies through Manitou Springs and to Woodland Park. There should be many places to see the Aspen colors. There is a small bad lands site called the Paint Mines near Colorado Springs out in the eastern prairie. It is described in my AwayFromTheGrind site. You could look at that and see if it interests you.

Wishing you a good trip – Roger

Reply

Manfred Kirchhoff

Jul 18, 2013

Roger, thank you for your suggestions !
kind regards
Manfred

Reply

Mark Stella

Apr 17, 2014

I love coming here. It is always an adventure, whether I hike 3 miles or 12. Now that I’ve moved to Wyoming, I’m hoping the City of Cheyenne will soon have vehicular access to the Big Hole Open Space area. However, the drive into the area on the Colorado side is pretty spectacular.

Reply

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