Red Mountain Open Space: The Nearby Wonderland
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The rock bends, one hundred feet of strata curving down to enter the ground. Rust red bands, others grey as old bone, one nearly white, another the deep maroon of dried blood. Mild Sand Creek flows at our feet. How many times has it swelled, exploded, roaring like a freight train to carve this canyon, to pulverize its boulders, creating this cutaway to the wide open?
Today children splash in the shallow water, choosing pebbles. They find more than a dozen colors, the colors of each layer of rock between here and the Big Hole rim, five miles up trail.
They’re lucky kids, lucky to have such parents. Parents who give them the freedom to get dirty. The freedom to discover, to explore, finding all kinds of little treasures, and the big one: what a wondrous planet we get to live on. And that living in wonder is the best way to live.
This is spring at Red Mountain Open Space. The grasses and sage have the hint of new green. The sky a brilliant blue, little clouds floating, together and alone, and the earth, every shape of fold and bend, eroded curves, straight cliff faces, sloping hill sides. Rocks of faint green, taupe and every shade of rust. The welcome song of spring, the meadow lark’s trill.
These rock bands renew my awe, the long history of the earth beneath Cheyenne laid bare. 300 million years of exposed sediments allow you to touch the earth that was once Pangea, when all the continents were one. Then to place your hands on the earth the dinosaurs trod, which is most of the rock we see here, towering above our heads where at the rocks on top pterosaurs flew and died. The era of the mammals has washed away off the heights.
Have you been here? It’s Larimer County Colorado’s prize open space, bordering and crossing the Wyoming state line into the Cheyenne-owned Big Hole. The trails for hikers, horsemen and mountain bikers are well built and signed. Maps are available at the entrance. Admission is free. The entrance is about 45 miles and an hour’s drive.
With an elevation of 6,200 feet the weather will be comparable to Cheyenne’s. But it’s wide open with lots of wind and sun.
For some there is one downside. Dogs are not welcome, even on leash. This is to keep the abundant wildlife calm and healthy. I can see why. On one special fall day I saw a dozen elk, several deer and a small heard of antelope plus a coyote.
Just the other day I watched a large skunk from a respectful distance. He snuffled along, a humpy rolling gait, tail held upward enough to give me pause. Kind of glad I didn’t have a dog with me to excite the situation.
If you haven’t been here in a while some newer trails have been developed. I especially like the K-Lynn Cameron trail which forms a loop, switch-backing up the slopes high above giving a glorious view of this big country. It comes down into an old Indian camp site. Archeologists have located teepee rings here.
A couple of cabins remain from a hundred years ago, originally used by the cowboys and herders of F. E. Warren’s mammoth outfit. A small herd of longhorns mows the grass. The loop makes a five mile roundtrip from the parking lot.
The trail honors Ms. Cameron whose spearheading efforts to establish the ¼-cent “Help Preserve Open Spaces” sales tax 22 years ago made your hike possible. The tax has leveraged other funds which were combined to purchase and develop these lands and many others.
Larimer County’s open spaces are a source of pride and pleasure for residents. In 2014 the continuation of the tax was up for vote. 82% voted to continue it for 25 more years.
For solitude the Bent Rock trail is a good choice. It is set aside only for hikers, making a three mile loop around the amazing twisted rock.
The trek into the glorious Big Hole is a long one, typically only reached by mountain bikers. But if hikers start early, bringing plenty of water and a good lunch you can do it. It makes for a ten mile loop, covering the highlights of this geologic wonderland. Perhaps someday the city will grant access off of Harriman Road through the Belvoir Ranch.
When you go: 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 few miles to the parking area.
There are picnic tables and shelters at the trailheads, as well as pit toilets. No drinking water is available. Parking for horse trailers is provided. A couple of stock tanks and the creek offer water for horses.
For mountain bikers this is prime cross country riding. With connections to Soapstone Prairie on the east there are about fifty miles of trail.
For up-to-date beta check on www.larimer.org/naturalresources/parks/red-mountain.
Now about dogs, if you are looking for a hiking area nearby that welcomes your pets look into Eagles Nest Open Space. www.larimer.org/naturalresources/parks/eagles-nest or http://www.awayfromthegrind.com/hiking/colorado/meet-under-the-eagles-nest/.
For an earlier post about Red Mountain see http://www.awayfromthegrind.com/hiking/colorado/red-mountain-open-space-colorado-and-the-big-hole/
May 17, 2018
One of the absolute gems of the entire region. It really is one of the rare areas where the sanctity of its surroundings is so brilliantly preserved in isolation. It’s a massive space and it still is only an occasional pass that you’ll discover hikers/mountain bikers. There is such a warm spirituality to Red Mountain Open that I have not encountered in many other places in Colorado/Wyoming. Special, indeed.
Jun 4, 2018
We found a large rattle snake sleeping/sunning on the K-Lynn trail May 30, 2018. Remember not to put your hands or feet anywhere you can’t see where they are going!
Jan 22, 2019
I came across your website while searching for “hidden places” in the West. You have beautiful, stunning photography and lovely descriptions – thank you! I moved to CO from Utah, (one of the prettiest places on the planet) to be closer to aging parents and family. Your website is a refreshing gem. I look forward to exploring new places!
May 18, 2020
lived in fort collins for almost 7 years and just made it up there today for the first time. it’s so gorgeous and quiet and relaxing. and the drive through the farmland to get there equally as pretty. i’m kind of glad there’s only one/two ways to get there because it cuts down on the traffic. just out of curiosity where is the first/header photograph taken?
May 18, 2020
I believe it is to the east of the Ruby Wash Trail north of the Big Hole Wash Jct. It’s been a while since I took it.