Mason Creek Trail

Staunton State Park

As promised, I am going to take you all on a tour of the the various trails we have hiked in Staunton State Park, starting with Mason Creek Trial. We hiked this in July, but we were lucky to have gone on a cooler day. The trail is mostly in the trees, but much of it is also wide open.

Trail is a mix of packed dirt and rocks to scramble over.
Mason Trail is highlighted in green running on the right side of the map. We stopped at Catamount Overlook.

The 7.4 mile out and back stretch we took is a mix of easy to a more moderate incline with a few little rocky scrambles. You can reach this trail from any of the parking lots by staying to the right of the trails that lead out. We parked in the Mason Creek lot and went from there. If you want to stick to the easy portion, only go as far as The Raven Climbing area right at the Mason Creek Cascades. This is a pretty spot for a creekside picnic and there are usually climbers here to watch.

One of the climbing areas at The Ravens. See the arrow on the bottom left to give you a scale of a climber getting ready to start.

From here the trail is a steady incline through the woods and open spaces with plenty of opportunities for vista viewing. There are a number of horses that use this portion of the trail system along with bikes so keep an eye out and share the trail.

We called our hike once we reached Catamount Overlook. From here you can continue onward for another four miles to reach Old Mill Site. There is a cut through from Old Mill back down to the main Staunton Ranch Trail.

To get to Staunton State Park take Hwy 285 south to Shaffers crossing (it’s about 6 miles west of Conifer). There is a sign right on the highway so you can’t miss it. You turn right onto Elk Creek Road and go about 1.5 miles to the entrance of the park. There is an entry fee of $9.00, but if you visit Colorado’s state parks with any frequency, their annual pass is the best choice.

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Waterton Canyon, Colorado

Bighorn Sheep Abound!

What a great experience to see bighorn sheep up close, and personal. When I read that Waterton Canyon was a great place to see them, I imagined them being up on the hillsides, not fifteen feet away.

Waterton Canyon Trail follows the South Platte River.

Let me share the hike with you, then tell you my sheep story. The hike itself is what I’d categorize as very easy. It is along a dirt road that follows the South Platte River and used by the Denver Water Department to service the Strontia Dam at the top of the trail. If you hike this be aware that there are vehicles sharing the road with you. It is not open to the general public so the cars are minimal. The bikes are not. This is an excellent out and back quick ride for bikers so there are quite a number of them. I hiked this on a Tuesday so it wasn’t as busy as weekends.

The incline is steady, but hardly noticeable. I saw someone pushing a stroller, young children on bikes or walking, along with a gentleman riding an electric handicap scooter (he was at mile three photographing the bighorn sheep). You can hike the full 12.4 out and back, or continue on up about another 4 miles where the Colorado Trail connects (bikes are not allowed past the dam). I only went to mile 3.5 where the first of the bighorn sheep were lounging in someone’s front yard.

This is the point where I stopped at a picnic table and had a snack before heading back down where I had my second encounter with the bighorns.

About halfway down I came across a herd of about eleven bighorns. They were on the younger side compared to the group lounging in the yard. They seemed to be heading the same direction as I was which felt a little disappointing as I wanted to get a few photographs. They must have heard my thoughts because, after a couple of them bounced around on the rocks the group started up the road in my direction.

The lead bighorn slowly made its way toward me, boring a hole through me as it was deciding if I was a friend or foe. The others walked slowly behind. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do so I moved off the side of the road and kept a side eye on the group. When they got about 15 feet away they decided it was safe to pass, at full speed.

Not only were bighorn sheep grazing the canyon, but the fall colors were still putting on a show. I missed the scrub oak by a couple of weeks, but the cottonwoods were a beautiful golden yellow. Mixed in with all the activity were the fishermen who seemed to be having a bit of luck too.

Waterton Canyon is easily accessed from C-470 and Wadsworth (Hwy 121). Take Hwy 121 south off C-470 to Waterton Canyon Rd. The intersection is well marked. The large parking lot is right off Waterton Canyon Rd. This is a heavily used area on weekends so arrive early to beat the crowds.

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Sandstone Ranch Park

New park recently opened!

Sandstone Ranch Open Space Park is a new, Douglas County park that opened late September of 2020. It is about 3 miles west of Larkspur, Colorado. Douglas County secured this land in 2018 and opened the area to the public in September of 2020.

We hiked on a Sunday, two weeks after the park opened and, by coincidence, we arrived just as the last of about 40 horse trailers parked. As it happens, this was an equestrian club that normally would not have been there. At first we were worried the trails would be crowded with horses, but there was plenty of space for all of us. We did run into one larger group, but otherwise they were nicely spread across along the trail.

About 40 horse trailers were ready for the trail when we arrived.

The trailhead is right off the parking lot through a gate. (There are several around the loop. Because this is still a working ranch be sure to close each gate as you pass through). The 3.8 mile trail (4.5 from where we parked) is well maintained and wide enough to pass anyone along the way. It is loose dirt and sand (something to keep in mind if you hike after a rain or snowmelt). I would rate the trail as easy, but if you do go clockwise the initial climb might make it a moderate.

Brian, president of the Douglas Land Conservancy, happened to be the greeter the day we hiked, and advised us to go counterclockwise rather than the other direction. Why? “Because everyone goes clockwise.” After hiking it, I agree. The elevation climb is minimal (about 400 feet) and if you go clockwise it is all done in the first mile.

Much of the hike is open meadows with Pike National Forest as a backdrop against sweeping vistas. The scrub oak was a brilliant contrast of orange, yellow, and red against the dark greens of the pine trees of Pike. Beautiful. The area felt wide open through the meadows along with shady spots as well.

Scrub Oak in the fall.

Getting to Sandstone is easy. From I-25 take exit 173 at Larkspur. Turn west at Perry Park Avenue and follow this for about 3 miles. At the T-intersection turn left onto County Hwy 105. The entrance to the trailhead is on the right about 1/2 mile from Hwy 105 and Perry Park Ave.

Read more about Sandstone Ranch Park.

Enjoy your hike!!

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Staunton State Park

Near Pine Colorado

We recently discovered this beautiful park which is part of the Colorado Park and Wildlife system. Staunton State Park is 3,918 acres of land which was donated to the state by the Staunton family in 1989 and opened to the public in May of 2013.

Staunton Ranch Park trail map provided at the entry gate.

The trail system is extensive and open to all levels of hiking, biking, and horseback riding along with a number of climbing areas if you are a fan of rock climbing. There are a few trails that are only open to hikers, but most are open to all.

The park also offers a wonderful opportunity for anyone who is physically disabled. The Track-chair Program opens the door to everyone and takes visitors along three trails with water features, open meadows, forest, and views! Visit CPW’s website for more information and reservations.

The weekends are quite busy so I recommend visiting the park during the week if you can. We have been three times (Sunday and two Fridays) and were treated to some solo hiking for a few long stretches on the Fridays we were there.

There is one drawback I found to this park. Not enough trails are hiker only. The bikers are, for the most part, polite and yield to hikers, but there are the few that go too fast and have the manners of a banana peel on the ground.

The park does have a bell system so bikers will jungle as they ride, but after three visits to the park, only one biker used it. Why? There are no bells available in the bell box at the trail head. I assume they have all been taken by visitors and not returned. The park is heavily used by bikers so be sure to get off the bike trails if you are hiking. I personally would like to see more trails dedicated to hiking only.

Bear Paw Trail

I will write more on the individual trails we hiked later, but I will say, this is a gorgeous place to hike. There is a great mix of pine forest, aspen groves, and open meadows. The trails are well maintained and clearly marked. The staff is friendly and greet you with a smile and have extensive knowledge of the area.

To get to Staunton State Park take Hwy 285 south to Shaffers crossing (it’s about 6 miles west of Conifer). There is a sign right on the highway so you can’t miss it. You turn right onto Elk Creek Road and go about 1.5 miles to the entrance of the park. There is an entry fee of $9.00, but if you visit Colorado’s state parks with any frequency, their annual pass is the best choice.

Until next time.
Happy Hiking!

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How Does My Orange Grow?

It Happened!!

After waiting over a year my single orange has fallen from the tree. When it broke from its branch into my hand I had a giddy moment with the feeling of holding a new puppy. An orange was born!

Way back in May of 2019 was the first little bud of an orange and today I have savored its sweet taste. I did not have an orange from the store to do a straight comparison, but IMHO I think my orange was the best I’ve had in a long time. Of course, any fruit or vegetable that is picked fresh always tastes so much better!

Below are the last few images as my orange ripened then finally was ready to eat.

October 2019
December 2019
Here it is!!
February 2, 2020

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Arches National Park, Utah

Part I

One of the places we have wanted to visit, for years, is Arches National Park. I wish we had gone a long time ago. Saying that is awe inspiring is an understatement. I don’t think there is an adjective that suits the majesty. The park is filled with monolithic rock formations that will keep your jaw on the ground. I got whiplash as we drove through the park on our first day there.

Three Gossips
The three Gossips, Arches National Park, Utah

Our trip to Arches was during the peak of summer heat. During our visit (the first week of August) we saw daily temperatures at 95°F and one day topped out at 103°F.

I lived in the Mojave Desert for several years so that kind of heat wasn’t foreign to me, but if you have never visited an aired climate be prepared. We always had at least 2 liters of water per person anytime we hiked, and on that hottest day? We each had three liters.

We also planned our hiking trips during the cooler times of the day. One of the hikes (Fiery Furnace) we did in two parts. The bottom hike was early in the morning and the top was late in the afternoon.

Arches N.P. is big enough that we spent 4 days there and still had more to see. In the next series of posts I will be writing about the hikes we did. I will start at Landscape Arch then on to the Window and Turret Arches, followed by our adventure through Fiery Furnace and ending with an epic rappel into two grottoes.

Until then, stay cool!

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How Does My Orange Grow?

I am excited to report that my single orange is still thriving. The summer months have kept it happily growing along with a bi-weekly dose of Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer. You can order this directly from Neptune’s Harvest, but if you want it in a smaller size check out your local hardware store (mine came from Lowe’s).

Neptune's Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer

Back to my mighty orange, and it is certainly mighty.

The orange still on my tree.
Photo taken June 4, 2019
Photo taken July 17, 2019
Photo taken August 21, 2019

As you can see from the series of photos that it is growing like a champ! The fruits’s skin texture has gone from a very shiny, lime green to a rougher surface and a deeper shade of green. I am looking forward to seeing it start to change from green to orange.

The tree’s leafs are a bit odd. I’m not quite sure what to make of them. It is as if I have two different trees coming out of the same trunk rather than a hybrid.

The “old growth” (left) are leaves from when I originally bought it, and the “new growth” (right) is what came in since it has been home.

The old growth image on the left shows the leaves are wide and somewhat flat, whereas the image on the right shows the leaves as much more narrow with a bit of curl. In addition the old growth leaves are pointed at the tip and the new growth have rounder tips.

I have seen apple trees that were grafted to have multiple types of apples on a single tree and I am wondering if this is the same thing.

I did look around online and the two species have similar shaped leaves although the grapefruit leaf is larger than the orange. It also looks like the orange leaves can vary. I’m no expert, but I have to wonder if the leaves are a little stunted due to the altitude? I am curious if the tree was originally grown at a much lower altitude (I’m at 6,000 ft), would that make all the newer leaves smaller? If you are knowledgeable in this area please let me know. You can share your wisdom in the comments.

Until next time, please share your fruit growing experiences with us. Leave a comment or share my story.

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Monarch Lake, Colorado

Hiking Monarch Lake Trail and Cascade Falls Trail

Monarch Lake trail system has several options to choose from to satisfy any hiker. Monarch Lake Trail is an easy 4.2 mile hike that winds around the circumference of the lake. The single track trail is mostly flat with a few rocky stretches. Perfect for even the youngest hiker. On leash Dogs are welcome, but remember to pack enough water for you and your fury friends.

Monarch Lake

Close to the half-way point along Monarch Trail, you can either go all the way around the lake, turn back, or head off to the left, onto Cascade Falls Trail. If you take Cascade Falls Trail, you are in for a hard hike (8.8 miles round trip including the Monarch Lake Trail portion), but the top of the trail is so worth it. Depending on how far you actually go, this trail accesses Crater Lake (7.3 miles), Gourd Lake (7.3 miles) and Pawnee Pass (8.7 miles) where there are areas for camping.

The trail head for Monarch Lake is the beginning of several trails.

We hiked up Cascade Falls Trail and the ascent started right off. As I said before, this trail is rated difficult and I agree that going up is quite a challenge. The altitude gain is enough to warrant a hot air balloon filled with spare oxygen. We are in good physical condition, and by the time we got back down to the base we were well worn. If you are not, know your limits. You have to get all the way back to the car so turn around before you are exhausted.

The hike up follows Cascade Creek. Depending on the time of year, the creek can be swollen with snow melt, or tumbling over the rocks later in the summer. Today the creek ran pretty high so we were treated to sections of wild running rapids (nothing to ride a tube down!).

There were plenty of spots to rest along the way, most above the creek, but still within earshot of the roar. We enjoyed three stops along the way. One was a little perch above the creek and another was creek-side. We initially thought this might be Cascade Falls. Out of curiosity, we continued up the trail and were rewarded with the falls. You will cross two bridges on your way up to the falls. Once you cross the second one you are getting pretty close. At least within a half mile.

Taking a break at the top of Cascade Falls.

There are essentially two sections to the falls. One spot to view them is near the base of the falls themselves and the other on top. We rested on top for about an hour before we trekked back.

If you happen to do this hike, keep an eye out for a pair of women’s prescription glasses. I discovered I lost them about a mile down the trail. We went back up (adding about 2 miles to our hike) to look for them, but I fear they landed in the river at some point.

Monarch Lake’s trail system is fairly easy to get to from either Granby or Grand Lake. You will be in the Arapaho National Wilderness Area and will need a day pass. Bikes are not allowed on these trails.

Be ready for a thick layer of dust on your car. It’s a 10 mile drive on a dirt road. The parking lot is on the small side. It accommodates maybe 40 or 50 cars, but there is plenty of space to park along the road as well. This is a popular area to hike in so get there early to find a spot to park. We arrived in the afternoon (on a Saturday) and were lucky to get on of the last spots.

Directions: From Granby turn north onto U.S. Highway 34, travel approximately six miles to County Road (CR) 6. Turn east onto CR 6 (Arapaho Bay Road/NFSR 125), and drive 10 miles to the parking area.

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Granby Ranch, Colorado

Hiking Vista Ridge Trail

This trail at the top of Granby Ranch ski mountain, is an easy path that winds through the forest with a number of opportunities for breath taking vistas. When I hiked this trail I was also treated to many wildflowers. This trail is rated as “easy” and I agree with that rating. There are a couple of uphill/downhill challenges, but nothing too difficult. For the most part it is a smooth trail, but there are some rocky spots. Nothing that will twist an ankle though.

Getting to the trail head is as simple as riding the Quick Draw Express chairlift to the top. The ride up and back down was only $10.00. Once at the top just walk

Top of Quick Draw Express Chairlift

Top of Quick Draw Express chairlift.

off the lift and go straight. Make a quick stop at the trail map to get familiar with where you are going. The trails are well marked, but it is always smart to be prepared. Better yet, grab a map before you head up on the lift.

Your first stop is a wonderful view of Arapaho National Park.

vista of Arapaho National Forest

Set up your tripod to view soaring eagles or an easel to paint the beauty.

It is hard to turn away from such a vista, but this is just the beginning of the trail. From here just follow the trail markers and follow Vista Ridge Trail. Stay on the single track to wind through the forest. There are plenty of photo opportunities to be had on this trail. Look for a wide variety of wild flowers including Colorado’s State Flower; the columbine.

Colorado State Flower - Columbine

Columbine, the Colorado State Flower

You can branch off of Vista Ridge at any point and hike down to the base, or do an out-and-back hike. I suggest branching off at Nature’s Way if you are hiking to the base which will cut off to the right before you reach the first kiosk. If you do the out-and-back you will find two kiosks along the trail that you can take a look at the map. The second kiosk is about one and a half miles from the top of the lift. This is a good point to turn around and head back.

Hiking around Granby Ranch can be a little tricky due to the fact that most of the trails are shared with mountain bikes. If you decide to do Vista Ridge Trail be on the look out. The bikers are usually considerate of their two footed trail mates, but keep your eyes and ears peeled for the few that are having too much fun. I was lucky in that I only came across a couple of bicyclists and a few hikers. Otherwise I spent the entire hike walking, taking pictures, and listening to the birds.

Granby Ranch is 86 miles from Denver, Colorado. Head west on I-70 and exit at Colorado Hwy 40 toward Empire/Winter Park. Before you drop down into Winter Park, make a stop at Berthoud Pass to take a break. It’s worth it. After passing through Winter Park, Fraser, and Tabernash, look for Granby Ranch a couple of miles before you get into the town of Granby (on the right). The base is only a mile from the highway.

 

 

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Hail is in the Bag

One of the growing hazards here in suburbs of Denver (and all of the Colorado region) is hail. We can be pummeled with golf ball sized ice balls that shatter windshields, destroy crops, and bury gardens. Hail comes with the intense afternoon thunderstorms that roll through here in June and July. I have watched it pile up like a blizzard and destroy plants in a matter of seconds.

So far, for my location anyway, the hail hasn’t been too bad (I am knocking on wood as I write this). The orange tree I am growing is now living outside along with the lime tree my daughter potted. Recently, we had a storm and I brought in my orange tree, but the pot for her lime tree is too big for one person to handle so it had to stay outside. Luckily the damage was very minimal with just one leaf with a hole knocked in it.

Hail damage to lime tree leaf.

The other day I was out doing errands when huge, black, storm clouds came rumbling in and I wasn’t able to bring my tree inside like I usually would. My imagination pictured my orange tree decimated and the single orange smashed to the ground. Thankfully, it was just my imagination. When I returned home, we didn’t have a drop of rain and the orange still hung happily from the branch.

The orange still on my tree.

Because I have just a single orange I, like any good plant mom, want to protect it from our nasty spring weather. But how? After much thought I came up with a plan. I don’t know how well it will work, but it was the only thing I could come up with. I bagged it.

I hope this will protect it from hail damage. Time, and the next storm, will tell. I also hope that it will prevent any squirrels, raccoons, or other sneaky creatures from nibbling on the fruit once it gets to that delicious stage. One can only hope.

Do you have any experience growing a potted orange tree? Add any tips you have learned in the comments.

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