Trail Report: Lake Agnes

 

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Winter is a little tricky!  You park on Hwy 14 at the turnoff for the Crags Campground/Lake Agnes Trailhead/American Lakes Trailhead.  See State Forest State Park Winter Recreation Map for details.
  • Website: State Forest State Park; Horseback Riding Trail Map/Brochure
  • Length: ~5 miles round-trip (winter)
  • Closest Town: Walden, CO
  • Green Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
  • Beer Friendly: Yes (3.2% only)
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes, see regulations.
  • Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash.  See full regulations.
  • Obstacles: Bridges, water, bikes, hikers, dogs, wildlife.
  • Parking: On Hwy 14 in the winter, at Agnes Lake Trailhead in summer.

The Nitty Gritty: 

This was one of the first hikes I organized for the new Hike Like a Woman Locals group I’m leading in Northern Colorado.  We had a great group of women join us who were eager to get out on snowshoes one last time before the snow melted.  Some were seasoned snowshoers and some were first timers but all had a great time!

In winter this trail is a little tough to get to and hike.  Driving up highway 14, you’ll go just over Cameron Pass and on the western slope (heading toward Walden) you’ll see the trailhead sign almost immediately on your left.  In the summer, you can turn on this road and navigate to the Crags Campground and park there for a quick jaunt to the Agnes Lake Trail.  In the winter, this road is closed and you will need to park at the top of the hill just off the highway adding about a mile onto your trek both directions.

There is only parking there for about 10 cars, so try and get there early as this is a popular spot for backcountry skiers and snowsport enthusiasts.  At the parking area, there is a self-pay station and the fee was $7 at the time of this writing.  Those fees can always be checked by visiting the State Forest State Park website.

State Forest State Park is by far one of my favorite places to hike and ride in Northern Colorado.  Its a good bit off the beaten path so it weeds out a lot of the tourists, leaving it far less crowded than other options in the area.  This park borders the northern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, the southern edge of the Rawah Wilderness and the western edge of the Comanche Peak Wilderness so there is no shortage of day hikes, trail rides and multi-day trips you can make here.

I’ve done some other hikes and rides in the area, but hadn’t spent much time exploring via snowshoes until this day.  It was glorious. Due the variations in this trail with the seasons, it was difficult to find accurate information on regarding winter routes and conditions so we had to wing it somewhat. The State Forest State Park site provided the closest to accurate info I could find which quoted it at a 5 mile round trip length.

Their Winter Recreation Guide provides a wealth of helpful information.

The first part of the trail heads downhill from highway 14 and follows a rough, single track road. About 1/2 to 3/4 mile down, you’ll spot a sign for the Crags Campground and the Lake Agnes trailhead directing you to the right. You’ll pass over a fair sized creek and continue following the trail upward. This is a well traveled trail and easy to follow in most places.

The lower part of the trail winds upward through dense forest until you get to the Lake Agnes cabin.  This cabin was built in 1925 and was used seasonally by rangers until 2000.  It was added to the National Historic Register in 2007.

After the cabin, the trail opens into a beautiful valley which, I assume, is absolutely stunning in summer since it was stunning covered in 3 feet of snow. There appeared to be several route options here – mostly for backcountry skiers which were in abundance this day – but we chose to follow the most direct route to Lake Agnes which skirts the eastern side of the meadow.

You’ll return to a brief patch of forest before popping over a small hill and dropping into a bare hillside.  From here, you simply find the most comfortable route up the hill following the vein.  On this day, the headwind was blowing so hard we could barely stand upright and felt as though we were climbing Everest. In reality, on a nice day, I’m sure this climb is rather quick and painless but, on this day, it seemed almost endless.

Despite that, the views from here are nothing short of spectacular. I found myself taking a few steps at a time and then feeling the need to stop (yet again) for the “perfect” shot.

Lake Agnes herself is at the top of the hill, nestled in the Nokhu Crags.  The views here are absolutely amazing and there is no shortage of photo ops.  We were able to catch glimpses of backcountry skiers making clean lines down the slopes to the south of us across the lake as well.  We didn’t linger here due to the windy conditions, but I can assure you that a summer trip will be an order!

While a relatively short hike, this was an exhausting one on snowshoes.  The trail varies greatly with the season.  In summer, it is a mere 1.6 mile hike with a 400 foot gain and in winter, it increases to a 5 mile hike with a 1000 foot gain.

I highly recommend it and will definitely do it again but, be sure you wear comfortable shoes and good socks as I think we all ended up with pretty significant blisters by the time we made it back to the parking lot.  In retrospect, I could’ve left the winter boots at home and just worn my regular hiking boots given the conditions of the snow.

The State Forest State Park ranger station is very helpful and can generally give you the most up to date conditions for all of the trails in their jurisdiction.  This state park has yet to disappoint me and remains one of my favorites!

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Just My Dog and Me

 

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It has been almost 7 months since my best friend died in my arms.  During that time, I’ve been walking the line between the need to write this piece so I don’t forget her, an intense fear that I will begin to forget her and a desire not to cry, again, which I know will happen as I write this.  In the end, my desire to honor and preserve her memory in words won.  I only hope it does her justice.

Everyone has one. Or, at least, I hope everyone has one.  That dog that meant everything to you.  That dog that was your sidekick, your shadow, your counterpart, your best friend.

Scout was mine.

On a random Wednesday night in 2004 I found myself on the way to a horse sale in Cleburne, TX with a dear friend of mine, Deana. Deana ran a refuge for forgotten older horses whose mission was to prove these horses still had worth and worked to find them loving homes. We had been to horse sales regularly but never to this one.

As we sat there waiting for our picks to make their way through to the ring, two young girls walked through the crowded bleachers holding tiny puppies.  Blue heeler puppies.  I was still in a somewhat rebellious-blaze-my-own-trail sort of phase and my mom had once suggested that a heeler may be a good choice for me should I ever decide to get a dog. Because of those words, I hesitated.

I hesitated for exactly 0.05 seconds before making my way over to the blue Rubbermaid tub containing 9 tiny, blue puppies. One by one, I picked each one up.  There were boys and girls among the group most of whom had large black patches scattered throughout their little bodies.

Someone had told me once that you could tell if a puppy would turn out to be a good dog by whether they would let you hold them on their backs.  As silly as it sounds, as I held each puppy, I gently turned them on their backs and watched them squirm and wiggle in silent requests to return to their upright position.

The last puppy out of the bin was the tiniest of the crew.  Unlike her siblings, she had a single patch over her right eye.  She sat quietly in the corner of the tub, taking in her surroundings and, when I picked her up, I immediately knew.  Like the others, I gently turned her over and she remained quiet and put up no protest.  She was the one.

They wanted $75 for the puppies and I had brought no significant cash with me to the auction that night.  I went back to where Deana and I had been sitting, explained the situation and we took stock. We literally emptied our wallets, change purses, sifted through every pocket of our purses, I even went to the truck to troll through glove compartments and center consoles. At the end of it, we had $62.37.

They took it.

On the way home that night, she slept in my lap while I shared the news with my mom over the phone.  To my surprise, my mom seemed truly happy and her only complaint was that she hadn’t been there to help pick her out. In her mind, the only logical reprise was to let her choose the name.  Fair enough.

We both loved the book To Kill A Mockingbird and, though I still have no idea how this name came to her that night, she suggested Scout.

It was perfect.

From that day on, Scout was my constant companion.   She went everywhere with me.  She was happier sitting in my truck for hours on end vs. being confined to the house so that’s often where you’d find her.  She was like velcro and stuck to me anywhere and everywhere we went; no question.

When I returned to school in Colorado, Scout happily followed suit.  It didn’t matter where we were, so long as she was with me.  She subsequently accompanied me to an internship in Kentucky, my first real job in west Texas, my second real job in Louisiana and then, finally, back to Colorado where she would live out her years.

Each move she embraced with tentative acceptance by carrying her prized toy or bone to each room as I moved about to pack our things…as if I would forget her or it.

Whatever the activity, Scout was up for it.  I have no idea how many miles we went on horseback together but she was always there.  We hiked, we climbed, we snowshoed and we even kayaked together.  She had never sat on a kayak until she reached 7 years old but happily climbed on as soon as I asked and settled down between my legs.  She trusted me beyond all doubt and never fully understood what I’d done to deserve that.
When she lost her sight at age 11, I was devastated.  I thought that would be the end of our adventures but, boy, was I wrong.  She continued to hike with me, learned to navigate the house, and managed to keep her velcro status despite not being able to see me.  When we went kayaking, she just knew.   I’d unload the boats, turn around for a second only to turn back and find her sitting in our boat, ready to hit the water.

The decision to end her suffering came after a long battle with a fast-growing nasal tumor.  It was becoming increasingly hard for her to breathe and I could tell it was taking a toll on her, both cognitively and physically.  She was losing track of me in the house and would become panicked trying to find me, her respiratory rate was always high, she struggled to take a deep breath, she was constantly sleeping; it was the toughest call I’d ever had to make.

The last night of her life was a sleepless one.  I laid on the floor with her, I stroked her head, I constantly told her how much I loved her and what she meant to me.  When morning came, we took a walk around the yard and laid in the sunshine together.

I am lucky to have the friends that I do and my friend Dora, who also happens to be a local vet, kindly came to our home that day so that she could go in peace, in her familiar surroundings.  I don’t know that I have ever cried so hard.

Deana passed in 2013 and knowing that Scout has one of her very first friends to velcro to makes it a little easier to deal with both losses.

It’s hard to explain what a dog truly means to you, especially when she wasn’t just a dog; she was my best friend.  So many of us have similar stories but it seems that no matter how hard we try to explain, the significance of that presence in our lives is lost on others.  There will forever be a hole in my heart that only she will be able to fill, but I am so thankful for the almost 13 years that we had together.

 

 

She marked our trail,
Up the back bone ridge,
How many times can one dog pee,
She keeps me high as an eagle,
When i’m on the skids,
I guess you gotta come down eventually.

Buddy I coulda gone that extra mile,
For an extra bark or an extra smile,
‘Cause i never felt so free,
It was just my dog and me.

Then she gives me that look,
Like she’d lay down her life,
No doubt she would in a minute, man,
She’d face the bullet,
Oh she’d face the knife,
Just to keep my butt from the fryin’ pan.

Now she’s runnin’ up ahead to chase some deer,
Comes back to tell that coast is clear,
It’s a different world I see,
When it’s just my dog and me.

There’s a rabbit on the run,
Man and beast and sky and sun,
Who’s talking to the birds in the trees,
Why its just my dog and me,

Now it looks like we’ve been makin’ tracks,
From the crack of dawn,
To the end of the day,
So its nice and easy down the devil’s back,
She wouldn’t know,
Any other way.

So its over that ridge for one last mile,
‘Til we’re fast asleep by the fire side,
Dreamin’ these dreams for free,
Just my dog and me.

– John Hiatt

Trail Report: Red Mountain Open Space

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Red Mountain
  • Website: Red Mountain Open Space
  • Trail Map: Red Mountain Open Space/Soapstone Prairie
  • Length: 11.8 (our route, round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Wellington
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Debatable…3.2% only (Regulations)
  • Firearm Friendly: No (Regulations)
  • Dog Friendly: No, this is a dog free open space (Regulations)
  • Obstacles: Gates (5 on our route), water, switchbacks, wildlife, bikers and hikers
  • Parking: Separate lot for horse trailers with 7 designated spaces
  • Water: None at trailhead, several stock tanks along the way and seasonal creek

The Nitty Gritty:

An unseasonably warm March day allowed for a chance to ride the trails at Red Mountain Open Space with a few good friends.  This ride had been on my radar for quite a while but during the prime riding months my attention is generally pointed toward the remote mountains.  Boy, am I glad we made it here!  This is a prime, start of season, conditioning ride with varying terrain and fantastic views.  Though its managed by Larimer County Open Space, it is far enough away from major hubs that use is sparse, making for a quiet day on the trail.  The trailhead is well marked along the way in, has bathrooms, picnic areas and there are trail maps available.  There are two separate parking areas – one for cars and one for horse trailers with seven designated (and very large) parking spaces.  No water was available at the trailhead that we could find, though there were several stock tanks and seasonal streams along the way.

Our route was a large loop around the whole open space area which left from a gate on the north end of the horse trailer lot along the Rising Sun Trail.  This trail merges with the Sinking Sun Trail which then takes you to a dry creek bed called the Big Hole Wash Trail.  While there are metal trail markers at most junctions directing you to the trail of your choice and maps at regular intervals along the way, your route once in the “wash” trails (all dry or mostly dry creek beds) are marked by encased rock columns (basically large cairns).  Keep your eye out for these as they will be your main directional beacons.  We turned Northeast once in the Big Hole Wash and followed this to the next junction at the Salt Lick Trail.  If you were on a bit of a time crunch or wanted to make your ride a bit shorter, you could follow the Salt Lick Trail to cut a bit off your loop, though we opted to stay on the Big Wash Trail and head to the Cheyenne Rim Trail.  This part of the Big Wash Trail turns into a narrow two-track road leading to a gate which denotes the transition to the Cheyenne Rim Trail.  From here, the trail begins to climb along the ridge, offering some amazing views and photo opportunities of the Mummy and Never Summer Ranges.  There are several more gates once you get to the top of the ridge and you’ll pass through some seasonal cattle leases as you cross over into Wyoming.  As you head back down the Cheyenne Rim Trail, you’ll enter a set of narrow switchbacks which can get a bit hairy if heights aren’t your thing.  The descent continues into a breathtaking red stone canyon where the trail meets the Ruby Wash Trail and heads South.  This trail weaves its way through a steep walled canyon that will make you think you’ve entered a 1950s western movie and John Wayne will surely be right around the corner.  The first junction you’ll come to once on the Ruby Wash Trail is the K-Lynn Cameron Trail which heads to the west and would make a nice additional loop to your ride if you had the time.  We did not so we kept moving south to meet up with the Big Hole Wash Trail again which heads to the East.  At this junction, there was a fair bit of water present in the washes and would make for some excellent water crossing practice if your horse was in need.  A little under a mile along the Big Hole Wash Trail and you’ll come to the junction of the Sinking Sun Trail on your right hand side which will take you up a small hill and head back south toward the parking areas.  The Rising Sun Trail (the one you started on) will split off to the left and this can be followed back to the trailer parking lot.  We opted to stay on the Sinking Sun Trail to the car parking lot since we needed a pit stop.

All in all, this trail exceeded my expectations.  You truly get a little bit of everything; rolling hills, beautiful vistas and Southwestern canyons.  A good portion of this trail is spent in sandy, dry creek bottoms and along flat, non-rocky terrain that allows plenty of opportunities for long trotting and loping (even a little bit of 4th gear if you’re into it).  Because of this, I’ve rated it as a barefoot friendly trail though there are some rocky areas that may worry the tender-footed horse owner.  Our route was just under 12 miles and we only passed 2 bikers and a handful of hikers along the way.  There was one other small group of riders on the trail but our paths never crossed once leaving the parking lot.  Keep in mind this trail is on the far, Northern border of Colorado and Wyoming and you spend a good deal of time exposed.  Wind is inevitable…bring layers.  This is an Open Space area and, therefore, has strict regulations on firearms and alcohol (among other things) so I encourage you to read the regulations for more info.  There are several trails at Red Mountain that are only open to hikers so take care when reading your map to make sure you don’t end up on a restricted trail.  The Red Mountain trails link into the Soapstone Prairie trails which is where the bison were released last fall.  You could easily make this into an all day ride and ride both areas.