19 July 2014

Lookout Mountain

Jeffco Open Space

Locate the trailhead.


I am told it was not the case a couple days ago, but today is hot in Golden, Colorado. We will hike up from the highway to the top of Lookout Mountain where Buffalo Bill is buried to reassure ourselves that he is, indeed, dead. The hike is a popular one that starts at the edge of highway 6 and climbs through a semi-familiar landscape of sages and, higher up, pines. Garth, who has been hiking barefoot some recently, points out the three cacti that can make that miserable. One is the prickly pear that is so common everywhere, including at home. Some of the familiar is not so much so upon closer inspection. These hillsides seem to be covered in Matilija poppies, but it is more likely that they are crested prickly poppy (Argemone polyanthemos), which also has the big, crinkled, white petals.

crested prickly poppies on the hillside
A selection of prickly poppy on the hillside just along one of the parking areas on the side of the highway.

The trail climbs along Chimney Gulch. The bottom part is dry and indistinct, full of grasses and the large flowers. This becomes a more defined canyon as it goes up, especially after the first crossing of the road up Lookout Mountain, and even has a small stream running in the bottom. The sages smell downright odd. There are a few oaks that combine familiar features of different trees.

looking back over the first road crossing
Lookout Mountain Road snakes up a similar path. Mountain bikes frequent the trail and road bikes are common on the road.


wildlife on the trail
Some of the local fauna.

small V shaped valley
An easy going valley with a few scattered pines that become quite thick above. Garth can go with a smaller pack now that he is willing to leave the bear repellent at home.

dandilion already in seed
Some early flowers already in bold seed and beyond.

purple flowers, one puffy one with a bumble bee
A bumblebee pollinating one showy purple flower.

fancy petals around the edge of a huge button
A composite with some very fancy petals around the edge. I think we do have these, but only a few.

down the gulch to Table Mountain
Looking down the gulch to Golden. North and South Table Mountains seem to mark the last big bump before the vast misty flat of the Great Plains.

The second road crossing is at a large viewing point. It hits at Windy Saddle which offers views into the larger mountains to the west. We take a moment on a bench and then start to climb again. There are more trees now and a mule deer grazes among them.

Clear Creek and US-6
US highway 6 following Clear Creek into the Rockies.

mule deer taking off running
Almost too late on the shutter a the mule deer takes off on a brief sprint.

small cluster of orange flowers with a bug
That insect is very familiar.

butterfly on a thistle
A butterfly alights on some invasive thistle.

At the top of the trail, we have a choice. We can head right along the Lookout Mountain Trail or left on Buffalo Bill. The grave and the mountain top are both to the left. The trail gets confusing as it passes through a picnic area before arriving at the parking lot for the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum. At the edge of the lot, there are a few of the old moorings for the long gone lookout. We stop here to look out for a moment then wander over to the celebration of a less sensitive time. We are not interested enough to pay the money for the museum, so we quickly find ourselves up at the grave.

Golden, Colorado
Golden from Lookout Mountain.

Buffalo Bill's grave
The graves of William Frederick Cody and Louisa Maud Cody at the top of Lookout Mountain.

After the grave, we head back down, but not all the way. At a sign that only comments on the inadvisability of taking a horse down the trail, we turn onto Beaver Brook Trail. We chatted with someone about it on the way up and they said there is a good lookout, called Lover's Leap, about 1.5 miles down it. It takes a bit longer to get to its namesake. This trail crosses over a rock slide of large boulders within a tenth of a mile and climbs over a boulder soon after making the sign quite correct. The trail is usually easy to follow, but there are a few head scratching moments. One sign along the way assures hikers that if they get off the trail, someone will helpfully direct them back to it.

good trail along the side of a rock face
The trail is generally good, but sometimes the rocks fall and shake it up a bit. Garth is back in his Fivefingers.

We stop at one overlook that seems to fit the description of our destination except that we cannot see the creek roaring its way through the bottom of the canyon, only the road next to it. It is not that far after a sign denoting one mile along the trail, so is not far enough either. Continuing, the landscape seems to get more mellow even coming to a meadow before suddenly there is a well used spur off to a higher cliff just after the 1.5 mile sign. Here we can see the creek, swollen with unusually high rainfall.

back along Clear Canyon
The view from the first lookout along Clear Canyon in the other direction as that from Windy Saddle.

a few little wildflowers in a meadow with the trail running through it
It does not look like there will be any more cliffs soon as we wander through a little meadow.

Clear Creek and US-6 in the bottom of Clear Canyon
But there is a cliff.  The swollen Clear Creek along the side of US highway 6 and it winds into the Rockies.

rapids along the creek with Table Mountain in the background
Looking down Clear Canyon to Table Mountain. Clear Creek looks full of tough rapids, even from here.

After taking in the view, we head back. The sky that has been clouding up for a while throws a few rain drops at us as we clamber over the rocks along the trail. I spotted a car in the bottom of the gulch on the way up the trail and we manage to locate it on the way down. All leaf springs and heavy steel, it still has paint and some rubber, but no engine.

mangled steel in the bottom of the gulch
A split windshield must point at a rather old age for this mangled vehicle.

the afternoon sun on Denver
The afternoon sun cuts through the haze enough to show Denver behind Table Mountain.

giant evening star
Not all the big white flowers are prickly poppies. There are a few giant evening stars mixed in.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 2 August 2014

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