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Beautiful day to check out my new neighborhood, so started with a local park next door. Shadow Pine Loop is a nice 3 mile stroll, and offered a great view of a three-toed woodpecker.
While flipping through an old copy of Bird Watcher’s digest, I stopped to enjoy this short essay by author and naturalist Julie Zickefoose:
The hay roll, what a wondrous creation. Of all recent innovations in agriculture, it is my favorite. I say this not as a farmer, but merely one who appreciates the agricultural landscape. Hay rolls sit like Musk Oxen upon the newly mown meadows, tilting to one side and the other, sleeping, grazing, defining the meadow’s curve. Spaced just so, catching light, casting shadows, they make an ordinary hay meadow into an instant Stonehenge. Left for a season, hay rolls slowly deliquesce, weeping shed grass back onto the meadow, slumping, weathering to gray. A huge hairy hotel for voles, a hunting stop for foxes, a lookout for harriers, owls. So ancient do they look, evoking the haystacks in Monet’s paintings, that I always have to remind myself that the machinery to make hay rolls has been in use for only a few decades. It’s largely replaced the old square baler that spat out bound dominos of hay to be picked up by sweaty farmhands the same afternoon. I always groan when the hay rolls are finally gathered up and wrapped in white plastic, lined up obediently along the road to be loaded and used, no longer to grace the meadows of morning.
Colorado is blessed to have so much amazing and accessible open space. To experience a hike back East like the one I did today at Colorado’s Staunton State Park, it would take hours of driving, packing and planning. Instead I woke up early on a Saturday morning in Denver. At 7 am I googled “Good hikes near Denver”. By 8:30 I was standing on the trailhead. Nice.
The park is a short drive west of metro Denver near the town of Conifer, an cute burg nestled in Aspen Park in the foothills of the Rockies. If you are in Denver and can’t get an extended trip into the Mountains (but then why would you BE in Denver), it is a great place to feel like you have escaped.
Here is a little history from their website:
Colorado’s newest state park opened to the public on May 18, 2013. The park is located approximately 40 miles southwest of downtown Denver, north of US Highway 285 and about six miles west of Conifer. The Park sits divided between Park and Jefferson counties, in Pine, Colorado.
The first 1,720-acre parcel of land was donated to Colorado State Parks in 1986 by Frances Hornbrook Staunton. Subsequent parcels of land were added over the years to make up the now 3,828 acre park. Read more about the story of Staunton State Park at our history page.
You can download a trail map here. A lot of folks hike to the scenic Elk Falls Overlook, which features a scenic 100 foot waterfall. The entire hike out and back is almost 11 miles. Being both ill-equipped (traveling without boots or pack) and seeking a little more solitude on a busy Saturday, I made a 7 mile loop using the Staunton Ranch Trail out and the Marmot Passage Trail back. It was a beautiful walk through meadows, woods and some old ranch trails. I was grateful to have used the Marmot Trail for my return because the trail was a little steep, but the return was almost entirely a decent.
This is also a great hike for kids on an even trail with open vistas along the way. Enjoy!
Battlefield hikes are always some of my favorite. The open vista walks are a constant source of scenery (as opposed to the normal “wait-for-it” hike to the peak or overlook), and as a birder, the meadow habitats attract a plethora of songbirds, raptors and other wildlife. A recent visit to Manassas National Battlefield only reinforced this appreciation.
Walking the now quiet site of two distinct and pivotal civic war battles, it is hard to imagine you are walking through the scene of such fierce fighting or that you are today only a few miles from the bustle of the Nation’s Capital. As a generally flat landscape with trails across open meadows, through woods and along Bull Run, it is a great walk for kids and dogs that enjoy the opportunity some open space to run.
You can build a hike using many of the trails that cross the various fields, but the First Manassas Trail offers a tidy 5.4 mile loop which takes in the most iconic sites such as the Stone House and Stone Bridge.