Next month will mark the two year anniversary of the Black Forest Fire, and also hopefully a high point in the wildflower season making it a great time to visit the Section 16 trail in Black Forest. The trail is a four mile relatively flat loop through both burn scar and unscathed forest. As such it makes for an amazing learning opportunity!
Pros/Trail Teaching: We like using this trail to beef up the kids’ mileage endurance. It’s a trail I’m comfortable taking either or both kids on by myself, and is well used without being crowded. The opportunity to see how the forest is regrowing in areas lightly burned but very much struggling in the high heat areas where the top soil burnt away is great in illustrating the importance of forest management. Wildfires have played such a dramatic role in our community in the last couple of years that I think that letting kids see how things regrow after devastating loss is incredibly important and offers teaching opportunities beyond the literal regrowth of the forest.
Cons: This is a great walk or trail run, but if you are looking for a true HIKE, this will leave you unimpressed. Were it not for the fire, Section 16 is easily a pass for anyone not directly in the area.
Distance/Difficulty: While not as flat as the Indian Paint Mines, there is no significant elevation gain in this four mile loop. Mile markers and maps at the corners of this rectangular park help kids track their progress. (“Make it to the next map and then you can have a granola bar!”)
Directions: This is just west of the intersection of Burgess Rd and Vollmer Rd. The parking lot is large and well marked. You can join the trail at either end of the parking lot and go either clockwise or counterclockwise around the rectangle.
This first group is from September, 2013:
This next group is from June 2014. We went on Father’s Day and the wildflowers were spectacular. There were so many different kinds. I’m hoping for the same type of display this year–we’ll be back with a wildflower guide this time!
This sign ironically predates the fire–the stand and display show marks of the fire, and it is even more educational in light of its new surroundings!
Further Reading: This post has great photos of the park and what to expect. If you weren’t intimately familiar with the Black Forest Fire of June 2013 I would read up about it beforehand. If you stop at the R&R Cafe south of the intersection of Black Forest Rd and Burgess Rd they have (a) great coffee and treats but also an amazing pamphlet that was created by the Black Forest Historic Society that goes into much more detail about the fire. Section 16 was the site of not one but two separate heroic efforts by firefighters to save The School in the Woods (which I still get teary about–to my surprise I welled up as I started to type this). School in the Woods is located in Section 16–you’ll walk by it if you do the full loop–and in the months immediately after the fire you could see the exact perimeter of protection that the firefighters created. The boundary looped out in one spot to include a small tree planted in memory of a former student. It was impossible to see and not want to bear hug every single fire fighter on the planet. The many many stories of little acts of thoughtfulness from those days still leave me without words.
No hike so thoroughly divides our family as Seven Bridges. The kids and I would rate it as one of our favorite hikes…Nic would rather get a root canal than go on it a third time. If crowds and dog poop are deal breakers for you, skip this one. If you are big fans of creeks and some water play time, it might be worth it.
Pros: Once you get past the Gold Camp Road portion, this trail is beautiful, shady, and follows North Cheyenne Creek most of the time (leading you to cross the seven bridges that gave this trail its name). Most kids love hiking along a stream, and this momma does too. The reward for your hike is at the top, a great spot to splash around in the icy cold water. (Hint: we have the kids wear their hiking boots but bring a towel and Keen sandals for them to wear at the top for water play. They wear their swimsuits under their hiking clothes on the way up, and then quickly change into underwear and back into their clothes under the cover of a towel when it’s time to head down.) The other thing I like about this hike is that you could easily back out at one of the middle bridges that have a nice splashing area (there are a few) and make the hike shorter if your kids are just starting out. The seventh bridge is a nice place to stop, but it’s not the only spot suitable for a break and a turn-around point.
Cons: To get to the trail you have a 3/4mile walk along Gold Camp Road. This particular section of Gold Camp Road is now called “The Poop Trail” by our family as it is absolutely littered with piles of dog poop. The entire stretch stinks like dog feces as is rather miserable. The hike is also very popular, which means that it is a crowded trail. It’s narrow in most places which makes for a lot of pausing to let other groups go around you (or hoping they will pause to let you pass).
Distance/Difficulty: At 4.75 miles and 1600 ft of elevation gain, this is an easy hike for adults, but a good stretch for preschool hikers. The motivation of water play at the top makes this a great one for stretching their abilities, though–the payoff at the top is big!
Directions: From I-25 take exit 140 to follow Nevada south. Turn west onto Cheynne Blvd and follow it to the Starsmore Discovery Center, then turn right onto North Cheyenne Canyon Rd. You will drive past Helen Hunt falls to reach the large parking lot that marks the intersection with Gold Camp Rd. There are several hikes that begin here, so expect the parking lot to be crowded if you don’t get an early start. The hike starts out flat and boring with 3/4 mile on Gold Camp Rd. As Gold Camp Rd bends to the left you will see a trail marker for trail 622–this is where the hike truly begins. It is then 1.6 miles up to the seventh bridge. If you’re looking for a more challenging hike you can follow the trail past the seventh bridge to Jones Park. (We have yet to try that–maybe I can convince Nic to slog through The Poop Trail to try it out this summer…)
- The way creeks and rivers have sculpted the canyons
- Use the dog poop as a lesson about
why we don’t have a dog how one single disrespectful act can multiply and ruin things for everyone. 😉
- In the spring talk about how the creek is fed by melting snow and that contributes to its icy temperature!
- Make temporary tiny dams from rocks/branches when you stop to play in the water and watch how the water is diverted and see if it will eventually break through. Point out the much larger scale naturally occurring versions.
- Look for different types of rock (beginning with the broader igneous vs. sedimentary vs. metamorphic categories). Let the kids bash different types of small stones against each other as you walk, exploring the relative durability of each. (This used to be a huge distraction for Will on longer hikes!) Talk about different situations that might have two different types of rocks coming into contact with each other.
The Gold Camp Rd dog poop smell makes Ellie sad.
The hike in on Gold Camp Road and the marker at the beginning of Seven Bridges Trail
Once you are past Gold Camp Rd, the hike is shaded which makes it a nice choice on a cool day.
See if you can spot the gorilla in the tree!
If you have a bad attitude about a hike, Ellie is happy to literally make you smile.
Counting the bridges as you pass them is a good way to motivate little people on this longer hike.
The area at the top with the seventh bridge is popular for splashing and exploring.
You can see the big difference in foliage between our first May visit and our second visit in July (the following year).
Further reading: Check out the trail guides here and here for more detailed topographic info.
Will’s first ever hike as a young two year old was this short walk in Garden of the Gods. If you have family in town and you’re visiting Garden of the Gods and want to do more walking than on the paved area central to the park, this is a good option.
Siamese Twins Trail – 1 mile, SIAMESE TWINS TRAIL is an easy 1 mile roundtrip, with less than a 150 foot rise. There is a unique view of Pikes Peak through the natural window of the twins.
Pros: This is the easiest and shortest walk we’ve been on–this is a very accessible outdoor activity with fun views of Garden of the Gods. Unlike the main Garden of the Gods loop, this is unpaved and much less crowded.
Cons: If you’re hoping to feel a sense of accomplishment from your hike, this is not the one for you. 😉 Easy and short.
Distance/Difficulty: 1 mile, less than 150 ft elevation gain, easy as pie. If Mt Cutler is like Hiking 101, this is Remedial Hiking 050.
- Stopping at the Visitors Center before the walk will give you plenty to talk about!
- The geology behind the striking Garden of the Gods formations. From Wikipedia: “The outstanding geologic features of the park are the ancient sedimentary beds of deep-red, pink and white sandstones, conglomerates and limestone that were deposited horizontally, but have now been tilted vertically and faulted by the immense mountain building forces caused by the uplift of the Rocky Mountains and the Pikes Peak massif. The following Pleistocene Ice Age resulted in erosion and glaciation of the rock, creating the present rock formations. Evidence of past ages can be read in the rocks: ancient seas, eroded remains of ancestral mountain ranges, alluvial fans, sandy beaches and great sand dune fields.“
- Garden of the God’s history as a park and generosity in action: Garden of the Gods was originally private property owned by Charles Elliott Perkins. After his death in 1909, his family gifted the park to the city under the promise that it would always be free to access for the public.
- Set their eyes on future challenging adventures – point out the views of the steep legendary Manitou Incline!
A few months ago my sister-in-law sent me a link to this adorable bag on Etsy. I knew I could probably figure out how to make one, but I feel strongly about compensating people for awesome ideas, so I asked the seller if she’d considered making a pattern for it. As luck would have it, she said she was working on a pattern and would let me know when it was done. Sadly when I went to link up the pattern here I discovered that she’s not offering the pattern anymore, so that makes me feel even more lucky to have it–it was wonderfully written and a very satisfying project!
After finishing my Linden last night I was a little sad that some elements hadn’t come together the way I’d thought, but I whipped this up in about an hour and now want to make 1000 more with lots of different options–just think of the cute patchwork or embroidery it could feature! Best part of all, the way it’s seamed at the top, the pattern fits onto two fat quarters! I was really excited about this part because I thought “oh–finally I’ll bust into my fat quarter box!” but then I opened it and couldn’t bring myself to touch 90% of them because I still see quilts in them all. But I decided on these two fabrics, a great Japanese print and leftover Heather Ross from a bag I made and never use. I just adore this print with its babywearing mouse momma, so I’m really excited that it worked for this bag that will see a lot of use!
Supplies: 2 fat quarters and the pattern.
My self proclaimed Summer of Knits began this weekend with my very own Linden sweatshirt! I did a lot of blog reading before starting this one, and chose my fabric based on an instagram post from Film in the Fridge.
Supplies: Linden sweatshirt pattern, 1.5 yards of Splendid sweatshirt fleece, 2 inches of a knit I got from Fabric.com on clearance for $2 a yard for the neckline band.
Pattern notes: I made a size 4 based on things I’d read online about it running large (I’m normally a 6) and it’s still very roomy. I added about 4″ of length to the sleeves and this is now my favorite shirt EVER. With my monkey arms I usually end up with sleeves about an inch too short after washing and thumb holes that look like wrist holes–I never get delightfully snuggly sleeves like this! I added 2 1/2″ to the front bodice piece because I noticed that the pattern as written ran a little short for my liking. For the back bodice pattern piece, I originally drafted a new curved hem (much longer than the original pattern) based on my favorite sweatshirt. I absolutely loved it before I sewed the hem, but once I sewed it using a twin needle and just didn’t hang quite right and I decided the contrasting neckline was a little too sporty for that look anyway, so I chopped off the extra fabric to have the length match the front. I kept it a split hem, though, which I ended up mostly winging. I read a note that the sleeves were slim compared to the large amount of ease in the body, and I found this to be true–if you end up sizing down a large amount in the body I’d double check the sleeve finished measurements. With the adjustments in length to the pattern pieces, my 1 1/2 yard fabric piece was just right. The pattern is very well written and easy to follow–it made a great first knitwear project!
Project notes: I can’t wait to make another, and badly want the navy version of this fabric to come back in stock! I’m not sold on my choice of neckband–I think keeping it the same as the main fabric would have made it less casual. I am not a fan of the fake coverstitch with a twin needle. I used wonderunder but still had some waving to each hem. It also seemed to stretch out the neckline and sleeve hems–I’m curious if that will bounce back after I wash it. I’m jonesing for a coverstitch machine something awful now…the serged seams looked so perfect until I had to run them through my sewing machine! Craigslist needs to come through for me this summer…come on people–clean out those craft closets! 😀
Spruce Mountain is another easy family favorite for those days when you want to go for a hike, but you don’t want to put any thought into it. Fitting in with the other hikes I’ve posted about this week, it’s another hike I feel comfortable doing with the kids by myself on a weekday. It’s a quick approximately 1 mile hike to the top of the Spruce Mountain mesa, followed by an approximately half mile to the loop portion of the trail. The loop adds another 2.3 miles to your hike, so if your kids are spent this is an easy spot to turn around. The additional 2 miles are flat, so this is a great hike for practicing adding mileage with your kids without adding any extra elevation.
Pros: I really like this hike for preschoolers. There’s lots of variety–bushes, trees, scrub brush, sun, shade, big rocks and sweeping 360 degree views, more closed in wooded sections…and did I mention the trains? Spruce Mountain runs parallel to the busy rail line that runs through Palmer Lake. A preschool boy can be very easily lifted in spirits by a big coal train sighting! And any hike near Palmer Lake is never complete without ice cream from the adorable Rock House ice cream parlor on your way home, so if the trains don’t work to propel little legs on those last miles, the promise of ice cream will!
Cons: This is a multi use trail so you’ll see plenty of bikers and horses (actually, move the horses to the pros column–another thing that helps distract toddlers on a 5 mile hike!). The southern section of the loop (“The Upper Loop”) is exposed and can be a very hot walk on a summer day–this is one you want to hit earlier versus later. For this reason I suggest going clockwise around the loop–get the longer, more exposed section over with first! The signs on the trail network can be confusing, so I recommend taking along this map.
Distance/Difficulty: About 5.5 miles if you include the loop around the top of the mesa, this is a great option for little hikers who have mastered Mt Cutler (my favorite recommendation for families beginning to hike), this stretches their distance abilities without adding any more difficulty in terms of elevation. Shortening the hike by dropping the loop makes it very comparable with Mt Cutler, though a little longer at about 3 miles.
Directions: If you are driving north on I-25 from Colorado Springs, take exit 163 for County Line Rd. After the railroad tracks turn right onto Spruce Mountain Rd. The well marked parking area is on the left in 3.5 miles. If you are coming from the north, take I-25S to the Larkspur exit. Travel south on Spruce Mountain Rd for 6 miles, the well marked parking lot will be on the right. The large parking lot has porta potties and a map. The trail is popular, but the only time we had trouble finding a parking spot was on a beautiful holiday afternoon.
- Trains and railroad history in Colorado and its influence on city size/importance.
- Coal – odds are good that if you see a train, it will be loaded with coal.
- Palmer Lake is an interesting little town whose lake is completely dried up but used to be mined for ice. From the Tri Lakes Historic Society: “General William J. Palmer, a Medal of Honor recipient, came west after the Civil War to found the City of Colorado Springs & start the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, a 3-ft. narrow gauge line, in 1871. He purchased the land known as the Monument Farms & Lake Property which was to become the Town of Palmer Lake. Palmer Lake was critical to the railroad because the steam trains chugged up to the Palmer-Divide summit and had to take on water to head down. The lake was the only natural water supply available on a year-round basis. Passenger trains would stop for 10 minutes to take on water, or you could get off for a day of picnicking, fishing, and boating or wildflower hikes for a fee of $1.50 roundtrip from Denver.”
- Mesas – Mesas get their name from Spanish explorers in the mid-1500s who thought the formations in the American southwest resembled tables (“mesa” in Spanish). “Butte” and “mesa” describe similar shapes, but mesas are larger than buttes. Mesas have a hard layer of rock at the top (“cap rock”)–often cooled lava–that resists the type erosion that is caused by the hard sudden rainstorms that occur in the American southwest. The top layer of igneous rock resists erosion, but the softer sedimentary rock around the igneous rock is eroded away. This creates the steep sides of the mesa–anything not directly under that tough igneous rock gets washed away in rainstorms. See if the kids can identify areas of igneous rock at the top of the mesa.
Looking for trains:
The loop (The sheltered “lower loop” on the left, and the more exposed “upper loop” on the right):
We use Windy Point as a snack break spot. It’s at the just over halfway mark if you’re going on the loop, has great views, and is usually empty. Most people turn back at the Greenland Overlook, so the loop is usually quiet compared to the popular out-and-back section of the trail. (“I swear I’m a good mom” disclaimer: Given my almost paralyzing fear of heights, I’m positive this shot must be a lot less ‘near the edge’ than it looks!)
Further Reading: Given its proximity to Denver, there are several great posts about this hike from Denver area hikers. Check out Fun Colorado Hikes for many trail pictures, the official Douglas County website page for Spruce Mountain trail, and this pdf map.