Devil's Head Fire Tower

 

This weekend's hiking trip location was chosen to avoid the awful Sunday traffic on I-70.  I picked a spot relatively close to the Denver metro area in the foothills just southwest of Sedalia.  Devil's Head is a rock formation on which is situated the last working fire lookout tower on the front range.

Since I had never visited this particular area I was surprised to find a navigation app routed me to the south of the trail head instead of the more direct route I expected.  Ignoring this red flag I followed the suggested route through Perry Park which turned into some of the worst forest service roads I've ever seen.  I was fortunate that it was daylight and not raining -- otherwise I would not have attempted this road.  Even in good conditions I was concerned about "high-siding" my truck in a few spots while driving in 4x4 mode.

At the trail head - Devil's Head

Since it was Sunday I expected there to be quite a few people hiking this trail.  While the parking area had many vehicles it was not completely full.

We started up the trail and I immediately noticed signs that indicated dogs were to be on-leash only.  This contradicted several places online that said the trail was dog friendly.  Since the girls are pretty good about obeying my voice commands we ignored the sign.  I eventually put them on leash towards the top of the trail as we encountered a few families with their dogs, but by that point my dogs were tired and did not pull too much.

Around the first corner we encountered a large blowdown area.  According to a sign posted nearby this blowdown was the result of a EF-1 tornado that hit the area in July.

Yes, tornados can occur at high altitude -- Devil's Head

Fabi surveys the tornado damage at Devil's Head

Tornado blowdown at Devil's Head

As we proceeded up the trail we did not meet very many people.  We made pretty decent progress in the surprisingly cool August weather.

My dogs were running back and forth along the trail, occasionally chasing squirrels and chipmunks along the way.  By the time we met the first group of people on the trail they were panting and happy.

The trail itself is not difficult.  The forest service has kept the trail wide and well-kept to accommodate the large number of people who visit.  There are many places where timber "steps" have been put in to assist hikers with the grade.  

At the top of the trail there is a pleasant flat area with two large benches and some shady trees.  There is also a cabin for the forest service lookout personnel.

The benches allow hikers to rest briefly before ascending the 143 steps to the fire tower.  One might have to wait here to allow some of the visitors already on the tower to descend to comply with the rules.

The steps themselves look daunting at first but are solidly built.  Using the handrails is extremely important at this altitude.

I told the dogs to head up the stairs ahead of me, partly to avoid them being directly underfoot. They went halfway up and decided to come back down again.

Once I convinced them to go up in front of me they ran to the top.  There are several direction changes on the stairs before reaching the top with a small area for viewing the surrounding area.  On a normal day the views must be amazing -- on this day the smoke in the air from remote wild fires reduced the view to less than five miles.  There were a few people waiting to come down in this area so the dogs had to stop for adoration and being petted.  There is a narrow opening between some large boulders to traverse before reaching the actual tower.

When we climbed up to the observation deck around the tower the lookout ranger greeted the dogs and chatted briefly about the smoke and lack of viewing distance.  On good days he said you could see nearly one hundred miles to the east.  I will definitely return to this spot on a clear day.  

The lookout ranger also gave me a "completion" card for making it to the top of the tower trail.  I am now an official member of the Ancient and Honorable Order Of Squirrels. This is probably a big hit with the children  who are forced to hike with their families.

We did not linger too long at the top so that other hikers could ascend.  We headed back down the stairs where Lucy made more friends.

Fabi chased chipmunks for a while in the clearing at the bottom of the stairway before we headed back down.  This shady area would be ideal for a picnic and there are even vault toilets up there.

By the time we made it most of the way back to the trailhead Lucy decided she needed to cool off in a small stream.  Both dogs climbed into the water for a few minutes.

The drive home was dusty but uneventful. All three of us napped for a few hours.

The trail is listed as 3.8 miles total but I tracked 5.7 myself.  There is about 1000 feet of elevation gain total.

 

Georgia Pass

 

With a forecast for temperatures in the mid nineties in the Denver area I drove my dogs up to Georgia Pass for a morning of hiking and much cooler temperatures.  While we've visited Georgia Pass several times in the past I had never attempted to hike any of the side trails that fan out from the pass summit area.  All of these trails are meant for high-clearance 4x4 vehicles so I parked at the summit and set off along the trail with a sign that indicated the Colorado Trail intersected it.  There was also signage for something named Glacier Ridge.

Lucy poses near the Colorado Trail sign - Georgia Pass

The 4x4 trail started off in a tree-lined section which quickly thinned out as we approached timberline.  I decided not to take the Colorado Trail as it appeared to head back down hill from the 4x4 trail.  Instead we continued toward the bottom of Glacier Ridge.

Glacier Ridge in the distance - Georgia Pass

In the past there was a 4x4 track straight up the ridge but the forrest service has "recently" closed that hillside due the damage that was done to the vegetation.  They erected a pole fence and placed a restoration notice sign.  From what I could tell it was preventing most people from crawling up.

The hillside to the top of the ridge looked too easy -- but it wasn't.  It is deceptively steep and since you are well over 11,000 feet the going is pretty tough (at least for myself).  The restoration project replaced the ruts in the hillside with a mat to encourage growth of native wild grasses and flowers while preventing erosion.  

The view from the steep hillside - Georgia Pass

The further up the hill I went the rockier the terrain became.  At one point I rolled my ankle slightly and rested for about ten minutes to see if there was going to be any swelling.  When I stood again and took several tender steps I decided it would be a good idea to head back to the truck.  There were also storm clouds gathering in the area and I did not feel comfortable above tree line.

The views from this hillside were incredible.  After checking terrain maps of this area later I see that the ridge actually overlooks Jefferson Lake.  I will definitely return to make it to the top of the ridge.

As we neared the pass summit area there was a herd of about thirty juvenile mountain goats grazing in the clearing.  Lucy saw them and wanted to chase them but she obeyed my commands to stay near me... for a while.  Eventually she took off running towards them, chasing them down the hillside before I could pull out my camera.  

It had started raining on us as we hiked back to the truck and by now it was coming down at a decent rate.  The mid fifties temps had dropped into the high forties so the rain was mixed with sleet.  Between the ever-increasing rainfall and my swelling ankle I didn't think it was a good time to look for the goats so we headed back home.

Fabi found part of an elk carcass in the trees - Georgia Pass



Boreas Pass

 

With a forecast of mid-90s on Sunday I took the dogs up to Boreas Pass.  We set out fairly early and were up on the hill by 9 AM.   

The road over Boreas Pass connects Como withe Breckenridge southwest of Denver.  The Denver, South Park And Pacific narrow gauge railroad routed over this pass to facilitate access to gold rush prospectors.  A scenic roadway runs over the pass now on the same route and is a popular summer drive for people in both the Denver and Breck/Vail areas.  

There is actually a small section of the original tracks that have been preserved at Rocky Point.

Rocky Point - Restored section of the original narrow gauge track

 

By the time we arrived there were already many people at the visitor center at the pass.  I decided not to park there and proceed further over the pass toward the Breck side.  I found a pull -off and parked next to a forest trail.

 

The girls and I followed the trail downhill for about three miles before deciding to head back to the truck.  We passed several open fields of wild flowers and a small stream which provided relief to Lucy and Fabi.

Looking west from Rocky Point - Boreas Pass

Lucy in Boreas Pass

Lucy rests in the stream - Boreas Pass

Fabi and Flowers - Boreas Pass

We managed to rack up almost six miles on the round trip before heading back down to the front range for the afternoon.