Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flatirons and Natural Bridges

Sweet peas in Chautauqua Meadow, Boulder, Colorado
The last leg of Kali's and my exploration of Colorado in June took us to Boulder, about 30 miles northwest of Denver, for four days.  While we were there, we hiked to Royal Arch in the Chautauqua Meadow Park at the base of the famous Flatirons rock formation. 

Walkers amid the sweet peas in Chautauqua Meadow
The well-used Chautauqua Trail, heading toward the Flatirons
We tackled the 3.2-mile (round trip) hike after lunch because we had been busy with other things in the morning.  Unfortunately, the day was sunny and hot, which added to the already challenging climb to Royal Arch.

Approaching the Flatirons, and blessed relief from the sun in Ponderosa pine forest
As it turned out, Kali just wasn't up for the climb - and a climb it was.  The trail ascended 1,320 feet in 1.6 miles.  Kali managed to get two-thirds of the way to the arch before she became so hot and tired she just couldn't climb any higher; I finished the ascent, but the steepest and most challenging part of the trail was the portion above and beyond the point at which Kali abandoned the climb.  It's a good thing she stopped whee she did.

Royal Arch; note the man in the lower left for perspective
View through Royal Arch
Hikers resting near the base of Royal Arch, enjoying the view eastward onto the plains
View northward over the city of Boulder from Royal Arch, with one of the Flatiron fins in the foreground
The view from the arch was impressive, but partially obscured by typical summer afternoon haze combined with smoke from the huge forest fire burning to the north near Fort Collins.

My completing the hike to the arch took about 30 minutes each way, so Kali decided not to wait for me and began to descend slowly down the trail.  I finally caught up with her, and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to our parked car, botanizing and birding along the way.
A prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) sprouting a new pad
Western Salsify (or Goat's-beard) seed head (Tragopogon dubius), non-native but intriguing


John Gray said...

oh my goodness.. those first couple of pics took me to a 1950s technicolor western!

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Looks to be a fine hike, though not one to undertake in the heat of the day perhaps. Love those rock formations.

Scott said...

John (Gray): The sweet peas were dramatic.

Kali and I perched on a split rail fence near the head of the trail with the Flatirons in the background and the sweet peas in the foreground. We asked a passing couple to take our picture. The woman who took our picture exclaimed, "That's your Christmas card photo!" I'm always skeptical when I ask a stranger to take a photo--they usually turn out terrible. But, you know what? This one WILL be our Christmas card photo!

Scott said...

John (By Stargoose): The hike was arduous. I thought from the beginning that it would be challenging, but it turned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

I didn't clue Kali in to the possibility that it would be difficult (we would never have set foot one on the trail if I'd done that), but it was much tougher than I expected.

There needs to be a standardized trail rating system. The Boulder Parks Department rated the Royal Arch Trail as "Moderate." Kali and I walked a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) two days later (see upcoming post), which the National Park Service rated "Strenuous." Well, the "Moderate" Royal Arch Trail was MUCH more challenging than the "Strenuous" trail in RMNP.

Since Boulder is known for the overall physical fitness of its citizenry, maybe Royal Arch is Moderate for Boulder residents, but not for the general public - and for aging flatlanders like Kali and me.

packrat said...

Wonderful photos, Scott. I've been to Boulder several times; it's beautiful country and a beautiful town, but quite expensive to live there (at least that's what I hear from a friend in Ft. Collins). Another friend who visited Rocky Mountain National Park recently told me that the drought has really taken a toll on the Ponderosa Pine there.

Scott said...

Packrat: This was our second visit to Boulder. It is a nice place - physically and temperamentally - but it is expensive. Kali's and my trip to Colorado was partially a retirement relocation trip, so we looked at real estate in Grand Junction, Ft. Collins, and Boulder; Boulder was, by far, the most expensive. Incidentally, we've settled on a place outside Ft. Collins.