Directions: From I-25, take Hwy. 34 west to Loveland/Estes Park. Turn right (north) on CR27 where the sign indicates Masonville. Go north on CR27 approximately 4.7 miles and turn left (west) on CR32 at the Bobcat Ridge sign. Go another ¼ mile to the parking lot for Bobcat Ridge Natural Area.
Duration: 2- 1/2 – 3 hours
Route: The Valley Loop Trail, a 3.8 mile roundtrip.
Access Notes: Some trails may be closed due to muddy or slick conditions, so check before you go. The parking lot fills up fast, even on a weekday off-season, so arrive early (before 10 a.m.), especially if you want solitude. Dogs are not allowed, but horses and bikes are allowed. There are many flash flood warning signs surrounding the parking lot and access road. Check the weather before you go and be cautious about using this trail during times when heavy thunderstorms are predicted.
After blasting past the mile markers on I-25 at 75 m.p.h. and then driving through the strip-mall-lined streets of Loveland, the first impression you get when you step out of your car (especially early in the morning) at the Bobcat Ridge parking lot is…silence. Blessed, soothing silence. Sure, once in a while a plane will rip through the sky overhead and rumble its way east or west, but otherwise this long valley nestled between Horsetooth Reservoir and the western foothills is calm and peaceful. To the east of the valley are red-capped cliffs that are reminiscent of extreme western Colorado and Utah canyon country. To the west are rolling hills that bear the scar of a fire that raged through the hills in 2000. Charred tree trunks dot the hills where the fire destroyed the forest, but to the north and south the hills appear untouched and green with pine and spruce.
The valley is lush with native, tall grasses that cover the gently rolling ground. In spring through fall you’ll hear meadowlarks calling out with their distinctive chortling warble, or you may spot one perched atop a thick blade of grass or a shrub. There is a historic cabin along the Valley Loop trail (if you start counterclockwise) as well as a few present-day ranches and small farms that are situated to the north of the parking lot.
The Valley Loop trail cuts across the valley meadow and up into the pines at the base of the burn area, affording you a beautiful and expansive view of the valley below and Horsetooth to the east. If you choose to go on the Ginny Trail further west, you’ll get an even better and higher view of the western mountains as well as the valley. Adding that trail will probably add another hour or two to the total hike.
I did this hike in very late winter, right before the first day of spring, on a day when it was mostly clear and sunny and the high temperature climbed up to a pleasant 65 degrees. This is a good hike for either cloudy summer days, or in the spring and fall, because most of the trail is exposed and I can imagine it can get fairly beastly on a hot summer day. The exposed nature of the trail can also make it a challenging hike on windy days.
A Secret World
One of the first things I noticed on the trail was the large amount of deer, elk and coyote scat right there on the trail. It was everywhere! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much scat without being deep in the woods somewhere west of the foothills. The coyote scat is obvious, since dogs aren’t allowed on the trail and this stuff was full of gray fur from the rodents they’d been eating. I didn’t see one single deer or coyote while hiking, which made me wonder when these animals actually come out to hunt and defecate on the trail. At dusk? In the middle of the night? I realized there’s a secret world that I’m not privy that exists when I leave or sleep at night, and I found myself imagining catching a glimpse of it. There’s a sign at the parking lot that access to this area is only allowed from dawn until dusk, so I doubt very many people have seen the secret world of coyote packs hunting down voles and deer herds foraging in the meadow.
This scat was evidence of beings that were in existence somewhere now, napping or hiding in their dens or foraging in more remote and private areas of the woods during the day. They are just out of reach and out of eyesight. But they exist in this moment in time.
Then there are the creatures that existed in a different moment in time, creatures that I know very little about and have never seen, nor will you or I ever see, alive and in person. Those are the creatures that lived on this ground 28 million years ago, when the Front Range was a different eco-system and the entire region between Kansas and the deserts of Nevada began to rise to form the Rocky Mountains. Volcanoes erupted up and down the Front Range in throughout Colorado. All that remains of the sedimentary blanket that extended west before the Rockies formed are blocks of rock that rise perpendicular to the ground. These rocks can be seen along the trail, some as large as suitcases and some like books, lichen-covered and dusty, sticking straight up or at a 45 degree angle out of the ground.
The burned out trees speak of a moment in time in the past when these hills were burning almost out of control. In February, 2009, the fire burned about 52 acres here. In 2000, a fire burned more than 20,000 acres.
This is a good activity for kids ages 6 and up as well as adults.
Find a place to sit for about fifteen minutes where you can have a good view of something that feels compelling.
Take a few minutes to think about everything you’ve seen and heard that is evidence of a being passing through and living its life in a different time in the past. It could be animal scat from the day before, a dead tree, a sedimentary rock formation millions of years old. What other evidence have you seen that speaks to a secret world, or of creatures that can be thought of or heard, but not seen?
Imagine seeing the past like a slide show. First, 30 millions years ago when this area was much, much flatter and the mountains hadn’t yet formed. What do you see in your mind’s eye? Then the upheaval of the ground and the formation of the Rockies. Ancient horses and mastadoons, then the ice age, then the arrival of humans, all the way up to the present moment. You are sitting here, a snapshot in a moment of time. See it as you see a time-lapse series of photos. See trees grow and decay, snow melt and fall, erosion reshaping the hills.
Imagine what this land may look like in the future, in months, then years then millennia.
How does it feel to see yourself here in such a brief moment in time?
How does contemplating all the beings that were here before you, even only minutes ago all the way up to hundreds of millions of years ago, make you feel about being here now?
Does imagining all the things that have lived and died here make you feel more like a part of the Earth or less? What is your part in the story?
Author, philosopher and anthropologist Loren Eisley once pondered what human or non-human creatures a million years from now or longer would think if they came upon his bones in the sediment. Here he was, examining ancient bones in the desert, wondering who would examine his bones in the future.
Almost everything that has ever existed, still exists in some form on Earth. Decaying plants and animals break down into chemicals in the rock or nutrients in the soil, which then get absorbed into new beings like trees and insects. The Earth takes in sunlight energy and a few random rocks and dust from space, and churns out new forms of life every day. If you were to view the Earth from space in a time-elapsed series of photos, you’d see the face of it swirling, shifting, moving underneath the constantly moving clouds. Landmasses pulled apart and stacked back together in different arrangements. Ice encroaching and receding over mountains and oceans. Water moving like blood, circulating from the air to the land and back out to sea.
The Earth is in constant state of change, from the molecular to the global level. The arrow of time never changes direction as far as we know.
What evidence of its existence do you think modern Industrial Civilization will leave behind in the landscape?