My New Favorite Front Range Hiking Trail (Shhh…Don’t Tell Anyone)

Fowler to Goshawk Trail

Location: About a mile east of the town of Eldorado Springs

Directions: Take Highway 93 from Golden or Boulder, turn west on CO-170, go 2.7 miles to Boulder County Road 67, turn left. Go about ½ mile where the road ends and park near the trailhead on the east side where it is allowed.

Duration: Approximately 2 hours

Route: from the parking lot, start along the Fowler Trail and follow signs to the Goshawk Ridge Trail. At the first intersection, veer right (north). Take the Goshawk Ridge Trail for about 2-1/2 miles. Once you cross a bridge, turn left on the Springbrook North trail and return via the Fowler Trail to the trailhead where you parked

Access Notes: The parking lot for this trailhead only has space for about a half dozen cars. If you arrive mid-morning on a weekend or when there’s a lot of use, you will have to park at the South Mesa Trail or Dowdy Draw parking lot and walk up the road to the trailhead, which will add about a mile to your hike. If you park at the Dowdy Draw Trailhead and hike to the Goshawk Ridge Trail from the Dowdy Draw Trail, you’ll add about 4 miles to your hike. I recommend starting at the Fowler trailhead to experience more of the contemplative aspects of this wonderful and less-traveled trail. Dogs are not allowed on the Goshawk Ridge Trail.

The 1.2 mile Goshawk Ridge Trail that forms a loop of the Fowler Trail was constructed in January, 2009, so it’s a relatively new area that has opened up to the public in the Eldorado Springs area. The day I hiked this trail was my first time. I would have to say that the beautiful variations in the landscape and the solitary nature of the walk due to its lack of popularity (not many know about it and there’s not a lot of parking) make this my favorite hiking trail within a half an hour of the Denver/Boulder suburbs.

Looking west to Eldorado Canyon from Fowler Trail.

I arrived at this trail at 8:30 a.m. on a sunny, cool Saturday in late spring. On road up to the trailhead I drove past the South Mesa Trail and Dowdy Draw parking lots, both of which were almost filled with weekend visitors. A mile up the road, at the Fowler trailhead, the parking area was comparatively empty: only about a half dozen cars lined the road outside of the “No Parking” signs.

Someone told me about this special trail a couple of months ago, touting it as incredibly scenic and lovely, and now that I’ve experienced it myself I hesitate to even advertise its location publicly. It feels like a hidden gem in an area that I call the “Disneyland of hiking”: all the popular Boulder trails west of Broadway that can become as crowded as a stroll down Pearl Street on warm weekends. Runners, hikers, families, and dogs making steady progress up and down the foothills between Boulder and northern Jefferson County. Unless you want to drive an hour into the mountains, you’d be hard-pressed to find solitude for your hike on a mild day, let alone on a weekend, this close to town. So finding this trail felt remarkable to me, like a secret that only certain “insiders” were privy to.

Rock cut passage

As you begin the walk on the Fowler Trail toward Goshawk Ridge Trail, you’ll cross a sloped meadow where deer like to graze early in the morning or late in the afternoon. You’ll switchback toward the northwest and come across one of this trail’s unique aspects: a man-made cut through the rock wall that you walk through and beyond which you’ll find yourself standing on a ridge overlooking the small town of Eldorado Springs below. This is just the first of many pleasant or delightful characteristics of the Fowler/Goshawk Trail, most of which I won’t mention in this essay because if this is your first time on this trail, you’ll want to allow yourself to be surprised at each turn.

The Relationship Between Landscape and Mood

The Goshawk Ridge Trail has a variety of landscapes and can evoke many kinds of subtle differences in mood, depending on what time of day you go or the weather. There’s a cozy, wooded canyon with a stream crossing. There are expansive views of Boulder County. There’s the not-too-distant whistle of the cargo or passenger train that snakes its way around the hills directly above and west of the trail. There’s a walk across a green meadow with wildflowers. There is also a walk through dead trees once ravaged by fire, and the quiet fortitude of a wide, flat forest that seems to go on for miles.

Fuzzy purple Pasque flowers were blooming on May 8th along the Goshawk Ridge Trail

I want to express my own feelings in each of these landscapes, but I don’t want to influence your own thoughts and feelings as you travel the trail. I’m sure each of these particular locales and changes in surroundings will affect you in different ways than it affected me. It also depends on the weather on the day you go. It may be foggy or cloudy, cold or muggy.

View of the small town of Eldorado Springs from the Fowler Trail

Whenever you come across an area that evokes a particular feeling in you, stop and note where you are, describing your surroundings and your mood. Do you feel frightened? Apprehensive? Peaceful? Relaxed? Bring a notebook along on your hike and write down your answers.

Even though the Goshawk Ridge Trail has only recently been constructed and open to the public, there is evidence of past human use and habitation. Can you spot evidence of human activity in the area?

How does this make you feel to see that this natural, relatively remote trail was once used in different ways for different purposes by people? How does it define “progress” in your mind?

Contemplative Outdoor Activities for Children

Richard Louv states in his book, Last Child in the Woods, “The shift in our relationship to the natural world is startling, even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions. As likely as not today, “summer camp” is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear —to ignore. A recent television ad depicts a four-wheel-drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream—while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, oblivious to the landscape and water beyond the windows.”

If children don’t feel a connection to nature, and don’t see the importance of conserving the integrity of the natural world, where will the Earth’s future environmental stewards come from?

Teaching children that all life is connected is important, so that when they become adults they understand the importance of careful research and planning when it comes to technology and development, so that we don’t lose species. They’ll know that we cannot survive without a thriving and healthy ecosystem, and that an ecosystem consists of everything from clean water to healthy soil to insects and birds. Many critics of conservation and proponents of things like drilling ANWAR and the Gulf of Mexico say that environmentalists care more about polar bears and reindeer than they do about people.

That statement implies that we don’t need polar bears, or caribou, or any other animal for our survival on Earth. What these critics don’t consider is that when you lose a keystone species such as the caribou, or you obliterate pests in agriculture you also threaten needed pollinators, you are directly affecting what happens to humans.

We need to teach children how to enjoy and respect nature, so they’ll be able to make the right decisions for their future.

These are a few no-cost or low-cost ways of enjoying time outdoors with children.

What Animal Are You?

This is an activity for children ages 6-10 that can be done while walking in a wilderness area or trail. This activity will help a child realize that animals need hiding areas and appropriate habitat to live.

Talk to the child about the kind of animals that may live in the area you’re walking. Ask them to describe what animals they imagine might live there. Then ask them to pick an animal they like the most out of the list you came up with together, or the animal that’s most like them. Ask them to imagine what they would do to find food. Where would they go? What would they eat? What would it taste like? Then ask them where they might go to rest and sleep when they felt tired. Help the child by pointing out possible places—rock outcroppings, under logs, burrows, in a thicket. Have the child tell you what they would be looking for if they were that animal and needed to find a place to rest or sleep so they weren’t disturbed by humans and predators.

Smell a Tree, Touch a Flower

This is an activity for younger children, perhaps 2-6 years old, as well as for older kids up to age 11. It can be done in the backyard, in a park, or along a trail. This expands the child’s awareness of it’s surroundings beyond the cliché or the obvious.

Ask the child to smell a nearby tree bark. Some trees, like ponderosa pine, smell like vanilla. Ask the child to tell you what they think of the smell. Then ask them to touch some flowers and tell you which one feels softest, or the most delicate.

Ask the child to look closely at the leaves of a tree and see if they can find evidence that an animal or insect visited that leaf.

Draw What You Feel

This is an activity for children ages 4-11. It can be done anywhere outdoors, including a backyard or a park, especially where there are a lot of trees, flowers or animals. You’ll need some paper and crayons or drawing tools to give to the child. This activity builds an empathetic connection between the child’s emotions and what they observe in nature.

Ask the child to look around and draw what they see that makes them feel three different ways: 1) peaceful or happy, 2) worried or unhappy, and 3) curious or confused. They may end up drawing such things as flowers for happiness, or maybe a piece of trash or a dead plant for the unhappy emotion. Give the child ample time to complete the exericise. Then ask them to talk about what they drew and why.

Field Guide Trip

This is an activity for children ages 6-12. It can be done anywhere outdoors, but is best done in a park, open space or wilderness where there are many birds, insects or wildflowers present. You will need a field guide from your region, which you can check out of your local library. Pick any of the following types of guides: wildflowers, trees, animals, birds, or weeds.

Bring the field guide along on a walk or hike and challenge the child to find as many plants or animals as possible that match what they see in the field guide. Read the descriptions of the animal and plant and why what they’re observing is what they see in the book (does it have the same colors? Does it live in the area where it is described?). Ask the following questions about the plant or animal:
1. Is it native to the local area?
2. Does it live here year-round?
3. Where does it go or migrate when it’s not here?
4. What happens to this plant or animal in the winter?

Discuss what you find and then make plans to visit the same area in a month or two to see if different plants or animals appear there.

Contemplative Fishing

This is an activity for children ages 4-12 and involves fishing. If you enjoy fishing, it’s a wonderful way to teach a child about ecology if you bring them along. Learning ecology helps a child understand the interconnectedness of all life.

Ask the child to tell you what they see and hear at the pond, stream or lake where you’re fishing. Do they hear frogs? Do they see reeds and plants near the water? How clear is the water?

A good way to know that fish are actively feeding is to watch for risers. Explain to the child what a riser is (a circular disturbance on the surface of the water that indicates a fish has surfaced its mouth) and what the fish may be trying to catch and eat. Explain why you’re using certain bait. If you’re bass fishing, you may be trying different colorful lures because bass have great memories – and if they got caught and released once with a pink lure, they may be leery of anything pink in the future. If you’re trout fishing, explain that trout enjoy very cold water but they don’t enjoy water that rushes quickly, like in a stream. Ask the child where they see areas that a fish may want to rest or hang out, and that’s a good place to cast the fly.

This is also a great opportunity to talk about the food chain. The insects are necessary for fish to eat. The small fish are eaten by the larger fish, and the larger fish are eaten by ducks, pelicans or other predators like cranes or herons (or humans). The sophistication of your your explanation depends on the age of the child.

Neighborhood Pride

This is an activity to do with your child from toddler all the way to their teenaged years. You take a walk in your neighborhood with a trash bag and pick up trash and debris. You teach the child the value of serving the community, not littering, and having pride in where they live. Smaller children can hold the trash bag, while older children can wear gloves to pick up debris.

Discuss how it felt to do this activity. Was it embarassing? Did it feel good to clean things up? Did the child feel angry about the people who littered? How does it make them feel about taking care of the Earth?

Children’s Garden

You need not have a backyard in order to help your child plant and grow something. This is an activity for children of all ages and can be done indoors on a sunny windowsill, or outdoors in a sunny location. If done indoors, you will need a small pot, some good potting soil and some seeds that your child selects. You can plant beans, flowers or vegetables, but for beginner gardeners such plants as peas and beans do very well and grow quickly with the proper care. If done outdoors in a garden, you can help the child plant the seeds in a tilled, enriched soil and let the child weed and water the area throughout the season.

Children take a lot of pride in growing their own food, as evidenced from my own 10-year old daughter, who loves to pull out beets and carrots that she planted and eat them raw, right on the spot! (after a good rinsing, of course.) This is also a good way to teach children about the importance of good, appropriate weather for growing certain kinds of food, and the importance of enough sunlight and moisture. Tomatoes don’t do well when it’s too wet or too cool. Peas and lettuces wilt in weather that’s too hot. Children also learn what plants look like and where their food comes from, as well as gaining a culinary appreciation for vegetables.

What is ecopsychology?

Sunrise over the mountainsWhat is Ecopsychology and Why is it Important?

Ecopsychology is a relatively young field of study that examines how human mental and physical health is connected to the health of the natural environment. It examines how humans have disconnected from nature and how and why it’s important to reconnect to nature. Ecopsychology also attempts to explain why some people persist in destroying their environment—whether consciously or not—and the best way to motivate and inspire humanity to live sustainably and in harmony with the Earth.

Ecopsychology assumes several fundamental concepts. First, that human are a part of nature, not apart from nature. It assumes that the health of the environment is directly linked to our health, because we are a part of, and live on, the earth. The deteriorating health of the planet cannot be ignored or compartmentalized without dire consequences to the survival of humans.

Finally, ecopsychology assumes that mental health cannot be compartmentalized solely as ego- or self-oriented. Our connectedness to nature is intricately tied to our mental well-being. Our surroundings have a direct effect on our state of mind, as evidenced by several recent studies. One such study, performed in the U.K. by Mind (Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health), reports that “going for a green walk in a park or countryside where one is surrounded by nature reduces depression whereas walking in a shopping centre or urban setting increases depression.”

Our Relationship to Nature

Human beings are indeed animals and a part of nature just as a chipmunk, a blade of grass and a mountain is a part of nature. Humans are not greater than, more important than, or apart from their natural surroundings.

Ecophilosopher and writer Paul Shepard hypothesizes that there was a shift and disconnection in thought about how human related to nature at the rise of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. He states in his article Nature and Madness, “It fostered a new sense of human mastery and the extirpation of non-human life.” (From the book, Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, p. 24)

After the invention of agriculture, humans began to think of themselves as controllers of plants, and ultimately of animals when animal husbandry developed as well. Perhaps the true break with our natural surroundings didn’t fully happen until the industrial and scientific revolution of the 16th-19th centuries, when nature was seen as dangerous and something to be tamed or exploited. But the seed was planted, according to Shepard, early in our species’ history.

How Connectedness to Nature Relates to Our Attitude About Conservation

Many individuals and organizations recognize the dire environmental consequences of a controlling or use-oriented attitude toward our environment. But many more do not.  It is a type of insanity — the inability to see or care about the fact that misuse of our surroundings is a kind of species suicide. What other animal would deliberately harm the place where they live so much that their very health and species survival was affected? Yeasts or viruses come to mind, as do parasites. Does that mean that humans have become parasitic and toxic to the Earth?

Ecopsychology is a field of study made necessary because of the disconnectedness we feel with each other and nature, and because of the dire situation of the health of our home. We no longer can continue to go on with business as usual, raking our machines and tools across the face of our planet, sucking it dry of life and spewing our garbage into the air and sea. We no longer can afford to think that the Earth will be there for us indefinitely, shiny and new, constantly giving as we forever plunder.

Studies have shown that persons who can relate to nature, or spend a lot of time in nature, may realize the connection to their environment better than those who do not, and consequently are more apt to give more attention and credence to issues such as the need for conservation and sustainability.

“…people high in environmental identity accord more weight than people low in environmental identity to those principles that endow environmental entities with moral standing. That EID score was also related to an increased rating for a fourth principle, ‘managing natural resources for the public good’…” (Susan Clayton, Environmental Identity, pg 57)

James Hillman may have said it best: “Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness, needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient human truths: we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet.”

Re-Connecting to Our Soul Through Nature-Based Practices

Since we are nature, we have an ancient wisdom and wildness in us that we can tap into—if only we slow down and are mindful enough to do so. Tapping into our soul—the core of each of us that is both inside and outside us and that holds our ancient animal wisdom—is done through various means of internalizing nature. This is done by ritual and nature-based practices.

When you’re feeling scattered, stressed, or depressed because you’re spending too much time “in your head” or sitting in a room with electronics all day, you can begin to feel more grounded and calm by simply connecting to a wild place you enjoy, sitting in your backyard, or spending time with a pet. It doesn’t cost money and it doesn’t require that you travel long distances.

Nature is accessible to everyone, regardless of income level or location. Nature can take the form of a tree, a pet, the sky, or a river. One does not need to travel far or have special equipment (other than protective clothing and a comfortable pair of shoes) to enjoy and reconnect to the world around us.