Monday, September 21, 2009

Hiking Jurassic Park

Geologic point of interest on the south side of I-70.

We have some amazing hiking trails right in our backyard here in the Denver area. Yesterday we went on three hikes: two short hikes and a longer hike. The two short hikes were along either side of Interstate 70, to step back in time and see the geologic formations that were unearthed when they blasted through a hill in order to connect the interstate highway system in 1971. The other hike was a 4.2 mile loop near Red Rocks amphitheater. All three hikes are literally minutes from our home.
Close-up view of the layering.
First we stopped at a geologic point of interest on the south side of I-70 as it enters the mountains west of Denver. The last time my husband and I had been there was about 15 years ago, before any of our young hiking companions were born. We were excited to show them the signboards which explained the different colors of layers of rock that had been uncovered when road crews blasted through this chunk of mountain when they were finishing building I-70.

We were amazed at the amount of erosion that had occurred since that time. All the sign boards were gone and large rocks had fallen into the paved path. The guard rail had warning signs about not getting too close and in many places the path was covered by sand, loose sandstone and shale. Nevertheless, we could see the cut-out on the north side of I-70 and that there were still signboards on that side. We decided to visit that side at the end of our hike. A rock on the trail.

White sand from erosion on the trail.

We kept a close eye on the weather because the beautiful blue sky of the morning was quickly filling with clouds as the afternoon came. Honestly, I didn't think we'd be able to complete our planned 4.2 mile loop with our youngest guy. He's not a really strong hiker and I wasn't about to carry a 7 year-old (no matter how small he might be!)
The Red Rocks trail head.

We found the trail head near a parking lot just before the amphitheater at Red Rocks. If you haven't heard about the natural amphitheater at Red Rocks, it is a world-famous concert venue. The Beatles played here. And the Fray played a sold-out concert here. Yesterday, another sold-out concert was preparing for an evening performance.
Side view of the amphitheater from the trail.
The scenery was gorgeous! Sometimes we get so busy with our lives that we forget to look up at the stars in the night sky, or simply look around us. This hike is so close to our home, but the landscape is so amazingly different and beautiful that I couldn't stop taking pictures and exclaiming, "Oh! Look at that rock!"

Dung beetle?

There were still wildflowers blooming, and what I think must be a dung beetle, though I haven't taken the time to look it up yet. But this little fella was crawling around a pile of poo and I couldn't resist taking his picture.

Looking down on our van.

Soon the path began to climb rather steeply. Our brave hikers kept up a good pace and once we got to the top of the ridge we knew we had to keep going. The sky was darkening and a brisk wind came up, but the view from the top was stunning.

Buckley AFB "golf balls" in the distance.

From the top of the trail we could see the cut-out on I-70.

The path down was called the Morrison Slide Trail, but fortunately we didn't encounter any rock slides. There were a few tricky bits that made us happy to have our walking sticks with us!

We made it down the mountain and to our van just as it began to sprinkle lightly, but we were enthusiastic about seeing the other side of I-70 because we felt very brave and strong for having finished such a hike with our three young companions (and dog).

Happy hikers!

The north side of I-70.
The drive to the other geologic point of interest was very short...probably less than 10 minutes. When we got out of the van we were met by very strong gusty winds, which made the boys giggle and squeal with delight! I held on tightly to small hands because I was a bit concerned that someone might be picked up and tossed onto the highway below. Fortunately, we were able to walk in the wind and we had rain jackets because it was now starting to rain rather steadily.

The signboards are still in place on the north side.

The signboards were in place, which described in great detail the both the age and the composition of the rocks we were looking at. These rocks were formed over a period of about 45 million years...they represented the time period from 140 million to 95 million years ago, which spans the end of the Jurassic period and the beginnings of the Cretaceous period.
The formations we saw are part of the Morrison Formation, which includes nearby Dinosaur Ridge, where you can see actual dinosaur footprints imbedded in the rock along the roadway.

Cold and tired but happy.

It's a good thing we went on our hike yesterday. Today, on the last day of summer, there is snow in the foothills!

1 comment:

Anna said...

great pics! what a lovely family...