Another hiking (mis)adventure: Red Rocks Park in Colorado

Once can be a fluke. Twice, a coincidence. Three times and you’re looking at a trend. Four and more, well, that’s a predictable pattern. A tradition if you will.

Kristi and I have established a firm tradition of becoming lost or finding ourselves far in over our heads – or both – on hikes. Our latest misadventure coming in Red Rocks State Park just outside Denver.

How does this keep happening?

For one, neither of us are any good at reading a map. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and a major weakness of both Kristi and mine is reading maps and general sense of direction.

We can’t explain why. We recognize this and double-check our directions, yet it happens over and over and over again.

I’m probably more to blame. I become excited to such a degree at the onset of our hikes, I often just start walking, leaving her to wrestle with maps and directions and details. More often than not, when hiking or walking by myself, I just start walking with no destination, time frame or course in mind. I just start walking. And when it’s time to go back, I do. Time and distance mean nothing to me because I’ve got time and my legs never wear out.

Back to Red Rocks.

Red Rocks became world famous for its amphitheater which has hosted a who’s who of legendary musical acts through the decades. But there’s more to Red Rocks then rock and roll. Miles and miles of hiking trails and beautiful scenery surround this unique geological feature.

Red Rocks Amphitheater
Red Rocks Amphitheater. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

Our problems began right from the start, at the parking lot. Our six-mile loop trail was supposed to start out of the Lower Level parking lot which is where we thought we were. Nope. We were at the lower of two parking lots still at the Upper Level parking lot. This added roughly a half mile each way on our hike and a considerable gain in elevation.

The trails around Red Rocks offer stunning views. They are well-maintained, not overly strenuous, and well-trafficked. They are not, however, well-marked.

At least they weren’t to two people who struggle with direction to begin with.

Red Rocks hiking trail
Red Rocks hiking trail. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

Also, curiously, with Red Rocks State Park, where our hike began and ended, in one county, and Matthews/Winters Park, which hosted the middle section of our hike, adjacent to it in a different county, no map that we initially could find charted the entire course of our loop walk, forcing us to patch together multiple maps adding to our confusion.

If you suffer from a similar directional incompetence as Kristi and I do, we can’t recommend highly enough the AllTrails app which has thousands of trails across the country cataloged. You’ll see routes and reviews with the best part being a GPS tracker which shows when you’ve wandered off-course. AllTrails kept us moving in largely the right direction on this day, as it has on many others… once we remembered to use it, helping us solve many trail riddles along the way.

At one point in our journey we were lucky enough to come across a park volunteer who shared a better map with us and helped point us in the right direction. He was a lifesaver.

That’s an exaggeration of course. At no time during this fiasco were we ever in any danger or out of eye-shot of a major road.

Our biggest problem was a six-mile loop that was expected to take 3 1/2 to 4 hours turned into a nine-mile, five-hour vision-quest.

It wasn’t all bad. As I mentioned, the scenery is spectacular. On a clear day you can see Pikes Peak. We had a hazy day and couldn’t. Still, the views are worth the trip.

So is the geologic oddity which created Red Rocks.

Red Rocks State Park
Red Rocks State Park. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh/TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

Kristi and I were both amazed by how tiny an area the Red Rocks constitute. It’s a relative pinprick on a map. This phenomenon was created by the Rocky Mountains pushing beneath the rock layer which existed here previously, forcing them up into the air. The entirety of the red rocks extends no more than two miles across and less than that deep.

As surprising were the variety of birds. I am a birder and have always found Colorado less than impressive when it comes to birding. Red Rocks in late May, however, offered an interesting variety, many foreign to us Floridians, and many more that we hadn’t previously seen in the state.

The Western Tanager and Bullock’s Oriole with their Technicolor Dreamcoat feathers colored sunset orange and red were scene-stealers. Male Broad Tailed Hummingbirds buzzed everywhere – the females do not make the noise. Kristi’s personal favorite is the stately Stellar’s Jay. We also saw our first Western Scrub Jays. Countless swifts and swallows swooped among the rocks and cliffs. Western Kingbird and Red Tailed hawks. According to park literature, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons can be seen at different times of the year – a sight of either would make the whole trip worthwhile.

Western Towhee
Western Towhee near Red Rocks State Park. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

By the end of our journey, we were footsore, weary, bleary, crabby and ready to be back in the car headed for Breckenridge. Fortunately, what we lack in map-reading, we make up for in preparedness for inevitable calamity, always packing plenty of food, water and sunscreen.

Whenever we pass Red Rocks on 1-70 as we travel to and from Breck, we will now have a memory. As Kristi said on our return trip past it following this hike, “we were up there last week.”

Yes we were. And despite the folly of our route – and more sure to come – our (or at least my) eagerness to start out on the next one hasn’t subsided.

Red Rocks State Park
Red Rocks State Park. (Photo Credit Kristi Dosh / TRAVELING WITHOUT KIDS)

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