Denver: Parking Lots, Dinosaurs, Mesas and Prairie Dogs

In Denver we experienced what it would be like to live in a shopping center parking lot. Jay, our friend we went to visit, let us stay in the parking lot of his retail store while we were in town. It worked out really nicely because it was conveniently located to all the errands we had to run while in town. The spot Jay picked out for us was actually pretty nice - we were parked away from all the other cars and essentially had our own little section of the parking lot.

Living in a shopping center parking lot is exactly what you imagine it to be: weird and awkward. As we’re hanging out inside our RV eating breakfast, the world is moving forward and driving by outside. Walking in and out of the RV while people drove through the parking lot made me self-conscious. But we did have a few people stop in their cars and ask us about our RV and tell us how great it looked.

What impressed us the most about Denver is the number of greenways through town. Greenways were everywhere! And the best part was that people were using it: runners, hikers, cyclists, and dog walkers.

Here are the outdoor places we checked out while in town:

Bear Creek Greenbelt is in Lakewood and has two lakes for fishing and a mix of dirt and paved trails. One of the advantages of Bear Creek Greenbelt is that there isn’t an entrance fee, which a lot of parks in town have.  The singletrack trails follow the creek along the inside of the park, which was really nice for the dogs (especially Tybee who loves the water). And the greenway runs along the perimeter of the park. On the end of the park closest to Wadsworth Blvd., is a large field that the greenway goes through. In the field is hundreds of prairie dogs and prairie dog holes. Prairie dogs were running around the field, sunbathing their fat selves outside their den holes, or sitting next to their dens squeaking away. 

 
 

When we walked by them Tyki was going crazy, pulling on the leash, and wanting to chase them so badly. Jay told us the first night we got to town that that we shouldn’t let the dogs chase the prairie dogs since they have the bubonic plague (no worries, I don’t let my dogs chase wildlife in general).

We wanted to bike around Dinosaur Ridge but since the dogs hadn’t gotten out on that particular day we ended up hiking it. Dinosaur Ridge is located right outside Lakewood and next to Red Rocks Park. The last time we came to Denver we visited Red Rocks – which is beautiful and worth the stop. I hadn’t heard of Dinosaur Ridge until this trip. Like its name implies, there are dinosaur fossils at the park. The mile long paved path leads you through Dinosaur Ridge right alongside dinosaur fossils. Tracksite is a section of Dinosaur Ridge that has over 300 dinosaur footprints.

I was super excited about getting to the Tracksite to see dinosaur footprints. When we got to there I immediately started taking pictures of this one specific area. Jerud turned to me and asked, “What are you taking pictures of?” I excitedly responded, “Dinosaur footprints!” To my dismay he said, “Um, those aren’t dinosaur footprints.” Somehow I managed to miss the 300 footprints that were on the wall and took tons of photos of random rock markings.

These are NOT dinosaur footprints!

These are Dinosaur footprints...Easy to confuse, right?

At Dinosaur Ridge there is also the Dakota Hogback Trail, which goes up and over the mountains above the paved path. But according to the map, Dakota Hogback doesn’t go by any fossils.  Dinosaur Ridge also seemed to be a popular place for road cyclists, as with Red Rocks Park. Stop by Dinosaur Ridge if you are going to Red Rocks Park, it’s on the way.

On a previous trip to Colorado we drove out to Golden for a winter hike. That trip left us with a good impression of Golden and I always wanted to come back for another visit. North Table Mountain Park is located in Golden and was recommended to us by our friend, Lindsay. North Table Mountain Park is a mesa in the Front Range Mountains that rises up 6,555 ft.

Our hike started from North Table Loop and I was quickly reminded how different the Colorado landscape is from western North Carolina. The open mesa covered in prairie grass and panoramic view is the complete opposite of hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where trails are covered in trees with creeks somewhere very nearby.  Being at North Table Mountain I’m reminded of Lindsay’s story about how when her, Eric and their three dogs moved out to Colorado from Asheville they realized that their dog, Toby, is scared of open spaces. Something they obviously wouldn’t have realized while living in Asheville.

 
 

Hiking along the North Table loop to Tilting Mesa trail we saw and heard birds, mainly the Western Meadowlark, flying through the fields. According to a sign we came across, there are lots of grassland bird species that find refuge in North Table Mountain. The Rim Rock trail was closed for the season because of raptors nesting there. The trails we were on were wide and overall pretty smooth, with some scattering of rocks. Walking along the trail I thought how it wouldn’t be a very exciting mountain bike ride (we saw several mountain bikers) but a cyclocross rider would probably be all for it.

We went on our first mountain bike ride since hitting the road! Andy and JC took us out to Centennial Cone Park that is located outside Golden. The drive on Hwy 6 is through Clear Creek Canyon with a Clear Creek running along the side of the road. Driving through canyons is still such a new thing to me that I’m always in awe of the view of the high mountain walls on each side of me. One of the cool things about this route is that there is a greenway that is being built on the opposite side of Hwy 6 and the river! From what I heard, when completed this greenway will connect Golden through the canyon!

Our ride started at the Mayhem Gulch Trailhead (south access). Since the trail that would typically make this ride into a loop was closed seasonally because of elk calving, our route would be an out and back on Mayhem Gulch and Travois trails. I usually don’t like out and backs but it was great for this ride because it allowed us to go as far as we wanted before turning around.  Since we hadn’t been mountain biking in a really long time, I was a bit worried how the higher altitude would affect us. We turned around at the large field before a rocky hike-a-bike section on Travois. The trails run along the face of Centennial Cone and there are sections where the side of the mountain just drops. During the first downhill, as I sped down the trail all of a sudden I grabbed a handful of brakes and started consciously breathing because the exposure got to my head – it was just rocks and steep nothingness. The junipers and Piñon pines disappeared from the sides of the trail. I’m not used to so much open space; I’m typically prepared for rhododendrons and mountain laurels being there to catch me if I fell.

The views from the trails of Clear Creek Canyon and the surrounding peaks are beautiful. I kept trying to look at the scenery but worried I would ride off the trail if I did; same with some of the turns that come up super quickly.

On our way back we caught views of snow covered peaks in the distance that were behind us when we rode in and saw pretty purple Pasque flowers that we also missed coming in on the downhill direction. 


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