Hiking in the Flatirons of Boulder Colorado

| August 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

When Stephen King looked for a base for the good guys in his novel The Stand, he close Boulder, Colorado. This was the clean-living utopia for the goodies of his post-apocalyptic novel. The baddies moved to Las Vegas. I visited Boulder to see what it as good as Mr. King had suggested.

Boulder is a university town about an hour north of Denver and often tops the list of best places to live in the United States. My first stop was the lovely Chautauqua Park, a sprawling park on the outskirts of Boulder. From there, a network of hiking trails lead to a series of hills known as the Flatirons.

The Chautauqua movement was very popular in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a kind of adult education movement with a focus on health, education, nature, culture and religion. The Boulder Chautauqua was setup in 1898 on the site of the park. As I looked for information on available trails, I passed the the lovely Chautauqua Dining Hall. Built in 1898, this lovely wooden building continues to provide meals for hungry hikers. In 1967, the town actually voted to tax itself in order to preserve such open spaces for the enjoyment of all. Boulder is a seriously outdoorsy town and I love it for that.

I located the Ranger Cottage where a very friendly lady was only too willing to suggest some trails based on how much time I had. She suggested a loop that would take me to the summit of Green Mountain and back, about a five hour hike. I laced up my trusty Brasher Hillwalker boots and, armed with a hiking map, I set off in the bright sunshine of a Boulder morning.

I keep meaning to send those guys at Brasher a note to say how happy I am with my hiking boots and to please keep making such durable footwear. I bought them in 2002 and tramped all over the world with them. They have been with me in the game reserves of South Africa, the Outback of Australia, the heady Himalayas, and countless other places. I hardly ever cared for them yet they only recently showed signs of wear.

The park is fronted with wild meadows before rising steeply into the Flatirons. The hills resemble giant irons, thus the name. Various hiking treks diverged across the meadow and streams of people walked across the gentle grassland towards the hills.

At Gregory Canyon, the incline increased and the real hiking started. At a small car park, I read an entertaining notice about what to do if you encounter bears or mountain lions along the trail. Yes, I said bears and lions. Part of the notice suggested you “Speak firmly and back away slowly.” I wonder how many people heed that advice when they encounter a bear in the wild. I smiled as I remembered a passage in Bill Bryson’s highly entertaining book A Walk in the Woods where he and his friend Katz encounter a small bear. Katz mocks Bryson’s attempts to speak firmly by imitating Bryson when he said ‘Oh, you brute, go away, do…Please withdraw at once, you horrid creature.’ However, any bears I was likely to meet would be the black bear, the much smaller cousin of the feared grizzly bear. If I did encounter one, I fully intended to leave out any details of its small stature, instead painting a picture of a ferocious killer ten feet high.

I said hello to a passing hiker during one of my frequent breaks and she stopped for a brief chat. ‘Do you ever see any bears or mountain lions along the trail,’ I asked?
‘Oh I’ve seen plenty,’ she said, taking a quick drink from her battered water bottle. ‘Bears don’t tend to be a problem unless you surprise them and start to run away. Mountain lions are much more dangerous. They’ve attacked people on the trail before. Some of my neighbours have had dogs snatched by them.’
She allowed me a few seconds to take all this in before promptly standing up and adjusting her small backpack.
‘Enjoy your hike,’ she smiled as she bounded off.

This new information about mountain lions was bouncing around my head as I continued along the trail. I remembered the bear spray conversation I had in Denver. From those of you who didn’t read my previous Denver article (tut, tut), the crux of it was that I met some guys at a bar who warned me I needed bear spray when hiking. I tried to check out passing hikers to see if any of them sported a can that might resemble bear repellent. What about lions, I thought suddenly. Was there such a thing as lion spray? Does the bear spray work on lions as well? How foolish (and dead) would I feel if a lion did attack me and emptied a can of totally ineffectual bear spray in its eyes.

The trail was shaded by trees and became cool enough to force me to put my jacket back on. A lovely aroma of flowers filled the air as I walked, adding to my enjoyment of the day. It was Saturday and the trail was busy with people walking with dogs, children, even babies strapped to father’s backs. Others jogged past me, some as old as seventy by my estimation. Everyone from Boulder seemed to be on the trail.

A steady stream of sweat trickled down my back which felt welcome after so much sitting over the past few days. Birds chirped and danced between branches while the sun peeked through the surrounding pine trees. I saw clear evidence of the 2013 floods that devastated Boulder and the local mountains. Uprooted trees, rocks and debris still remained scattered along the trail as repair work continued.

The air was much thinner than I was used to and very soon, I was breathing hard, needing to stop frequently. If there’s ever a competition for the fittest town in the world, Boulder would take some beating. Even grannies walked briskly past me, calling to unruly dogs up ahead.

Suddenly, I heard something moving in the bushes nearby. I froze and stared hard into the undergrowth. Fearing it was a bear, I prepared my most commanding of voice and prepared to retreated faster that if shot from a cannon. Thankfully, the racket was caused by a Bluejay bird, a beautiful creature with gleaming blue feathers and a little turf of hair on its head. Apparently, they can mimic a hawk’s cry, thus keeping enemies at bay. Thankfully, they don’t seem to have mastered a bear’s growl yet.

I rose above the treeline and was left breathless by the view of the Rockies in the distance. Ever since I touched down in Denver, I had strained to catch a glimpse of that iconic mountain range. There’s something utterly magnetic about those snow-capped peaks that calls to me.

I finally reached the summit of Green Mountain 8,100 feet above sea level. I relaxed with other hikers and enjoyed a bite to eat. On the very top, there’s a bronze disc that points out the various peaks you can see. I overheard someone say you can even make out Denver on a clear day. However, I only had eyes for the Rockies. I gazed longingly at those majestic peaks in the distance and knew it was time to go. The Flatirons had been great but were only a taster to the main course. Rocky Mountains, here I come.

Tags: ,

Category: colorado, usa

About the Author ()

John Dwyer is a travel writer and blogger. His first book High Road to Tibet: Travels in China, Tibet, Nepal and India became an Amazon best-seller. His latest book Klondike House: Memories of an Irish Country Childhood recalls his years growing up on a rural farm in Ireland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.