The sun’s heat radiated off the red rock and gambel oaks. The air was so dry that our sweat evaporated instantly. The forest seemed as though it was ready to ignite. And, later this afternoon, it did just that when a dry lightning strike hit one of the trees. But that was after our hike and long after we were gone, and right now it was morning and the sky was still perfectly clear.
Today was the last day for Elizabeth and me in Colorado, and we wanted to do a hike before catching our plane tonight. We chose the popular Palmer Red Rock loop near Colorado Springs. The hike surveys the environments of the Front Range, a beautiful landscape that in the summer looks like a green wave cresting and ready to crash onto the flat, dry short grasslands to the east.
We started our hike under a clear blue sky at 9:15. We had to finish by 11, which didn’t give us much time for the Palmer Red Rock loop’s six miles. We agreed to turn around if at any point it didn’t look as if we’d make it in time.
We were in sunny, open brush. Around us were gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), yucca (Yucca sp.), and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.). In the grass I spotted a species of Calochortus I hadn’t seen before: Gunnison’s mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii). To the east was a fine view of the exposed red rock fins of Garden of the Gods and, beyond, the short grasslands.
We entered the forest, a mix of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii subsp. glauca) and white fir (Abies concolor). It was mercifully cooler and shadier, but we were still sweating and panting. Elizabeth wasn’t used to the elevation. She didn’t think we’d finish the hike on time. We considered turning back.
We kept climbing and arrived at an open ridge with ponderosa (Pinus ponderosa) and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia). We were at about 8,000 feet and had an excellent view of the rolling green forests of the Front Range. Puffy clouds, solid white against the deep blue sky, were beginning to form.
The view was inspiring. We decided to finish the loop, even though we probably wouldn’t make it back on time. It turned out that we needn’t have worried. The trail down to the road was well-graded and shady, and we cruised down easily, getting back to our car at 11:30.