By Ann Hayes
An 8 AM start from Boulder brought us to a convenient horse-trailer parking area at Heil Valley Ranch* by 9 AM. There we met the four other riders who, like us, were participating in a “Meet-up” group called “Natural Trail Ride” led by Vicki Knecht from Brighton. People are drawn to this group because of a common interest in natural horsemanship. Though some of us were previously acquainted this was our first trail ride together.
The day was glorious, everyone was prompt, and we headed-up the switchbacking Wapiti Trail. It begins on gravel but becomes steeper and rockier as it ascends. Shoes or boots are a must. At 2.5 miles The Wapiti joins a network of loop trails. Our destination was an overlook along the Pondorosa loop where we expected to have a splendid view of the St. Vrain valley below and eat lunch. To return we completed the Pondorosa loop and re-joined the Waptiti, a total distance of 7.6 miles.
Heil Valley Ranch comprises more than 5,000 acres and is part of North Foothills Open Space that includes Hall Ranch. There are the remains of the homesteads to explore, a variety of ecosystems, and wildlife galore. Before the first switchback a flock of wild turkeys scurried across our path. The area is home to mountain lions and large elk herds that are now calving. We saw dark marks on tree trunks where the bucks had rubbed their antlers.
As we dismounted at the overlook, the wind came up and rustled the tree branches. Looking for a tree to tie to I heard a steady buzz. Loose telephone wire? Wait—no phone poles here…YIKES! Right at my feet was a large rattlesnake coiled and about to strike. I took off at a run, Twilite behind me.
The loop trails and Wapiti are favorite routes for cyclists. The Pondorosa is paved with “speed bumps”, designed for mountain bikers to bounce over. Twilite wanted to trot the downsides giving me pelvic jolts. Asking her to walk down was an exercise in core control but worth it. There are always opportunities to practice riding skills and groundwork skills on trail rides. Zoning-out is not recommended.
All in all a great day!
* The trailhead is three miles north of Boulder off Foothills Hwy and Left Hand Canyon Road, up Geer Canyon Road.