Mountain Hiking

by Harold Sears

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Copeland Falls — The Sounds & Colors of Water 

If you penetrate deeply into the Wild Basin region of Rocky Mountain National Park, it gets rough and wild indeed, but the nearer parts are “wild” only in that the access road is unpaved. The drive is scenic, and the walk to Copeland Falls is comfortable and leisurely. Meredith and I enjoyed the fact that we didn’t have to get up early and rush to get going. We had warm sunshine, a smooth, well-trodden trail, and the rich smell of pine and fir. The trail moved close to the North St. Vrain Creek and then away, but its soft growly roar was always there.

It felt as though we were walking along a continuous cascade of white and green-white frothy boil. The water danced among shiny black rocks. There were large rocks lodged in the current. Smaller rocks and pebbles nestled below them in the slower current of the eddy. The sand had been carried a little farther to still larger and calmer eddies. Up the banks were tumbles of boulders — dark gray, red and gray, and light gray, patchy with lichen and bright green moss. Fallen pine trunks slashed gray and brown lines across the roundness of the rock. 

Along with all this water, there were toadstools popping out of the moist soil. One looked like a new russet potato seeming to swell and break out of its skin. Another was a tomato-red hemisphere with rough cream spots. There was an apple-red bowl, an ivory-cream cap that curled up to expose thousands of tiny blades underneath, and a golden-brown loaf, seemingly fresh from the oven even with the slashing knife marks that a baker might etch across the top. Another sent up golden-tan tendrils like a sea anemone in a rocky pool. There were mustard-yellow and lemon-yellow growths, brick-orange, rose-red, coral-red, orange-red, several different red-brown shapes, and some unappetizing gray-white and yellow-white things.  Another was dark red-brown encircled by an ivory halo. There was a silver-gray foliose lichen laid out flat on the ground, and we passed maybe a maple tree, some of whose leaves were infected by a patchy fungus, bright strawberry red against the green of the leaf.

(click for larger view)

Originally published in the
50+ Marketplace News, 13:5, p. 1&8, 10/2007.

Getting There

Take route 36 north from Boulder to Lyons, and route 7 west and north through Allenspark.  Cross the North St. Vrain Creek at mile marker 13, and turn left onto CR 84 W.  Pass the Wild Basin Lodge on the left and turn into the park entrance station on the right, 0.4 mi. from the highway. Drive 2 miles farther to the Wild Basin trailhead.

This walk is only about a mile, round trip. Continuing another mile beyond Copeland takes you to Calypso Cascades, and less than a mile beyond that is Ouzel Falls. The trailhead is at about 8,500 ft., Copeland Falls is about 50 ft. higher, and Calypso Cascades is about 9,200 ft. A good trail map for Boulder County is available from the Boulder Area Trails Coalition (link on home page).

Cautionary Note -- If any of the hikes described on this site sound like something you would like to do yourself, please use good judgment and prepare yourself according to your skills, your interests, and the season. What was fun for me under one set of circumstances might not be fun or even safe for another under other circumstances. Do not consider these descriptions to be unqualified recommendations.

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Harold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, All rights reserved.

This page was last modified on 2/18/10