Hiking Rabbit Mountain
Last July, we hiked Rabbit Mountain Open Space. Situated to the east of Lyons, the massive uplift of sedimentary rock catches the energy of northern flow of the Front Range. To my mind, this flow feels tangible – even when there is no apparent wind. The grasses move slowly and gracefully in the current of the Earth pulse flowing upward. It was so full of vitality that we were instinctively drawn back again the next day.
The first evening a north wind was blowing 25 to 30 miles per hour as we hit the trail; a group of young hikers coming down called out, “Pretty windy up there!” I could see from the sky that a cooler, northern jet stream-pushed front was moving in. This wasn’t a storm but rather a friction of airwaves sharing the kinetic charge between low and high-pressure fronts.
As we walked up onto the Eagle Wind Trail Mesa, the wind was at our backs. My sailing life has taught me the difference between a fair wind lift and an approaching storm; this was a lift indeed! We were excited by the gradual upward direction of the trail. It was close to a full moon rising at sunset and I could see the escarpment cliffs in the distance.
This is a uniquely arid zone in a dry plains ecosystem. Prickly pear cactus, sage, and piñon pine share the gritty well-drained soil. The rock – and probably the entire mesa – is sedimentary. The area has quarries that dig and blast the stone for use as walls, patios and veneers; it has a sandy quality that allows it to be split easily. The surface of the trail is a pleasant gravel and powder, fine for hiking in the day’s ending light.
This area is also called Rattlesnake Mountain so we are careful, watchful, knowing that vipers emerge from their dens at sunset to hunt. Rattlesnakes are generally shy, moving away from the percussion of the hiker’s tread. I feel it would be fortunate to see one moving among the rocks and undergrowth. Perhaps next time!
At this hour the vegetation is becoming blue green, not the sunset warm-red tone of the stone. I have seen this change of color in the high canyons and plateaus of Utah – but feel that this unique shift is part of Rabbit Mountain’s energy signature, more southwest than montane. The grama grasses are actually blue in this light. Capturing this on my camera sensor is a low light challenge.
We climb higher along the escarpment and find the perfect cliff edge spot to watch the sunset over the Continental Divide. The encroaching high pressure is pushing the clouds off the high ramparts of Longs and Meeker, their silhouettes now showing through. As we gaze across the landscape, not a straight line anywhere in sight. Pure majesty.
As the air shifts to flow from the Divide, the cleansing power of breath clears held toxins from our bodies: “refreshing” does not adequately describe the clearing the air brings. So full of oxygen too.
Farther down the trail we enter a copse of piñon. This place had once been burned over, the lower bark of the trees still show signs of the fire. The ground duff of needles and dried vegetation covers the now long-past blaze. Pushing aside years of debris, I find the charred evidence. But this glade of pines, stone, and cactus now has plenty of vitality. Anne remarks, “I feel like I am in Middle Earth.” These piñons are older than they look – perhaps hundreds of years – and the copse has a primeval feeling.
By now the sun has set and the almost-full moon has risen. Far to the south, held at bay by the cool air, huge anvil-shaped thunderclouds lord over the prairie flatlands.
The only people we encounter on this hike are two lovers, arms and torsos entangled on a rock ledge far off the trail; and a frisky group of Latino youths, the last of whom tells us of “a rattlesnake coming up the cliff towards you.” His excitement is contagious! So once again, I study the trail as we make our way back down to the parking lot far below – as my luck may change.