Friday, September 23

Prairie Biking: A Bona-fide Diversion

The Denver Metro Area is on the very western edge of the high plains. Golden has pushed up against the foothills of the Front Range and of course there is suburban style development all the way to and across the Jefferson County line to the west. But the metro area is fully within the prairie ecosystem.

Even the foothills and lesser summits of the flanks of the Front Range that lie below treeline are very much prairie in nature. Grasses abound and yucca punctuates the landscape. The farther into the mountains you go the more pine you encounter and granite becomes the stone of choice over the lesser grades of hardness below.

Around Golden there is a lot of basalt-type rock, igneous ramparts that ring the summits of the mesas and spills down in pieces into the plains below.

The trails of the plains are dusty, fringed by spikey plants, strewn with volcanic rubble. The sun beats down and sears skin. Reportedly there are rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. Oh my!Vistas are broad. Grades are manageable. Surfaces are forgiving. Trails are accessible and friendly for the armchair prairie biker. Access is most often easy and convenient from numerous trailheads, but also most often easy to access on the bike from the road. Out the front door trail biking...

Winters are relatively mild. Conditions stay favorable throughout a high percentage of the Denver area's reported 300 days of sunshine each year.

But if you pedal just a few miles west, up into high climes you face deep snow long beyond winter, steepness, slick granite rocks, confirmed mountain lion and bear sightings, altitude, wind, hail, pestilence, anarcho-nuclear apocalypse...wait, getting a little carried away.

I love the foothills. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely lust after the mountains. Getting above treeline is my not-so-secret fetish. The foothills, much like the plains, provide fantastically built and maintained Open Space trails that are friendly to all users. The mountains just provide.

But the prairie realm...what does it really offer up to the aspiring knobby tire fanatic? Well, like I said, accessibility with an abundance of quality. I've heard of this loop called the Dirty Bismarck up north...s'posed to be good. Standley Lake has two track dirt. The mesas sport some semi-technical singletrack and some two track roads. Green Mountain will keep you wondering how such a grassy bump can seem so high and so big. Bear Creek, haven't prairie biked there yet. The user defined trails along the Clear Creek Greenbelt are fun and techy, weaving in and out of the treeclad creek bottoms. If you're observant or savvy with aerial photography you can eek out some quick fixes here and there all over the metro area, dirt paths connecting parking lots, dead end streets and short cutting through industrial areas. Cranking through high grasses, over rolling hills, cobbling together greenbelts, open space, poorly patrolled vacant properties...

And then you explode from the green world onto pavement, dust flying, chest heaving...and you crank on home along suburban backstreets.

Prairie biking's not as glorious as wheezing above 11,000' on some loose mining road along the edge of a thousand foot cliff, but it suffices in a pinch.

Ancient Palms Trail, South Table Mountain

Ancient Palms

Looking down Ancient Palms

S Table mesa top view (south half panorama)

S Table mesa top view (north half panorama)

Prairie Biker Silhouette


And then it's always fun to interact with wildlife (not my video)...

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