Denali AKA Mt. McKinley


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"Happiness is a state of activity."  
~ Aristotle
Even in our mid-60s, Jim and I are happiest when we're physically active. We are wired to move. Although we can't run any more we hike and bike as much as possible.

The record cold, wet weather in Colorado Springs during the month of May put a bit of a "damper" on our outdoor activities.

Casey didn't care if the trail was a creek (above) or we got wet when it rained (below).

However, we still got out most days to ride our bikes and/or hike with the dogs. We tried to time our hikes and rides to avoid the afternoon storms but sometimes got caught out in them.

Labs are wired to move, too. Casey, in particular, is quite vocal when she's got cabin fever and needs more exercise. I swear that little girl can talk! (It's in doggie language but we get the message loud and clear.) She and Cody had lots of fun playing in puddles, snow, piles of little hail, and the overflowing creeks on the far side of the Falcon Trail.


One of the reasons we like staying at the Air Force Academy so much is easy access to a scenic 13-mile single-track trail that loops around the enormous campus, ranging in elevation from 6,500 to 7,500 feet.

All or part of the loop makes a great hike or a magical roller coaster ride on a mountain bike. We've both run and hiked the whole trail in multiple visits to Colorado Springs, and we've ridden our bikes on smoother sections like these:


The hillier segments are generally more rocky and narrow, with steep drop offs. They're fine for hiking, not so much for cycling unless you're a diehard mountain biker:

During this visit I took the dogs to some of my favorite sections of the trail several times a week.

They especially like the creeks at the southern end of the loop. Those were more full of water than usual during this visit because of all the rain and snowmelt:



I also hiked around the entire loop twice, a total of 14 miles from and back to our campsite.

The creeks were all running high both times. With the help of my trekking poles I plowed through all of them except this one, where I was able to find a detour on a little road with a bridge:

The photos in this section show various sections of the trail under widely varying weather conditions.

We arrived on Sunday, May 2. Apparently that weekend a marathon and 50-miler were run on the Falcon Trail. I was surprised a couple days later to see these signs directing runners at one of the intersections:

Cool! That's the first we've ever known of an ultramarathon being run at the Academy.

The trail goes over several ridges around the loop. When it isn't cloudy or raining they have great views of the Rampart Range, lower parts of the campus, or the northern section of the city.

One of my favorite ridges is about a mile from the campground and over a mile long on top:


Reservoir below the ridge on the east; northeastern suburbs in the distance

Cadet area to the west below the ridge; Rampart Range in the background

Another favorite spot is the highest point on the trail and the section leading down from it past the creek that flows from Stanley Canyon and into a fertile valley below.

I've gotten some nice sunny, summery-looking pictures from this area of the loop in previous visits but most of the times I went over there this trip, it was overcast or dreary. These photos are from the one sunnier days I was on this section:




Also unlike our previous May visits very few flowers are in bloom this time, even at the end of May at lower elevations on campus, and most of the new deciduous leaves haven't come out yet:

High desert flora:  wallflowers and prickly pear cactus

There were fewer new leaves at lower elevations on the trail, too:

On May 7, five days after our arrival at the Academy, I took this picture of the golf course from the Falcon Trail near the campground:

Beautiful, sunny day in Colorado Springs, eh?

That afternoon, while we were at our first orthopedic appointment a few miles from campus, all hail broke loose. By the time the storm passed, the northern part of the city had an accumulation of 4-8" of pea-sized hail on the ground and streets -- and I-25 was shut down until the freeway could be plowed! Good thing we didn't need the freeway that day.

I showed some photos of the hail on the street in the previous entry. Within the next few days we would get three more hail storms (all small stuff, fortunately) and 2-3" of snow. In addition, it rained nearly every afternoon, saturating the ground further.

It would have been easy to just stay inside but I kept going out to get exercise and photos on the Falcon Trail (and elsewhere) to record this anomalous spring:

Even some dedicated golfers played through the rain . . .

. . . but not in the snow!

On May 10 we got the one snowstorm that occurred in May. I'm not as much of a snow-phobe as Jim so I couldn't wait to get out in it to take pictures and let the dogs play in it. It was beautiful!




The next day I hiked the whole Falcon loop solo -- what a mess it was then, and for the rest of the month!

Creeks flooded. Sometimes the trail was a creek. Puddles gave way to mud. Erosion washed away soil and left ditches where the trail is sloped. Continued use by mountain bikers and equestrians when the trail was wet caused further damage.



Above and below:  between a rock wall and overflowing creek . . .

I just plowed through the mud, puddles, flooded creeks, rain, and snow. It was fun in a perverse way!

No, I didn't enjoy it as much as the warm, dry, sunny days we have previously experienced in our visits to Colorado Springs in May. It's more fun to hike on perfect days than imperfect ones. But I'll tell ya, weather like this makes me appreciate perfect days more.

Here are a few more random photos of the Falcon Trail, also taken the day after the snowfall:


Above and below:  I spotted these four does just off the trail, near the commissary.
They kept their eyes on me while I shot half a dozen close-ups and talked softly to them.



Continued on the next page -- cycling at the USAF Academy and on the New Santa Fe Trail and Pike's Peak Greenway

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil