Category Archives: Girls Hike Too

Sliding into the Jewel of Semuc Champey: Guatemala at the End of Mayan Days (Part 8)

In the middle of the night the Guatemalan sky unzips its pockets to spill a marimba of water on the tin roof of our wooden room. By morning, the downpour persists, offering both disappointment and relief: both “I forbid you to explore paradise,” and “I grant you heavenly rest.” After eating pancakes in the open-air lodge of Posada El Zapote, we stare at gray rain that sews up the garden, hemming in long red bromeliads, yellow trumpet flowers, coconut palms, and the vines of a jungle that threatens to take over.

We stare at gray rain that sews up the garden of our lodge, Posada El Zapote.

My husband, Dale, sways in the only good hammock, while two cheap fishnet hammocks attempt to strangle me. I retreat to our room to nap on the hard little bed and dream of Semuc Champey hiding beyond the rain.

I dream of Semuc Champey hiding beyond the rain.

I wake when silence strikes like a gong, announcing the rain’s halt at 10:15 a.m. Dina, one of the lodge owners, hurries to pack us dry cheese sandwiches and small yellow citrus from her garden. By 10:30 we’re waddling like penguins down a steep, muddy, ankle-twisting, one-lane road that Dina calls “la carretera,” (the highway) without a trace of irony in her voice.

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Hiking Mount Audubon: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Colorado

To me, late September means it’s time to hit Colorado’s high country to see the Aspen turn the Rocky Mountains into shimmering gold. I love to drive the Peak-to-Peak Highway to see the show, and that makes a hike at Mount Audubon convenient. I’ve hiked this particular thirteener before (for non-Coloradans, that just means a peak over 13,000 feet). But the first time I didn’t have a video camera, so I thought I’d treat you to a brief video of my second visit.

If you want to visit Mount Audubon and throw in a good fall-foliage drive on the way, I recommend taking Coal Creek Canyon Road to Nederland, then taking the Peak-to-Peak Highway to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You’ll need to pay $9 for a pass. The hike starts at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. It’s about 8 miles round trip, but relatively easy as high-altitude hikes go, and the views of the Continental Divide are a spectacular reward for the effort.  If you’d like a bit more information, check out my post on Indian Summer at Indian Peaks. But if you just want to see what makes this hike worth it, check out this video:

Hiking Mount Audubon: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Colorado from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING RED ROCKS & MORRISON SLIDE LOOP – Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado

The last time I hiked Red Rocks Trail, I started at the Matthews/Winters Park trailhead. But on Monday I wanted to focus more on Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the world’s coolest natural outdoor amphitheatre – except for maybe that floating movie theatre in Thailand. So this time I started from the trailhead at the Lower North Parking Lot of Red Rocks Park. I took Red Rocks Trail to the second junction with the Morrison Slide Trail, making a three-mile lollipop loop. If you do the same basic hike from the Matthews/Winters side, it’s about four miles.

Afterward, I rewarded myself with a short walk up to the amphitheatre. Even when no band is playing, the astonishing gathering of giant, red sandstone slabs rocks! They inspired me to buy tickets to take my teenage sister to see Gotye at Red Rocks next week. I only know a couple of Gotye’s songs, but I like them…and I can’t imagine a bad night at Red Rocks.

If you live in Denver, you probably know how to find Red Rocks. If not, you can go a few ways, but I prefer this one: Hampden/285 South, turn onto CO-470 toward I-70, take the Morrison Road exit, turn left, and follow the road through town as it changes names. When it becomes Highway 93, follow the signs to Red Rocks. You’ll need to wind through the park to hit the lower north lot. To start from the more hikerly trailhead, take 6th Avenue to I-70 to Highway 93 south, to Matthews/Winters Park. Here’s my promo for the amphitheatre trailhead: I saw a couple of deer there, which you’ll see in this video:

Hiking Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre – Red Rocks & Morrison Slide Loop from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING GEM LAKE – Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and you don’t even have to pass through the official park entrance to reach many a lovely hike. Gem Lake is an easy-ish uphill walk of about 3.4 miles round trip, with rewarding views. Boulders and trees open up to show off 14,259-foot Long’s Peak and a range of 13ers, as you hike from nearly eight-thousand to nearly nine-thousand feet. The lake at the top is really more of a pond, but it’s surrounded by stunning granite formations. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind being harassed by small gangs of thieving chipmunks. I recommend going on a weekday for peace and quiet, and a chance to see raptors. We went on Monday, July 16, and even then we passed plenty of tourists.

The Gem Lake Trail is easy to find. Take US 36 to downtown Estes Park. From there, head north on MacGregor Avenue, which turns into Devils Gulch Road. Go less than a mile past the gateway to MacGregor Ranch, and turn left at the sign for the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The parking lot isn’t far off Devils Gulch Road. Here’s a short video of a few things you might see along the trail, and yes, that sound at the end is a small afternoon thunderstorm:

Hiking Gem Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING BARR LAKE WILDLIFE REFUGE: Easy Walk to a Wealth of Animals

If you like easier hikes, this is a good summer to watch my Colorado hiking videos. In January, I had surgery to remove part of a herniated disc that put pressure on my spine, but not before it damaged the nerves in my left foot. I expect to get my strength back, but nerves can take up to a year to re-grow. So for now, I’m discovering that flat or rolling hikes are not only easier on a weak foot, but can also be a delight to the eye. Case in point: Barr Lake WIldlife Refuge, where my husband Dale and I went on Monday, and saw more animals than we usually see on our hikes.

Barr Lake State Park is only 40 minutes from Denver, yet it’s a trip into the wild. We saw: deer, herons, egrets, pelicans, rabbits, red winged blackbirds, and many sherbet-colored birds we couldn’t identify. If you don’t go during the hottest part of the day like we did, you might also see: badgers, foxes, bald eagles, falcons, and hawks. All that and more on a flat, three-mile round-trip from the Nature Center to the Gazebo, including boardwalks and nature blinds.

To visit Barr Lake from Denver: take I-76 east 16.8 miles to Bromley Lane, turn right onto Bromley/East 152nd, go about 1 mile to Picadilly Road and turn right again. In 2 miles, you’ll see the entrance on the right. A day pass for your car is $7. Don’t forget binoculars, to get a closer look at animals like the ones in this video. Keep your eye out for the killdeer that plays dead to lure us from her nest:

Hiking Barr Lake Wildlife Refuge from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING HERMAN GULCH TO THE CITADEL – A Thirteener Just Off Colorado’s I-70

I prefer hiking Colorado’s thirteeners (13,000-foot-peaks) to its fourteeners, because they’re less crowded with peak baggers, yet equally beautiful and often just as challenging. The Herman Gulch trail to The Citadel kicked my butt, and I loved every moment. I was surprised to discover such a wild and untamed jewel so close to I-70.

Many hikers stop at Herman Lake, below Pettingell Peak. But after that it keeps getting better, as the jagged towers of The Citadel appear. The eight-mile round-trip hike took longer than my husband Dale and I anticipated, so I only made it to a patch of high rock just below the twin summits. Even from there, I had a stunning view of the Continental Divide. I plan to return to conquer both peaks.

It’s easy to drive to the Herman Gulch Trail from the Denver area. Take I-70 West and get off at exit 218, the next exit after Bakerville. Bear right on the .1 mile service road, which dead-ends at the trailhead. Here’s what you’ll see when you hit the trail:

Hiking Herman Gulch to The Citadel – near Bakerville, Colorado from Cara Lopez Lee on Vimeo.

HIKING BRIDAL VEIL FALLS – Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado

Do you have a thing for waterfalls? If you’ve read my memoir, you know that my favorite hikes embrace “many waters and signs of water.” Bridal Veil Falls fits that description, and it’s as romantic a sight as the name promises. It’s more like many veils, trailing one into another. My husband and I enjoyed a picnic there last September. It was really just lunch pulled out of our backpacks, but the setting made it a picnic, a glorious feast for the eyes and ears. We needed real grub for our mouths, too – the hike is relatively easy, but it is six miles round-trip.

Bridal Veil Falls is just outside Estes Park in northeast Rocky Mountain National Park. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay a fee. From Estes Park, head north on Devils Gulch Road for four miles, then bear left on McGraw Ranch Road for 2.1 miles to the Cow Creek Trailhead. I suggest going early, because parking is very limited and fills early. Take the Cow Creek Trail, which starts as a gravel road through the ranch’s research facility, empties into a meadow, then narrows into a single track that loosely follows the creek. Most of the hike is low and rolling, leading to a steep uphill push to the falls. When you think you’ve reached the falls, don’t stop – that’s only the beginning, as you’ll see in this video: