Red Mountain Open Space – A walk through time


Geological and scenic wonder in the Red Mountain Open Space outside of Ft. Collins, CO.

As I type this article, it is 15F and snowy out.

The skies are gray and the wind is a little fierce.

It is a gray, if a bit colder than normal, November day.

But this past weekend? It was an unusually warm November weekend.

Sunny and almost 70.

A chance to get in a climb on Saturday. And to explore a newer open space  area on Sunday.

Red Mountain Open Space has only been open since 2009.

Less than thirty miles north of Ft. Collins, CO, it takes in an area that is often ignored in many foothill jaunts.

The Red Mountain Open Space is an anomaly in the High Plains that is often  called “The Big Hole”; essentially a canyon in this otherwise vast and open area.

Hiking in this place, a person can see the millions of years of rock formations in the strata. A “layer cake” as it is often described.  Rocks that are  three-billion years old can be found.  And more recent artifacts of nomadic plains tribes can be seen along with some remnants of homesteads. My someone, an ardent amateur geologist, loved this place.   This area is also a key migration corridor for wildlife.

Good example of the layer cake motif.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent here  because of the unique scenery, abundant wildlife and scarcity of people (other than the first mile or so).

Pronghorn we saw on the drive in. We also spotted golden eagles and red-tail hawks.

After driving through the edge of the High Plains, we reached the trailhead . Within minutes of hiking, we knew we were in for a treat.

someone stopped quite a bit with her enthusing over the geology. She quickly made the age of the rocks at 3 bn years. A handy kiosk confirmed her facts!

We continued along enjoying the scenery. Classic western terrain with the arroyos, buttes and open spaces.  We soon reached  the start of Ruby Wash.

We turned into the canyon and soon stumbled upon an old homestead.

With a nearby creek and protection from the elements, it was an obvious place to “set up shop”.  No surprise, nomadic tribes also sheltered in this same area in the past.

As we went further up the wash, we were reminded a little bit of areas on the Colorado Plateau.

My someone also stumbled upon a freshly broken off piece of calcite that glimmered in the afternoon sun. A few more weeks, at best,  and erosion would remove the luster.

We took a trail above the wash and we were rewarded with a striking view.

Again, I could only think this scenery as something out of a classic movie Western.

We started to close our loop and made our way through the small canyon. The afternoon light was warm on the canyon walls.

We soon made it back to our car; already making plans to come back to this and/or other nearby areas. A unique place we’ll need to explore more!


If you should go….

  • The  Red  Mountain Open Space website has all the info you need (directions, map and connection to other nearby open space). It is only about 30 minutes or so from Ft. Collins.
  • Note that the open space is closed from December to February due to winter road conditions and protecting the wildlife corridor.
  • Mountain bikes are allowed on some trails as well as horses. But once past the two-mile loop option, we saw only a handful of people.
  • No dogs are allowed in this open space.

 Post hike ….

After the hike, someone and I went to Ft. Collins.  We’ve always enjoyed our time there. A bit more relaxed than Boulder (and  less pretentious).   There are more jobs and outdoor access where we live now, but we still like the vibe of Ft. Collins quite a bit. So we try to get up there once or twice a year.

For grins, we went to the new Sierra Trading Post outlet in town. 

I remember when I used to order from STP back in the day or even stop in their Cheyenne, WY HQ once I moved to Colorado.  Lots of discount thermal layers ,hats, socks, shells, shoes and so on.  A mixture of clearance, factory seconds and closeouts.   Now? Telling that the gear section is very small and the outdoor clothing itself is the minority of clothing carried.  Looks like STP is now positioning itself as a discount “life-style” clothing company.   I did manage to get some needed trail running socks that were factory seconds  (2 for $8)…not sure we’ll be back anytime soon.

So it goes.

For dinner, we both loved the Crown Pub. Good beer selection, quiet, good food and not expensive. We’ll be back there as well!


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6 years ago

I agree with you on the Sierra Trading Post in Fort Collins. It is nothing like the original in Cheyenne, which I very much enjoyed going to.