Trail of the Week: Red Dirt (with video)
Mad Creek is almost always busy. So if you can’t find a spot or don’t have the energy to dodge hikers and bikers every five minutes, drive a half-mile up Routt County Road 129 to the next trailhead. On the right is a sign and pull-off for the Red Dirt Trail and the Christina State Wildlife Area.
Red Dirt Trail is named aptly, as the initial ascent is up a hill of red clay dirt. The greenery of early June was a gorgeous contrast to the warm-colored ground. Tall grasses, flowers and sagebrush lapped at the edge of the trail, tickling our ankles and calves. Bugs and bees buzzed in our ears and forced a pit stop to reapply bug spray.
Unlike Mad Creek and the historic barn, the Red Dirt Trail doesn’t have an obvious destination. Though thanks to the Saddle Trail that branches off after a mile or so, you could get to the barn from Red Dirt.
The beauty of Red Dirt is hikers can turn around whenever they please. It extends 6.4 miles before becoming Ditch Creek Trail. A lot of the trail is exposed, though, so an early start is required if this abnormal June heat persists.
The entire trail is a gradual climb, but the worst of it is in the first half mile. Then, the ascent tapers out and is far more casual. At the top of the hill, hikers enter a small section of Alpine forest, which feels foreign after navigating the environment of scrub oak and sagebrush. The evergreens soon break way to aspens and ferns and endless swaths of wildflowers.
I have never seen so many columbines before hiking the Red Dirt Trail. A small cluster was followed by another bunch a few feet away before I realized there were dozens of columbine clusters in front of me.
The Lupines were fading fast, but there were tiny white flowers everywhere, large pink ones that demanded to be appreciated, and flowering bushes of every size. My contacts were burning after the short hike, but suffering from some allergy symptoms are worth taking in the early season wildflowers.
Descending was dusty and dry, so be careful. More often than not, hikers get injured going downhill since they are tired and antsy to get back to the car and get food and a refreshment. Take your time on the crumbly trail, and you’ll get views of Elk Mountain, also called Sleeping Giant, from a totally new angle.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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