Trail of the Week: Uranium Mine Trail (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The creek at the end of the Uranium Mine Trail makes it all worth it. The hike is a little rocky and very exposed, so therefore, very hot during a summer in Steamboat Springs. The creek made me forget about all the sweat dripping down my back, though.
The Uranium Mine Trail is about 3 miles out and back, passing by an old, you guessed it, uranium mine before dipping down to the North Fork Fish Creek where weary hikers can soak their tired feet and cool off before returning to their cars.
That might be a bit dramatic, but only a bit. The trail soaks up all the sun, with little shade. A hat and some sunscreen, even early in the morning, is a good idea. The beauty of this trail though, is that most overlook it and instead, go to Fish Creek Falls. The Uranium Mine trailhead is smack dab between the upper and lower parking lots at Fish Creek Falls, with a sign marking the start of the hike. Don’t forget to pay $5 to access Routt National Forest.
The sound of the falls gets louder as you climb, but then fades as you get farther away. Peaks of the resort peek out above Fish Creek Canyon.
Upon reaching the top, the trail bears right through a small grove of some of the largest aspens I’ve ever seen. They provide a welcome stretch of shade that vanishes far too quickly. Then the trail turns upward again, but at the top of the hill, is the mine. Across the trail is an old railroad track and nearby, an informative sign. Facing the sign you’ll be looking the right direction to see the old mine, hidden behind a tree just off the trail.
The mine was used for a short period of time in the early 1950s. It was soon determined to not be economically responsible for mining and abandoned. The area has been closed off, since the mine could potentially collapse and is hazardous to due radon gas. There is no danger in hiking up to the mine, just don’t attempt to enter it.
Near the mine is a large rock offering views of the canyon. Watch your step though, as old, but not forgotten tracks criss cross across the area.
Uranium is a heavy metal that has been used as a source of energy for years. The isotope, or variation, of uranium known as U-235 is burned to generate heat in a nuclear reactor.
The beauty of uranium is it generates a lot of heat with a relatively small amount of the element. When a stray neutron hits a uranium atom, it splits, or fissions, and releases energy in the form of heat. The split sends more neutrons flying, creating a chain reaction that generates a huge amount of heat. The heat creates steam to generate electricity.
That may seem like the place to turn around, but the trail actually continues. Down the hill is the North Fork Fish Creek. Even during a particularly dry summer such as this one, the creek is full. With a few large rocks nearby, there is space to sit and dip your toes, or walk straight into the creek. It’s cold, but the type of refreshing cold that hikers crave on a summer day.
Unfortunately, the chill of the water can’t stay with you for the whole hike back to the lot, and the day was only getting hotter as the sun got higher. I was happy to have an extra water bottle in the car.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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The 11th annual STARS Biking the Boat fundraising bike ride is moving from its usual September slot to June 19.