The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Lichen Loop

Saturday, April 4th, 2015 in Colorado
Lichen Loop

Today I made a quick exploratory visit to Heil Valley Ranch. This was my first visit to this park and I was pleased to discover it offers plenty of beautiful landscape, interesting geology, and many miles of trails. There was ample parking available in the south entrance lot, but from what I’ve heard, the lot can fill up quickly on weekends and warm days (so next time I visit I’ll plan to arrive early). In addition to it being a popular hiking location, Heil Valley Ranch is also a great place to go mountain biking or (if you are fortunate enough to own a horse) horseback riding.

I chose to hike the Lichen Loop trail, a gentle 1¼ mile path that wanders through a lovely patch of ponderosa pine forest. From this trail, you can enjoy intermittant views of the Dakota Formation (a sandstone hogback) to the east and the Lykins Formation to the west. It’s interesting to note that the Dakota sandstone to the east is much younger (100 million years old) than the Lykins Formation to the west (280 million years old).

Remnants of snow from a spring storm two days ago left trails very muddy. I’ve since discovered that you can follow @RangerGrady on twitter for the latest trail conditions at Heil Valley Ranch! Very useful.

As you go west from the Boulder Valley—where Pierre Shale lies beneath your feet—to the Niobrara Formation, the Benton Formation, the Dakota Formation, and so on, the rock becomes increasingly ancient. Eventually, the layers strip away, one at a time until all you’re left with is solid granite underfoot by the time you reach the high elevations and the Continental Divide.

The tree-covered ridge in the distance is part of the Dakota Formation, a sandstone hogback formed about 100 million years ago. The grassy area in the foreground is Morrison Formation (formed about 150 million years ago).
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