Riding the Urban Trail: Star K Ranch
United States Colorado Aurora
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Preface: The pictures shown in this adventure were taken over a two day period. We also rode the trail on Aug. 15 (except south Creekside and south Star K Ranch along the Highline) to take more pictures and check the damage the beavers were creating; we were joined by Trish G on Gus.
At the stables, Megan and I prepare for a trail patrol. We carry a first aide kit, maps to the trails for trail visitors, Aurora Parks and Open Space rules, a notebook, camera, snack, latte, water, whistle, SPOT, Swiss Army Knife, halter with lead rope, cell phone, and an energy bar. Megan is trying out a backpack holding a gallon of water. We have sun tan lotion, SPF clothing, helmets, and usually a uniform T-shirt for trail patrol. Now the big debate is who should be wearing SPOT? Should I leave it on my horse and in the case I get separated from Scarlett, we can easily locate her? Or should I wear it and if I get bucked off, the park rangers can find me? Since this is urban riding and I think some safety rules are a bit different than if I was in the wilderness, I am letting Scarlett wear the SPOT device so we can make sure she does not head down I70.
Our stable is located close to the Springhill Golf Course and we ride along side of it to get to the Sand Creek Trail. The toughest part of this ride is dodging errant golf balls. ST, my older horse, has been hit in the butt with a ball and I have had one graze my hat when I was hand walking Scarlett as a filly.
We cross the Highline Trail and the canal itself and through a vacant lot to get to the Sand Creek Trail at Colfax Ave. This is a short cut; the long way takes you down the Highline Trail east and through the desolate Putt Putt Golf Course. We drop under Colfax at the billboard and under a bridge crossing; Aurora Parks and Open Space have made sure that all major street crossings are safe for equestrians. Part of the beauty of the urban trail is urban life and the graffiti under the bridge is sometimes beautiful. I might be one of the few who finds graffiti beautiful and call this area my private seasonal art gallery. I call it seasonal because part of my patrol is to report any new graffiti so that the city can clean it up. Once it is cleaned up the bridge again becomes a clean canvas for the local kids.
Once under the bridge we ride the Sand Creek Regional Greenway to the west. To our right is the industrial park which includes track for trains to ship out goods; another great canvas for graffiti. To the left is Sand Creek, an urban corridor for wildlife to travel into Denver. On the other edge of Sand Creek is the Woodshire East Mobil Home Park. As we ride this section of the trail, wildlife abounds in the creek. We see a huge beaver dam and many damaged trees, deer, Great heron, mallard ducks, egrets, snakes, and other small rodents. We cross over two bridges; one metal and one cement before we get to Airport Blvd, our next major street crossing. The horse trail drops down deep under the bridge next to the creek and pops up at the Sand Creek Trail and Airport Blvd trail head. This part of the trail winds through the Star K Ranch which contains many horse trails. Today’s ride will include Creekside Crossing, the Highline Trail, and a trail we call the Roller coaster.
Creekside Trail meanders along the creek bottom of Sand Creek, crossing the creek in several places. At certain times of the year, the horses have to actually swim across the creek. We take a small switch back to the southern most side of the Star K Ranch and see our young deer and Mom. We ride on the ridge above the creek until we get to Roller coaster (it is the first time Scarlett will do this trail); trust me the last drop is a heart stopper and you must put complete trust in your horse. We circle back to the east along the Highline Trail where houses line the southern side; and then connect back to the north and west sides of Creekside.
Along the western edge of Creekside we see many trees that have been chewed down by beaver. You can see where they have drug the smaller branches to the creek to float them down to their dam. From this trail we pop back up to the Sand Creek Regional Greenway at the cement factory and ride back to the Morrison Nature Center.
The path to the nature center offers a look at the many uses for this area. We pass a Wetlands Preserve with nature trail, bags and trash for canine visitors, a pen for horses so you can enjoy lunch and beer at Emilene's Sirloin House or visit the nature center, a watering station for horses, an outhouse, trailer parking, several interpretive trails, and of course the Morrison Nature Center. This previous home to Pop Stark now offers learning opportunities to visitors of the area about the area. From here, we circle back to the Sand Creek Regional Greenway and back home along the same route passing the golf course one more time. It was a good patrol as we covered a lot of trail with no incidences and no errant golf balls.