An Arctic cold front is about to hit Denver, so I take the opportunity of a day off from work to get out of town while the getting is still good. Patches of snow cover the brown hills, the ground frozen solid under a slate gray sky.
Horses take notice of my passage as I ascent silently out of the plains and into the foothills.
Dormant grasses of winter line the side of the trail. The chill in the air is palpable but physical exertion soon warms me and I stop to peel off a layer. A thick forest of dark fir covered in snow appears on the slope to the left but here in front of me are solitary ponderosa keeping vigil from their heights above the plains.
At the top of a hill I encounter a lone mountain biker talking a break. We talk about the weather, trail conditions, and the paucity of visitors today, His partner emerges on his bike from the Rawhide Trail and they pedal on.
Hiking on to the Sawmill Hikers’ Camp, I sit on a log and have lunch while surveying the open ponderosa forest around me. The sun hangs as a dim orb, barely penetrating the southern sky. Cold creeps into the marrow of my bones, so I get up and walk on.
Randomly, I turn onto the Longhorn Trail, a single-track covered in a thin layer of snow and ice. It winds in and out of one drainage, then another, providing views eastward toward the hogback and the city beyond, huddled under a layer of brown smog.
At a bend in the trail, I see two horsemen a short distance off the trail. Both are bundled up against the cold. One is wearing a cowboy hat with earflaps and a green coat with some kind of badge affixed to it. We exchange brief greetings and I hike on. A little later, I catch the scent of horses behind me. The horsemen never attempt to pass and keep the same distance from me all the way back to the trailhead. I guess I should feel safer being followed by two park rangers but am feeling a bit paranoid. Maybe I’ve seen too many westerns. Did I unknowingly violate some park rule? Will they give me a ticket at the trailhead? It doesn’t make me feel better when I hear one tell the other at the trailhead, “You do up the paperwork, and I’ll meet up with you later.”
So far, I’ve gotten nothing in the mail. I’ll let you know if I do.