Nuclear Hiking : A walk through Rocky Flats

LThe land that was once considered one the most polluted places on earth has now been cleaned up (we hope) and is now open to limited recreation, known now as Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.  And guess what?  You can hike there…for free!

Admittedly, this hike does have a bit of an odd feel to it knowing that nuclear triggers were made here.  However,  it did not have the ‘eerie’ feel that the area around Los Alamos has (the place recognized as the birthplace of the atomic bomb) which has a strong government town atmosphere and feels as though it holds many secrets.  Rocky Flats is more out in the open, kind of in your face, whereas Los Alamos is hidden behind trees and rocks. At the Flats, the Department of Energy still has a presence at the refuge monitoring the site. I noticed there are still large mountains of dirt being moved around by heavy machinery creating dust that gets carried in whatever direction the wind blows.  Let’s hope that this dust is nothing more than common everyday dust.

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Earth moving operations

If nothing else, the refuge provides the area with some new trails to try out and is considerably different than any other hike that you can do near Boulder. There is a reason why the area is called Rocky Flats as it is the flattest hike I have done in Colorado.

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The ‘Flat’ in Rocky Flats

The view of the Flatirons in Boulder is very good from here but I found myself looking at them wishing I had chosen to be in the scenery instead of viewing it from a distance.

A few notes about the hike:

  1. The park service allows hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians on its 11 miles of trails.
  2. The path is mostly gravel and dirt suitable for mountain bikes but probably not road bikes.
  3. The main entrance is just off of Colorado state highway 128 and has free parking for about 10-12 vehicles. There are really no services at the trailhead but there is a portable toilet.  There was also no fee to enter the refuge, that I could see.
  4. The trail is very exposed, with only a few trees, and virtually no shade.
  5. I saw little to no wildlife during my hike, a common sparrow being the only fauna I noticed. However, I was hiking in late morning, not the best time to view animals. The park brochure mentions deer, elk, prairie dogs, coyotes, jackrabbits and porcupines as animals that you might see.
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At the trailhead, for your reading pleasure

In summary, this is a place of contrasts where you have abandoned ranches next to modern wind generators, protecting wildlife in a place that once made nuclear weapons, and maybe the least important was the hike itself which was a flat prairie hike in full view of the beautiful foothills around Boulder. The hike is one that I would most likely not do again but in fairness, I haven’t seen the whole 11 miles of trails within the refuge.  If you like flat, treeless hikes with great views of the mountains, this is the place for you.  It just wasn’t for me.

I give this hike a ‘glowing’ review! 😬

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Just outside the refuge boundary, an artist with a very strong opinion
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Hike: Tsankawi Trail – Bandelier National Monument

Hiking the Tsankawi Trail in Bandelier National Monument is truly a unique trek.  It is located in the high desert of New Mexico near the city of Los Alamos in the Tsankawi section of the park.  This is a less traveled area than the more famous section of the park proper and it made for an interesting, unexpected side trip.

Part of the appeal of this area of the park, to be honest, is that there are far fewer people here.  This means that you can really take your time exploring this relatively short 1.5 mile hiking trail.  Not long after you leave the trailhead, you get to climb a wooden ladder (fun) to get up onto a ridge that leads you to the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. There isn’t much left of the village itself but the area is littered with pottery shards, one of the very few places left where you can actually touch history. The pieces are small but you can clearly see the colored lines that were painted onto the pots.

After leaving the pottery shards of the village behind, it was onto some of the most unique aspects of any hike anywhere in the world. The Ancestral Pueblo villagers walked the same paths so often that they ended up wearing out the rocks to the point where it looks like a bobsled course winding its way through an Olympic venue. I can’t describe how totally awestruck I was by this and by the fact that the National Park Service still allows people to hike on it (thank you NPS).

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I’m just going to keep the words at a minimum here and let all of the photographs speak.  If you’re ever in Northern New Mexico and want a truly unique hike, without many people, some Native American history, and stunning high desert scenery, check this place out.  It is such an interesting, and very easy walk.

If you’re looking for a great place to eat après hike, Tomasitas in Santa Fe is the perfect locale to refuel. The food is consistently outstanding and the location at the Railyard District is just minutes away from the famous plaza. Try the roast beef burrito and be sure to eat the sopapillas with honey butter.  After that, consider finishing off the evening with a cold one at the Second Street Brewery, just right around the corner.

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Editor in Chief, Kimberly, posing with a strawberry quark at the Second Street Brewery