The Flatirons, near Boulder, are some of the most dramatic rock formations in the Foothills. Peaches and I have been trying to get some good pictures of them ever since we moved to Niwot. We have had no luck; I don't have enough zoom on the camera, and the proper atmospheric conditions are not as common as they used to be. The winter air is usually hazy (and smoggy) because of temperature inversions and the increase in humidity of recent years. We decided the best idea would be to get up into them so we wouldn't have to deal with any of these problems and we also need the exercise.

We had gotten a booklet with some local trails from the local newspaper, and one described a trail to the Royal Arch, a natural bridge in the Flatirons. The hike was only three miles and was rated a '2' out of five for difficulty, so we figured we could do it in a morning. I wanted to get an early start, so we headed out about 8AM and got to Chautauqua Park around 8:30. Chautauqua is on the southwest side of Boulder and is the starting point for most of the trails on the east side of Boulder Mountain Park. Their website is very good. They have many maps and other information which we found extremely useful. Go to http://www.ci.boulder.co.us/bmp/ and see what I mean.

Anyway, I never like anybody else's maps, so I made the one on the left showing our route. Chautauqua is at the upper right. This is an historic district with many older houses. It seems to be full of academics and artistic types. The directions in the book suggested taking the Bluebell-Mesa Trail to the picnic area. This turned out to be inefficient as the trail climbs a ridge only to drop back down to the picnic area, so we wasted some energy early on which we could have used in the event. The easier way is to walk up the Bluebell Road to the picnic area; the real climbing starts there.

This was the first decent shot we had of the rocks. It was taken at the picnic area and is the First Flatiron. The Flatirons are part of the Fountain sandstone formation that is prevalent in many areas of the foothills. This is the same formation that makes up the rocks at Red Rocks Park near Morrison. The Flatirons are even more spectacular than the Red Rocks formations, rising to about 7200 feet. The strata has been pushed nearly vertical here as will be seen in some of the later photos. This is another area of fascinating geology that I need to explore further. The Boulder Mountain Park is foul with trails, so it will probably take us a year or so to hike them all. It is hard to get a good overall photo even here because of all the trees. We thought that we would have some good views from the trail, but it is heavily wooded. The other image was taken on the way down from the Arch, but it shows the forest to good effect. This is representative of what the hike is like; you don't get many good views until you get to the Arch itself. This is good as we needed all our concentration. The trail is very rocky and there was a lot of snow, even though it has been relatively dry and warm of late. The snow had turned to ice, making walking treacherous in spots. It's a mile or so from the picnic area to the Arch, so this took us about another hour; apparently, the people who write the trail descriptions are in much better shape than we are.
This is a picture of the Arch from the trail. You are almost right on top of it (so to speak) before you see it because of the trees and the steepness of the trail. It's hard to get a good shot of the Arch because there isn't really anyplace to stand to take it all in. I had studied the map and was wondering why the trail stopped at the Arch. This is because there is a large dropoff on the other side.

The second shot is taken from about as far out as I could get on the south side.

This is the view to the southeast. The building is the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). There are a number of trails that start from there and wind up into the southern part of the Flatirons.
This is the view to the east down Skunk Canyon. You can see that we have gained quite a bit of elevation. The Arch itself is at about 6940 feet.
This is the view to the northeast over Boulder. You can see a good distance from up here. I have marked Niwot which is probably fifteen miles from the Arch. The IBM plant is to the left. Gunbarrel is a subdivision that is considered part of Boulder. The red-roofed buildings at the bottom of the picture are the CU campus. Longmont is at the very top of the picture.

You can also see the 'brown cloud' that hovers over the Platte Valley and Denver Basin this time of year.

This is the view of the Third Flatiron north of the Arch. You can see the extreme tilt of the strata in these shots.
This is a picture I took of Peaches from the rock next to the Arch. She forgot to bring food, so she is munching on the small conifer in front of her. Most parts are edible. It was difficult to climb up here, but well worth the effort as I could catch her off guard.