Waterton Canyon: A glorious “in between a rock and a hard place”

October 2013 has been one of my favorite months ever. The reason? I’ve been in between a rock and a hard place…in a figurative and literal sense. I’m between projects, have more time to myself than usual and am learning the value of how to just slow down time; that leaving the house at 6:20 a.m. for boot camp and going at warp speed ’til my head hits the pillow is not an optimal way to live.

I’m impatient, I admit it. I feel like The Next Big Thing is around the corner but I’m not sure when or how it will manifest itself. I’m torn between valuing my rare free time while the kids are in school and the nagging guilt of helping our financial situation.

Spring and fall are called the “shoulder seasons” in mountain country…a sort of in-between before the main events of winter and summer. I’m experiencing an in-between season in my life, which is both unsettling and gratifying. But I always have to be moving so I’m trying to remind myself that any progress, no matter how slow, is still progress.

In the interim, I’m seizing the day and knocking off as many bucket list items as possible. One of those is biking the entirety of Waterton Canyon in Littleton, Colorado. This 7-mile-long canyon marks the beginning of  the famous 486-mile Colorado Trail, which roller-coasters its way through six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges from from Denver to Durango,  topping out at 13,271 feet.

The year before I met Jamie and still lived in Utah, I biked the very end of the Colorado Trail in Durango (read about that adventure and my first 14er in Solo in the San Juans: Exploring Colorado’s Highway to Heaven). Fast-forward 12 years and I biked the beginning of Colorado’s premier long-distance trail. I’m great at beginnings and endings; it’s just the middle stuff that gets murky sometimes.

My family has hiked a portion of Waterton Canyon a couple of times and I attempted to bike it a couple of years ago but didn’t get far on my heavy, outdated mountain bike. But I had no problems last week navigating the wide, relatively flat gravel road beside the South Platte River on my new 29er. A fair number of people were hiking, fishing, running and biking the lower portion of the canyon but the crowds dispersed the further I rode and my only companion was a lone bighorn sheep.

I monitored my distance by the six rest areas, all named after different animals that live in the canyon: Mule Deer, Blue Heron, Black Bear, Mountain Lion, Rattlesnake, and Bighorn Sheep. Signage at each outpost educates you about each of them.

October is such a generous month with its fall colors on display. Everywhere you look the world is giving back.

Upon nearly reaching the Strontia Springs Reservoir (which is closed to the public) and Denver Water buildings at mile 7, the flat, multi-use road arced upward, leading to a much narrower singletrack to the some of the wildest inaccessible backcountry in the Rocky Mountains.

I hid my bike behind a tree and started hiking the Indian Creek Trail. While Waterton Canyon was expansive and broad, I was inundated with trees–making me feel a bit nervous in this inaccessible wilderness.

I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours by myself on the trail but for some reason, this felt different. Though it was beautiful, I felt nervous to be so completely alone. I’m used to hearing the subtle movement of hidden animals in the trees but after about 40 minutes of hiking, I heard breathing. I called out, hopeful for a human voice but was greeted by silence. Bear sighting signs littered the canyon and I deemed that as my sign to high-tail it back and collect my bike.

I arrived at the car three hours later after biking 14 miles and hiking about 3 miles. I then proceeded to get hurt (wait for it) on the hitch while I was putting my bike in the car.

You win some, you lose some when living between a rock and a hard place.


Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to C-470. Take C-470 east to Wadsworth Boulevard. Take a right at the bottom of the exit ramp and drive 4.2 miles. Turn left on Waterton Road. The parking lot will be about a quarter of a mile down and on your left.

Other Posts