“If your dog is fat,” the old saying goes, “you aren’t getting enough exercise.” But walking the dog need not be just about a little exercise. Here are 10 cool things you can see around Colorado Springs while you hike with your dog.
The New Santa Fe Trail runs more than five miles through the United States Air Force Academy and with your eyes skyward you can see parachutists and gliders practicing from the trail. From the Thunderbird Overlook you can observe cadets maneuvering all sorts of aircraft from sail planes to military jets.
Abert’s squirrel is easily recognized by its tufted ears and dapper white paws. Abert’s squirrels rely almost totally on the Ponderosa pine for its existence. They nibble the inner bark and gobble buds, seeds and flowers from the tree. Up in the branches they build nests of twigs. Active during the day, a good place to spot the Abert’s squirrel is along the Black Forest trails where two of every three squirrels in the woods is an Abert’s.
BALD EAGLES AND PEREGRINE FALCONS
Scan the tops of dead trees as you make your way along the multi-use trail north from Fountain Creek Regional Park. Here, along the creek two bald eagles make their home, feasting on the rich variety of wildlife that are attracted to this rich diversity of this park.
A dozen species of orchids grow naturally in Colorado and the largest, the yellow lady’s slipper, is found in this area. Also known as the moccasin flower, the plant is recognized by pointed emerald green leaves and shoe-shaped yellow flowers. Look for it growing alone in aspen glades in moist conditions. Go find one on the Lovell Gulch Trail out of Woodland Park.
COLORADO’S STATE ANIMAL
There are more Bighorn Sheep in Colorado than anywhere in America and it is the state animal. Grayish-brown in color with a white rump patch, the showy coiled horns can make up 10% of the sheep’s 200-250 pounds of body weight. A herd on Pikes Peak numbers around 300 animals and look for them when hiking near the timberline feeding in meadows, woodlands and alpine tundra. Bighorns are not fussy eaters – any of 100 different species of plant will make a fine meal.
Catamount Falls on the Catamount Trail is a delight in every season and is near the start of the trail making it accessible for any level of canine hiker. In winter the frozen surface hides the racing water under a thick coat of ice. True aficionados of plunging water will want to visit Helen Hunt Falls and make the hike to St. Marys Falls in North Cheyenne Canon Park. No survey of El Paso County waterfalls would be complete without an easy ramble to the Waterfall Spur on the Paul Intemann Trail in Bear Creek Regional Park.
When hiking around Colorado Springs often you are hiking on the floor of an ancient ocean. Left behind when the waters receded are rock formations carved by water and wind that often defy description. The Garden of Gods are the trails everyone goes to for its famous red rocks; for white sandstone formations try hiking the Mount Herman Trail.
Many plants rely solely on the whims of feeding birds to spread their seeds and expand their range. Not so the popping mistletoe. A slight jostle to this parasitic plant while hiking the trail detonates a silent botanical explosion that propels a seed as far as 40 feet. The mistletoe is part of the rich understory of groundcover in Fox Run Regional Park.
SPORTS HALL OF FAME
After working your way up Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail – the longest trail to a fourteener summit in Colorado – you can study the names of the members of the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, engraved on a plaque overlooking America. After many decades of international sporting success the United States began lagging behind other countries in the 1970s. To that point athletes trained on their own with no government support. Colorado Springs was selected as the site for the new Olympic Training Center in 1977 in part for the opportunity to have athletes train at high altitude in the foothills.
The Starsmore Discovery Center in North Cheyenne Canon Park is a 1920s stone house originally on Nevada and Cheyenne roads. The 250-ton rock building was moved to the mouth of Cheyenne Canyon to serve as an education center. Your dog can’t visit but you can see the historic Rock Ledge Ranch when hiking in the Garden of the Gods.