Location: Poudre Canyon, Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado
Access: From Tedís Place drive west on Hwy 14 to the town of Poudre Park. Trailhead is 1/8 mile past the general store.
Trail: 3 miles one-way, easy, 570 ft elevation gain
Trailhead: NAD83 zone 13 473789e 4504337n  Elevation: 5716'
Maps: Trails Illustrated 1:40K: Cache La Poudre/Big Thompson #101; USGS 1:24K: Poudre Park
Dogs: Not signed, but presumed to be voice-control, off-leash OK
Weather: Current conditions nearby (Hewlett Gulch always has less snow than surrounding trails)
               Local Forecast


March 31, 2006

I studied the forecast anxiously the evening prior, just to make sure they really meant it when they said "clear skies in the morning". Clear skies had been such a rarity of late that I was dubious of their claim. Nevertheless, with only 12 hours to go, they were sticking to it, so I decided to plan on taking Friday off and spending it hiking. At 5:30 it began to get light out, and I looked out my bedroom window and, sure enough, it was clear as a bell. Invigorated by this, I showered and dressed quickly, said goodbye to Andra as she trudged off to work, then corralled the dogs in the car and sped off south towards the Poudre River, my favorite river. 

Being a Friday in March, the highway that twisted along the shallow waters of the Poudre River was empty, freeing me to putter along at whatever speed my subconscious preferred. Makenzie and Frank stood up in the backseat when we reached the river entrance, coming to life at the sound of the tires buzzing over the cattle guard. Whines and general anxst rose up like a cloud form the backseat, and I chuckled to know they were as excited about me to be outdoors this morning, though I refrained from panting and fogging the windows.

I didnít have far to go to the new access road at Hewlett Gulch, shortly past the tiny settlement of Poudre Park. Before about 2003, everyone just parked along the road and took their chances with speeding cars. Sometime in the last couple of years, the Forest Service constructed a small parking lot about 100 meters north of the road, allowing one to get out of the car without fear of losing a shoulder. The lot was empty, heralding a quiet hike ahead. The sun was shining brightly through a translucent blue sky whose depth could not be gauged. I was lucky to arrive on a warm, sunny day that was, as yet, calm. Wind always seems to ride shotgun with the sun during spring in these parts. 

The dogs spilled out of the carís back door like wiggling worms, and fanned out like an army squad across the pavement, sniffing and swerving their heads this way and that, taking it all in. I envy their enjoyment of smells. I smell things, of course, but clearly not to the extent the dogs do. A blind man never knows what heís missing in sight, and it may be we humans just canít imagine what weíre missing with our "base-model" noses. I shouldered my water pack, and we were off. 

The trail was wide and graveled for a time as it sloped downhill to meet the gurgling waters that run seasonally down Hewlett Gulch. This time of year, the flow was good and the water looked blissfully clear and cold. The open valley was almost entirely devoid of trees. Wheatgrass and Poa species, brown and crisp yet still standing from last summer, lined the trail. An old powerline, ricketed and black from years in the sun, hung limply in broken sections from short wooden poles that stretched up the gulch. A small settlement had once occupied this lonely gulch, with house foundations still visible in spots. The old powerline attests to the fact that the settlement had lasted at least into the 1930ís. The trail crossed the creek for the first of many times, and the dogs, thirsty from the long drive, drank deeply. A woman jogged towards me from up the trail with a giant of a wirehair pointer. I grabbed the dogs collars, lest they bark in surprise, and she ran past with a friendly hello. To my surprise, the dogs completely ignored both the woman and the wirehair, opting instead to burst on down the trail once let loose.  I came upon the first foundation, just a few blocks of hewn rock stacked in a short wall with a vague notion of a concrete floor. I stopped and looked down the gulch at what these inhabitants would have seen everyday as they ventured out the front door. Beautiful pine-clad slopes stretched away in the distance to the south, with blue sky shimmering overhead. I suppose if you saw something like that everyday, you might start to not see it after awhile. Maybe not. 

The trail led matter-of-factly north, sloping up slightly. It narrowed to a path no wider than my feet side by side, and the soft earth revealed deep bicycle tire ruts from the unusually heavy mountain bike traffic this trail receives. I can see why: itís basically a flat trail with few rocks and very few sharp turns. Knowing this trail is a frequently-used bike trail was one reason I chose to hike it on a Friday: less chance of a dog getting run over during the week. Shade cast by the ridge to the east darkened the trail, and cooled things down a little as the valley narrowed between rough, sloping rock walls. Cottonwoods and ponderosa pines had found niches in this steeper area of the gulch, and with the leafy beings came the sound of chirping birds, a wonderful thing to listen to after a long and cold winter.

Within a mile of the trailhead, the trail had reached full-on wonderfulness. The gurgling water provided a backdrop for chattering birds that flitted and streaked from tree to tree in the half-shade, half-sun-drenched canyon floor. Green ponderosa pines mixed with the bare, red shoots of willows by the stream. Dry, windblown-grass mixed with junipers bearing bright blue berries. The dogs padded softly ahead of me, sometimes allowing me to get ahead of them, but always quickly correcting that situation by galloping past and resuming the lead. Several more foundations of old houses lined the trail. The most noticeable remains involved a fireplace and chimney set against the edge of a what appreared to be a multi-room house.  A giant, gnarled cottonwood shaded the entire house, and I wondered if this tree provided welcome afternoon shade for the occupants of this dwelling way back before television, as folks sat out on the front porch and traded stories in the cool, mountain air. Or had they planted this tree with dreams of just that? Was the tree perhaps no more than a sapling when the occupants gave up and moved away? The biggest mystery is, what happened to the rest of these houses? The wooden parts? In this dry mountain air, a wooden shed can stand for a century or more. Did fire wipe them out? Blackened trunks of cottonwoods were in abundance in certain areas, so that seems plausible. 

The trail crossed the streams innumerable times. Makenzie the waterdog laid down in the water up to her neck at every opportunity, quenching her thirst from a convenient laying-down position. At mile 2, the gulch really narrowed up, and thick junipers lined and covered the trail, laying down their fragrant cedar incense as the sun heated their scaly leaves. I felt great to be out walking while the world was busy at work on a Friday morning. Something about the escape from work makes a hike in the woods all the sweeter. My mind rambled over thoughts willy-nilly, all of them seemingly very amusing in my fresh and energetic state of mind. Through a particularly dense stretch of junipers, I found the only recognition of the trail from my stroll down itís hard-packed route from 1997, when I hiked the trail with Katie, a friend from the dorms at CSU. She had just gotten glasses, I recall, and wore bright white tennis shoes that got muddy in the stream crossings. It gives me pause to consider that of the 3-4 hours we spent driving to, hiking along,  and driving home from Hewlett Gulch just 9 years ago, fleeting snapshots totaling 3 scenes are all my mind has stored away. Had it been 9 years since I hiked this easily accessible trail? Must be. While I had driven up the Poudre perhaps a hundred times in the last decade, only twice have I stopped to check out Hewlett Gulch. Thinking this, I glanced up to the east towards the high, rocky ridges, one of which bears the trail up towards Gray Rock, where I had stopped many times to look down on the twisting trail through Hewlett Gulch.

In the shady parts of the trail, the stream crossings were icy, and I cracked through a seemingly thick piece of ice and plunged my foot into shallow water. The trail came out into the open, and forked, with one route leading steeply uphill and the other continuing around a tree-obscured bend in the stream. I chose the latter. It didnít last long, perhaps ½ mile, before it led steeply uphill onto the benches above and melded into an old cattle road that ran along the high, grassy plains north of the canyon, Large ranch houses dotted the landscape to the north, and I could hear the bawling of a calf. I sat by a juniper and drank some water, and noted that Makenzie had discovered a tennis ball that she was quite taken with. I kicked it downhill a few times for her, watching her race with disdain for life and limb down the rocky slope for it, and gladly hauling it back uphill to me. Dogs are so entertaining. We retraced the trail back to the fork, and took the left fork this time. It too led steeply uphill on a rocky grade. It leveled off after it had risen a few hundred feet, and I stopped in the shade of a juniper to down my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My hunger thus awakened, I greedily consumed my granola bar as well, washing it all down with copious amounts of water. Looking down, the influence of the water could be clearly delineated as it fed large cottonwoods, junipers and pines that tapered off with increasing distance to water.  The sun had risen higher and it was getting pretty dang warm out. I sat comfortably in the shade. I consulted my map to see where this road might lead, and noted that it didnít really lead anywhere, just kind of looped around up here and then led vaguely off north. I considered striking off due south cross-country, following the ridgeline back to the parking lot. After a very brief debate with myself, I decided not too. Feeling lazy? Maybe. Instead, I moved back into the sun (getting chilly in the shade and the growing breeze) and read a few pages from The Stand, a really entertaining book about the end of human civilization.  Makenzie implored me through jumps and whines to toss her soggy ball for her, but the terrain was so steep and rocky, I didnít want to risk her breaking an ankle, so I refrained. 

When the time felt right, I pocketed the book and we headed back downhill. Makenzie carried her ball proudly in her mouth, dropping it to drink water at the stream crossings, frantically searching for it after it had drifted a couple of feet downstream, then gladly retrieving it with a  vigorous wag of the trail and scampering off down the trail. We passed two men at different points of the trail, each with their own long-haired black collie-like dog. All friendly. All enjoying this wonderful spring day. The wind was picking up by 10:30, and could be heard whistling in the upper reaches of the gulch, but was still calm down in the bottom. A thin veil of white clouds appeared in the south, obscuring the comforting blue sky.  Time and again Makenzie would "present" the ball to me on the trail, and I would kick it or, sometimes, pick up the slimy thing and toss it down the trail. This seemed to provide everlasting entertainment as she continued to drop the ball ahead of me on the trail every 50 yards for the last 2 miles of the walk. Ironically, when we reached the parking lot she simply dropped the ball and hopped in the car. I am sure some dog later in the day picked up the fun right where she left off. Dogs love balls. I sat down in the car and drove it up the canyon for some other hike to occupy the afternoon. 

Beginning of Hewlett Gulch trail...Makenzie is ready to go!
Slopes above Hewlett Gulch
Ruins along Hewlett Gulch
Hewlett Gulch Trail
Ruins along Hewlett Gulch
Hewlett Gulch Trail
View from where the trail rises up out of Hewlett Gulch onto the uplands
Makenzie with the soggy tennis ball
Rocks along Hewlett Gulch

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