South Valley Park

A hogback of Cretaceous sandstone forms the eastern edge of the Colorado Front Range, rising sharply from the Piedmont.  Just west of this hogback is the Morrison Valley, underlaid with Jurassic shale; at its western edge is the Lyons Formation (Permian in age), a yellow-gray ridge of sandstone.  West of this ridge are the scenic red rocks, outcrops of salmon-colored Pennsylvanian sandstone known as the Fountain Formation.  Shrublands of Gambel's oak, junipers and yucca-studded meadows cover the lowlands between the rock ridges, spreading onto lower slopes of the Front Range foothills.

South Valley Park, part of Jefferson County's Open Space System, stretches north from Deer Creek Canyon to Ken-Caryl Ranch; the refuge provides access to the foothill shrubland ecosystem and offers spectacular views of both the rock formations mentioned above and the foothills to the west.  A combined loop using the Coyote Song and Swallow Trails, perhaps the most popular route in the Park, yields a hike of 2.7 miles; parking lots are located on Deer Creek Canyon Road and along South Valley Road (just south of Ken-Carly Ranch).  Permanent avian residents of South Valley Park include golden eagles, scrub jays, black-billed magpies, spotted towhees, canyon wrens and gray-headed juncos; among the summer residents are white-throated swifts, Say's phoebes, black-headed grosbeaks, lazuli buntings, green-tailed towhees, lesser goldfinches, rock wrens and Virginia's warblers while Townsend's solitaires, Steller's jays, northern shrikes, golden-crowned sparrows and rosy finches may visit during the colder months.  Mammalian residents include mule deer, red fox, coyotes, rock squirrels, and Colorado chipmunks; black bear and mountains lions are rarely encountered and herds of elk winter in the valley.

Today, thanks to the ongoing thaw, patches of slushy snow and sandy mud coated the trails but the mild air and clear skies made my hike especially pleasant.  Scrub jays, towhees and magpies provided a steady background chorus and small herds of mule deer browsed along the meadows.  Though I repeatedly scanned the foothill meadows, no elk were observed; an early morning or late day visit would have been more productive in this regard.