This past Labor Day weekend I spent a day hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This very often visited area of 76,586 acres became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1978 and is adjacent to the southern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. My friend and I chose the Diamond Lake trail, which starts at the Fourth of July trailhead. To get there, you drive onto a dirt road where you need to pass the Hessie trailhead, and then continue on for another 5 miles until you reach the parking lot. Well, after parking in the wrong area, locking the keys in the car, having to wait for a tow company to unlock the car, and then driving those 5 miles in a very low-riding car (owch, take your SUV), we made it to the actual trailhead. So we had a few bumps (literally!) in our plans, but we more than made up for it.
From the Fourth of July trailhead to Diamond Lake, it’s a pretty moderate 2.6 mile one-way hike. The elevation range is about 10,100-11,400 feet. I read a few reasons of how the trailhead got its name: the snow doesn’t melt until after July 4th, the surplus of wildflowers are reminiscent of fireworks, the road is impassible due to mud before July 4th, etc. The snow had certainly melted off the trails by the time we went and the wildflowers were explosive! I was thrilled to see so many of them shortly after we began hiking, but that was nothing compared to reaching the lake.
It was a cool and brisk morning as we finally ventured out onto the trail, but as the sun grew high we slowly began to warm up. The trail was very pleasant and fairly simple; we crossed over the North Fork of Middle Boulder Creek and numerous waterfalls, big and small. As we were nearing Diamond Lake, the trail began to ascend a bit until it opened up into a vibrant green meadow. The lake was clear and surprisingly not as populated as we had thought. This trail is apparently very popular and can get rather busy on the weekends. A few of the people that we passed along the way had fishing rods, as the lake is stocked with rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout.
Not quite ready to retreat, we decided to follow a beaten path further back beyond Diamond Lake. We walked next to a small stream which eventually split off in to little waterfalls on each side. The wildflowers easily doubled in quantity and variety. From what I could identify, we saw Indian Paintbrush, Yarrow, Columbine, variously colored Aster, Elephant Flower, Alpine Fireweed, Parry’s Bellflower, Alpine Mertensia, and many, many more.
As we kept venturing further back, we discovered many smaller lakes and a very large and unique patch of snow. From a distance, it simply looked like a blanket of snow. When we walked up to it, we could see that it was for the most part hollow and melting underneath, with a cold stream of water flowing through—somewhat of a snow cave. As for wildlife, we didn’t see too much other than little chirping pikas and a family of sunbathing marmots.
The air had cooled off quite a bit on our descent back to the trailhead but it felt quite nice. I always enjoy exploring new areas or choosing a different trail for the way back down, but even going down the same way seems like a new path. There are many different views and things that you may not have noticed the first time around. While I was admiring the breathtaking views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, I realized we needed to look at this wilderness area, and also Colorado as a whole, in a much larger context. The Indian Peaks Wilderness is only 76,586 acres—certainly not big enough to survive and thrive on its own. We need to have a bigger mindset…the kind of Nature Needs Half outlook. Colorado should be seen as one vast landscape so that all beings are able to move long distances without interruption. As E.O. Wilson proposed, “Half the world for humanity, half for the rest of life, to create a planet both self-sustaining and pleasant.”