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Hit The Dirt at Lory State Park

The car idled while I sat waiting to muster enough energy for my run in Lory State Park. I was feeling lethargic and running alone made the prospect more difficult. It had been a year since I had run the Arthur’s Rock trail loop. But finally, I turned the car off, laced my shoes and stood up. Outside the car at the trail’s terminus (5,420 feet)* my laziness left – the trail was like being reunited with an old friend. I started running.

The trail climbs the shoulder of a rolling hill covered with grass and low shrubs. Its smooth auburn surface makes focusing on running easy, providing simple straightforward foot placements. The consistent slope and steady pace soon reveal views: Horsetooth Reservoir, Bellevue, and Fort Collins (a mere 20 minute drive), and the endless horizon of the plains.

The ascent continues and eventually levels off as the path starts following the contours of the land. During this stretch the running is easy and I allow my eyes to wander over a portion of the vast 2,400 acre park. Then I notice the rolling hills are below me and the steep looming mountainside in front. My pace quickens and the trees once far away, are closing in. I swing around a tight corner and the trail drops and descends to a bridge (5,850′). The route steepens and I enter into a Ponderosa Pine forest. Ticking off the switchbacks; one, two, three, my mind loses count and drifts – my pace slackens. My lungs rise and fall with deep breaths, and they enjoy the cleansing pure mountain air.

More light begins filtering through the trees and then I break into an open area as I bound across a seasonal streambed (6,430′). The hard part of the climb is over, and I relax. I’m in an ‘easy run’ mood, and enjoy the last part of the mellow climb through the pine forest. Needles pad the trail; not many visitors lately. The forest ebbs and flows, with open meadow- like areas, and then thickens with heavy stands of trees. There are no signs of the park’s many types of wildlife, ranging from squirrels to black bears, from mountain lions to rattlesnakes – nothing. The solitude feels good. It’s just the sound of my breathing and soft foot strikes; I slide through unseen.

Arriving at a sign pointing towards Arthur’s Rock (6,560′) I have gained 1,140 feet – the end of the continuous climb. No watch check. My time is slow; personal best ascent times are left for other days. I head left down a scraggily, not-very- well-maintained maintenance road towards Arthur’s Rock. Usually I enjoy running the road, abreast to my running partner, but since I’m alone, it seems too wide for just me. The section of road passes quickly and I top out on a small knoll with rocks, pine trees, and a small clearing (6,610′). Normally this is the highest point, but I decide to climb to the top of Arthur’s Rock. I run for a few more minutes to the sign junction (6,530′) pointing towards its apex. All the times I’ve run this trail I’d never been to the top. I scramble the small gully and break to the left for a small exposed section of granite. I’m on the Northern Summit and see a rock to the South. “Humph?” I wonder if it’s slightly higher. Not in the mood to traverse back or put my feet on the true highest point of the ol’ early settler’s monolith, in which it was named, I stop and rest. I figure this is ‘good enough,’ as I enjoy the western view of the Front Range.

A few minutes pass, I reverse the scramble and am soon on track. I’m happy back on the rocky section of trail, hopping, skipping and dancing around protruding edges as I float down the switch-backing section. The descent through the trees and meadow pass instantly and soon I’m at another trail junction (5,800′). I could go right and extend my run into the adjacent Horsetooth Mountain Park if Lory’s 20 miles of trail were not enough, but today I go left towards Arthur’s Rock Parking Lot. I glide across the meadow, disappear into trees, run gingerly as I notice the 40 foot drop on my left, then extend my legs for the last descent.

Following a small stream bed, the trail emerges out in the grassy plains. I see the red rock cliffs by the Horsetooth Reservoir and a parking lot in front of me – I head left. Running along the Valley Trail, I enjoy the easy undulation. The grasslands let my eyes wander as I pick up the pace on this twisting path. In and out of small stream drainages, up and over little hummocks, my pace continues to increase; time and distance fall rapidly under foot. There are hardly any rocks, roots or anything else to trip on; road running in the wilderness. Soon, the Visitor Center approaches, and I’m reminded that this once ranchland was acquired by the state in 1967 and named Horsetooth State Recreation Area. The name was later changed to honor Colorado State University’s former president Dr. Charles A. Lory who presided from 1907 until 1940. My mind becomes gobbled with the history and I let it go; “back to the moment” I tell myself. I pick up the pace for the last few hundred yards.

Running to the trail’s end I stop and inhale deeply until my breathing calms. Then, I walk to the only car in the parking lot. It had been a good run with an old friend.

Directions: From I-25, head west on Prospect Road (exit 268) for approximately seven miles. Turn right (north) on Overland Trail, then left on Bingham Hill Road. Make a left turn on County Road 23 and a right on County Road 48H. This becomes County Road 25G. Continue to Lory State Park.

Arthur’s Rock Trail Loop: Park at the Timber Group Picnic Area. Run up Timber Trail until road (there’s a sign). Follow sign towards Arthur’s Rock. Follow signs towards Arthur’s Rock Parking Lot. Head back via the West Valley Trail.

Permit Required: Purchase at self serve kiosk or Visitor Center for $5 per car, $2 walk/ bike in, or $55 for an annual pass.

* All elevations are according to my watch. They are not exact, but pretty darn close. This loop is approximately 8 miles and will take about two hours, plus or minus depending on your pace.

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