Happy Trails – North Table Mountain

by Suzanne Webel

North Table Mountain has been hiding in plain sight forever. Those with insatiable curiosity and an incurable need for exploration, like me, have known that the park has been open for several years, with no designated trails and only a very snall, obscure trailhead (P-2); in fact, I wrote this area up as a BCHA trail log in 2004. But Jefferson County Open Space has recently built a beautiful new trailhead along Highway 93 (P), and they have just completed an 8.4 mile system of multi-use trails, so it’s worth revisiting. Go check it out!

The terrific loops of old roads and new trails will take you past quarries, buttes, springs, and ponds with extraordinary views of mountains and plains. The park brochure waxes poetic about its natural resources: “The mountain is home to a resident population of about 80-100 mule deer, golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and prairie falcons as well as a small population of prairie dogs. Shore birds and ducks can be found around the three ponds that dot the top of the mountain. These spring fed ponds are the headwaters of two major drainages … that form narrow bands of riparian vegetation that almost completely bisect the property.”

Sixty five million years ago, in a deep underground chamber somewhere west of Golden whose exact location remains a mystery to this day (perhaps at or near the Ralston Dike, about two miles northwest of the mesa), the earth became restless. Enormous blocks of solid rock jostled past each other and great pressures built up. As things started to get really hot down there, a large quantity of molten magma fought its way to the surface. Eventually the pressure created a vent or a fissure and released three sheets of red-hot lava, which flowed out on top of the existing sedimentary clays, sandstones and conglomerates that had been deposited only slightly earlier. The lava cooled into layers of basalt which were extremely hard, capping and protecting the softer sedimentary layers beneath them.   As the rocks solidified, cracks known as joints formed. Eons of water and ice have found these joints, enlarging them a little each year. Clear Creek eventually found its way out of the mountains and exploited the situation, enlarging some of the cracks and carving a canyon between what we now call North and South Table Mountains.

As with many of these foothills rides, don’t expect a lot of shade or protection from the wind or the sun, so choose your day wisely.

North Table Mountain provides a totally unexpected experience. After you’ve been there, please call Jefferson County Open Space and thank them for providing such a wonderful opportunity for equestrians.

Total Distance: Approx. 8.4 miles
Total Time:       Variable; can take an entire day.
Difficulty:         Easy
Dogs:                 On leash only
Jurisdiction:     Jefferson County Open Space