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Hardscrabble route will carry runners back in time

WESTCLIFFE — To run on the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run courses on Sunday is to stride back through time.

The 5K and 10K routes navigate two-track roads, meadows and rugged horse trails on historic Bear Basin Ranch, owned by Gary Ziegler and Amy Finger.

The courses feature 475 feet of vertical gain on the 5K and 1,083 feet of gain on the 10K, with the 10K topping out at 9,039 feet elevation.

Runners who opt to tackle the new 45K will leave the Bear Basin trail system to gain access to the San Isabel National Forest.

All three courses offer sweeping vistas of the Sangre de Cristo range, Wet Mountains and Pikes Peak, with the start and finish for all events at 8,913 feet elevation.

Proceeds from the entry fees will help to fund conservation efforts by San Isabel Land Protection Trust.

Here is a breakdown of the run:

1. Dry Lake

The start and finish for the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run is at Dry Lake on Bear Basin Ranch. The “lake” actually is an ancient volcanic vent likely associated with geological events that left the region heavily mineralized.

Over the millennia, cooling and erosion left a depression in the earth that actually fills with water after heavy snow years or summer thunderstorms.

This landmark also likely plays a role in the ceremonial significance of this area as a hunting camp for indigenous tribes going back 5,000 to 6,000 years, and most recently by Ute and Apache.

In the summer months, these hunters found here vast herds of elk and bison. The cultural significance of the area is further seen at our next point on Bradbury Ridge.

2. Lower Bradbury Ridge

As the trail reaches Bradbury Ridge in the first mile, it hangs a sharp right and passes through a wire gate. Just a stone’s throw away are two trees believed to have been culturally modified by the Ute and Apache. A great number of these trees can be found along this east-west ridge.

In addition, Gary Ziegler, an archeologist by trade, has found grinding stones, projectile points and stone outlines for teepees and rectangular shelters.

Some of the modified trees appear to have been planted, as they often seem to be associated with rocks or rock formations. Ziegler believes these to be spiritual or prayer trees. Some may mark burial sites as the Ute favored crevasse burials of their dead.

3. Louie Annin’s Farm

As the trail continues on the 10K and 45K routes, it passes the rusty remains of an old truck left at the homestead of one of the early settlers, Louie Annin. Annin farmed potatoes, oats and barley in the open area at the headwaters of Boneyard Park in the 1920s.

Passers-by may notice the foundation of a cabin, and a flat stone floor with cement edges that likely served as a barn. Two large potato cellars are cut into the earth nearby.

Up from the homesite, the trail passes a rock-lined cistern that held spring water for the homestead.

4. Prairie Dog Mine

Here where the trail comes back to County Road 271 is where the 10K course takes a right, and the 45K route turns left on the road.

Just south of here is the site of the Prairie Dog Mine, the creation of early day scam artists. As the story goes, some less than scrupulous miners “salted” a prospect pit with ore, then took on investors in their “mine.” An entire town sprang up around the bogus operation, with the miners pocketing the investor’s funds and no precious metal ever being found.

5. Willow Creek Road

The route turns right off the county road and follows the Willow Creek Drainage into the San Isabel National Forest. This point is not far from the former townsite of Ilse, home of the Terrible Mine where white lead ore, a common ingredient in lead-based paint, was mined.

The Willow Creek road originated as part of a wagon road used to transport the ore out of the mountains to Pueblo.

6. Adobe Creek

At Adobe Creek the route takes a left-hand turn to climb back toward the crest of the Wet Mountains.

Not far from this turnaround point is a pinnacle used in the 1970s by the Peregrine Fund to release falcons during efforts to re-establish the birds of prey. This “hack site,” as the peregrine release sites are called, was mentioned in Dan O’Brien’s “The Rites of Autumn — A Falconer’s Journey Across the American West.”

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