Take an early morning urban outing

Sunrise Wagon Trail Park

Sunrise on Wagon Trail Park

By Carol Carpenter

RMC Communications Team

It was hard to believe it was mid-April, but much snow had fallen the day before. Yes, one of Colorado’s snowiest months can be April, and we needed the precipitation but, still, it felt like time for an end to the month’s on-and-off snowstorms and below freezing temperatures.

I watched the fluffy, white flakes descend steadily for hours while staying inside my southwest Denver condo, baking brownies partly to warm the kitchen. The snow was beautiful, covering the mostly brown earth and still-winter-dead trees. By the next day I was restless to get outside for my regular pedestrian “outing” in Wagon Trail Park adjacent to my complex.

I love this small, unpretentious park any time of the year. I walk its well-maintained footpath (no motorized vehicles allowed) several times a week. The park contains a large, open field that is edged in part with massive, old cottonwood trees. These stately trees get their water from a small stream (a wild grass- and shrub-lined drainage ditch, actually) where ducks sometimes paddle around.

Wagon Trail Park walk  
Snowy morning on Wagon Trail Park  

There are, thankfully, no noisy playgrounds, restrooms or other “civilized” amenities in this park, just people walking their dogs, taking quiet strolls or, less frequently, riding their bikes. This simple urban park was one of the reasons I bought my condo; I could enjoy a regular, nearby walk in a pleasant greenspace without having to drive my car to get to it. (My commitment to reducing my carbon footprint is at least one or more car-free days every week.)

Yes, there are houses, apartments, businesses and vehicle traffic in the vicinity—this is the city after all—but some portions of the trail are relatively quiet and isolated, especially in the early morning.

Hardier, more adventurous souls might not consider my city-suburban walking trail a real outing—which in Colorado usually means a mountain, lake or river doesn’t it? But for those who prefer the state’s scenic peaks from a distance or don’t care to hike steep inclines, our city and suburban parks and trails—and the Denver metropolitan area has hundreds or more of them—can be places to get a taste of the natural “outings” experience close to home.


Long shadows on the snow

As I took my walk that next April morning after the snowstorm, the shadows were long as the sun’s rays splayed across the expansive whitescape. The snow was pristine; it looked as if someone had sprinkled thousands of tiny, sparkling diamonds all over it. Leafless, gray-brown, white-lined tree branches punctured the gradually brightening sky. This early in the day there were no other footprints on the snow-covered walking path.

I heard the snow crunch under my boots, and I breathed in the cold, brisk air. Water gurgled in some spots along the stream that were not frozen over. An unseen songbird chirped (perhaps “chattered” in the cold would be more accurate) in a treetop. A few (warmer) days ago, I had seen several orange-breasted robins hopping about, but not today. A Northern Flicker tap…tap…tapped his noisy presence. One large, dark-capped bird with a ruffled tan breast—possibly a Cooper’s Hawk?—perched immobile on a high tree branch as if frozen there.

Here and there a lone squirrel skittered up or down a tree trunk or jumped around in the puffy snow drifts, probably looking for an edible tidbit. Not having much luck.

I looked for, but did not see that morning, the stray “neighborhood” coyote who sometimes trots along the path or pokes his gray head up through the line of bushes and trees that separate the park from my condo, most likely looking for breakfast. Squirrel over easy, maybe? I’m always glad my kitty stays permanently indoors when I see this wild animal’s wily eyes.


All bundled up

I passed only one other person in my hour-long walk that morning: a woman with her dog. Both of us were so bundled up in heavy coats, scarves and hats that we could barely see or nod to each other.

The park is small, but its trail branches off at one end to another larger city park with a children’s playground and picnic tables. It is also adjacent to a public recreation center with a softball field and outdoor swimming pool. I continued my lone and peaceful walk to these other two areas, luxuriating in the silence.

I told myself this crisp morning that I should do this more often; I always get a different experience in any outdoors place when I am alone in a quiet spot. If you are willing to get up early and, especially if you are willing to tramp around in the rain or snow, you can find the experience meaningful in a way that is not possible when the sun is fully up, the temperatures are warm and the area is full of people and dogs. It can be meditative alone.

And yet, while I enjoyed my walk that cold April morning, I definitely felt ready for warmer temperatures. As you read this in mid May, we on the Front Range have “endured” more spring snow storms (the last one on May Day). By now, hopefully, we will be inhaling the sweet fragrance of lilacs, appreciating the colorful yellow daffodils and noting the spring greening of the trees.

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