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Snowshoeing Into rock and roll history (G.3)

Description: Whuump!  The sudden fall of snow from a nearby Ponderosa pine startles me.  It is the only noise I hear, except my heavy breathing, as I stand quietly along DeLonde trail.  Over the last week the foothills in Boulder County have seen over 28" of snow, with temps hovering in the mid-teens, meaning it was time to pull out the snowshoes and finally visit a trail I've been putting off for too long.  I'm one of the early visitors to the trailhead this day, meaning the trail is very fresh, and deep, with snow.  Regardless of the quality of my snowshoes, my extra weight is pushing them into the fine powder perhaps 8-10" in the open fields where the snow is heaviest.  Which is why I'm currently breathing so hard and needing a rest.  But rests are good out here.  They allow you to stop and listen.  You are repaid with nothing.  Absolute silence.  The wildlife seem to be hunkering down under layers of white blankets.  Any sound is quickly absorbed by the snow in the trees and on the ground.  It's unnerving, which is why I have an excuse for being startled by the shrugging off of snow by my neighbor pine.  It's also perfect.  Over the course of my hike I will run into only three other souls, two cross-country skiers and a fellow snowshoer.  So, for the vast majority of my two-hour hike I'm utterly alone, which is just what fresh snowshoeing needs.  I head off again to follow the line of the trail through the powder, which looks like a very long set of stitches, a narrow scar down the middle with pucker marks on the edges from ski poles seeking firm anchor.

Panorama of the DeLonde homestead at Caribou Ranch.  The DeLonde house is hidden in the pines just to the right of the barn.

My destination is the DeLonde Homestead, an historic site at the confluence of the DeLonde and North Boulder Creeks, and part of the larger Caribou Ranch.  It was settled originally by miners in the area that were working the nearby Blue Bird mine, which can also be visited.  Cool, and definitely beautiful, but my main goal today is to walk in the footsteps of so many great Rock and Roll legends who visited here to record albums from 1972 to 1985.  Joe Walsh, Chicago, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rick Derringer, Elton John, Tom Petty, Steely Dan, Deep Purple, Stevie Nicks, John Lennon, Frank Zappa, Michael Jackson, Supertramp and many, many more.  Founded by James Guercio, a record producer who was fed up with studio union rules, he bought Caribou Ranch and converted a barn on the property into a recording studio that soon became a staple for rock and roll artists.  It's said that Guercio had to keep snow boots and winter coats in all sizes available on the ranch for artists who would show up in fashion attire and platform shoes.  The studio was damaged in a fire in 1985 and was never re-opened, mostly due to the industry move to digital music.  The studio, along with the cabins used by the artists and Guercio's residence, sits on private property about a half mile down Delonde Creek from the homestead.  

The band Chicago performs in front of the DeLonde House in 1974. - not by author

The band Chicago performs in front of the DeLonde House in 1974. - not by author

Difficulty: Easy (G.3), 3.1 Miles, 153' Elevation, 2.0 Hours - To be clear, this is a great trail in any season, but I'm ranking it here based on the difficulty of snowshoeing it in virgin snow conditions.  While only a little over three miles roundtrip to the DeLonde Homestead and back, the freshness and depth of snow made my hike a solid G.3, at the edge of easy and intermediate.  There is very little gain over this hike, so if there was less snow or hiked in the warmer months, it could be considered a mild G.2 or even a G.1.  For a longer hike, the DeLonde trail connects with the Blue Bird loop trail, which can add another 1.8 miles, creating a lollipop out and back.  See the link below for the Boulder County Trail Map for more information.

Rent Snowshoes?  Snowshoeing through mountain valleys after a good snowfall is a beautiful, rare experience.  It can also be a great cardio workout.  But, unless you live where deep snow is a frequent experience in winter, the cost layout for a set of snowshoes and poles may be a bit of a setback.  In that case, renting snowshoes is a much better idea.  REI in Boulder rents snowshoe setups, but I've noticed that they tend to run out quick, so call ahead to reserve if you think you want to head out to Caribou.

Driving Directions, Parking and Trailhead: 144 County Road 126 Nederland, CO 80466.  Caribou Ranch is about three miles north of Nederland, making it a little over 30 minute commute from downtown Boulder. Take Canyon Road west from Boulder toward Nederland.  At the roundabout in Ned'ville follow the signs toward Estes Park on the Peak To Peak highway.  Look for signs to Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch about two miles outside Nederland.  Turn left and proceed up the dirt road (CR 126) a little over a 1/2 mile to the trailhead parking area on the right.  Google Map directions here...

Click image for Google Maps detail

Click image for Google Maps detail

Trail Guide:  The route I hiked was a simple out and back to the DeLonde Homestead.  Begin at the signboard in the parking area.  The trail goes to the left and behind the signboard and quickly passes a picnic table in the shade of some pines.  The trail is well marked with blue diamonds on trees and there is also the occasional wood sign pointing the way.  At 1.2 miles the DeLonde trail intersects with the Blue Bird Loop.  Turn right, heading downhill toward the red barn.  Once you reach the barn you will see the wooden homestead building to the right.  I walked around the homestead a bit, and then returned the way I came.  More adventurous snowshoers, or summer hikers, may want to continue on the Blue Bird Loop which will, after another 1.5 miles or so, reconnect with the DeLonde trail.

Map Resources: EveryTrail MapBoulder County Trails Map

Après Hike: A great hike on a cold day.  What better beer to follow up a pairing like that than a chocolate milk stout?  Well then, Jamie Wells, who's motto is "Life's too short for ordinary beer", has just the pint for you at his east Boulder nano-brewery J Wells Brewery.  J Wells has been turning out 'well'-turned IPAs, bitters and stouts for a couple of years now and one of my favorites in Boulder.  Give them a try, you just might be discovering one of the best kept beer secrets in Boulder!

Picnicking: There is one table in the trees just at the beginning of the trail.

Restrooms:  Yes, at parking lot.

Dog Friendly: No.

Cell Service: Limited and spotty.