Today I made a quick exploratory visit to Heil Valley Ranch. This was my first visit to this park and I was pleased to discover it offers plenty of beautiful landscape, interesting geology, and many miles of trails. There was ample parking available in the south entrance lot, but from what I’ve heard, the lot can fill up quickly on weekends and warm days (so next time I visit I’ll plan to arrive early). In addition to it being a popular hiking location, Heil Valley Ranch is also a great place to go mountain biking or (if you are fortunate enough to own a horse) horseback riding.
I chose to hike the Lichen Loop trail, a gentle 1¼ mile path that wanders through a lovely patch of ponderosa pine forest. From this trail, you can enjoy intermittant views of the Dakota Formation (a sandstone hogback) to the east and the Lykins Formation to the west. It’s interesting to note that the Dakota sandstone to the east is much younger (100 million years old) than the Lykins Formation to the west (280 million years old).
As you go west from the Boulder Valley—where Pierre Shale lies beneath your feet—to the Niobrara Formation, the Benton Formation, the Dakota Formation, and so on, the rock becomes increasingly ancient. Eventually, the layers strip away, one at a time until all you’re left with is solid granite underfoot by the time you reach the high elevations and the Continental Divide.