The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Nighthawk Trail

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 in Colorado
Nighthawk Trail

Near the Hall Ranch trailhead, you have the choice of either following the Bitterbrush Trail or the Nighthawk Trail. In the past, I’ve hiked the Bitterbrush Trail many times but I’ve only followed the Nighthawk Trail once, for a short distance (I forgot my water bottle so was compelled to turn around at the first inkling of thirst). Today I came better prepared, lugging a backpack that was bloated with agua fria.

Plentiful supplies of water, sunscreen, and a wide-brimmed sunhat are of utmost importance on the Nighthawk Trail. It is an exposed trail with few trees so there is little shade to offer refuge from the heat. And the landscape is tilted at an angle that focuses the afternoon heat with such intensity and vigor as to rather quickly and entirely melt your brain. The sun’s anvil.

For this reason, the Nighthawk Trail is best hiked in the early morning hours or, if you must hike mid-day, do so only in the cooler months of the year. Even today, with temperatures that topped out at a modest seventy-five degrees, I was melting as fast as a snow cone in Miami.

One small relief from the swelter was listening to the the trickling of the tiny ephemeral creeks that criss-crossed the Nighthawk Trail. The delightful gurgling of the water as it cascaded down the rocky slope cooled me off:

There are several things I really like about the Nighthawk trail. It’s a long trail that hooks up with the Nelson Loop Trail and, in turn, the Bitterbrush Trail. This means you’re not going to run out of hiking space for quite a while. It also winds through varied terrain. The first part of the trail is rather flat and is therefore accessible to a wider range of fitness levels. But don’t mistake the trail for being easy, the further reaches of the trail are more strenuous, so if you’re looking for a workout it’s not far down the path. Also, the Nighthawk Trail is restricted to hikers, trail runners, and horseback riders and often experiences lighter traffic than the Bitterbrush Trail.

This horse and rider was one of three I passed on my return to the trailhead. The rider told me this horse was the oldest of the group, and that’s why he was going slower than his riding companions. But of the three horses, this one had the wisest, calmest depth to his gaze. He was going to walk at his own pace, not because he was less fit but because he was in charge.
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