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The Hardscrabble Ultra

GPS downloads and a historical tour of the Hardscrabble Ultra…

There are many ways to tackle the Hardscrabble Mountain Trail Run at Bear Basin Ranch in Westcliffe, Colorado. Pick the 5K and you’ll climb 475 feet; the 10K and you’ll ascend double that and top out at 9,039 feet. The beefy 45K climbs to 10,100 feet deep in the San Isabel National Forest. No matter what, you will also be running into the history of indigenous people and early white settlers. The best way to experience these hallowed trails is to enter the race on June 1, 2014. The 45K ultra-marathon will sell out so register soon at (the entry fee funds conservation efforts by the San Isabel Land Protection Trust, Can’t make the race? Email the author for info about limited access to the ranch at Horseback rides and guided tours on the ranch are available by calling 719-783-2519. County roads and National Forest roads are open to the public.

Dry Lake (38.177221858920845, -105.30283563947154) 

Dry Lake on Bear Basin Ranch is the start and finish of the race. The “lake” is actually an ancient volcanic vent—over the millennia cooling and erosion left a depression in the earth that fills with water after a heavy snow year or summer thunderstorms. This landmark also likely plays a role in the ceremonial significance of the area for indigenous tribes going back 5,000 to 6,000 years, and most recently by Ute and Apache.

Lower Bradbury Ridge (38.185810999999916, -105.30033339999797) 

The trail reaches Bradbury Ridge in the first mile, 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. Gary Ziegler, one of Bear Basin Ranch’s owners and an archeologist by trade,  believes these to be spiritual or prayer trees.

Louie Annin’s Farm (38.19678398372159, -105.28311889981826) 

As the trail follows the 10K and 45K routes, it passes the rusty remains of an old truck left at the ruined homestead of early white settler Louie Annin. Louie farmed in the open area at the headwaters of Boneyard Park in the 1920s. As you cruise by, note the foundation of a cabin.

Prairie Dog Mine (38.182251000000164, – 105.28754400000115) 

At this point, the trail re-intersects County Road 271. If you’re running the 10K, take a right to head back toward the finish. All you ultra runners should turn left on the road to follow the 45K route. Just south of this spot is the site of the Prairie Dog Mine, the creation of early day scam artists: 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.

Willow Creek Road (38.209628999999666, -105.24310350000034)

Follow the route as it turns right off the county road along Willow Creek into the San Isabel National Forest. It’s not far from the former town site of Ilse, home of the Terrible Mine where white lead ore, a common ingredient in lead-based paint, was mined.

Adobe Creek (38.2160760000003, -105.17356100000406)

At Adobe Creek, turn left to climb back toward the crest of the Wet Mountains. Nearby 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.

–Hal Walter

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