Did you know 64 million years ago, Colorado was a lush tropical rainforest? Did you know that 37 million years ago, a volcano near Buena Vista exploded, covering Castle Rock with a 20- to 30-feet thick layer with what is now known as Castle Rock Rhyolite?
You'll learn this and more hiking the Native Legend Open Space in the Meadows area of Castle Rock.
The easiest way to get to the trail is to park at Paintbrush Park (directions below). Take the paved trail to the playground and go left. The trail winds past the ballfields, over a bridge to the first history sign. Take a seat on the bench and read about Colorado 55 million years ago. Learn why Colorado has a bright red soil and how it was used for Coors Field stadium.
After taking a break and learning a little history, continue on the paved path as it winds between the houses. About 1/8 of a mile from the sign, you'll come to a trail split with a trash can. Turn left here to continue on the Native Legend Trail. As you hike this next section, you may notice several social trails. It's best to stay on the paved path and not create trails that can lead to erosion.
After walking about 0.3 miles from the first sign, you'll go back in time another nine million years at the next sign. Back 64 million years ago, when Colorado was a lush rain forest. Check out the photos from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science when experts found the fossils of more than 100 species of rainforest plants near Castle Rock in 2002.
Another .02 miles down the path are two more signs. These explain about the volcano that exploded in Colorado's mountains 37 million years ago and covered the Denver Basin with ash and rock. Check out the photo of Cantril School that was built using blocks of the volcanic rock called rhyolite.
From here, it's another .35 miles to the end of the Native Legends Trail. There's a sign for Native Legend Open Space, but the parking isn't very good here, that's why I suggest starting at Paintbrush Park. You can cross Meadows Parkway to go to Butterfield Park across the street, but traffic didn't slow down when I was crossing the road and it seemed dangerous for families that might be moving a bit slower.
You can return the way you came or use your map to find other trails in the area. Print a map here. Learn more about the park on the Castle Rock website. In the area, don't miss "The Rock," Dawson Butte, Spruce Mountain, and Mitchell Creek Canyon. Get more great hikes here.
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Details: The walk from Paintbrush Park to the three signs and back is about 1.5 miles roundtrip with 100 feet of elevation gain. The walk from Paintbrush Park to the Native Legend Open Space sign and back is about 2.2 miles roundtrip with 150 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Interstate 25, exit Founders Parkway/Meadows Parkway and turn west. Paintbrush Park is on the right side of the road, about 1.6 miles from the highway.