MOLLY LAKE TRAIL, Colorado -- This ride reminded us that you should always be prepared with a good map, a compass and rain gear. More on that later.
We were headed for the Molly Lake trail, and it has been a few years since I took my horse to Colorado’s Redfeather Lakes area. Things have changed. New staging areas now provide safe access for horseback riders and hikers trying to get to Mount Margaret or Molly Lake, across from each other on 74E.
In years past, drivers had to practically park their rigs on the side of the road near an old gate that you could easily miss if you were not looking. Now, you can safely pull off 74E to find ample car and several horse trailer parking spots on the north and south sides of the road, along with restroom facilities.
Based on traffic, Mount Margaret is still the more popular destination, but we discovered on this ride that the Molly Lake trail is just as beautiful. What looks like a former logging road makes up the “main drag”, and provides plenty of opportunity to ride side by side, and enjoy the scenery. At least one of the gates can be done on horseback, which makes for good training. The elevation gain was steady and not too difficult for my 19-year-old gelding, at least until we took the unexpected turn.
In preparation for this ride, I had purchased the National Geographic Topo! Colorado software at Jax Mercantile in Fort Collins (about $80), and spent a lot of time zooming in and printing a ride map on the waterproof paper you can buy as an accessory. What I didn’t realize is that the Topo! software uses U.S. Geological Survey maps from about the 1960’s. Plus, USGS maps are more land-feature oriented, and not so much trail oriented.
About two hours into the ride, the sunny summer weather did the Colorado five-minute-weather-change, and it started to drizzle. The cool air refreshed he horses, and we kept going.
We came to a sign that said “Molly” one way and “Moon” the other. We took “Moon”, which sent us on a grand detour not featured on our map, but up onto a ridge. The horses were very excited, and acted like they thought we were headed back to the trailer, which in retrospect, I suspect we were.
Our stomachs grumbled, and thunder rumbled. It felt like a good time to get off the ridge in case of lightning, so we took the steep switchback trail down the ridge, and ended up in a boulder-strewn meadow. Your horse will need to be good at hindquarter pivots in order to negotiate these switchbacks. The rain died down to a drizzle, and we lunched next to an old barbed-wire gate and a metal “monument marker”. In hindsight, I think we were on a public/private property border.
Before remounting, we donned our rain gear, an old poncho for me, and an Outback slicker for Gregg. We headed back up the switchback, and by now my gelding was feeling his flab and the work. The rain turned into a steady downpour, and about an hour away from the trailer, my poncho quit being waterproof, and I rode the rest of the way soaking wet. Gregg’s Outback slicker kept him dry and warm. As it was still summer, the horses kept plenty warm just moving.
We hastily untacked at the trailer, and drove east, back to home base in Fort Collins. On the way, we stopped at the Western Ridge Restaurant, which featured a sympathetic, friendly waitress, and a hot pot of coffee. The Western Ridge Restaurant is open for dinner, too, and I resolve to return for a romantic meal overlooking their valley.
When I got home the first thing I did after seeing to the horses was ceremoniously toss the poncho into the dumpster. Gregg later put batteries in his GPS unit, and I now keep a spare change of clothes in the truck. I tried to get my own Outbacks slicker at Jax Farm and Ranch, but they were all out, so I found one online. In case Gregg’s GPS unit quits, I resurrected my pocket compass.
This still does not solve the problem of the National Geographic Topo! map’s missing pieces, but I notice the Forest Service is updating their free online maps, which give you a pretty good idea of the Molly Lake trail network. Also, you can get a number of state and federal maps online for free.Google Maps does not name trails, but you can zoom in enough to see trail details. Stick to the Molly Lake main drag, and you’ll be fine.
Map links you may find useful:
USGS Imagery & Publications: https://www.usgs.gov/pubprod/
Forest Service National Maps page: https://www.fs.fed.us/maps/forest-maps.shtml
Arapaho Forest Map North: https://www.fs.fed.us/r2/recreation/map/vis_maps/arnf/ar-nf-north/index.shtml
Colorado forest service map: https://www.fs.fed.us/r2/recreation/map/colorado/html-current/colorado-hi-speed-index.shtml