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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Hiking the Rocky Mountain Arsenal

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Area is a refuge in the middle of Denver that offers opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing and catch-and-release fishing. But, only a small part of it is available for exploring at the present time; most of the site is still being restored to how it looked before the middle of the 20th century when the Plains Indians inhabited the land or it was used for pioneer farming.
In 1942 the U.S. Army started producing mustard gas, and later nerve agents, on the site for use in World War II and the Korean War. For a time, Shell Chemical Company also used the facility to produce agriculture pesticides, but all production, both military and civilian, was terminated in 1982. Ten years later Congress designated the area a national wildlife refuge due to a roost of bald eagles that was discovered in 1986.
The huge rehabilitation and cleanup project could take until 2011, according to an estimate in a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service brochure, as the area is cleaned from chemicals dumped on site. A small area in the middle of the refuge is now open though for visitors, but generally the hours don’t work for me and my schedule. But, due to a quirk of fate, I finally was able to take advantage and check it out.
The terrain isn’t difficult, rolling hills at best, but it does offer some nice views of the mountains and downtown Denver as the trails wind around a few lakes. Sometimes the trails are simply roads, which does detract from the feeling of being in a wild area, but since so much is still being restored and constructed, it’s easy to look the other way and enjoy the area.
I saw a fair amount of wildlife, as I meandered my way around the lakes, including prairie dogs, lots of birds and a deer. But, the highlight for me was the coyote I almost hit with my car as I was leaving the visitor’s center to head home. He darted out in front of me as I pulled down their driveway only to get spooked and turn and run right back in the bushes.
I was pleased though with my brief encounter, especially since I had really doubted I’d see anything more than a few small mammals, and generally enjoyed my visit. Since a lot of the area is still closed or under construction, it’s difficult to give it a rave review though right now. But, from the plan I saw in the visitor’s center, the future looks good for the area.
I look forward to returning in the future, once the cleanup is done, and taking a trolley tour to see the bison and to go farther out in the refuge and enjoy the nesting bald eagles. Until that point though, I’ll just remain content in the knowledge that it’s a nice escape, despite the planes from Denver International Airport flying overhead, that’s right in the city and free for all visitors.

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