On Walkabout On: Talon Trail at Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado

Basic Trail Information

CMSP Trail Map:

Narrative

A place to do some very easy hiking in Colorado Springs is at Cheyenne Mountain State Park located at the base of beautiful Cheyenne Mountain:

Other than Pikes Peak, Cheyenne Mountain is the most notable and famous mountain in Colorado Springs.  It is a ruggedly beautiful composed of granite that towers over the southern section of Colorado Springs.  This strong granite however is what has made Cheyenne Mountain so famous outside of the city because it is the location where the North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) is located.  Officially NORAD  is an American and Canadian bi-national organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. Aerospace warning includes the monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.  In order to have a facility that could survive a nuclear attack during the Cold War the US government constructed a underground facility within Cheyenne Mountain to house NORAD.  Here is a Wikipedia picture of the entrance into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex:

This may be officially what NORAD does but that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from making Cheyenne Mountain a part of popular culture by featuring it in a number of movies and television series most notably Stargate.  NORAD no longer has the secret nature it once had during the Cold War and because of that the state Colorado opened its newest state park here in 2006 when it bought land from the JL Ranch in 2000.  Due to it being a new park the facilities here such as the visitor center pictured below are excellent:

The visitor center has a few displays about the park, conference rooms for the various programs they host at the park, and a large gift store.  I found the staff friendly here and had no problem getting trail information and buying my Colorado State Park pass from them which cost me $70.  The park is definitely family oriented with mostly short, easy trails and plenty of picnic areas for visitors.  However, there is one trail that should interest serious hikers which is the Talon Trail which ascends up to the highest point in the park at the base of Cheyenne Mountain.   From the visitor center I drove over to where the trailhead for Talon Trail begins.  At the trailhead there was once again a very nice facility that had restrooms and even a playground for young children to play in:

From the trailhead I started down the trail and soon crossed over this bridge:

There was some snow on the ground from a snow storm that occurred two days prior, but all in all it wasn’t that bad.  Something I really liked about Cheyenne Mountain State Park was the markers they had regularly installed along the trails to ensure hikers stayed on their intended trails:

At the beginning of the hike, the trail passes through prairie like terrain that is home to huge colony of prairie dogs:

Colorado Springs is truly a city where the Great Plains of America meet the mighty Rocky Mountains and Cheyenne Mountain State Park is a a perfect example of this.  From the below picture it is possible to see the prairie give way to scrub brush and then eventually Ponderosa Pine forests as the altitude increases:

As I continued to hike up the trail and gain altitude eventually I did enter the scrub brush that was mixed with pinon and juniper trees:

As the trail continued to rise in altitude I eventually started to see the Ponderosa Pine trees which also meant more snow on the trail since not as much sunlight was able to melt the snow due to the trees:

Here is the view looking back down the hill I was hiking up and from here I was able to get a good view of how this terrain truly is where the Great Plains meets the Rocky Mountains:

Along the way up the hill, I took a side trail that took me to this nice look out:

The look out had some very beautiful views of Cheyenne Mountain:

As I continued further up the hill the Great Plains could barely be seen as I was surrounded by a thick forest of Ponderosa Pine trees:

I eventually reached the end of the Talon Trail and had to make a choice of either going on the South or North Talon Trails.  I decided to take the North Talon Trail because my guidebook said it had some great views.  The cutoff on to the North Talon Trail wasn’t so obvious because of the snow on the ground, but the rock outcropping pictured below is where the trail begins:

The North Talon Trail accessed the top of the hill which since it was exposed had no snow on it:

The top of the hill definitely had some very nice views of Cheyenne Mountain:

As I continued on the trail I noticed this government property sign which meant that I had come to the border of where the state park land meets the land owned by NORAD:

As I started hiking back down the hill the trail was once again covered in snow:

Along the way down the hill I once again took a side trail that took me to this lookout:

Here was the view from the lookout:

There was a marker at the lookout that explained the geological activity that created Cheyenne Mountain.  Much of the mountains to the west of Colorado Springs to include Cheyenne Mountain are composed of what is known as Pike Peak Granite.  Often this granite has a pinkish color and is dated to being more than 1 billion years old. The granite seen today is the by product of huge molten rock that cooled underground and then was uplifted over millions of years of mountain building.  Then during the Ice Age the mountains were cut by glaciers revealing the granite seen today:

I had lunch at the lookout and rested for about 30 minutes before heading back down the hill.  As I walked down the hill I was treated to this incredible view of southern Colorado Springs and the plains to the east:

Here is a closer look at the city where the major military base in the city Ft. Carson can be seen in the foreground:

Here is the Evans Army Community Hospital which is the major medical services provider for Army soldiers and veterans in the region:

Besides the views, on the way down the mountain I saw my first glimpse of wildlife other than prairie dogs, which was this deer hiding in the trees:

As I continued down the trail I noticed the pink granite rock outcropping that I had saw before at the lookout higher up on the mountain:

Eventually the Talon Trail came to an intersection with Sundance Trail:

I decided to take Sundance Trail which was a longer route back to the parking lot in order to have some different views of the mountain.  A short ways down the trail instead of having different views of the mountain I ran into a herd of deer:

As I walked down the trail the deer were not scared of me but they definitely kept their eyes on me.  A short while later I came to another lookout which did have a stunning view of Cheyenne Mountain:

The Sundance Trail follows along a ridgeline back to the trailhead.  To access the ridgeline required me to do some up hill walking again in the snow:

Fortunately I was wearing a set of crampons on my waterproof hiking boots which allowed me to go right up the slippery hill side with no problems.  The trail then crossed through a wooded area and once again I spotted a deer:

The trail then exited the wooded area and I was once back on the prairie.  The Sundance Trail comes very close to the border with Ft. Carson and in fact I could see the family housing area from the trail:

This is literally the view the folks living in the family housing area of Ft. Carson have of Cheyenne Mountain:

The trail then proceeded around a bin back towards the prairie dog colony at the start of the trail:

Prairie dogs are a bit of a sore subject in Colorado because ranchers hate them and the environmentalists love them.  The ranchers dislike prairie dogs because large colonies tear of the land and make holes that are a danger to cattle stepping into and breaking their legs.  Thus the ranchers shoot and poison the prairie dogs to get rid of them.  In response the environmentalists tried to get prairie dogs considered an endangered species which many ranchers believe was nothing more than political junk science because there are prairie dogs all over Colorado to include a whole bunch of them a Cheyenne Mountain State Park.  One of the myths passed off by environmentalists which a marker at CMSP also makes is that the prairie dogs help native plant species grow.  I found the claim on the marker amusing considering this is what the prairie dog colony has done to the land at Cheyenne Mountain State Park:

This land destruction is pretty typical when prairie dog colonies are allowed to expand uncontrollably without any predators to limit their numbers.  This is why ranchers shoot and poison them because this is what they do to the land.

Conclusion

Anyway that concluded my hike and I had a really great day out.  Even though it was a bit chilly with snow on the ground I even ended up getting a sunburn on my head from the clear sunny winter day.  That will teach me to forget my hat when I go out hiking.   Cheyenne Mountain State Park for those visiting Colorado Springs with limited time is probably not worth visiting compared to other places such as Pikes Peak, Seven Falls, and the Garden of the Gods.  However, for people who live in the Colorado Springs area, I found the park to be very popular with mountain bikers and trail runners which I saw quite a few of, especially mountain bikers since the trails are so wide and well maintained for this activity.  The park also has camp sites which my wife and I have been talking about sometime this summer camping out at with our daughter while also exploring some of the other trails at the park.  So all in all this is a wonderful park and I look forward to visiting again.

Have you been to Cheyenne Mountain State Park?  Let everyone know what you think of the park in the comments section.

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