Coal Creek is about 25 feet at its broadest, but mainly it’s in the six-to seven-foot range. The trail winds through a riparian ecosystem; therefore, cottonwoods, cattails, bulrush and other grasses are thick. The air smells punky in all seasons, especially when autumn/winter’s pungent odors of rot, renewal and revegetation take over.
It’s overhung and shady for the first mile, and then opens to the edge-of-the-prairie flat landscape of western plains, with Denver to the southeast. The Rocky Mountain Continental Divide stands like a wall to the west. Horizon-wide views expand in all directions from the high point, a small rise that makes a fine sledding hill.
I know some things from merely seeing and listening with no particular purpose: a fox lives nearby — it scoots away when I approach. Ubiquitous coyotes party all summer and most of autumn. A pair of geese hangs around near what I call the “duck bridge,” and owls watch walkers from the high reaches of cottonwoods standing at the trailhead. Prairie dogs are plentiful, as are hawks, thus keeping things in balance.
That’s it. And so to the Treasure Hunt:
1. Find something round. Easy. I collect creek rocks. They rest on the fireplace mantle, make up the centerpiece of the dining room table, sit in the gear shift box of my car and are arranged in a mini-sandbox on my desk at work. Though I know it’s against the “leave things in place” rule, there are plenty to spare. Forgive me.
2. Jump like a frog, growl like a bear and flap your wings like a bird. Well why not? When no one is looking, and quickly.
3. What’s the smoothest thing you can find? Other than aforementioned creek stones: a peeled cottonwood branch, silvery and dead for ages.
4. Discover evidence that an animal has been here. Sorry to say, dog poop–an ongoing problem when humans don’t take care of doggie business. Prairie dog holes. Duck feathers on the creek bank.
5. Find something that smells good or bad. Very good smell: pungent, rotting, wet leaves. Very bad smell: the dog poop I mentioned.