Get Outside! History Hike At Marshall Mesa

Area Was Once Home To 51+ Mines

Distance: approx. 3 mile loop, with side trips (can easily add more) Location: Boulder County Elevation Gain: 235 feet Dogs: Allowed (see Boulder County rules) Trailhead: parking, bathrooms, trash cans, informational signs, picnic tables Price: Free

As you stand in the parking lot at Marshall Mesa, try to imagine back in time to the late 1800s. Back then, this valley was filled with mine entrances, smokestacks, homes, train cars and the occasional sounds of explosions.

Marshall Mesa was once home to 51 registered mines. It started with the Kitchens Mine in 1859. The coal was at ground level, so families would pull up their wagons, shovel the coal in, then pay a man named Kitchens. In 1866, Kitchens sold the mine to man who the mesa is named after -- Joseph Marshall.

The trailhead has several signs about the history of this mesa from when it was underwater to when it was covered with mines.

As you start down the trail, you'll quickly come to a trail split for the Marshall trail and the Coal Seam trail. You can go either way to do a loop hike. I started left onto the Marshall trail.

This trail takes you along the bottom part of the Mesa. As you cross a small bridge over a very small ditch, you might think the ditch is for draining water. According to the volunteer I hiked with, this is actually old mine tunnel that collapsed. He explained there are lots of these ditches/old mine tunnels crisscrossing the mesa. This indention was likely part of Mitchell Mine #4.

One-hundred-plus years ago, miners created the tunnels. As you hike along the Marshall Valley trail you'll see who is creating tunnels nowadays -- lots and lots of prairie dogs.

About 0.7 of a mile from the trailhead, you'll pass a small fence -- just four fence posts -- on the left side of the trail. It is next to a hole that our guide thought might have been part of Marshall Mine #3. It's obviously collapsed and been filled in with dirt and debris over the years. Possibly the entrance to the old Marshall Mine #3

You may notice a flat area between the trail and the highway. The Colorado & Southern Railraid ran through this area carrying passengers and coal. According to my guide, the tracks were removed in the 1930s.

About 1 mile from the trailhead a trail on your left goes to Highway 170. If you hiked here in the past, you may recognize this as the old trailhead. The trailhead was moved to its new location near Highway 93 about two years ago.

After that trail split go up a little hill, cross a bridge and turn left on the Community Ditch trail. Hike a short distance to a sign that explains how coal was mined in this area for more than 80 years. You may want to explore the ruins in this area. The timbers and concrete remnants are from the Gorham Mine. My guide said the Red Ash Mine also operated in this area from 1916-1926.Remnants of the Gorham Mine

From here, you can turn around, go back to the split and take the Marshall trail up the hill. Or add more distance to your hike by continuing on the Community Ditch trail up the hill. If you stay on the Community Ditch trail, in about a quarter mile you'll come to another trail split for the Cowdry Trail. From the maps, this appears to be an out and back trail to 66th. Here you'll want to turn west on the Community Ditch trail to continue on the loop.

Either way you go, you'll end up hiking west on the Community Ditch trail. The views of the Flatirons from here are impressive and on a clear day you should be able to see Long's Peak and Mount Meeker in the distance.

Watch for a bridge over the Community Ditch with a sign for the Greenbealt Plateau. At this intersection, look at the drop-off on the right side of the trail (north side). Look for part of an old wagon road that led to the Pine Ridge Mine underneath the area where you're standing.

At one point my GPS showed several mines along the trails including the Black Diamond, Eagle, High View, Pine Cliff, Rocky Flats and Number 3.

Now cross the bridge and hike up to the Greenbelt Plateau. (The trailhead for this hike is on Highway 128) At the top, turn right (west) and hike towards Highway 93. Once again, enjoy the views of the Flatirons. Entrance to Rosser Mine, sealed in 1986

As you hike down a hill, notice the sweeping left turn in the trail. Look up to your left as you hike. If you can spot a cement block on the hill, you'll be seeing the ruins of the Rosser Mine. If you're adventurous, this is a good area to hike up to and explore. You should be able to find the entrance to the mine, sealed in 1986. There's even a small pipe with a historic marker about the size of your palm that says "State of Colorado, Mined Land Reclamation Div. Mine: Rosser Opening No. 1 Date 1-21-86" Look closely as you hike for old bricks, metal and other remnants from the mining days. Leave everything as it is for the next person to enjoy.

From here, return to the trail. When you get to Highway 93, make sure you stay on the very small path on the inside of the railing. There's more room on the path, than the road. Take the path back up to a gate and another trail split. Take the Coal Seam trail back to the trailhead. There are 7 Coal Seams between Marshall Mesa and Dacono. (Fun tidbit: my guide said a miner named Dacono for his wife and her two best friends. Their names were Daisy, Cora and Nora. He took the first two letters of each woman's name to create Dacono.)

Want to learn more about the Marshall Mesa area? Boulder OSMP has two brochures on its web site: one on geology and one on the history of the area.

If you like hikes with history, consider picking up the book "Walking Into Colorado's Past, 50 Front Range History Hikes." I took a tour of the area with a Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks volunteer. To sign up for their nature hikes emails, visit the Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks Web site.

I welcome your questions, comments and hiking trail suggestions, just email me:

Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Heil Valley Ranch* Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake* Golden area: Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park* Jefferson County: Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow* I-70 area: Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain Rocky Mountain National Park: Granite Falls, Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach Lake Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness: King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart Lake Northern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes Summit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls Grand County: St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch Other: Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides

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