Marshall Mesa Trail
Superbowl Sunday had me out exploring a new trail with a new friend. This time the hike was on an expanse of land just south of Boulder, called the Marshall Mesa. The wide open area is perfect for wiling away a few hours getting to know someone as the inclines are gentle enough that you won’t lose your breath while chatting away; and if you get lost in conversation, the trailhead is nearly always within sight.

Marshall Mesa Trail
You can easily make this route a loop by following the Marshall Valley Trail to either the Marshall Mesa or Community Ditch trail, then connecting with the Coal Seam back to the trailhead [2.4-3.1 miles depending on your route, and if you add a jaunt on part of the Greenbelt Plateau]. But if you’re really enjoying your company, you might miss your connection onto the Coal Seam and end up doubling back for a 3.9 mile turnabout trip (as highlighted in orange on the map above). It’s a lovely walk any way.

The trailhead is a substantial area, with parking, restrooms, picnic tables and a kiosk-type structure that provides some geological and historical background on the Marshall Mesa. Once a primordial ocean that receded to swamp back in the time of the dinosaurs, over millions of years prehistoric vegetation in the area converted into coal. In 1859, the coal seams were discovered and local settlers began collecting it for home use.1

Seven years later, an entrepreneur by the name of Joseph Marshall purchased the early mine with the intent of setting up commercial operations, and expanded to 51 (official) mines after receipt of a U.S. Land Grant from President Andrew Johnson in 1868.2 Mining operations continued in the area until 1946, but not without much strife as working conditions were extremely dangerous and miners were paid poorly.3

Bear Peak
While this winter hike was on an uncharacteristically cloudy day, the distance afforded new views of my favorite Boulder subject, Bear Peak.

Bear Peak and Green Mountain
Another view from a wide angle lens brings Green Mountain into the frame (at right) and captures the thick, soft clouds overhead that created otherworldly formations.

Marshall Mesa Trail
Shortly along on the Marshall Valley trail you’ll encounter slabs of sandstone that attest to the ancient swamps that used to cover this area.

Marshall Valley Trail
A bit over 3/4 miles in, the Marshall Valley Trail comes to a small footbridge above the Davidson Ditch.

Creek at Marshall Mesa
With a mountain backdrop, the Davidson Ditch will surely offer some exceptional photo opportunities come spring and summer.

Footbridge on Marshall Valley Trail
After crossing the bridge, the trail veers right to the Marshall Mesa Trail or continues left for another quarter mile where it splits again to swing back to the Community Ditch trail or continue further west to Cowdrey Draw.

Green Mountain
Note snowcapped Longs Peak (one of Colorado’s 54 14ers) rising in the distance at the right.

Rocks along Marshall Mesa Trail
The geology of the area leads to the discovery of many fascinating rock formations.

Bear Peak and Green Mountain
Another stunning view of Bear Peak and Green Mountain captured though the fish eye lens

Marshall Mesa
The dark stains on these sandstone formations are the result of iron ore. According to the provided signage, it takes 15 feet of ancient vegetation to form 1 foot of coal , and coal seams in the area range from 1-12 feet thick.

Marshall Mesa Trail
A frozen creek leads to mountain views.

Front Range
One of the advantages of being a bit east of the foothills is the amazing range views that seems to stretch on forever.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4 using the Camera+ app; some with the OlloClip lenses

1,2,3 Sampson, Joanna; Walking through History on Marshall Mesa; 2008