19-Sep-2015 -- With the waning days of summer well upon us here in Northern Colorado I knew I needed to tackle one last confluence before the dark, snowy days are here. I had attempted this confluence, the closest one to my town of Fort Collins, in August of last year. That trip was an attempt at a completely carbon-neutral confluence visit, riding my bike from our apartment all the way to the final footpath. However, the trail was closed due to flooding during the previous months and so I had to turn around, leaving the mission incomplete.
This time around I opted to pack my bike into the trunk of our Jeep and drive up most of the way north, remembering how loosely-packed many of the dirt roads of my former approach were. Just like last time my plan was to reach this confluence from the southwest, i.e. from the Colorado side through Soapstone Prairie (a free City of Fort Collins Natural Area), which hadn’t been done before (the only successful previous visits were from Wyoming to the east). I dropped my wife off at work and was parked at Soapstone by 11:40am with a temperature of 60 deg. F and a light wind out of the north.
I got my bike out of the trunk and hopped on. My biggest concern was that my bike, a hybrid road bike without suspension, would be inadequate for the trails to the site, this concern made more dire by the fact that I had forgotten my spare tubes and patch kit. I took the southern spur of the Pronghorn loop east until it hit the Plover Trail (see map photo), which I rode counter-clockwise until reaching the ranch manager’s residence. The trail was surprisingly flat, well-packed, non-rocky, and all-around doable for a fit guy albeit on a road bike. True to the path’s name I spooked a herd of about 20 pronghorns along the way, along with thousands upon thousands of grasshoppers sunning themselves along the trail. The grasshoppers would spring up and the unlucky ones would get whacked by my spokes. I encountered two gates along the way that ask hikers/bikers/equestrians to latch them after they pass through. The Pronghorn Loop turned into a two-track truck trail about halfway to Plover and remained as such the rest of the way to where I had to ditch my bike.
Just before reaching the ranch manager’s residence I had my first of many run-ins with cattle, who always make me uneasy due to their sheer size. They were on the trail by some running water and peered at me leerily as I rounded the bend. I made some whooping noises as I slowly approached and they hesitantly stepped aside, allowing me to pass. At the residence I dismounted, walked through the closed gate, and went up to the front steps of the cute house, calling to see if anyone was elsewhere on the premises outside. After knocking and waiting about a minute it was clear no one was home. I left the landowner letter and continued on the final half mile northeast to the fence that extends due north to the confluence.
Where this fence intersects this road is a video-monitored gate emblazoned with “Soapstone Ranch”. Here at 12:40pm, exactly one hour after beginning the ride, I laid my bike and helmet down in the grass and then turned my sights northward, under an unmarked west-to-east barbed wire fence. Quickly the terrain gets steep as the fence spans a small butte. At a false peak I ducked over the fence and continued to parallel the fence, this time on the east side. All was silent and a lone buzzard circled overhead. Visibility was outstanding and I could see the smokestack of the power plant to the south, Fort Collins, and even Longs Peak. Cresting the hill I headed back down to the other side, following my GPS until it beeped that I had arrived.
The actual site of the confluence is almost at plains elevation when descending northward from the butte. It is also almost on a rocky outcropping, but when doing the confluence dance I discovered it was actually on the ground beneath it. Under this outcropping an animal had recently amassed a bunch of sticks and debris. I lingered for maybe twenty minutes eating snacks and taking the requisite pictures. A whole herd of cattle on the west side of the fence (thankfully) quickly noticed my presence and stamped over to the fence in an attempt to figure out what a human was.
I arrived back at the car at 2:15pm, 2.5 hours after I started and with 17 total miles on my bike odometer. The ride back was ten minutes quicker, a combination of downhill trails and familiarity. I was thankful for no punctured tires, which would have required me running/walking with my bike the 8.5 miles back! I had not seen a single soul at Soapstone despite seeing a couple cars in the parking lot and finding a gate reopened on my return to the car. I was thankful for a beautiful day out on the Plains, and thankful that I finally bagged the confluence closest to where I lay my head at night. Here’s to more confluences in 2016.