Urban wildness

This morning when most people in Denver were going to work I took my bike and binoculars and headed out for ride alongside two major freeways to see what other things live among the 682,545+ human inhabitants. I knew there was a of industry on the northwest end of the Sand Creek Greenway trail and I wanted to see what kind of plants and animals I would find who have adapted to living along an inner city creek and its riparian area so close to heavy traffic.

The trail is much greener and wooded than I expected. I spent some time looking at it on Google Earth where the aerial photography must date back a couple of years. On an August morning with the temperature hovering around 60° at 8:30am it was a surprisingly pleasant ride and there was quite a bit of activity along the creek. Riding northwest from the parking area just off 56th and Sandcreek Dr S the trail descends slowly for 1.83 miles until it reaches the South Platte River trail. In some places the riparian zone is set back from the trail and the open short grassland areas are a lovely ripe golden color despite the recent daily afternoon rain showers. Both blue grama and side oats grama grow in abundance easily identifiable just riding by. Today the breeze was stirring the leaves of all trees as I passed by nearly drowning out the sound of the freeway traffic making riding next to the freeway astonishingly peaceful.

The path follows along the north side of Sand Creek, crossing several bridges and going under others. The atmosphere riding the trail changes dramatically from the pastoral  to uneasy urban decay. If you look, there is beauty in all of it. The water birds hunt these shallow pools and glide by in the deeper waters. Snowy egrets (?, I couldn’t see their feet), ruddy ducks and double-crested cormorants were busily working the creek. One lone egret moved slowly on its long slender legs in water no deeper than the tops of its feet, but every few seconds it extended its long neck down to scoop some water borne tidbit up and swallow it. One cormorant was sunning itself on a boulder in the middle of the stream, wings spread wide, while the others were swimming in deeper water.

Both sides of the creek displayed an abundance of sunflowers today, adding softness to the hard edge of the trail and freeway right-of-way.

To the east of the Dalhia trailhead about a mile and a half there is a small but thriving wetlands area and while some song birds were too hidden to see the bright yellow American goldfinches could be easily spotted in some of the taller trees along with a large and watchful buteo who was probably a red-tailed hawk. Even with the field glasses I couldn’t see enough of its markings to get a definite ID. Just an hour’s leisurely ride and only minutes from downtown Denver with a variety of bird species, rabbits, a snake, it’s astonishingly rejuvenating and fun.


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