How did you spend Earth Day? As some of you may or may not know, Stella and I embrace being labeled as “tree huggers.” We are ultra conscientious about our impact upon the Earth; we recycle everything possible, attempt to reduce water waste, use biodegradable & recycled products, used a compost bin, etc. Perhaps it is because of our respect and love for nature that we are always eager to be active in the outdoors.
On this particular day, I was digging around on the internet looking for a new hike that was near by, and just happened to stumble upon on this gem. I had attempted to coax Stella into joining me, but she was already settled upon doing other things that day. So, I gathered my stuff and headed to the trailhead, which I accessed via W Jackson Creek Road, and continued beyond the paved road and into the wildness. The trailhead is approximately 9 miles from this point.
After several miles of traversing switchbacks, you will join South Rampart Range Road. The journey to the trailhead was beautiful; however, I would caution you to pay attention to the road because there is little room for error in some instances. Aside from that, the trail reminded me of my time in Marquette, Michigan, when I was tooling around the woods in my Jeep Wrangler.
Geared up and off I go, Shortly after accessing the trailhead, you will immediately notice a swath of fallen trees, and my curious mind pondered had what caused those trees to topple. A few steps later, my question was answered. Apparently, tornados do happen in the mountains, which had occurred on July 21, 2015. As I continued my trek, I was quickly reminded how out of shape I was compared to this time last fall. But nonetheless, I would highly recommend you to take your time as there are many spectacular views along the trail. You will know when you have reached the base of the lookout tower, because you will meander through a miniature canyon that immediately opens into a small meadow called, “Hells Half Acre”. There, you will find the caretakers cabin, which hosts Billy Ellis and his wife. More on Billy later.
After taking in the sights around the meadow, I began the climb up 143 stairs, which is what stood between me and the Devil’s Head Lookout Tower. The tower is perched at 9748 feet, which is the highest point along the Rampart Range. First, a bit of history… This fire lookout is the last of seven fire lookout towers that is staffed by the forest service along the Front Range. The original lookout was built in 1912 and basically was no more than a structure for protection from the elements. In 1919 Helen Dowe became the first woman to be stationed at the lookout tower, and one of the first in the nation. That same year, a permanent 10 X 10 structure was built with glass windows and a hip roof.
In 1951, the lookout was replaced once again, and is the same structure that stands today. What is more interesting though, is that I had a chance to speak with Billy Ellis, the current staff member watching for fires from the lookout. Little did I know that he has been a permanent fixture at the lookout since 1984. After receiving a hands-on demonstration of the fire-finder, I learned that Billy is 86 years old. Truly an amazing story in itself. He treks up and down those stairs every day. In 2003 the Devil’s Head Lookout was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The trek is well worth the climb; the views are spectacular and I would imagine only more impressive on a crystal clear day. Pikes Peak is to the south, Ten Mile and the Gore Range to the west, Sangre de Cristo to the South/Southwest, and Longs Peak to the North is visible on a clear day. I could have spent hours staring out into the great expanse, but I knew I had to reverse course to get back to Stella and Aspen. If you are looking for a quick day hike, be certain to put this on your adventure list. In the summer, I would plan on starting early in the morning to avoid an afternoon thunderstorm that could prevent you from climbing to the lookout. And, be sure to spend a little time in “Hells Half Acre,” as there are tidbits of history about the lookout tower.