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Colorado hikes

Credit: Deb Stanley

By Deb Stanley,

If you like loop hikes, put the Zirkel Circle on your “to do” list. The 11.2 mile trek near Steamboat Springs features two alpine lakes, scenic meadows, a waterfall and numerous cascades.

The hike starts at the Slavonia Trailhead, about 29 miles from town (directions below). The dirt parking lot has a bathroom and signboards. There’s one trail from the parking lot, but there are more trails along the path.

Just 0.2 miles from the parking lot, hikers come to their first trail split. A sign has an arrow pointing right for Gold Creek Lake (Trail No. 1150) and left for Gilpin Lake (Trail No. 1161). You can hike the loop in either direction.  The Gold Creek side is longer so the elevation gain is more gradual. The Gilpin Lake side is harder, but once you hit the lake, you can see the last ridge you have to climb before it’s all downhill.

The Gilpin Lake side is great in the summer months for wildflowers. In the fall, the aspens put on quite a show. When the trees open up, you’ll enjoy beautiful meadows with views of the peaks in the distance. Gilpin Lake sits at the top of this valley on the right side. As you hike, you may get your feet wet. The trail crosses over several streams. Sometimes there are rocks and logs to help you cross, sometimes there are not. As you can hike, you’ll likely hear a loud river nearby, don’t worry, there are close-up views of the cascades occasionally as you hike toward Gilpin Lake. The trail has lots of ups and downs as it gains about 1,000 feet over that first three miles. As you hike the last mile to the lake, there are three sets of steep switchbacks.

When you come over the ridge to the lake, it will be all be worth it. An open field leads right to the shoreline of Gilpin Lake. The lake sits in a bowl below tree line. The lake’s rocky shoreline is surrounded by trees and peaks. Find a spot in the open field for lunch or find a secluded spot on a rock in the trees.

At the lake, you’ll see the ridge you’re climbing next. That’s 450 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile. It’s steep, but the switchbacks help. And you’ll likely be taking lots of breaks on the way up for photos of Gilpin Lake.

At the top, it’s down a different valley to Gold Creek Lake about 2.7 miles away. Like the first valley, this valley features scenic meadows, cascading creeks and water crossings. There are two water crossings on this side that are a little tough. Take your time to scope out the best way across.

Gold Creek Lake is smaller than Gilpin Lake and while Gilpin was dark blue, Gold Creek Lake is green. It’s an odd shape lake so it’s hard to get a good picture of it, but as you hike around the shoreline, you should find some good spots. Take a break, enjoy the views, then it’s about 3.2 miles back to the trailhead. Don’t worry, it’s not a boring trip out. There is thick forest to hike through and an impressive waterfall in this last stretch.

Details: 11.2 miles RT with an elevation gain of about 2,300 feet.

Directions: From U.S. 40 in Steamboat Springs, drive west through town to Elk River Road (County Road 129) and turn right. Follow CR 129 about 18 miles to Seedhouse Road (also known as NFSR 400/CR 64) and turn right. This is a dirt road that can be rough, but manageable for passenger cars. (Check with the Forest Service for the latest conditions.) Drive 11 miles to the end of the road at the Slavonia trailhead.

For more great hikes in Colorado and the west, click here.

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Taylor Kirby received her first gun on her sixth birthday, a present from her father, Rick. It was a little Daisy BB gun, which had been spray painted pink and white. As adorable as it might have been, hindsight says maybe it wasn't the best of ideas.

“I was probably not paying attention,” Taylor Kirby said. “I shot a rock, bullet came back and missed me by that much, and left a little dent in my cousin's Ford.”

Now 14, the Soroco High School freshman is much more adept when it comes to handling, and shooting, guns. Last weekend at the Colorado 4-H State Shooting Sports Championships in Pueblo, she led the South Routt 4-H Shooting Club with 10 ribbons and three state championships, part of a combined 30 ribbons and four state championships won by the club.

Taylor's brother, 11-year-old Jed, won seven ribbons and was part of the state championship air pistol team that included Taylor, Chase de la Mater and Spencer Ashley.

“I couldn't have been more proud. I was crying the entire time,” said Jennifer Kirby, the mother of Taylor and Jed. “Jed sees Taylor as the best shooter. Of course he wanted to ribbon, but he was more interested in beating his sister. And he was able to beat her in a couple of events. I don't know that a brother-sister have ever tied for a grand championship, but as a mom that was a heart attack.”

Taylor and Jed tied for first in the air pistol, with Taylor taking the grand championship after three tiebreakers. Taylor also took first in the .22 scope and won first place for her air rifle stand-alone exhibit, giving the South Routt club five first-place ribbons. The air rifle team of Taylor, Jed, de la Mater and Hailey Minnick took second.

“It kind of sucked. She's always been better than I have,” Jed said about losing to his sister. “But it was really cool to watch her. She's very good.”

The South Routt 4-H Shooting Club, coached by Rick Kirby and John Halder, is on an upward swing. Just four years ago, when Rick Kirby took over, the only four kids participating were Taylor, Jed, de la Mater and Yampa's Kendra Halder, the daughter of John Halder.

This year, they were able to send 10 kids to state, including two (Kai Lancaster and Jonathan Lockhart) from Steamboat Springs. The club operates mostly from the Kirby's ranch, located a few miles south of Toponas, and receive coaching help from local competitive shooters Dan Miller and Mike Lewis.

“You hope for it, because there is a lot of effort involved in it, and it's fun to have a few more kids,” Rick Kirby said about the club's recent growth and success. “Jed is coming into his own, but Taylor is really starting to figure it out. We are hoping she sticks with it, because you can definitely get scholarships through this kind of stuff. And Kendra looks like she's going to go the whole way, too.”

Outside of the Kirby kids, Kendra Halder has proven she is easily one of the best shots in the state. The only South Routt 4-H shooter competing in the senior age division (everyone else was competing as a junior), Halder took first in air rifle utility and was the lone South Routt kid to qualify for next summer's national competition in Nebraska, making it in both air rifle and .22.

“My first year as a senior I went out there not knowing what to expect, and to have qualified for nationals in two events this year is pretty exciting for me,” said Halder, a junior at Soroco High School. “I'm not really nervous right now, but I know I need to practice a lot. I'm sure as the competition itself gets closer, I'll get a little nervous.”

The Kirbys hope the success of this year's group will get more kids interested in the shooting club and 4-H in general. When Rick Kirby took over the club, it was mostly because nobody else had stepped up and his kids wanted to continue with the sport. Only a few years later, it's blossomed into a successful team that will have its first national competitor come next June.

“The whole thing is, they should be having fun. The minute it becomes a job for them, they are not going to want to do it,” Rick Kirby said. “I would like to see it continue, for sure. I would like to see all these kids work their way up through the ranks and get all the way through. It's a lifelong sport.”

For more information about 4-H and to get involved with the shooting club, Rick Kirby said to go through the Routt County Extension Office.

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