We've taken the kids on some pretty spectacular hikes in Colorado, but since my husband and I don’t ski or partake in winter sports (this will change next year when I take up Nordic/Cross Country), we never thought to take the boys on a winter hike in the snow or up in the higher elevations. When we do go on winter hikes, we opt for trails near and around Denver—which means that there isn’t much snow on the ground and temperatures are usually in the 50s and 60s. But this past weekend we wanted to try something new, and since the kids are getting better in the car we decided the 2 hour trip to Florissant Fossil Bed National Monument would work out well. What I didn’t realize, as I left the house dressed in a light cotton flannel, was that this hike is way up in the mountains (over 9500 feet) where it's about 20-30 degrees cooler than it is in Denver. I was obviously underdressed (thankfully the kids had extra layers in the car), so as we climbed up and up, and as we passed town after town without a suitable store to fix my little problem, I started to think this wouldn't work out so well. But we finally came upon what I'll call a larger “city”- and we spotted a Goodwill Store which I knew would have something suitable. I found what I was looking for in under 2 minutes - an “I Heart Colorado” sweatshirt with a hood! And just like that, for the low price of $3.99, I was outfitted for altitude…so we made our way to our final destination.
Florrisant Fossil Beds National Monument contains the remains of an ancient Redwood forest dating back about 35 million years. Usually whenever I think of the Redwoods my brain immediately goes to the California coastline, but in fact millions of years ago the Colorado climate was actually much more hospitable to these ancient tress. (This would be a good time to tell you that in my pre-kids life I was an environmental lawyer and worked on a campaign to protect the Tillamook Forest in Oregon, so I tend to geek out on all things forest-related, and this trail had me jumping for joy.) Anyway, back when these enormous trees dotted the Colorado landscape, the climate was much warmer and much wetter, which meant that the habitat was perfect for forests and trees here could grow up to 230 feet high. It must have been something. The valley also saw its share of volcanic eruptions, an ever- changing landscape, and it was home to hunter-gatherers (the Paleo-Indians, the Ute and Jicarilla Apache peoples), early Pioneers and scientists. There's a lot of history here- that's what I'm trying to get at...
Unfortunately before the area was protected, much of the petrified wood was taken by tourist as trinkets and collectibles, so not much remains. But there are a few large stumps that you’ll see as you make your way through the 1 mile loop. And you can learn about the ancient fossil beds that contain the remnants of trees that no longer exist in Colorado (but some of which have modern-day relatives in Asia).
The kids loved walking in the snow and though the temperatures were around 40-something degrees, the sun made us warm and the two little guys were real troopers and did most of the hiking themselves. Wet feet aside, it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon…
And this is what we snacked on...
Ina Garten's Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Serves 8 to 10
These are sweet, salty, and spicy--with lots of brown sugar, maple syrup, chipotle powder, and fresh rosemary. Roasting is the process that brings out the most flavor in nuts, and serving them warm is a particularly nice touch.
3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7 ounces)
1/2 cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder* (I used 1 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves, divided
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. Combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.
Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more teaspoons of salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary.
Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.
* Chipotle chile powder is different from ordinary chili powder- it's ground dried smoked jalapeños and has a distinctive hot, smoky, sweet flavor.