In this week’s segment of the guest post series, Suzy of Suzy Guese returns to her native Colorado for a hike to the top of no less than: Devil’s Head, in Colorado’s Pike National Forest. She reminisces her childhood and why she’ll never be “that Colorado skier” but concludes that she “can always hike to the head of a devil, no problem”. Join Suzy on this offbeat trail just an hour south of Denver.
THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT
I always thought of the mountains of Colorado as a barrier, keeping me from traveling beyond them. Driving away from elementary school in Denver, the car would always head west toward home. An overwhelming view of the mountains would present itself every day at 3:15 PM. I would daydream of going beyond that blockade, while getting out of the ugliness of a Catholic school uniform. I wondered what lay behind the mask of the mighty Colorado mountains.
Growing up in Colorado, most locals develop an affinity for skiing and snow. My family embraced the sport. However, I did not. I hated the feeling of not being in control, whizzing down a Rocky Mountain with two sticks strapped to Frankenstein boots leading you to god only knows where, down a cliff or a gift of grace, to the end of the run safe and sound. After a teary-eyed final run in Vail back in college, I finally accepted the fact that I would just not be that Colorado skier.
Whenever I tell someone where I am from, most remark with something about those definers of Colorado, the snow and ski. Not being a fan of either, I quickly found other ways to enjoy the state’s most prized resident, the Rocky Mountains. Summers spent hiking in Colorado quieted my doubts about actually being a Colorado native. If I didn’t like skiing and snow, was the origin on my birth certificate incorrect? Rather than making me wonder if I was really adopted, my parents began taking my four other siblings and I on hikes throughout Colorado. Some were more rigorous and touristy, while one in particular always stood out in my childish mind.
Devil’s Head National Recreation Trail and Fire Lookout sits far off the tourist path in Sedalia, Colorado, south of Denver in Pike National Forest. Its rock formation is known to resemble the head of the devil from a distance. Not wanting to ever know what the head of the devil looks like, I will take my state’s natural word on the matter.
Even finding Devil’s Head can be an issue if you don’t know what you are looking for. A city slicker through and through, the hike up to Devil’s Head is comfortable, just over an hour outside of Denver. I have a strange draw to the modern conveniences the city provides. Hiking Devil’s Head gave me a temporary break from being so connected, yet allowed me to remain in touch with modern Colorado.
Returning to Devil’s Head probably ten years since my last hike, I began the trek up memory lane. The 1.4 mile-long hike does not overwork you, but the view at the top certainly leaves you breathless. I approached the intimidating steps to the actual top of Devil’s Head. All 143 of them stared at me in bright orange. My heart began pounding just as it had when I was a pre-teen. The uncertainty of reaching the top is there and falling to your hellish end looms. Yet for some reason, the devil seemingly protects the hiker. Gaining 940 feet, I reached the top on this warm May afternoon. On the previous day, 60 mph winds whipped through the area. The devil was on my shoulder today with very little breeze and nothing but blue skies at its summit.
A 360-degree view of Colorado’s finest beauty overpowers anyone at the peak of Devil’s Head. It is not about you anymore. Mountain peaks over 100 miles away are visible, including the famous Pike’s Peak. Pickled with snow, I am glad Pike and myself are getting to know one another all over again at a distance.
At the top of Devil’s Head, a fire station stands. Since 1912, a station has filled these large shoes up in Colorado’s sky, used mainly for looking out for fires. Devil’s Head is prone to high frequency lightning strikes. Thirty to forty fires are spotted in the area during summer. Because of its open vantage point, the fire station on top of the head of the devil is able to spot fires soon after they begin – an oxymoron of sorts, the devil extinguishing fire.
Before making the trek back down, Bill the park ranger hands me my “green card”. The card certifies that you “climbed to the top of the Devil’s Head Lookout Station guarding the Pike National Forest against fires, and is therefore recognized as a member of the ancient and honorable order of squirrels”. Don’t ask. It doesn’t make sense to me either but I am happy to be a part of honorable squirrels rather than dishonorable ones.
Ranger Bill leaves me with a chilling reminder of Colorado’s unpredictable weather. On the previous day, a group of school children made the climb up to the tower. Heading back down the trail, a tree collapsed due to heavy winds just as these children passed through safely. While lucky and frightening, there is something odd about Devil’s Head. The babbling brook on the way down and the towering rock formations strung out about the trail only give off a heavenly aura. A tower that protects from devilish fires is no devil at all. I am glad the devil made me return to my native roots. I may not be a Colorado skier but I can always hike to the head of a devil, no problem.