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Hike Through History: Soapstone, a Must-Do Adventure Close to Home

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Photo by Charlie Johnson, City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

Photo by Charlie Johnson, Courtesy of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine played hooky from work and suggested we hike at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. If you’re not familiar with Soapstone, it’s probably because it only opened to the public in 2009. However, archaeologists have been talking about the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, which is part of Soapstone, since the Smithsonian and Colorado Museum of Natural History excavated it in the 1930s.

I really enjoyed Soapstone, but before I went the first time, I wish I would have researched it to get even more out of the experience. I thought it was a very peaceful place to hike with some great views. There is something about prairie grass swaying in the breeze that makes it easy to forget your troubles… But I had no idea the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site is considered “One of the most important archaeological finds in the Western Hemisphere,” according The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center.

Learn a little about Soapstone before you go
Soapstone is about 25 miles from downtown Fort Collins, but there is much you can learn about it before you get there. I suggest some quick visits to the Fort Collins Convention & Visitors Bureau Downtown Information Center (19 Old Town Square) and The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center (200 Mathews Street). At the end of this post, I include a suggested itinerary to get the most out of your day at Soapstone. Particularly for families, Soapstone offers a great mix of adventure and education.

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center put together a great booklet about the excavation that can also be downloaded online: http://www.fcmdsc.org/museum/lindenmeier.pdf. To see first hand some of the artifacts found at the Lindenmeier site and immerse yourself in its history, visit the museum’s The Discovery exhibit – its collection is only rivaled by the Smithsonian. Additional artifacts were added to the exhibit last year to celebrate the opening of Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.

Stop by the Downtown Information Center to pick up a map and ask questions about Soapstone. The map can also be found on the City of Fort Collins Web site along with background information and an overview of the different trails.

Photo by Charlie Johnson, Courtesy of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

Photo by Charlie Johnson, Courtesy of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

The History
According to the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, the Lindenmeier excavation site was “the smoking gun that proved humans had lived on this continent for at least 10,500 years.” It is an Ice Age Indian site that archaeologists say sheds light on a culture many didn’t believe existed in North America. According to the booklet from the museum, at the time it was believed humans had only been on the continent 3,000 to 4,000 years, thus the extreme interest from the Smithsonian in this site.

What was also significant according to the museum booklet, is how much more advanced people of the Ice Age were than what was previously thought. Archaeologists learned people of this time stayed in one place longer (but weren’t afraid to travel), were more socially inclined and had a wide variety of functional and decorative items. It wasn’t just about hunting and gathering – apparently even back then in Fort Collins, lifestyle mattered.

Make a Day Out of It

  • Download a map, determine which trail(s) you want to hike and get directions.
  • Pack some lunches to eat at Soapstone.
  • Visit The Discovery exhibit at The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center in the morning to see artifacts from the Lindenmeier excavation and learn more about the history of the site. Take a copy of The Excavation at Lindenmeier booklet with you or better yet, download it here and read it before you go: http://www.fcmdsc.org/museum/lindenmeier.pdf
  • Before or after your hike, have lunch at the Lindenmeier Overlook (0.3 miles from the trailhead), a unique picnic area with some great views.
  • Hike the Towhee Loop, the Mahogany Loop or part of both. Be sure to spend a little time on the Canyon Trail, which can be your connection between the two loops.

The Details

  • The Lindenmeier Archaeological Site is part of the Fort Collins’ Soapstone Prairie Natural Area (SPNA). You can also hike between Soapstone and the Red Mountain Open Space.
  • Soapstone Prairie National Park is open daily March through November from dawn until dusk.
  • Admission is free and parking is available.
  • Different trails are open to hiking, biking and horseback riding. Dogs are not allowed on the trails or in cars parked at Soapstone.
  • For directions, a map and summary of the trails, visit http://www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/soapstone

Soapstone opened in March for the 2010 season. We went late in the day, so we mainly hiked the Towhee Loop. However, we did connect to the Canyon Trail for a bit at the top, which even inspired us to jog. It looks like it’s going to be a nice weekend, so I say there is no time like the present to hit the trails. Where do you like to hike? Have you been to Soapstone? Share your experiences here. Also if you have any questions, I will try to find the answers.

Written by TanyaFlynn

April 7th, 2010 at 8:56 am

10 Responses to 'Hike Through History: Soapstone, a Must-Do Adventure Close to Home'

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  1. So, what day are we going? Sounds really great and the sound of prairie grass will help me to not get homesick!

    Tara

    7 Apr 10 at 11:48 am

  2. Thanks for the great plug for the Lindenmeier booklet! Soapstone and Lindenmeier are both favorite topics here at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, and we’re always excited for people to have a chance to learn about the amazing cultural and natural history that can be found up there.

    For people who are as Soapstone-obsessed as we are, check out 2 short videos the Museum has produced in the last couple of years: the first one is called “Meeting in the Center with Respect,” and talks about the landscape from a Native American perspective. It’s 13 minutes long and was filmed at Soapstone. The second is “Speaking History,” which we produced as part of an oral history project that interviewed people with ties to the Soapstone area. It’s about 9 minutes long. Both can be found at http://fcmdsc.org/online/videos.html

    Terry Burton

    8 Apr 10 at 7:41 am

  3. Thanks Terry – I’ve really enjoyed learning about Soapstone. The museum has so many great resources – thanks for sharing the link to the videos. The hikes at Soapstone are very enjoyable, but understanding the history truly changes the experience!

    TanyaFlynn

    8 Apr 10 at 8:13 am

  4. We will definitely visit Soapstone when you’re in town. I promise you won’t get homesick at all – there is so much to do here. Can’t wait to see you!

    TanyaFlynn

    8 Apr 10 at 8:23 am

  5. Thanks Tanya for the great article about Soapstone Prairie! One more tip to add-
    there is a full schedule of free educational programs and guided hikes (including ones highlighting archeology, wildlife and ecology) in a publication called Tracks and Trails, released soon! See http://www.fcgov.com/naturalareas in mid-April, or sign up for the natural areas electronic newsletter to get Tracks and Trails delivered to your email box!
    Thanks
    Zoe Whyman
    City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program
    Community Relations Manager

    Zoe Whyman

    8 Apr 10 at 9:00 am

  6. This is great Zoe. Thanks for the information about the guided hikes – it seems like a terrific way to get to know Soapstone! There are some other great outdoor experiences featured on that link too. Thanks again

    TanyaFlynn

    8 Apr 10 at 9:41 am

  7. Thanks for a terrific story. I live in central Missouri, but have visited Soapstone and was just awe-inspired by it and the history of the area. The Fort Collins Museum and Science Center has a wonderful collection of artifacts and has done so much to help to make the area of real interest.

    Nancy Burton

    8 Apr 10 at 10:08 am

  8. Thanks for “unearthing” all these gems!

    Noi

    8 Apr 10 at 4:10 pm

  9. Thanks Nancy! I hope you are able to visit the area again sometime soon.

    TanyaFlynn

    8 Apr 10 at 4:29 pm

  10. Noi – thank you for reading and for your feedback. Anything else you think I should check out?

    TanyaFlynn

    8 Apr 10 at 4:31 pm

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