Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Castlewood Canyon Dam

Castlewood Canyon Dam is located in Castlewood Canyon State park, east of Castlerock, CO and near Franktown, CO.

The remains of the Castlewood Canyon Dam
Castlewood Canyon Dam was built in the 1889 and blocked the flow of Cherry Creek, creating a reservoir on the southern side of the dam. The dam was built in order to control irrigation and water flow for the farms that are found nearby. The southern branches of Cherry Creek were the site of lots of important Colorado pioneer history, and the communities of Franktown and Castlerock were some of the earliest towns built in what would become Douglas County. The dam itself was a strictly local concern until 1933 when it burst, sending a fifteen-foot high wall of water into downtown Denver, nearly 35 miles away. This remains the second worst occurrence of flooding in Denver history, with the worst flood taking place in 1864, less than a decade after the city's construction.In that case Cherry Creek flooded downtown Denver and caused roughly $6,000,000 in damage to what was then a fairly ramshackle pioneer's town. The Castlewood Dam flood killed two people but didn't do much damage to the downtown area.
Looking south along Cherry Creek
It's interesting to note that the Castlewood Canyon Dam breaking is still an important point of local history for people who live in this part of Douglas County. A few years ago there was a large effort to record local history and remembrances of those who were living in the area when the dam burst. Their stories are recorded in a document called "Where Were You When the Dam Burst".

To sweeten the deal, if you make the trek out to Castlewood Canyon there is a bunch more local history that's worth learning about. Franktown, the nearest community to Castlewood Canyon, was the original seat of Douglas County government, serving in that role from 1861 until 1863. Pike's Peak Grange No. 163 is located in Franktown and is listed on the national Register of Historic Places. The Cherry Creek Bridge, spanning Cherry Creek, is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is found immediately outside of Franktown within Castlewood Canyon State Park. The Russellville Gold Strike took place nearby, and during the Civil War Union and Confederate soldiers fought near the outskirts of Franktown.

If you're not into history then the scenery alone should get you down into this neck of the woods. Castlewood Canyon is a shallow canyon that has been cut into a bed of white limestone by Cherry Creek. The state park is also located at the northern tip of an area called the Black Forest, a part of the Palmer Divide. The Palmer Divide is a ridge that separates the watersheds of the Arkansas and Missouri/Platte Rivers. The Palmer Divide extends perpendicular to the Front Range and serves to create a series of micro-climates, lending to the creation of the Black Forest, a heavily wooded area of pine trees that is surrounded by relatively arid plans and grasslands. Even though this area is east of Denver, and almost everything east of Denver is flat and boring, this is a really great part of the state to visit. And it's close by, which means that you can probably get down here for some hiking of bicycling faster than you could get anywhere decent in the mountains.
Downtown Denver, after the Castlewood Canyon Flood

Getting There By Bike...

You could get all the way to Castlewood Canyon State Park by bike if you really wanted to, though it would take you most of a day to do it. The best way is to take the Cherry Creek Trail all the way south through Parker and into Franktown. It does in fact extend all the way down there, and then it's just a short hop over into the state park. Once you get to the park there are absolutely no paved roads, so some kind of wider tire is definitely required. But the area around here is gorgeous and you'll most likely be thee only cyclist on the road. And if you love exploring gravel and dirt roads on your bike (my new addiction), then this is the place to be.

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