In Colorado Springs, the west side is spoiled with Red Rock Canyon Open Space. The east side with Palmer Park. The south side with North Cheyenne Canon Park. And to the north: Ute Valley Park.

They are all special in their own ways, unique for their natural make-ups. They are similar for their access — in easy, surprising reach of the neighborhood. At Ute Valley Park, it's a collection of meadows, woods and rock outcrops. And what a quick, wild escape it is.

At last visit, we opted for a simple, gentle tour of a defining ridge — Pine Ridge, according to a trail marker.

We started from the trailhead off Vindicator Drive, pleasantly surprised to find a parking spot in the early afternoon. Be warned that with the limited space, you might not be so lucky.

We started on the lot's east side, crossing the foot bridge through the meadow. At the four-way, we continued straight, curving around to the steep but not too-steep chute of rock. This is a downhill joy ride for mountain bikes descending from the beloved, nearby trail called Nachos.

Upward, views emerge of grassy hills and bluffs. Farther out is Pulpit Rock and the eastern treeline of Black Forest. Nachos starts at an open, rocky junction, where we saw a family enjoying a picnic.

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We stayed straight, descending. The trail leads to another four-way, where a stately Pikes Peak enters the viewshed, along with the canyons folding above Garden of the Gods. A bench is posted here for longer admiration. Also posted is a trail map, which you might analyze for further exploration. We went back the way we came.

Trip log: 2 miles, 355 feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Directions: From Interstate 25, take the exit for Woodmen Road. Drive west on Woodmen/Rockrimmon Boulevard. Turn right on Vindicator Drive and continue to the trailhead parking lot.

FYI: Park hours 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Nov. 1-April 30. Multi-use, non-motorized trails. Dogs on leash. Trails can be icy in winter; wear traction.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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