Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a series of 6 letterboxes in which you must find the 1st one in the series in order to know the starting point of the next, and so on, throughout the series. These letterboxes were placed in June, 2010. The series can be completed rather easily in a single day, but the best timing for the experiences along the way would be to recommend finding the 1st letterbox in the series shortly before noon/lunchtime. 3 of the 6 letterboxes can be found without hiking or walking much at all, and the other 3 require walking or hiking a relatively short distance. The route will take you through a quaint & scenic region of southwest Jefferson County, close to the front-range & the Denver metro area, but with rock formations & rivers reminiscent of Moab, Utah. Newcomers will love it, and those who may have been through our neighborhood before will be reminded of how special it is. Along the way century old tiny cabins lie on perfect & perfectly insane locations. A mercantile from the late 1800’s renovated (term used loosely) into a one-of-a-kind restaurant & bar is a must-see. Valleys, meadows, streams, rivers and a lake complete this day trip in the Rocky Mountains. Plan on stopping for lunch along the way, no need to bring your own. Have fun & good luck!
The Key: The 1st letterbox in the series is the KEY. You will need the Key for the AUTOMOBILE, the 2nd letterbox in the series. The Key is located along South Elk Creek Road, south of Shaffer’s crossing on HWY 285 which is approximately 5 miles southwest of Conifer. Once you turn onto S Elk Creek Rd from HWY 285, follow the road through a narrow & windy group of old cabins called Glen Elk. As you are driving along this stretch of the road you will notice that the creek, Elk Creek, is on your right. Continue along this well paved stretch of the road until 2 things occur; 1) the road turns from smooth pavement to rough recycled asphalt AND 2) you cross the creek & it is now on your left. Immediately at this landmark on the right once you cross the creek is a pull-out. Park here. Along side this pull-out there is a small cliff. Looking up at the cliff you will see what looks like a small cave, about 6 feet wide & only about a foot high at most. On the left side of this cave there is a small pine tree, about 2 feet tall. To the left of this tree, inside the cave, under a couple of rocks is the Key. Note the starting point for the Auto.
The Automobile: The 2nd letterbox in the series is the AUTOMOBILE. You will need the Auto for the TICKET, THE 3rd letterbox in the series. The Auto is located exactly 1.5 miles on the left from the starting point. At this location there is another, yet smaller pull-out in the road on the right side. Park here. Directly across the road on your left is an old outhouse hiding behind the branches of a large pine tree. On the floor of this outhouse, under a blackish mat is the Automobile. You may either climb up the somewhat steep little ridge to the outhouse directly, or more easily walk about 70 steps further down the road, passing the only remnants of an old cabin, the foundation, on your left, to where you will see the “footprint” of an old driveway that will lead you gradually up to the dwelling. Note the starting point for the Ticket.
The Ticket: The 3rd letterbox in the series is the TICKET. You will need the Ticket for the TRAIN, the 4th letterbox in the series. From the starting point follow the road further along & downward until you reach a 4-way stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign which will be 4th street. Follow 4th St shortly to the next stop sign upon which you will see a library on your left & an emporium on your right. Turn left again & follow this road with the river on your right, about 2.5 miles and turn left once again on CNTY RD 96. Note the building on your right shortly after you turn onto CNTY RD 96. Above the doorway of this building is an engraving that reads: J.W. Green & below that 1898. Follow CNTY RD 96 along the river on your right for about 4.3 miles upon which the road is now called South Platte River Rd & continues to follow alongside the river. Do not turn left here, heading up & away from the river. Now follow S Platte River Rd for another 5 miles until you reach the historic landmark, the South Platte Hotel. On your left is a parking lot. Park here. On the far end of the parking lot near the bathrooms, follow the chained-off little gravel road to the gate at the end of the road & on this side of the river. Go up & over the short stairs which takes you over this gate. Follow the road/trail past the little green structure on the right, where you will find the river as well. As you walk along this trail there will be a rock wall on the other side of the river bank that appears & disappears as you walk along. From the stairs to the Ticket it’s about a 10 minute walk along completely flat terrain. Near the Ticket on the left of the trail you will see 2 nearly branchless dead trees about 20 feet tall and 12 feet apart. Between these trees from a little distance there appears to be whitish-grey rocks in between. Across the river is a rock cliff with a lone dead pine tree at the top. The dead tree closest to you as you walk along has a small hole near the top. The 2nd dead tree looks like a “Y” when you get near it. From this “Y” tree take about 20 steps further along the trail and look to your left. About 25 feet above you is a single 3 foot “post” sticking out of a group of rocks at the base. Looking up at this post, but directly in front of you will be a log about 5 feet wide laying horizontally. In front of this log is a grey rock with veins of white on the left side of it. Under some rocks on the right side of this “painted” rock is the Ticket. Note the starting point for the Train. 2nd Note: There is a letterbox placed on the other side of this river by someone else.
The Train: The 4th letterbox in the series is the TRAIN. You will need the train for the PLANE, the 5th letterbox in the series. From the starting point follow the dirt road back out to the paved road and turn right, back toward the town. This is CNTY RD 126/Pine Valley Rd. Pass through this little familiar town and turn left shortly after you have passed through town & follow the signs to Pine Valley Ranch Park. Park in the lowest/furthest lot if possible, down by the picnic tables & bathrooms. Now find the Pagoda. Hint: This side of the river, near the picnic tables, hiding in the trees & across a little bridge, NOT the big bridge crossing the river. You will find the Train under the Pagoda behind the right side of the steps. Note the starting point for the Plane.
(5) The Plane: The 5th letterbox in the series is the PLANE. You will need the Plane to find the final letterbox in the series, the PARK. From the starting point look for a trailhead sign that reads: Park View Trail. Follow the steps upward & onto the trail. After about 122 stairs and about a 10 minute hike upward, there is a scenic view on the left with a sign that reads: Caution Steep Drop Off. Standing on the far left side of the railing overlooking the lake there is what looks like a narrow path leading about 12 feet to what looks like a somewhat small, upside-down tear dropped shaped rock sandwiched between 2 large boulders. Those with young children should accompany them very closely for this one. Under a smaller rock under the tear-shaped one is the Plane. Note the starting point for the Park.
(6) The Park: The 6th & final letterbox in the series is the PARK. From the starting point continue along the trail, up another 54 stairs or so and follow the trail as it veers away from the river & turns back toward the lake. The hike from the Plane to the Park is about another 10 minutes away. You will pass 2 switchbacks and come upon a trailhead marker with a white arrow pointing to your left. Do NOT turn left. Turn right & head toward a rock outcropping with a large burnt tree on the right. From here you can see forever in all directions. You will know this spot from the piece of square concrete sitting on the top of one of the rocks. On the top of the concrete is a metal triangle. Facing the triangle, on your left below you, less than 50 feet away is a large piece of reddish-pink granite, somewhat flattish & covering a large area. It is covered with moss/lichen and white colored pieces of small rocks imbedded in it. On the far west end of this stands a dead tree about 8 feet tall. Hidden beside this tree in between the bushes & under a small log & some rocks is the Park. Welcome to my “backyard”. If you made it this far, you have passed my humble abode. After living nearby since 2001, I can tell you honestly that I was “turned-on” to this area more than ten years prior. Hope you will enjoy it as well. Hint: Another letterbox has been placed along this trail by someone else.
Quickest Way Out: Exit Pine Valley Ranch Park as you entered it, but turn left back onto CNTY RD 126/Pine Valley Rd to HWY 285 at Pine Junction. Turn right to go back to the city, left for deeper into the mountains……
-Grateful Dad & the Boys