Finally after all these years of wondering what was up the dark road in the trees along highway 67 I have taken the plunge 🙂 Drove up to the ranger station and paid my daily pass fee. The nice lady gave me a map of all the attractions and trails available in the park and off I went!
I decided to first just drive all the way through and get the lay of the land before delving into any trail exploration and the winding road took me a few miles back into the vast park, past picnic grounds, campgrounds, horse facilities, an RV park and finally to the turnaround at the north end.
I was most intrigued by the Ridge View Trail so I opted to hike that one. It looked pretty rugged and I’m no expert mountain biker so tackling that one on foot was my only option. It wasn’t a long walk before indeed there was a stone outcropping and an overlook. Unfortunately there is so much haze and smoke in the air these days that there wasn’t much of a view, just some close by hills in the Pike National Forest.
Finally the turnaround came into view at about 1.5 miles in and there was another
overlook with a little better view than the first spot… I think I would have been able to see the Sangre were it not for all the stuff in the air. As I was preparing to take a picture some kind of eagle soared majestically toward my position so I switched my camera to wide area focus and tried for a couple of captures. At first I was thinking this was a golden eagle, but now I’m not sure what it is, possibly even just a turkey vulture. Don’t know and I don’t feel like trying to find out, I simply don’t have the patience to be a bird photographer. Then I was trying to decide whether to go back the way I came or to continue on into some more rugged terrain hoping for a loop back to the trailhead… by the way, the map that they give you at the park entrance, bring it with you on your hike… those trail numbers may come into play later on. Eventually I did the smart thing and just went back the way I came. As it turns out the trail I was on came to and end right where I was and there was a possible loop back but it would have involved two additional numbered trails, which of course were on the map that I failed to bring with me 🙁
I was also interested in exploring the Elk Meadow trail, sounded like a good place to find some elk to photograph! Not so much… but I did see a fine specimen of a mule deer buck who just stared at me so I could photograph him. After a few shots I went back to my truck for the 1.4x lens extender and the tripod, but by the time I was ready again the huge buck had disappeared into the woods.
When I got to the Elk Meadows trail I could see where it went, right through a large meadow and there simply were no elk there. I had also read that there might be more elk on the north end of the park along the old Cheeseman Ranch Trail so I went to check that out. You have to drive all the way through all the camping areas including the tent sites to get to the trailhead, which is also the trailhead for the Grouse Mountain Overlook. It’s a seven mile trail through the meadows at the north end, which seemed longer than I wanted to hike at that point so I just walked a few yards along the wide path to see if I could see anything. There was another trail off to the left with a sign so I went to check it out. No bikes it said…. hmmm well that must mean that there are bikes allowed on the trail I was on!
Wonderful, with my bike I was going to be able to explore that trail after all! I climbed on my bike and began a long enjoyable glide along the well maintained artery through the woods. I became a bit concerned when after a while I realized I had not had to pedal for a long time… approximately four miles of long time 🙁 Eventually the trail gave way to an unmarked jeep road with a couple of signs that said “emergency exit” and I was getting a little nervous that I had made a wrong turn somewhere. But I fought the urge to chicken out and turn back and finally the trail veered to the west and then made a turn back into the park through a marshy area just behind the ridge. There were a few tough inclines followed by long flat cruises that I was easily able to handle so I took hope that the designers of the park had found a way to get back to the beginning without any killer hills!
In the marshy area I spotted something in the brush moving around so I stopped and dismounted while
gazing intently into the ground cover. I soon discovered that there was a flock of wild turkeys scampering around near a pool of water so I slowly got out my camera and inched my way towards the little group. Unfortunately they spotted me and made their way into a thicket where I couldn’t see them very well. I did get off a couple of not so good shots in poor lighting as they popped in and out of the branches on their way to safety at the top of the ridge.
And just as I was starting to feel pretty good about a quick return to the trailhead, there it was… the price of an easy four mile downhill ride. A trail pretty much straight up the side of the ridge… I quickly shifted into low and powered up the mountain, sweat pouring down my face and stinging my eyes. I could hear the blood pumping through my ears and the sound of myself sucking wind. I thought I was going to spit out my lungs when I finally gave up and decided to stop and catch my breath. Eventually I got back on and promptly had to jump right back off when I couldn’t get going 🙁 At that point there was nothing left to do but push the bike up the hill, a long hard two mile slog to the top of the ridge.
Finally the trail leveled out and I was looking forward to some more pleasurable riding when immediately I came across the sign for the trailhead and that trail was done, just like that!
By then my day was nearing an end and I began the drive back out of the park, hoping to see some stray wildlife in the meadows along the main road. Now that I have some idea of what the park has to offer I’m sure I’ll be back, if for nothing else some nice training rides along the long Cheeseman Ranch mountain bike trail!