Exploring Mueller State Park

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.

Forest of Mueller State Park ColoradoI 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

Golden Eagle in Flight

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 😦

Mule Deer in the Wilderness

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

Wild Turkeys

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!

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Elk on the Run

Sangre de Cristo Sunset

Not a huge morning for photography… But it was a fabulous morning for a hike with the big dog. I chose to tackle the high ridge again today because I know there is a herd of buck mule deer up there that have been eluding me for some time now. Unfortunately, today was no different. I was looking hard for the animals when we cleared the top of the ridge but didn’t see any sign that the beasties where there today. All of a sudden from behind a grove of trees I saw the backs of the deer as they high tailed it for the safety of the dense woods with no chance whatsoever of a picture.

It was a beautiful sunrise though, the distant mountains were obscured a bit by smokeMountain Wildflowers and haze but the effect on the nearer mountains created a nice effect. There was also a good crop of wildflowers blooming everywhere, probably what is tempting the mule deer herd so.

Finally as we neared the end of  our trek I noticed a herd of elk in the distance. I had hoped that they would stop and look at me, but they were definitely in a hurry to go somewhere! Seems every time I see elk these days they are on the run. I thought I was being quite stealthy and I don’t think they knew we were there but they were in a hurry

Elk Running in the Colorado High Country

anyway. I suppose they feel quite nervous out in the open and they were just trying to get to the safety of the wilderness as quickly as possible! I did get this shot of three of them going the other way and I’m thinking it has a good chance of being successful in the stock photograph world!

Perhaps I will outsmart the deer tomorrow… in the meantime I’m going to get a good meal in my belly!

Brown’s Canyon National Monument

Brown’s Canyon National Monument is another one of Colorado’s hidden gems… almost too well hidden! I’ve been wanting to visit this place for years, ever since I missed the day of hiking with the Sierra Club. Well I finally did it 🙂 I was in the area photographing rafters on the Arkansas until finally I found myself in Salida. What the heck, the park is just on the other side of Salida so I consulted my phone for directions and headed up 291 in search of the entrance… piece of cake 🙂

Arkansas River in Brown's Canyon National Monument

Not a piece of cake. You would think that being a national monument there would be huge signs everywhere. But no… no signs anywhere 😦 Totally passed it by, drove all the way up 291 until I finally hit Johnson Village and had to turn back around. At that point I decided to let my GPS guide me in and managed to find the place, County Road 191 to the east from 291 will take you right in… after a couple of miles on a curvy dirt road over a ridge. When you finally do get there you will be greeted by a big sign with some of those fee envelopes and a $8.00 per day use fee. So I paid my fee, dropped the envelope in the box and went on in.

There is a large parking area and a campground along the Arkansas River where the

_MG_2737

rafting companies were all ready to pick up rafters. I grabbed my camera and trusty trekking pole and headed down a trail along the river towards the south. The original plan was to mountain bike back in but it didn’t take long to ascertain that the trail was above my meager riding skill level so I just hoofed it in a ways. The trail and the river are amazing and the area is vast. I imagine you could easily hike for days and not see it all.

 

By this time it was really hot and dry and I was not at all prepared for a long hike so I just turned around and vowed to hike up the other direction for a while but quickly abandoned that idea too and chalked the whole visit up to a successful scouting mission for a longer visit on another more prepared day.

On my way back through Salida the Soulcraft Brewery looked like the perfect answer to my parched throat and worthy of a stop 🙂 Tried the Dopple Bock brew and it was delicious. Being short of time I didn’t try any food, and didn’t really see anyone else eating either. I assume they have food there, but would have to be something for another day as well.

Cute Doe Mule DeerWas hoping to photograph some more rafters along the Arkansas on my return trip, but by the time I was passing by again the rafting was all over for the day. Nothing but the long drive home to look forward to at this point.

If you are a fly fisherman the trail along the river is an awesome place to visit! For hiking though, I’m not so sure. There are no high peaks to scale and except for along the river it appears that there are a lot of miles of parched land to explore. It appears to me that the Continental Divide Trail passes through there on it’s way to the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista and there are miles of fun to be had for moderately skilled mountain bikers and a lot of rocky cliffs for rock climbers to hone their skills on! And I didn’t see many in the heat of the day, but I imagine there would be a ton of wildlife to photograph early in the morning.

 

 

Whitewater and a 10 Stop ND Filter

Borrowed a 10 stop ND filter from a buddy for the weekend to shoot the whitewater of the South Platte River in Eleven Mile Canyon again. Set out early in hopes of finding a bounty of wildlife in the canyon before all the people arrived, but came up empty with that effort 😦 The plan was to drive all the way to the end of the canyon in search of wildlife and then try out the ND on the way back down.

Eleven Mile Canyon and the South Platte River

On the way up the canyon I scouted out a few good spots where I thought an ND would work well and hit each one along the return trip. I will say this, using a 10 stop requires a lot of concentration! Fortunately I downloaded a neat little app for my phone the night before called simply “Exposure Calculator”.  To use it I just set my camera to A mode at f8 and ISO 100 to get an exposure reading  and plugged that info into the app as the  base exposure. Then for the new exposure I plugged in the same data and selected 10 as the ND factor and wala, the app gives me my new shutter speed 🙂

I forgot my cable release so in order to successfully execute a long exposure I set my drive mode to two second timer, camera to maunal exposure mode and lens to manual focus at the same focal length and focus as the shot prior to installing the 10 stop. I also switched over to live view mode to lock up the mirror and then took the shots. Playback showed that I indeed got the correct exposure and I could see that the water was smoothed out as expected 🙂

Satisfied that I had captured the scene,  I returned the camera to all the normal modes and continued down the river. Then of course I

Eleven Mile Canyon

repeated this entire process at each location, getting both motion blur and regular images of each spot. Very time consuming and the big dog didn’t appreciate all the standing around the tripod one bit 😦 Don’t think I would have the patience to do this all the time like I see some photographers on YouTube doing. But I do really like these two images and may actually get myself a 10 stop someday!

Of course these images and more are available on my website for purchase as wall art on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting.  Tons of cool gift, household and tech items are also available with a picture, including, apparel, coffee mugs, phone battery chargers, phone cases,  blankets and more! Just click the link to visit the site!

The Fawns

Mama Deer and Fawns

Today’s trek turned out to be extra special due to a rare fawn sighting 🙂 As I neared the turnaround point in the out and back part of the trail I saw movement in the mountain grass. At first I thought it was going to be a fox or maybe a coyote but as I looked through my long glass I discovered that it was a little fawn mule deer. Soon a second baby appeared followed by the mama who immediately spotted me and stopped for a long suspicious stare. The babies soon gathered  close to their mother for protection and joined the vigil. Eventually they decided that I was not threat  and continued along their way as I hid behind a tree using a branch to steady the camera. I stayed until they were out of sight, capturing this cute scene of the two little ones in tow 🙂

Mama Deer and Fawns

I love springtime in the mountains with all the new life and it is my sincere hope that through my pictures others will come to appreciate life in all it’s precious beauty and fragility and gain an understanding of the importance of preserving it for future generations to enjoy.

 

One Deer and Wildflowers

Deer in the Rockies

Pretty quiet morning on the trail… Saw one lone deer peering back at me from a field of wildflowers and rocks. We were far enough away so as to not cause any alarm and were able to get this nice shot 🙂 No more wildlife was seen on the trek, but there are a lot of nice wildflowers blooming. Don’t know what these yellow ones actually are, I’m no flora and fauna expert for sure… but they look nice and make for some nice pictures 🙂

Also got to try out my AllTrails.com hike logger on my new Verizon phone. It’s only a

Mountain Wildflowers

Samsung J3 but I like it OK. Was extremely disappointed with my previous phone that didn’t work at all in the mountains. So I successfully recorded today’s hike and was rewarded with a cool map and elevation profile. Haven’t figured out how to share it yet though… maybe the information will only be for myself. But still pretty cool even though I’m not sure what it is going to be good for 🙂

As always these images and more are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal or acrylic sheets, stretched canvas or traditional framing and matting. Tons of cool gift, tech, apparel and household items are also available with a #swkrullimaging picture!

Mountain Wildflowers

 

Springtime in the Rockies

Ghostly Figures in Foggy Mine Country

Springtime is an unpredictable mess in the Rockies but no one can say it isn’t beautiful! On this day a dense fog rolled in from below in the Arkansas River valley creating this amazing ghostly scene in the Cripple Creek / Victor mining district. The Peak itself however, was not to be outdone. There was just enough fog and approaching cloud cover to create this amazing vista on the south face of America’s Mountain.

As always, these images and more are available on my website for purchase as wall art and cool gift items!

Fog and Clouds on Pikes Peak